Sunday, May 24, 2009

A leaflet from my friendly neighbourhood fascists

Here's more about a topic I've covered a number of times before, such as this, among others. Specifically, it's about the connection between the emotions of fear and anxiety, on the one hand, and religion and political conservatism, on the other.

A leaflet from my friendly neighbourhood fascists
The leaflet itself was pretty much what you'd expect. An obsession with warfare (it even includes a list of battles dating back to Trafalgar!) coupled with stoking up in-group loyalty and out-group fears.

It got me thinking, though, about why people turn to these kinds of parties when they feel anxious.

One of the leading researchers in this field is John Jost, at New York University. Back in 2003, he analysed all the published studies to show that fear of uncertainty and feelings of being threatened are higher in conservatives and extremists. But what he couldn't tell from the data was whether these factors lead to right wing extremism in particular, or just extremism in general.

The blog author (Tom Rees) goes on to detail two important questions about the association between religion and right-wing authoritarianism.
There are at least two possible explanations for why these two sets of ideologies often go together.

One is that religion might represent tradition and ethnic identity. If so, then the association is purely circumstantial. If a society were historically atheist, then that would be held up instead as the rallying cry (think of a historically communist state facing some kind of threat).

The other is that fear - of uncertainty and threats - generates both conservative views and also increases religiosity. As far as I know, there's been surprisingly little research into this possibility. It is know that 'existential anxiety' (the fear of death) can increase religiosity. But there's no study I know of that looks into whether more generalised fear and uncertainty make people more religious - even though it's widely supposed to be the case.

He has raised this question before, such as here. I agree that more research on this topic is desirable.

However, evidence continues to appear of the association between authoritarian conservatism (as opposed to the libertarian kind, perhaps) and uncertainty avoidance. The blog post refers to this recent research:

Are Needs to Manage Uncertainty and Threat Associated With Political Conservatism or Ideological Extremity?
Three studies are conducted to assess the uncertainty— threat model of political conservatism, which posits that psychological needs to manage uncertainty and threat are associated with political orientation. Results from structural equation models provide consistent support for the hypothesis that uncertainty avoidance (e.g., need for order, intolerance of ambiguity, and lack of openness to experience) and threat management (e.g., death anxiety, system threat, and perceptions of a dangerous world) each contributes independently to conservatism (vs. liberalism). No support is obtained for alternative models, which predict that uncertainty and threat management are associated with ideological extremism or extreme forms of conservatism only. Study 3 also reveals that resistance to change fully mediates the association between uncertainty avoidance and conservatism, whereas opposition to equality partially mediates the association between threat and conservatism.

I have additional material along these lines I'd like to discuss. Maybe I'll get to it before long.

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