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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Maglana: Understanding the right-wing authoritarian follower

THE Duterte Youth gained media mileage recently, in part due to the attention paid by mass and social media to the confrontation that artist Jim Paredes had with the group in an event commemorating the 31st year of the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

For their troubles, nine of the Duterte Youth were given pins that made them members of the Republic Defenders, a civic group that self-identifies as “defenders of the Republic of the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte, his policies, programs that promote the general welfare of the Filipino people.”

Apparently the Republic Defenders is associated with the Office of the solicitor-general. It was Solicitor-General Jose Calida himself who invited and presented the pins “because we are supporting them as part of the defender of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Unlike those who collectively categorize them as “Dutertards,” I think the Duterte Youth represents a distinctive segment of our population, the right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers.

Various belief categories apply to those who throw their support for the President, among them those who see in him and his platform the possibility of genuine social change that benefits the many.

But I believe RWA followers pose a very harmful challenge.

Retired professor of Psychology Robert Anthony "Bob" Altemeyer in his book “The Authoritarians” describes an RWA follower as “someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities.”

That description does not seem particularly problematic except that Altemeyer also said that “followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want—which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal,” and that “authoritarian followers find it easier to bully, harass, punish, maim, torture, ’eliminate,’ ’liquidate,’ and ’exterminate’ their victims than most people do.”

Right-wing authoritarianism is not a political line but a personality profile characterized according to Altemeyer with 1) high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society, 2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities, and 3) a high level of conventionalism.

The allegiance of those with high levels of RWA is not to a political ideology, not even to a leader, but to what I would call “The Establishment.”

Hence, there could be RWA followers among the political right, as well as the political left in situations where the latter has become the authority in place. Too, previous Philippine administrations had supporters who could be said to have high levels of RWA.

To be fair, Altemeyer raises the red flag against over generalizations, the prediction of individual behavior (e.g., assuming that a person with a degree of RWA will without doubt exhibit violent behavior), and the positioning of hard opposites.

But he provides compelling examples of the damage that high levels of right-wing authoritarianism does or can do to societies.

Authoritarian submission has led to situations where high RWA citizens justified the harmful actions of their governments (e.g., Americans with high RWAs believed than most people the charge of President George W. Bush that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which warranted American occupation).

Authoritarian aggression explains why those with high RWA would tend to be more harsh against civilian law-breakers than on authorities who break the law.

Conventionalism could lead to citizen support for conflict when leaders champion war (e.g., high RWA Jewish and Palestinian students alike tend to be most against a political solution to the Middle East problem).

Thus, I caution those who jump at every chance to broaden the ranks of the supporters of President Duterte from uncritically welcoming the Duterte Youth and the actuations of the Solicitor-General.

Just because one is an enemy of your enemy does not make him a friend—particularly not those who are also known to be supporters of the Marcoses or have the proclivity to misuse power.

Duterte Youth leader Ronald Cardema is also reported to be the chair of the Kabataan for Bongbong Movement backing Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The Solicitor-General seems to have simplistically equated “Republic” with the reigning head of government.

Recent global and national discourse has focused on demagogues and populist leaders. But social scientists have studied authoritarian followers for longer. It is time that we use that knowledge to shine light on the followers of these types of leaders.

While framed largely within the context of the US and Canada, there is much in what the authoritarians and other related materials say that Filipinos who are witnessing the resurgence of right-wing authoritarianism have to reflect on.

Email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com
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