This work began with the conviction that racial, political, and moral intolerance, normally studied in isolation, are really kindred spirits: primarily driven by the same fundamental predisposition, fueled by the same motives, exacerbated by the same fears. While not discounting the value of providing a comprehensive account of all the ideas, interests, and emotions influencing intolerance in a specific domain, it seemed that insufficient attention had been paid to developing a parsimonious model illuminating general regularities in intolerant behavior: one that could help all of us better understand the particular expressions of intolerance of interest to us.
To this end, I set about resuscitating the concept of authoritarianism: of a general predisposition to intolerance of difference. I managed to isolate and measure that predisposition in such a way as to avoid confounds with the attitudes and behaviors that we want to explain: a previously inescapable tautology that has plagued prior theory and research, reducing confidence in the value of the concept and the validity of empirical findings. I then developed and tested a general model – the authoritarian dynamic – that can explain a great deal of the variance across different varieties of intolerance with the interaction of just two variables. Via precisely designed and randomly assigned experimental manipulations, I have shown that a wide array of behaviors considered detrimental to liberal democracy are substantially influenced by fundamental predisposition to authoritarianism, interacting with changing environmental conditions of normative threat.
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