Skip to main content

Personality, Political

Personality, Political

I. The Study of Political PersonalityRobert E. Lane


II. Conservatism and RadicalismDaniel J. Levinson



Because one cannot write about, or even think about, human affairs without some implicit concept of human nature, the idea of “political personality” is a very old one; indeed, the established classics of political philosophy from Plato through Mill almost always give it explicit attention (Wallas 1908; Lane 1953). Yet at the same time, the development of sophisticated psychology and psychiatry, especially psychoanalysis, is so recent that the modern concept of political personality is qualitatively very different and must here serve as the substance of the discussion. This article will explore the meaning of the concept, examine the ways in which the various psychological schools have left their mark on the idea of a political personality, and then deal more extensively with the ways in which theory and research in this area have helped in our interpretation of political outcomes.

The concept of political personality

“Political personality” may be defined as the enduring, organized, dynamic response sets habitually aroused by political stimuli. It embraces (a) motivation, often analyzed as a combination of needs and values (the push-pull theory); (b) cognitions, perceptions, and habitual modes of learning; and (c) behavioral tendencies, that is, the acting out of needs and other aspects of manifest behavior. Each of these has obvious political implications: (a) people who are motivated by needs for power may employ political leverage to satisfy these needs rather than (or in the course of) a pursuit of some explicit policy goal; (b) cognitively, people who handle information in the defense of their partisanship, rather than as an instrument of broader learning, become dogmatic and obstruct social adaptation to new situations; (c) behaviorally, political life is vitally affected by the tendencies of leaders to act out (externalize) their psychic conflicts, projecting them onto other people and situations or, alternatively, to withdraw into inaction when threatened or, again, to make public demands to assuage their sense of worthlessness. Most simply stated, then, the habitual patterns of feeling, learning and knowing, and behaving in political situations constitute political personality.

The definition above states that the elements of political personality are “enduring”; this means that they are in some sense central to the personality, not merely the response to somewhat ephemeral situations or the product of a certain occupation or, more generally, a role that a person occupies for the time being. This means that in speaking of political personality, we are dealing with patterns of thought, emotion, and acting out that may be seen in operation in many different situations over a relatively long period of time, perhaps youth, young adulthood, and maturity. Again, this implies that these patterns are laid down relatively early, though their expression and style may reveal differences over time; indeed, there may be fundamental changes in personality at a relatively mature age. Parenthetically, it may be noted that these changes are often the product of a slight change in some set of balancing internal forces (say, strong aggressive impulses held in check by fear of one’s own aggression) which may produce a relatively great change in outward personality manifestations (e.g., from ingratiating to domineering behavior).

The definition of political personality includes the attribute “organized,” implying some interrelationship among the constituent elements such that a change in one, say, a growing need for social approval, would modify other elements, perhaps leading to a decreased willingness to defy authority. Inquiry into this organization implies something like the following paradigm of questions: What patterns of needs, expressed through what need-coping mechanisms (repression, sublimation, ego-striving, etc.), modified by what perceptions of reality and habits of learning, screened through what ideological constellations, produce what behavioral tendencies? The organization of a political personality, then, implies a patterned relationship and interaction among these elements. And, among these elements, the manner of dealing with conflicting needs or motives is probably the most important, followed by the pattern of response to and internalization of authority.

There was a third adjective in the definition: “dynamic.” Here, this overworked term refers to a capacity to produce change in something else. Operationally this means that if two ideas or emotions are brought into some kind of relationship, the more dynamic element changes the less dynamic element. For instance, the attitude toward authority is generally considered more potent than feelings toward particular leaders. Therefore, when a worshipful attitude toward authority is forced to confront a dislike of a particular political leader, more change will be effected in the attitude toward the leader than in the posture toward authority in general (“he isn’t so bad, after all… I must have misjudged him… at least he looks like a president, etc.”). We reserve for the term “political personality” those elements of a person’s total psychic pattern which tend to shape attitudes, beliefs, and actions on new issues as they arise. Just as some authorities talk of “reference groups” and “reference persons,” so we might here refer to political personality as a constellation of “reference ideas” and “reference emotions”—ideas and emotions to which new problems are referred for guidance and instruction. But, of course, this reference is usually quite unconscious.

The concept of political personality borders on other concepts from which it must be distinguished. There is, in the first place, the concept of “attitude,” which has been classically defined as a kind of “mental and neural response set.” We would distinguish political personality from a single attitude on the obvious ground that the latter is too narrow, and from any conceivable complex of attitudes, however broad, on the ground that such a complex lacks the organization and dynamic potential of a political personality. Personality, as has so often been remarked, is not a bundle of traits. Thus we conceive of a personality as shaping attitudes and not vice versa. [See Attitudes.]

In the second place, there is the concept of “role,” usually defined as a pattern of expected behavior associated with a given position in society. In practice it is not easy to distinguish role-determined behavior from personality-determined behavior when a person is acting out his concept of appropriate role behavior or, worse, when he has accepted the values and beliefs associated with a given role and performs accordingly. Sometimes the only way to distinguish between personality and role is to observe the person in a set of different roles, say, father and bureaucrat. Conceptually, political personality has an earlier genesis, has a different organizational principle, transcends the situation or social position, is more internally motivated or autonomous of the environment, responds to different crises and conflicts, and is more idiosyncratic or individualized than is any (political) role behavior. [SeeRole.]

Finally, there is the distinction between personality and culture, a difficult one because personality must be learned somehow from available cultural elements. It is for this reason that personality is sometimes said to be the subjective side of culture. Does individual anxiety reflect an anxietyladen culture? Does the authoritarian personality reflect an authoritarian culture? When we are dealing with individuals, the distinction is relatively easy, because no two individuals bring together an identical genetic pattern and an identical sequence of experiences; hence, each is in some way unique. When we deal with “modal personality” or “social character,” that is, the features of personality which are commonly shared in a group, we have greater trouble distinguishing between these shared personality elements and the dominant themes of a culture. Obviously the carriers of the culture are people; they exemplify it, as well as conveying its themes to others through their norm-setting and norm-enforcing behavior. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between these concepts of modal political personality and political culture is through the different questions each concept poses, the different theoretical structures employed to answer these questions, and the differential focuses upon people and ideas in each instance. Questions dealing with modal political personality elicit answers employing psychological theories of individual development, learning, imitation, conflict resolution, and the like. They are designed to tell us about people, in this case individuals who happen to be in groups. Questions dealing with political culture employ theories of social change, cultural diffusion, group adaptation to ecological factors, functional requirements of a given social structure, the reinforcement of social patterns, social (rather than individual) pattern maintenance, and so forth. Both concepts contribute to an understanding of political phenomena: modal political personality, through its contribution to an understanding of group psychology; political culture, through its contribution to an understanding of the prevailing myths, beliefs, and adaptive responses of the underlying society. Yet it must be said that often these amount to the same thing. [SeePolitical culture.]

Political personality and environment

It is now a truism to say that all social explanations employ some variation of what the learning theorists term a “stimulus(S)–organism(O)–response (R)” model, though sometimes it is referred to as “environment(E)–predisposition(P)–response (R).” Social and political explanations place the emphasis now on one term (S or E), now on the other (O or P). Institutional theories, such as those which claim that a separation of powers is a necessary condition for the rule of law or those which assert that the development of a middle class is necessary for the survival of representative government, emphasize the environmental part of this model. Yet while they are silent on the personalities of the actors involved, they always quietly impute to them a set of personal qualities, e.g., the universal love of power, which can be restrained only by others with power, or the reluctance of an economic elite to share power with the masses unless coerced by a balancing middle class and/or the incapacity of the masses to govern themselves. Each environmental theory, then, as mentioned in the first sentence of this article, implies a theory of personal motivation and some distribution of motives, values, and capacities in a relevant population. The study of political personality represents, in the one sense, an effort to fill in these never empty but often unexamined cells in the great macro theories which have guided the study of nations.

On the other hand, there is a temptation to employ the new concepts of political personality in an exaggerated way, so as to imply that an individual has a set of motives or needs which are evoked in the same way in all situations or, worse, that a given public, say the German people, chose a certain leader, adopted a certain ideology, became bellicose and domineering or whatever because of some national character constellation, as though this constellation operated quite independently of the history and institutions of that particular public. One has only to glance at the early theories of political motivation to see the temptation at work: politicians choose their careers because they (all of them) love power; the Germans chose Hitler and Nazism because they were authoritarian; Americans offered economic aid to other countries because they were other-directed and wanted the world to love them—and partially turned against aid giving when they found that they could not buy love.

The lesson is clear, indeed obvious—but often neglected: it is in a combination of circumstances and attitudes, environment and political personality, that the answers to the important political questions will be found.

Theoretical interpretations

Since, as was said at the beginning, the modern exploration of political personality is encouraged by and feeds on the developments of personality theory and research among psychologists and psychiatrists, it is not surprising that variations in these more molar fields are reflected in the interpretations of the role of personality in political life. For this reason it is useful to touch briefly upon the way in which various psychological theories affect these interpretations.

The first approach is that of Pavlov (1927), Watson (1914), Hull (1943), and others in Russia and the United States. Originally called learning theory, it is now more generally called behavior theory. The central doctrine of this school is that an understanding of all behavioral responses may be acquired through a grasp of the concepts of drive, cue, response, and reward and their derivatives; rewarded responses become habits through a process of conditioning, and unrewarded responses tend to be extinguished. Personality, then, is the pattern of learned responses, not all of them adaptive in long-range terms but all of them, at least once, reinforced. It has been argued that the behavior of the Soviet elite has been heavily influenced by this concept of personality, leading them, so it is said, to believe that through a fairly gross manipulation of rewards and punishments they can shape the personalities and behaviors of the populations under their control (Tucker 1963, pp. 91–121). Although it is possible to translate behavior theory into the terms and constructs of other more clinically oriented theories, as Dollard and Miller (1950) have shown, the product is somewhat inelegant. Because of its mechanistic emphasis and insistence upon observable (operationalized) ingredients, the theory leaves out the rich, speculative, and often fruitful concepts of internal dynamics, conflict resolution, fantasy and free-associational styles of thought, dream life, analogical thinking, and the secondary elaborations which these theories produce.

A second approach to political personality focuses upon the complex of vectors or forces which influence a person in his “life space.” Kurt Lewin (1939–1947) was the originator of this theory whose sources lie in gestalt psychology. His associates and followers have gone on into the field of group dynamics exemplified in their small group experiments (Cartwright & Zander 1953). The central work of this school consists of accounting for the impact of the social world, the world of interaction and group life, upon an individual whose goals are constantly shaped and modified by these influential people—the other members of his group. This approach, reflected in the voting studies produced both by the Lazarsfeld–Berelson group (Lazarsfeld et al. 1944; Berelson et al. 1954) and the Michigan Survey Research Center group headed by Angus Campbell (Campbell et al. 1954; Michigan, University of 1960) has led to some important formulations of the way in which reference groups, interpersonal influence, cross pressures or conflicting identifications, family, school, and work socialization, and group pressures all combine to modify electoral decisions. The findings suggest that in this area of American electoral decision making, individual differences are not so important as group differences, that is, national modal character is more important than individual personality. Another way to say this is that for any one country, more of the variance is accounted for by environmental factors than by personality factors.

The more strictly Freudian approach, now only one of several competing schools of psychoanalysis, focuses, as is well known, upon the channeling and blocking of the libido, the conflict among id and ego and superego (impulse, conscious mind, and conscience), unconscious processes, early determination of central personality characteristics, and the consequent need to return retrospectively to early experience in order to achieve fundamental personality change (Freud 1932). The view of political man which emerges from this perspective on personality and its formation is well symbolized, if not well summarized, by Lasswell’s early provocative formulation:

The most general formula which expresses the developmental facts about the fully developed political man reads thus:

p) d) r = P,

where p equals private motives; d equals displacement onto a public object; r equals rationalization in terms of public interest; P equals the political man; and ) equals transformed into. ([1930] 1951, pp. 75–76)

This makes of political man the rationalized version of inadmissible private motives and reflects the early emphasis of Freudians and neo-Freudians upon those aspects of personality which could be traced to a wild and assertive id. Anna Freud (1936), Heinz Hartmann (1927–1959), and many others have somewhat restored the balance by giving more weight to ego psychology. But the political personality which emerges from this theoretical framework tends to underemphasize what has been overemphasized by the rest of the world, the plain appeal and obvious influence of economic advantage.

More recently, psychoanalytic theory has been re-examined and modified by a group, sometimes called the interpersonal school of psychiatry, which has been led by three important figures: Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm, and Karen Horney. The label “interpersonal” comes from the central view of personality expressed by Sullivan in the following terms: “Personality I now define in the particularist sense as the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent interpersonal situations which characterize a human life” ([1940–1945] 1953, p. xi). His work has had less bearing on political problems than has that of his two associates, so we now turn to their formulations.

Horney (1937), in emphasizing the reflection of the strains of society in the contemporary neurotic trends of her patients (as a sample of some larger group), reveals what social life is doing to people: making them competitive, decreasing their capacity to give of themselves and thereby reducing their capacity to love; at the same time it is increasing their “neurotic need for affection” and generally, and most importantly, making them more anxious. Unfortunately, because she has no base line, Horney cannot substantiate her claim that modern man has more of these problems than did his predecessors—but she can make a strong case that these facets of personality damage are real and important for our time [see Horney]. The importance of these neurotic trends for political personality, that is, the personality faced with political decisions, is substantial, though their expression is uncertain: the anxious man may, depending upon the organization of his personality, withdraw, become assertive, cling desperately to some dogmatic belief, or yield utterly to some tendency toward “other-directedness.” What is certain is that his anxiety will impair his rational functioning and prevent him from using politics to his maximum long-term advantage.

Erich Fromm, the most politically oriented figure in this group, presents three main themes with special relevance to the study of political personality. The first of these has to do with the idea of “social character,” which on the one hand is the “root” of ideology and culture and on the other “is molded by the mode of existence of a given society” (1941, p. 296). For Fromm, “the social character internalizes external necessities and thus harnesses human energy for the task of a given economic and social system” (1941, p. 284). In the same sense, one might think of a modal political personality, in a world where personality and political system are in harmony, as providing the motives, values, and capacities for performing the required political acts.

Fromm’s second theme has to do with the relationship of man to society and to the government thereof. It was he who in modern times first developed an accounting of the costs of “freedom,” that is, autonomy won at the expense of weakened ties of family, neighborhood, community, tradition, occupation, and, in some cases, religion. In developing this accounting and in elaborating on some of the political responses which it facilitated, Fromm portrayed, or at least sketched, the atavistic political personality unable to stand alone, searching for some synthetic ties to replace the ones lost in the process of modernization. This theme assumed increased importance with the development of the theory of The Authoritarian Personality (1950) by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford. Another sprout from the soil of this theory, nurtured by that very original gardener David Riesman (1950), is a theory of modern man as other-directed, that is, decreasingly reliant on his own conscience and increasingly reliant on cues from other people for his ideas and actions.

A third theme in Fromm’s more recent work deals with the concept of alienation; it is important because it stands for, although it did not originate, an entire school of criticism of modern society. With roots in the work of Feuerbach and Marx (Fromm 1961) but now more leveled at “modernity” than at capitalism, the idea of the alienated man claims that industrialism has alienated man from his work; that commercialism and the long process of change from status to contract have created an alienated “marketing personality” where people and the self are regarded as “things”; that mass society divorces people from meaningful group life; and that mass politics creates automaton-like, meaningless political responses (Fromm 1955). The alienated personality is said to be “available” for charismatic leadership and anomic destructive social movements. Unfortunately for the theory, most available evidence shows that the attitudes characteristic of alienation are more prevalent in rural societies and are especially frequent in village life relatively untouched by industrialism, commercialism, mass media, and mass politics (Banfield & Banfield 1958).

While the “interpersonal school” represents one variation of the original Freudian interpretation of political man, another variation is represented by Erik Erikson (1956), whose public hallmark is the concept of identity. Here we have a shift in focus, from instinctual libido and interpersonal relations to the concept of the self, or the self image, but it is a self image in a group context. The term is somewhat elastic: “At one time… it will appear to refer to a conscious sense of individual identity; at another, to an unconscious striving for a continuity of personal character; at a third, as a criterion for the silent doings of ego synthesis; and finally, as a maintenance of an inner solidarity with a group’s ideals and identity” ([1956] 1960, p. 38). It is important now because of the growing evidence that psychic breakdowns have their origins decreasingly in the repression of impulses, as was the case in the nineteenth century, and more often in “identity-diffusion,” that is, the uncertainties and anxieties arising from ill-defined goals, ambiguous group identifications, conflicting self images, and vague life patterns. In its political aspects, identitydiffusion leads to low political cathexis and ideological caution (Lane 1962, pp. 381–399).

Political personality and political analysis

The various concepts and interpretations of political personality are reflected in the applied work of political analysis—but often segmentally, or eclectically, by men seeking personality concepts by means of which they can grapple with the intricate workings of political institutions. The problems of such analysis are many, and the amount of research in this area is small.

Legislative behavior

Legislative behavior, the output of which is a set of laws, institutions, and appropriations, is inevitably modified by the personality constellations of the legislators. An early study by McConaughy (1950) suggests that in one American state, South Carolina, a (somewhat unsystematic) sample of legislators were, compared with the average American adult, “less neurotic…far less introverted, more self-sufficient and slightly more dominant.” McConaughy does not relate these results to legislative behavior. A more comprehensive study of Connecticut legislators by James Barber (1965) finds a large proportion of the legislators lacking in self-esteem and employing their positions in the legislature to compensate for their doubts about themselves; it is the few who are genuinely self-confident who get the legislative business of the legislature done. On a closely related psychological syndrome, the sense of efficacy, evidence from a study of four American state legislatures reveals how important this sense is in affecting the manner in which a legislator sees and handles his role: those with a higher sense of efficacy (ego strength?) look beyond their immediate districts and accept responsibility for the larger unit, in this case the state; more than others, they accept pressure groups and even welcome them as part of the play of forces necessary for developing acceptable policy; and they tend to regard their role as brokers in a cockpit of conflict with equanimity, without becoming personally upset (Wahlke et al. 1962, especially pp. 474–475). But in these four states, as in Connecticut, it appears that more than half of the legislators have grave doubts about their efficacy or even adequacy in the legislative situation.

Another theme out of the nosology of personality syndromes is the matter of identity. It seems from Barber’s Connecticut study, and from other work on the United States House of Representatives, that the more clearly a legislator perceives his role and assimilates this role concept to some vigorous and viable sense of identity, the more effective he is—i.e., persuasive, work-oriented, and hard to manipulate. [SeeLegislation, article onlegislative behavior.]

Although it does not explicitly deal with personality, Nathan Leites’ work on “operational codes,’ first of the Politburo (1951) and then of the French parliament (1959), embodies in different language many of the themes which are normally conceived to be the stuff of personality. Thus, Leites asserts that two themes of the operational code of the Politburo are a fear of dependency, leading to strong measures to avoid any situation where people or nations are mutually interdependent, and particularly any situation where they might be “used” by others (1951, pp. 40–43), and an unusually strong insistence on “the control of feelings,” leading to attacks on sentimentality and emotional responses and to an observable “hardness”-at least during the Stalinist period (1951, pp. 20–24). Speaking of the French legislator, Leites (1959) describes a series of behaviors, especially avoidance of responsibility, efforts so to arrange things that others are “to blame” for unpopular or unsuccessful decisions, inability to form permanent coalitions because of distrust of others (following from and causing this pattern of irresponsibility), and a search for a force majeure to get the French parlement or the nation out of its difficulties. Leites would argue that these are French, as well as legislative, characteristics; hence they also fall under the category of “national character,” though of course he would also argue that they are traits to some extent widely shared throughout the world. At the bottom of many of these traits, there seems to be a concept of individualism and a tendency to distrust others, a quality which Almond and Verb a found central to the working of a successful civic culture (1963).

Judicial behavior

Many years ago Jerome Frank (1930) pointed to the very great variation in the treatment given to defendants in similar situations by judges of different dispositions. Although at first this seemed to reflect different “philosophies,” it later became evident that this was another name for the motivations, values, punitiveness, and other elements of a personality constellation. Harold Lasswell (1948) illuminated these problems in his discussion of the influence on judicial decisions of narcissistic, paranoid, latent homosexual, and other tendencies in a group of judges whose life histories were made available to him. Pritchett’s study of patterns of decisions made by Supreme Court justices (1948) reveals something about the influence of personal characteristics upon judicial decision making, but the personality themes here are only partially developed. [SeeJudiciary, article onjudicial behavior.]

Electoral behavior

As mentioned earlier, the main themes of the very substantial studies of electoral behavior in the United States, England, France, and Norway deal not with personality features but with group life, media influence, occupational and class differences, electoral laws, and the like. This is for the very good reason that, at least in the United States, and generally elsewhere, modal behavior is situationally determined to such an extent that people with many different personality syndromes tend to behave similarly. The places to look for the influence of personality are in the interstices where social pressures are conflicting or ambiguous. Lane (1959, p. 100) has listed some of these as follows:

Selection of the grounds for rationalizing a political act.

Selecting topics for political discussion.

Selecting types of political behavior over and above voting.

Expression of the probable consequences of participation.

Holding particular images of other participants. Styles of personal interaction in political groups.

In general this means that, at least in the United States, there are no important personality differences between Democrats and Republicans, though radicals of the right and left have been shown to have deviant personality syndromes (Almond 1954; Adorno et al. 1950). On the other hand, there are substantial differences between participants and nonparticipants: the nonparticipants tend to be more neurotic, more anxious, less self-confident, more autistic, less trusting of others, lower in ego strength, and more alienated from themselves and society (Lane 1959, pp. 97–181). In a cross-cultural study by Almond and Verba (1963), in which personality and cultural differences are, as always, somewhat fused, it appears that those societies in which there is greater interpersonal trust; in which, from the beginning, people have a sense that each person is himself important and influential in the family, school, and place of work; and in which it is possible to work easily and cooperatively with others—such societies develop healthier (more effective and less destructive) patterns of participation and more conciliatory and workable patterns of partisanship. [SeePolitical participation; Voting.]


Electoral participation inevitably leads into a discussion of ideology, but, as Campbell and his colleagues (Michigan, University of 1960) make clear, the relationship between voting and ideology is often tenuous. Ideology here means not merely the attitudes and values on topical concerns (foreign aid, civil rights, welfare state) but also the fundamental views which form the ideational counterpart to a constitution: ideas on fair play and due process, rights of others, sharing of power, the proper distribution of the goods of society (equality), uses and abuses of authority, etc. It is in this sense that Adorno and his associates (1950) develop their concept of an authoritarian personality and belief system, and in this sense Lane (1962) explored the ideologies of a group of working-class and lower middle-class men. The problem here is to sort out the conventional beliefs which almost everyone in the society holds, not because these ideas have a special congeniality but because they are, so to speak, “given,” from those ideas which are selected from among alternatives because these ideas have a special “resonance.” The conventional ideas may be conceived as related to national character, though there can be a lack of congruence here, too; the “resonant” ideas, the more or less individual ones, may more properly be related to and explained by the concept of individual political personality.

In the general discussion of ideology, it appears that one central aspect is that of alienation versus allegiance, a rejection of “the system” or some substantial part thereof, compared with a fundamental loyalty to and acceptance of it. Cantril (1958) found this to be a main theme among the French and Italian communists he interviewed; Almond and Verba (1963) suggest that one of the main difficulties of the Italian political system lies in the high incidence of alienation and contrast this with the sense of allegiance and political pride of the Americans and British. Lane found in his Eastport, U.S.A., sample that a failure to support democratic norms and a tendency to see decisions made by conspiratorial groups (“cabalistic thinking”) were related generally to just such political alienation but that this did not extend to a more general feeling of social alienation, a rejection of the society and its values (1962, pp. 161–186). On the whole, it seems wise to think of alienation in terms of specific targets of disaffection, a series of topically specific continua, rather than in terms of a dichotomous and total classification, although the tendency of alienation in one area to infect another should be observed. [SeeIdeology; Loyalty.]

National character. The study of widespread ideologies or belief systems leads to the study of the broad distribution of political personality types or characteristics in a society. At this point we begin to study national or social character—a field which fell into disrepute because of early unsupported generalizations by Le Bon (1894) and others.

Following World War II, a series of studies on the German people, sometimes based on interview data and sometimes more speculative (Dicks 1950; Levy 1948; Schaffner 1948), sought to discover what led them down the path to the Nazi revolution. A few comparative studies have indeed suggested that the Germans, more than others, tend to revere both paternal and state authority and have, by a very slight margin, a higher incidence of “authoritarianism” (McGranahan 1946). Subsequent political history has indicated that these elements of political personality are not incompatible with the functioning of certain kinds of republican institutions, and, moreover, they are not fixed in the character of a people forever.

Similar studies of the Soviet Union (Dicks 1952; Mead 1951), necessarily more limited because of the inaccessibility of most of the population to such study, have suggested the importance of certain other emotional themes: expressiveness and the felt need for external control (combined, it is true, with a strain between the controlling, overly bureaucratic elite and the mass of people still in transition from traditional to modern behavior and norms); suspicion of “outsiders,” implying sharp differentiation between in-groups and out-groups, with some paranoid symptoms; and “identity crisis” posed by the long-term, but recently exacerbated, conflict between Russia and the West—and yet, withal, a lack of “tenderness taboo” (or sadomasochism) which characterized the Nazi mentality. [SeeNational character.]

We are only beginning to study the close interrelationship of personality qualities and political life, particularly the way in which similar institutions function when manned by persons of different personality constellations. This article has not touched upon the important research done on the personality problems of the officials and publics in modernizing nations, as illuminated by Doob (1960), Pye (1962), and Leighton (Cornell… 1963), among others, but this is surely an area where further work is needed. Problems of personality and bureaucracy in a world which inevitably is becoming bureaucratized deserve further attention, following the seminal article by Merton (1940). Elite studies have, until now, tended to focus on the more easily accessible data, the external circumstantial forces affecting career choice and selection of the world’s elites, but we need to know more about the internal dynamics and interpersonal characteristics of coopted, appointed, and elected leaders. By now, however, scholars are aware that there is no simple distribution of traits, syndromes, or personality types which is good or necessary (or at least sufficient) for the operation of an efficient and humane political system, and that hence we must direct our research toward discovering relatively subtle patterns of personality characteristics, with varying distributions, meshed into roles and institutions in complementary ways, each “way” modified by the ecology and history of a particular political system.

Robert E. Lane

[Directly related are the entriesIdentity, psychosocial; National character; Political behavior; and the biographies ofFreud; Horney; Hull; Lewin; Pavlov; Watson. See also the guide following the next article.]


Adorno, Theodor W. et al. 1950 The Authoritarian Personality. American Jewish Committee, Social Studies Series, No. 3. New York: Harper.

Almond, Gabriel A. 1954 The Appeals of Communism. Princeton Univ. Press.

Almond, Gabriel A.; and Verba, Sidney 1963 The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton Univ. Press.

Banfield, Edward C ; and Banfield, L. F. 1958 The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Barber, James D. 1965 The Lawmakers. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Berelson, Bernard; Lazarsfeld, Paul F.; and Mcphee, William N. 1954 Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Campbell, Angus; Gurin, Gerald; and Miller, Warren E. 1954 The Voter Decides. Evanston, III.: Row Peterson.

Cantril, Hadley 1958 The Politics of Despair. New York: Basic Books.

Cartwright, Dorwin; and Zander, Alvin (editors) (1953) 1960 Group Dynamics: Research and Theory. 2d ed. Evanston, III.: Row, Peterson.

Cornell–Aro Mental Health Research Project in the Western Region, Nigeria 1963 Psychiatric Disorder Among the Yoruba: A Report, by Alexander H. Leighton et al. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Davies, James C. 1963 Human Nature in Politics: The Dynamics of Political Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Dicks, Henry V. 1950 Personality Traits and National Socialist Ideology. Human Relations 3:111–154.

Dicks, Henry V. 1952 Observations on Contemporary Russian Behavior. Human Relations 5:111–175.

Dollard, John; and Miller, Neal E. 1950 Personality and Psychotherapy: An Analysis in Terms of Learning, Thinking, and Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Doob, Leonard W. 1960 Becoming More Civilized: A Psychological Exploration. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Erikson, Erik H. (1956) 1960 The Problem of Ego Identity Pages 37–87 in Maurice R. Stein, Arthur J. Vidich, and David M. White (editors), Identity and Anxiety. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Frank, Jerome (1930) 1949 Law and the Modern Mind. New York: Coward.

Freud, Anna (1936) 1957 The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. New York: International Universities Press. → First published as Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen.

Freud, Sigmund (1932) 1965 New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis. New York: Norton. → First published as Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse. Fromm, Erich (1941) 1960 Escape From Freedom. New York: Holt.

Fromm, Erich 1955 The Sane Society. New York: Rinehart.

Fromm, Erich (editor) 1961 Marx’s Concept of Man. New York: Ungar.

Hartmann, Heinz (1927–1959) 1964 Essays on Ego Psychology. New York: International Universities Press.

Horney, Karen 1937 The Neurotic Personality of Our Time. New York: Norton.

Hull, Clark L. 1943 Principles of Behavior: An Introduction to Behavior Theory. New York: Appleton.

Lane, Robert E. 1953 Political Character and Political Analysis Psychiatry 16:387–398.

Lane, Robert E. 1959 Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1965.

Lane, Robert E. 1962 Political Ideology: Why the American Common Man Believes What He Does. New York: Free Press.

Lane, Robert E.; and Sears, David O. 1964 Public Opinion. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Lasswell, Harold D. (1930) 1951 Psychopathology and Politics. Pages 1–282 in Harold D. Lasswell, The Political Writings of Harold D. Lasswell. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1948 Power and Personality. New York: Norton.

Lazarsfeld, Paul F.; Berelson, Bernard; and Gaudet, Hazel (1944) 1960 The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Le Bon, Gustave (1894) 1898 The Psychology of Peoples. New York: Macmillan. → First published as Lois psychologiques de l’évolution des peuples.

Leites, Nathan 1951 The Operational Code of the Politburo. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Leites, Nathan 1959 On the Game of Politics in France. Stanford Univ. Press.

Levy, David M. 1948 Anti-Nazis: Criteria of Differentiation. Psychiatry 11:125–167.

Lewin, Kurt (1939–1947)1963 Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers. Edited by Dorwin Cartwright. London: Tavistock.

McConaughy, John B. 1950 Certain Personality Factors of State Legislators in South Carolina. American Political Science Review 44:897–903.

McGranahan, Donald V. 1946 A Comparison of Social Attitudes Among American and German Youth. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 41:245–257.

Mead, Margaret 1951 Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Problems of Soviet Character. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Merton, Robert K. (1940) 1957 Bureaucratic Structure and Personality. Pages 195–206 in Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. Rev. ed. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press. → First published in Volume 18 of Social Forces.

Michigan, University Of, Survey Research Center 1960 The American Voter, by Angus Campbell et al. New York: Wiley.

Pavlov, Ivan P. (1927) 1960 Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex. New York: Dover. → First published as Lektsii o rabote bol’shikh polusharii golovnogo mozga.

Pritchett, C. Herman (1948) 1963 The Roosevelt Court: A Study in Judicial Politics and Values, 19371947. New York: Octagon Books.

Pye, Lucian W. 1962 Politics, Personality, and Nationbuilding: Burma’s Search for Identity. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Riesman, David 1950 The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1960.

Schaffner, Bertram H. 1948 Father Land: A Study of Authoritarianism in the German Family. New York: Columbia Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

Sullivan, Harry Stack (1940–1945) 1953 Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry. With a critical appraisal of the theory by Patrick Mullahy. 2d ed. New York: Norton. → First published in the February 1940 and May 1945 issues of Psychiatry.

Sullivan, Harry Stack 1953 The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. Edited by Helen Swick Perry and Mary Ladd Gawel. New York: Norton.

Tucker, Robert C. 1963 The Soviet Political Mind. New York: Praeger.

Wahlke, John et al. 1962 The Legislative System: Explorations in Legislative Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Wallas, Graham (1908) 1962 Human Nature in Politics. 4th ed. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.

Watson, John B. 1914 Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology. New York: Holt.


The preceding article deals with the concept of political personality and with the relevance of personality in various areas of political life. This article deals with the specific problem of personality and political ideology: the questions of what ways, if any, “conservatives” and “radicals” differ in personality and what part personality plays in influencing the individual’s preference for a conservative or a radical political outlook.

Some of the major problems involved in answering these questions are found in the questions’ terms. Conservatism and radicalism are not di crete entities. These terms are, so to say, genotypes rather than phenotypes, analytic categories rather than concrete doctrines. They refer to basic political tendencies or orientations that may be manifested in a variety of explicit ideological forms. The forms vary widely in different classes, countries, and historical periods. There is considerable disagreement regarding the primary defining characteristics of each viewpoint and regarding the validity and usefulness of employing these analytic categories in political analysis.

It would be helpful, for purposes of psychological analysis, if the purely political meaning of the terms “conservative” and “radical” were clearly defined and widely agreed upon. This is, unfortunately, not the case. We must therefore begin by considering briefly the alternative usages of these terms and the bearing of this problem on studies of personality and political ideology. [SeeConservatism; Radicalism.]

In the broadest sense—a sense implied by their pairing in the. title of this article—the terms “conservatism” and “radicalism” may be used to divide the vast array of political ideologies into two gross categories of “right” and “left.” Each term then becomes a relatively complex category under which a variety of more concrete viewpoints are subsumed. In general, ideologies of the right support the (present or imagined past) status quo and emphasize the importance of tradition, stability, and hierarchical social order. Ideologies of the left are critical of the prevailing system and seek major institutional change toward increased social and economic equality.

The simple right–left dichotomy, while useful for certain purposes, is in need of further differentiation. Within the right, for example, there are various ideological positions that differ markedly in their social and psychological bases and in their political aims. These include the moderate conservatives (who, especially in the more industrialized countries, accept many “liberal reforms and the political rules of parliamentary democracy), as well as ultraconservative, fascist, and “lunatic fringe” rightist viewpoints. For certain analytic purposes the similarities among these ideologies are of primary interest, while for other purposes the differences require sharper focus. [SeeCaudillismo; Falangism; Fascism; National socialism.]

Within the left, too, are ordinarily included a wide range of ideologies. There are the modern liberals who espouse continual but gradual reform by democratic methods, seeking to increase the scope of governmental welfare functions while maintaining individual freedom from state control. There are also various types of socialist and communist viewpoints, which differ considerably in their programmatic goals and in the methods they advocate for achieving and maintaining political power. [SeeCommunism; Equality; Liberalism; Socialism.]

As a first step toward taking these variations into account, the right–left dichotomy is often divided further into a four-part spectrum: extreme right, moderate conservative (right-of-center), liberal and moderate left, and extreme left. Within this scheme, radicalism has in the past been equated with the extreme left. More recently, however, a new usage has developed: radicalism is sometimes equated with “extremism” and includes both the extreme left and the extreme right. Witness the growing use of the term “radical right” (Bell 1955) in the United States to refer to antidemocratic racist, militarist, and neofascist movements. This usage involves the assumption that the far left and the far right, despite their differences in stated values and ultimate goals, have important similarities in their methods and psychological characteristics. [SeeMilitarism.]

An example of this approach is Lipset’s six-category schema (1960). He distinguishes the right, center, and left (advancing the interests of the upper, middle, and lower classes, respectively) as basic political orientations; and he suggests that within each there are contrasting moderate–democratic and extremist–antidemocratic positions. Thus, in the case of the center, the opposing views are liberalism and fascism. He asserts that one’s political orientation is largely a function of class membership, whereas preference for a democratic or an extremist orientation is strongly influenced by personality. Those who hold an antidemocratic political orientation, whether of right, center, or left, will show greater personal authoritarianism than will their democratic counterparts.

These categories have been used in a multiplicity of ways as bases for ideological classification and measurement. Some studies deal with welldefined political parties or groupings; others distinguish only between broad categories such as left–right, liberal–conservative, or moderate–extreme. We are still far from an understanding of the degree to which particular ideologies are associated with distinctive personality syndromes.

Thus far we have spoken of conservatism, radicalism, and other viewpoints as inclusive, systematic ideologies. A political ideology is an overarching conception of society, a stance that is reflected in numerous sectors of social life (Mannheim 1929–1931). It deals not only with political issues in the narrow sense but also with economic policy, social stratification, methods of social change, civil liberties and civil rights, international relations, religion and the relation of religious institutions to political institutions, the societal functions of government, and so on. Political ideologies in this inclusive sense have been studied primarily as aspects of political parties, movements, or other collective units. We characterize “the” ideology of a given party or group through the analysis of various documents written by its spokesmen, singly or jointly. This characterization is an analytic construction derived from multiple sources. [See Levinson 1964; see alsoContent analysis; Ideology.]

The problem is complicated, however, when we seek to study the ideology of the individual citizen. Not everyone has a political ideology in any developed sense. Some persons have fragmentary opinions on a few personally relevant issues. Others have a vaguely defined “leaning” without differentiated views. Still others, more politically involved, have a political outlook that cuts across the established party lines. It is therefore often difficult to identify an individual’s political opinions as “conservative” or “radical” in a systematic ideological sense.

One way of dealing with this problem in empirical research is to obtain only a general index of the individual’s political tendency or leaning, without examining his views in detail. For example, large-scale surveys may simply ask their subjects to categorize themselves politically or to indicate their preference for a party, movement, or political leader. Party affiliation or preference is a relatively useful indicator of ideological orientation in countries having diverse and well-differentiated parties covering a wide range of the political spectrum. Even in this case, however, there are often major ideological variations within a single party; for example, right-wing versus left-wing segments of many European parties, or the French and Italian workers who vote communist without adhering to the general party ideology. In countries such as the United States, where the two major parties are ideologically more amorphous and internally divided, party preference as such tells little about an individual’s political orientation.

Another way of dealing with the problem is to shift from very general ideological categories to the study of more delimited areas and dimensions of political opinion. Numerous areas and dimensions have been singled out for investigation. For example, in the domain of foreign policy, the dimension of nationalism–internationalism; in religious outlook, the liberalism–conservatism dimension; and similarly in other realms, such as civil liberties, the rights of ethnic and minority groups, the economic and welfare functions of government, and so on.

These dimensions are sometimes conceived of as multiple reflections of the more generalized and fundamental ideological vectors noted earlier. To the extent that this conception is a valid one, measures of internationalism, religious liberalism, civil libertarianism, and advocacy of governmental welfare functions will be positively intercorrelated to form a more inclusive syndrome of over-all sociopolitical liberalism. It is beyond the scope of this article to review the empirical evidence bearing upon hypotheses of this kind. In general, there is evidence of moderate consistency in the individual across ideological domains, so that we may speak of relatively generalized liberal, conservative, and other orientations. At the same time, the correlations among measures of the various dimensions vary considerably in magnitude. For example, there is a moderate positive correlation between civil libertarianism and economic liberalism; on the average, advocates of the former viewpoint tend also to support the latter, and opponents of one tend also to oppose the other. However, the consistency is far from perfect. We must have room in our thinking for ideological patterns that cut across the simple liberal–conservative polarity.

The complexities in the analysis of individual political ideology have important implications for the study of relationships between ideology and personality. How can we define ideological dimensions or patterns in a way that lends itself to psychological analysis? If we group our subjects only in terms of general ideological leaning, such as over-all liberalism and conservatism, a given category will contain persons with diverse concrete ideologies and personalities. Overly gross ideological categories may subsume very different viewpoints and their associated varieties of personality. On the other hand, there are disadvantages in restricting the focus to a specific issue or narrow domain. Personality is most likely to exert influence on the individual’s orientation toward a relatively broad sector of political concern. His stand on any particular issue may be strongly affected by immediate situational factors.

There is a “forest and trees” dilemma here. We must find intermediate levels of analysis between the forest of global, undifferentiated ideological categories and the trees of specific, segmented opinions and attitudes. In general, work in the tradition of the sociology of knowledge errs mainly in the former direction, while survey research on public opinion and social attitudes suffers from overspecificity and the neglect of ideological patterning.

Work in this field is further complicated by disciplinary conflicts. It would be convenient if there could be a simple division of labor between the relevant disciplines. One might hope, for example, that political scientists and sociologists would establish a standard, widely applicable set of ideological categories; psychologists could then determine whether the different categories have distinctive personality correlates. This disciplinary division of labor has not been successful and probably cannot succeed. The study of relationships between personality and political ideology in principle requires some degree of theoretical synthesis across disciplinary lines. The political categories and dimensions must have psychological relevance; the study of personality in this context requires a grasp of political issues and realities. Progress will come through the joint efforts of political analysts who have some sophistication about personality theory and of psychologists who can think in political and sociological terms. This approach was advocated long ago (e.g., Mannheim 1929–1931; Fromm 1936). Within the last few decades some progress has been made in this direction by a number of investigators taking a multidisciplinary point of view. We turn now to a consideration of their work.

Authoritarian personality and political ideology

The concept of personal authoritarianism has probably received more empirical study, and more critical attention, than any other personality concept that has been utilized in the analysis of sociopolitical ideology. Its history extends over several areas of modern social science and involves several disciplines. Reviewing the development of work on authoritarianism provides an opportunity to clarify some of the theoretical and empirical problems in the general field of personality and ideology.

The first major systematic attempts to formulate a conception of authoritarianism as a personality syndrome were made in the 1930s by Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. The two worked independently but had much in common. Both were clinical psychoanalysts in the generation after Freud, and they took a leading part in the effort to develop a psychoanalytic social psychology. Both had a “democratic Marxist” conception of society, and each attempted his own synthesis of Marxist and Freudian theory. They were primarily clinical and historical in mode of analysis. Reich’s major work on this problem was The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933). [SeeReich.] Fromm (1936) published a long theoretical essay in the volume Studien über Autorität und Familie. This book epitomizes the newly emerging multidisciplinary spirit of the 1930s—a spirit that originated in Europe and was subsequently carried forward in the United States both by Americans and by European émigrés. Soon after, Fromm (1941) published his influential work on authoritarianism and historical change, Escape From Freedom.

Reich and Fromm took as a central problem the ways in which personality is implicated (as cause and as effect) in social ideologies, movements, and structures. They saw the family as a primary agency of social control, not only transmitting explicit values and beliefs but, even more important, inducing types of character structure and modes of authority–subordinate relationships that provide a psychological underpinning for adult sociopolitical functioning. The authoritarian character is hypothesized as the psychological structure most receptive to, and most required by, rigidly hierarchical antidemocratic social structures. The rise of fascism offered a prototypic example for the social-psychological analysis of authoritarianism. [SeeSocialization.]

As a parallel development in the 1930s, American social psychologists were beginning the systematic study of political opinion. Their concepts, methods, and approach reflected the then prevailing Zeitgeist of American psychology. Conceptually, their focus was not on broad ideological patterns; it was, rather, on more segmental, quantitatively measured social attitudes. The concept of attitude was systematically formulated by Allport (1935) in a widely influential article. This concept had great appeal, both because of its analytic usefulness and because it readily lent itself to measurement and to statistical analysis. Scale methods of attitude measurement were developed by Thurstone and Chave (1929), Murphy and Likert (1938), and others, and in the ensuing years a tremendous number of scales were developed. In the area of conservatism–liberalism–radicalism, attitude scales were correlated with all manner of other variables, ranging from group membership to school achievement to the readiness to tolerate pain. [An extensive review of the early literature is given in Murphy, Murphy, & Newcomb 1931; see alsoAttitudes; Scaling; and the biography ofThurstone.]

By the early 1940s attitude research had become a major field in academic social psychology. However, the studies typically had a concrete, atheoretical, “shotgun” character. Broader theoretical perspectives were needed. On the one hand, the early investigators failed to regard attitudes as aspects of more inclusive ideological patterns, to consider their meaning for the individual, and to relate them to other, motivational–affective–cognitive components of personality. On the other hand, they had only a rudimentary sociological perspective and were largely unable to place individual ideology within a larger social and cultural context.

A seemingly unbridgeable gulf separated the European and the American lines of investigation. Perhaps the first large-scale effort to bridge the gap was the collaborative research of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford; the study began in 1943 and was published in 1950 under the title The Authoritarian Personality. Sanford (1956) provides a fuller review of the intellectual origins of this work. [See also the biography ofFrenkel-Brunswik.]

The research on authoritarianism drew both from the European tradition—with its psychoanalytic-sociological orientation and clinical form of analysis—and from the more measurement-oriented, attitude survey approach of American social psychology (in particular the previous work of Stagner 1936; Murphy & Likert 1938; Newcomb 1943; and more clinical study by Maslow 1943). It used scale methods, but its analytic emphasis was on ideological patterns rather than on single attitudes. In conceiving of ideology as an aspect of personality, it had roots in psychoanalysis and related personality theories, notably that of Murray (see Explorations in Personality 1938). Personality variables were measured by a variety of techniques, including scales, projective tests, semistructured interview, and intensive case analysis (again following Murray in his approach to personality assessment).

The research dealt primarily with the relation of ideology to personality—with authoritarianism as an ideology-personality syndrome—and not with the sociology of ideology. Sociological considerations were, however, an intrinsic part of the theoretical approach, and the work has stimulated a good deal of discussion and research along sociological lines (e.g., Christie & Jahoda 1954; Lipset I960; Hagen 1962; McClosky 1958; McClosky & Schaar 1965; Levinson 1964; DiRenzo 1963).

The program of research on the authoritarian personality began as a study of anti–Semitism (Frenkel-Brunswik et al. 1947). Its ideological focus gradually broadened to encompass ethnocentric ideology, conceived of broadly as a system of beliefs, attitudes, and values—a way of thinking and feeling—about “in-groups” and “out-groups” at every level of social organization from the local to the international scene. The overriding concern of the research was the nature of, and the relationship between, ethnocentric ideology and authoritarian personality. To a lesser though still significant degree, attention was given to other ideological domains, notably politics and religion. [SeeAnti-Semitism.]

Political ideology was studied primarily with regard to the liberalism-conservatism dimension. The description of the Politico–Economic Conservatism (Pec) Scale emphasized that the scale yielded only a rough right-of-center versus left-of-center distinction and did not distinguish qualitatively important variations within each of these. The PEC Scale showed statistically significant but moderate correlations, averaging .4 to .5, with the various measures of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism. Two main conclusions were drawn. First, political conservatives are, by and large, more ethnocentric and authoritarian than are political liberals. Second, there are wide variations in authoritarianism within both the right-of-center and the left-of-center groupings, and these variations may be related to specific patterns and styles of political orientation. In The Authoritarian Personality a number of specific concepts were put forward in Levinson’s chapter on the PEC Scale and in Adorno’s chapter on the interview material. For example, Levinson proposed a distinction between the “genuine” conservative and the “pseudo” (authoritarian) conservative, whose ideologies, while alike in many respects, are fundamentally different in others. Adorno, in his discussion of left-of-center viewpoints, posits several syndromes, such as the “ticket liberal,” in which authoritarian features play an important part.

The Authoritarian Personality thus gave evidence that authoritarianism has diverse modes of political expression. This point merits emphasis, since the book has been alleged to equate authoritarianism with the political right, equalitarianism with the left (Shils 1954). The research must be seen in the context of the times—World War II and its aftermath—during which the most destructive forms of ethnocentrism (mass genocide) and fascism were the paramount issues. The survey measure of authoritarianism was called the F scale, F referring to “potential for acceptance of fascist ideology.” It might better have been called the A scale. Authoritarianism is, indeed, a primary psychological source of receptivity to fascist ideology, but it may take other ideological forms as well.

Several studies conducted during and after World War II also deal with the relationship of authoritarian personality to fascist ideology. Dicks (1950) conducted intensive clinical interviews with German prisoners of war, investigating personality differences between the strongly pro-Nazi soldiers and those who opposed or seriously questioned the Nazi ideology. He derived an authoritarian syndrome strikingly similar to that of the American study. Erikson’s classic analysis, “Hitler’s Imagery and German Youth” (1942), is another example of this genre.

In the decade following publication of The Authoritarian Personality there were literally hundreds of studies derived from its concepts and measures. Most of them were relatively narrow in focus, theoretically limited, and concerned with measurement or technique rather than with substantive issues. The 1950s in the United States were dominated by McCarthyism and a spirit of intellectual retrenchment, and few new directions were established in the social-psychological analysis of authoritarianism and political ideology. There were, however, some significant contributions, of which the following are major examples.

Several large-scale surveys of U.S. national samples confirmed the earlier findings that authoritarianism is associated with a nationalist–militaristic stand in world affairs, with opposition to a civil-libertarian position, with racial and ethnic prejudice, and the like (see, for example, McClosky 1958). Inquiries into authoritarianism and social outlook within the working class were carried out by Kornhauser, Sheppard, and Mayer (1956) in the United States, by Spinley (1953) in England, and by Lipset (1960) in several countries. These studies suggest that the incidence of authoritarianism is relatively high in the working class and is a function of the psychosocial conditions of working-class life: material, cultural, and emotional deprivation; familial disorganization; coercive, stressful, anxiety-inducing pressures. In their political views, the more authoritarian members of the working class tend, more often than the others, either to be highly conservative supporters of the status quo or to hold “extremist” positions. In an extensive analysis of the bases for economic growth in countries at different stages of industrialization, Hagen (1962) attributes a major causal role to the influence of “innovative” (as against authoritarian) personalities. Christie and Jahoda (1954) brought together a series of critical discussions of the theory, methodology, and implications of The Authoritarian Personality. The research literature on authoritarianism until 1956 was reviewed by Christie and Cook (1958). Efforts to relate authoritarianism and political ideology within a broader sociopsychological framework were made by Frenkel-Brunswik (1952) and Levinson (1957; 1958).

Emerging from the authoritarian personality tradition, but differing from it in several important respects, is Rokeach’s The Open and Closed Mind (1960). His shift in theoretical orientation is implied by the use of the term “mind” rather than “personality” in the title. Rokeach takes a strongly cognitive approach deriving from Kurt Lewin and gestalt psychology, although he also acknowledges a debt to Fromm and to Hoffer (1951). He offers the concept of dogmatism as an alternative to that of authoritarianism. His formulation deals primarily with the structure of belief systems and modes of cognitive functioning, rather than with motivation, ego defense, and psychodynamics. Correspondingly, his research involves experimental, test, and survey methods rather than clinical and observational ones.

Rokeach states the hypothesis that dogmatism (and authoritarianism) is uncorrelated with the right–left dimension of political ideology. He suggests that there are dogmatic and nondogmatic viewpoints within every grouping—left, center, and right—along the political spectrum. He singles out the communists as a major dogmatic subgroup within the grouping on the left. He obtains some support for this hypothesis in an English sample, where a small group of communists exhibited a high mean score on his Dogmatism Scale. However, limitations of sampling and other difficulties raise doubts about the generalizability of this finding. Contrasting results were obtained by DiRenzo (1963) in an extensive study of members of parliament in Italy. He obtained a mean score on Rokeach’s Dogmatism Scale for each political party in the Chamber of Deputies. The rank order of these mean scores was almost identical with the order of the parties from right to left on the political spectrum. The neofascists exhibited the highest mean score (most dogmatic); communists, the lowest. Eysenck (1954) interprets the data of his research in England as indicating that communists and fascists have in common a high degree of tough-mindedness (a syndrome closely related to dogmatism and authoritarianism). His work has been strongly criticized by Rokeach and Hanley (1956) and by Christie (e.g., 1956), who point to serious deficiencies in sampling, data analysis, and data interpretation. Eysenck has, however, provided a defense (e.g., 1956).

Although a great deal has been written about the psychological bases for Communist party membership and ideology, remarkably little empirical evidence has been gathered. As Almond (1954) has observed, there are wide variations in the “appeals of communism” between countries, between social classes, between transient and long-term members, and the like. More adequate study of the multiple relationships between personality and communist ideology would have to take into consideration the significant variations in societal context and in the character of the ideology. This is true of other political parties and ideologies as well. In general, it would appear that personality is more closely related to concrete political ideology than to party affiliation or preference. There are appreciable variations in individual ideology and personality within all parties. It is therefore necessary to supplement gross surveys of large samples with the more intensive study of individuals, giving equal attention to ideology, personality, and engagement in the societal matrix.

What, then, can be concluded regarding the relation of personal authoritarianism to political ideology? On the average, there is significantly greater authoritarianism to the right of center than to the left. The relationship is, however, far from simple. More systematic analysis of qualitatively different patterns of ideology along the right-center-left continuum is urgently needed, both for purposes of political analysis and for the study of ideology as an aspect of personality. Authoritarian personality theory calls attention first of all to the democratic-antidemocratic dimension of ideology. One of its central postulates is that authoritarian individuals have a special affinity for antidemocratic viewpoints in all spheres of social life— political, religious, familial, organizational (Levinson 1964). In the case of political ideology, it predicts that authoritarianism will be associated with antidemocratic ideologies, whether of the right, center, or left. The choice of general political direction is related to class membership, as Lipset has shown, and to a variety of other social and psychological variables yet to be elucidated.

The ideological relevance of authoritarianism is clearest, and most fully documented, when we shift analytic focus from the broad categories of right, center, and left to more specific ideological dimensions. There is massive evidence that authoritarianism is significantly associated with the following: emphasis upon rigid hierarchy and stratification in political and other structures; rejection of democratic political processes; reliance upon the “great leader” in solving social problems and upon coercive social controls in maintaining social order; chauvinistic nationalism as a stance toward one’s own nation and toward international affairs; an ethnocentric view of relationships among various groups within the nation; readiness to place severe restrictions upon civil rights and civil liberties; religious fundamentalism and its extension into political and other spheres; punitiveness as a basic emotional–moral response to deviance (expressed ideologically, for example, in the emphasis upon military solutions to international problems, or upon the use of punishment in the deterrence of legal crime and nonconformity); rejection of innovation, experimentation, and openness in political and other systems.

The research to date clearly establishes authoritarianism as a personality constellation having significant implications for political ideology and participation. Much more work remains to be done, however, with regard to the components and variant forms of this syndrome and with regard to its political manifestations under different social conditions.

Other ideology–personality constellations

Since the late 1950s interest in the social psychology of ideology has expanded beyond concern with authoritarianism, and new personality–ideology constellations are being investigated. Although the primary focus of these studies is not on the right–left dimension as such, they have a bearing on this dimension and, what is perhaps more important, they reflect the emergence of new dimensions in the analysis of political ideology and personality. An extensive review of this work is beyond the scope of the present article; it must suffice to indicate briefly some of the relevant concepts and directions of inquiry.

The “conspiratorial” view of politics has been subjected to psychological analysis by Hofstadter (1965). Although he uses the term paranoid style to convey the emotional quality of this view, his interest is not in psychopathology or psychiatric diagnosis but in the fantasies, ego defenses, and modes of thought that give coherence, meaning, and emotional appeal to the conspiratorial interpretation of political affairs. Exploring ideology–personality relationships through a series of intensive case studies, Lane (1962) uses the term cabalist to identify a similar political orientation. Bittner (1963) takes a historical and phenomenological approach in seeking to delineate a genotypic conception of radicalism. He attributes a number of distinctive psychological properties and themes to the radical orientation. One may then ask whether an orientation having these psychological properties would have special appeal to individuals having corresponding personality characteristics. Although Bittner does not take this last step, his analysis suggests interesting leads for personality study. Similarly, Talmon (1962) describes various psychological properties of millenaristic ideology. She is concerned primarily with the social antecedents and consequences of millenaristic movements, but her discussion is also richly suggestive of hypotheses regarding their psychological bases. [SeeMillenarism; Paranoid reactions.]

The 1961 translation of Scheler’s classic essays on ressentiment (1912) brings to wider attention an ideology–personality constellation that merits further study. Scheler conceives of ressentiment as a complex syndrome involving conscious attitudes, feelings, and moral judgments as well as unconscious defenses and wishes. The ressentimerit-laden person tends to devaluate authoritative persons and groups, not on the basis of genuine commitment to his espoused values but, rather, on the basis of secret envy, vindictiveness, and impotent rage. As Lewis Coser points out in his Introduction to the volume, Scheler’s formulations are important in their own right and as forerunners of more recent analyses of alienation and anomie. [See the biography ofScheler.] Since the latter concepts have received greater attention in contemporary work, we shall consider them more fully here.

The concepts of alienation and anomie have a long history in sociology but have only recently been singled out for extensive theoretical discussion and empirical investigation. The concept of alienation has its modern origins in the psychological writings of Marx (see Fromm 1961), who postulated that the individual in capitalist society is estranged both from his labor and from himself. Without necessarily accepting Marx’s assumptions about the societal roots of alienation, many contemporary social scientists have inquired into its nature, its social and psychological bases, and its manifestations in various sectors of social life (e.g., Keniston 1965; Lane 1962). Alienation has been variously defined to include component dimensions such as sense of powerlessness, isolation, and inefficacy; lack of social rootedness; self-estrangement; noncommitment, cynicism, and failure of identity. It may be expressed in apathy, in empty conformity, or in “rebellion without a cause.” Politically, it may be found at every point along the right-left spectrum and may be manifested in lack of political participation or in zealous dedication to a party or movement. The analytic usefulness of this concept at present is limited by the multiplicity and ambiguity of its definitions. At the same time, it has been extremely useful in generating new lines of research and new perspectives on the social psychology of politics. [SeeAlienation.]

The concept of anomie was initially formulated by Durkheim (1897). He identified the anomic social system as one characterized by a relative failure of normative order, a lack of moral regulation over human strivings and passions. He gave evidence that anomie societies are characterized by relatively high rates of deviant and self-destructive behavior, including suicide. In seeking to explain these phenomena, he postulated that anomie societies produce certain psychological states in many of their individual members: insatiable craving, sense of futility, lack of responsibility and moral purpose, emotional emptiness and despair. He did not, however, deal with the fact that there are wide individual differences in psychological anomie among the members of a given society and that the development of this state of mind may also be a function of individual personality. [See the biography ofDurkheim; see also Inkeles 1959.]

Recent investigations, given impetus by the work of Srole (e.g., 1956), have extended Durkheim’s formulation to include the concept of the anomic personality. McClosky and Schaar (1965) present a systematic review of this theoretical development, as well as a new conceptualization in which anomie is regarded as a function of both personality and social conditions and some research data derived from large-scale surveys. They find significant correlations between anomie and authoritarianism, alienation, ethnocentrism, political extremism, sense of political futility, misanthropy, mistrust, and punitiveness. While this study requires further validation and refinement, it strongly suggests that anomie is a significant concept in the analysis of personality and political ideology. It also indicates the need for further clarification of the concepts of anomie, alienation, and authoritarianism.

In conclusion, we note that the study of personality and political ideology is entering a new and more multidisciplinary period. It is being increasingly recognized that work on this problem extends beyond the traditional province of “individual psychology”; the psychologist who would contribute to it must have some appreciation of the political, social, and historical context within which individuals form and act upon their ideologies (Erikson 1958). At the same time, historians and social scientists working in this field must develop a more systematic and profound conception of the individual as an active agent in the historical process—an agent capable of blind conformity, of irrational destructiveness, and of rational, responsible choice in accord with his interests, values, and motives. Our further progress will thus require the conjoint perspectives of personality theory, political theory, and general sociological theory.

Daniel J. Levinson

[Directly related are the entriesConservatism; Liberalism; Radicalism. Other relevant material may be found inAnti-Semitism; Attitudes; Conformity; Freedom; Ideology; International relations, article onPsychological aspects; Political behavior; Political participation; Prejudice; Public opinion; Survey analysis; Values; and in the biographies ofFrenkel-Brunswik; Marx.]


Adorno, Theodor W. et al. 1950 The Authoritarian Personality. American Jewish Committee, Social Studies Series, No. 3. New York: Harper.

Allport, Gordon W. 1935 Attitudes. Pages 798–844 in Carl Murchison (editor), A Handbook of Social Psychology. Worcester, Mass.: Clark Univ. Press.

Almond, Gabriel A. 1954 The Appeals of Communism. Princeton Univ. Press.

Bell, Daniel (editor) 1955 The New American Right. New York: Criterion.

Bittner, Egon 1963 Radicalism and the Organization of Radical Movements. American Sociological Review 28:928–940.

Christie, Richard 1956 Eysenck’s Treatment of the Personality of Communists. Psychological Bulletin 53: 411–430.

Christie, Richard; and Cook, Peggy A. 1958 A Guide to Published Literature Relating to The Authoritarian Personality Through 1956. Journal of Psychology 45: 171–199.

Christie, Richard; and Jahoda, Marie (editors) 1954 Studies in the Scope and Method of The Authoritarian Personality. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Dicks, Henry V. 1950 Personality Traits and National Socialist Ideology. Human Relations 3:111–154.

DiRenzo, Gordon J. 1963 A Social Psychological Analysis of Personality Structures of Members of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Notre Dame.

Durkheim, ÉMile (1897) 1951 Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published in French.

Erikson, Erik H. 1942 Hitler’s Imagery and German Youth Psychiatry 5:475–493.

Erikson, Erik H. (1958) 1962 Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. Austen Riggs Monograph No. 4. New York: Norton.

Explorations in Personality: A Clinical and Experimental Study of Fifty Men of College Age, by Henry A. Murray et al. 1938 London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Eysenck, Hans J. 1954 The Psychology of Politics. London: Routledge.

Eysenck, Hans J. 1956 The Psychology of Politics: A Reply Psychological Bulletin 53:177–182.

Frenkel-Brunswik, Else 1952 Interaction of Psychological and Sociological Factors in Political Behavior. American Political Science Review 46:44–65.

Frenkel-Brunswik, Else; Levinson, Daniel J.; and Sanford, R. Nevitt (1947) 1965 The Authoritarian Personality. Pages 670–679 in Harold Proshansky and Bernard Seidenberg (editors), Basic Studies in Social Psychology. New York: Holt. → First published as “The Antidemocratic Personality.”

Fromm, Erich 1936 Theoretische Entwurfe iiber Autoritat und Familie: Sozialpsychologischer Teil. Pages 77–135 in Frankfurt am Main, Institut für Sozialforschung, Studien über Autorität und Familie. Edited by Max Horkheimer. Paris: Alcan. → An English abstract appears on pages 908–911.

Fromm, Erich (1941) 1960 Escape From Freedom. New York: Holt.

Fromm, Erich (editor) 1961 Marx’s Concept of Man. New York: Ungar.

Hagen, Everett E. 1962 On the Theory of Social Change. Homewood, III.: Dorsey.

Hoffer, Eric 1951 The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Harper. → A paperback edition was published in 1958 by New American Library.

Hofstadter, Richard 1965 The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays. New York: Knopf.

Inkeles, Alex 1959 Personality and Social Structure. Pages 249–276 in American Sociological Society, Sociology Today: Problems and Prospects. Edited by Robert K. Merton, Leonard Broom, and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr. New York: Basic Books.

Keniston, Kenneth 1965 The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society. New York: Harcourt.

Kornhauser, Arthur; Sheppard, Harold I.; an d Mayer, Albert J. 1956 When Labor Votes: A Study of Auto Workers. New York: University Books.

Lane, Robert E. 1962 Political Ideology: Why the American Common Man Believes What He Does. New York: Free Press.

Levinson, Daniel J. 1957 Authoritarian Personality and Foreign Policy. Journal of Conflict Resolution 1:37–47.

Levinson, Daniel J. 1958 The Relevance of Personality for Political Participation. Public Opinion Quarterly 22:3–10.

Levinson, Daniel J. 1964 Idea Systems in the Individual and in Society. Pages 297–318 in George K. Zollschan and Walter Hirsch (editors), Explorations in Social Change. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lipset, Seymour M. 1960 Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Mcclosky, Herbert 1958 Conservatism and Personality. American Political Science Review 52:27–45.

Mcclosky, Herbert; and Schaar, John H. 1965 Psychological Dimensions of Anomy. American Sociological Review 30:14–40.

Mannheim, Karl (1929–1931) 1954 Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Harcourt; London: Routledge. → A paperback edition was published in 1955 by Harcourt. Parts 2–4 are a translation of Ideologie und Utopie (1929); Part 5 is a translation of the article “Wissenssoziologie” (1931).

Maslow, A. H. 1943 The Authoritarian Character Structure. Journal of Social Psychology 18:401–411.

Murphy, Gardner; and Likert, Rensis 1938 Public Opinion and the Individual. New York: Harper.

Murphy, Gardner; Murphy, L. B.; and Newcomb, Theodore M. (1931) 1937 Experimental Social Psychology: An Interpretation of Research Upon the Socialization of the Individual. Rev. ed. New York: Harper. → Newcomb was a joint author only of the revised edition.

Newcomb, Theodore M. (1943) 1957 Personality and Social Change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community. New York: Dryden.

Reich, Wilhelm (1933) 1946 The Mass Psychology of Fascism. 3d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Orgone Institute Press. → First published in German.

Rokeach, Milton 1960 The Open and Closed Mind: Investigations Into the Nature of Belief Systems and Personality Systems. New York: Basic Books.

Rokeach, Milton; and Hanley, Charles 1956 Eysenck’s Tender-mindedness Dimension: A Critique. Psychological Bulletin 53:169–176.

Sanford, R. Nevitt 1956 The Approach of the Authoritarian Personality. Pages 253–319 in J. L. McCary (editor), Psychology of Personality: Six Modern Approaches. New York: Logos.

Scheler, Max (1912) 1961 Ressentiment. Edited with an introduction by Lewis A. Coser. New York: Free Press. → First published in German.

Shils, Edward 1954 Authoritarianism: “Right” and “Left.” Pages 24–49 in Richard Christie and Marie Jahoda (editors), Studies in the Scope and Methodof The Authoritarian Personality. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Spinley, B. M. 1953 The Deprived and the Privileged: Personality Development in English Society. London: Routledge.

Srole, Leo J. 1956 Social Integration and Certain Corollaries: An Exploratory Study. American Sociological Review 21:709–716.

Stagner, Ross 1936 Fascist Attitudes: Their Determining Conditions. Journal of Social Psychology 7:438–454.

Talmon, Yonina 1962 Pursuit of the Millennium: The Relation Between Religious and Social Change. Archives européennes de sociologie 3:125–148.

Thurstone, Louis L.; and Chave, E. J. 1929 The Measurement of Attitude. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Personality, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 24 Mar. 2017 <>.

"Personality, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (March 24, 2017).

"Personality, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved March 24, 2017 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.