Gian Piero de Bellis

The authoritarian attitudes




A brief clarification of the distinction between authoritarian and non-authoritarian attitudes and habits of behaviour.



In the course of their lives, individuals receive a variety of physical and mental inputs and undergo a series of experiences that greatly contribute to shape their attitudes (positive/negative feelings).

It is then important, to understand which attitudes should be preferentially favoured (like, for instance, acceptance of variety, openness of mind, critical thought, benevolence, etc.) if we want to promote a decent and acceptable life for all human beings.

These attitudes would then result in people’s habits, that is repeated consolidated behaviour that manifests itself almost spontaneously. As remarked by Montaigne, « habit is second nature ». Considering that we cannot change human nature, we would better concentrate on perfecting this second nature.

This task is facilitated by the fact that human nature is quite malleable and flexible. However, just because of this porous malleability we should also be careful not to fill the mind and the soul with all sorts of mental and moral garbage (prejudices, preconceptions, fear of the unknown, etc.).

Let us then see what this mental and moral garbage might be, a junk capable of introducing authoritarian attitudes that manifest themselves in authoritarian habits of behaviour.

The authoritarian attitudes reveal themselves through the appearance of the following aspects:

  • Hard statements. The authoritarian individual is quite prone to make hard statements, expressing convictions that he/she consider unquestionable. This is in sharp contrast with the scientific approach, based on hypotheses (always falsifiable) and soft statements.
  • Either/or vision. From hard statements comes a vision of the world made of dualities (either/or), a black and white interpretation of personal experiences and social realities.
  • Polarities contraposition. The either/or vision leads almost always to view the world as made of polarities, that is strongly conflicting ideologies, irreconcilable interests, antagonistic individuals and classes (e.g. left/right, public/private, capitalism/communism, etc.).
  • Missionary impulse. Because a society based on strong contrapositions is unpalatable even and especially to the authoritarian person, his/her solution is to intervene strongly and decisively to put things right. This intervention is generally in the form of philanthropic despotism or populistic totalitarianism.
  • Mono-solution. The intervention consists mainly in imposing a solution (a specific type of personal and social organisation) considered valid for everybody. The envisaged mono-solution refers to one of the poles of the either/or vision and is related to the preferences of the authoritarian ideology-group that prevails.
  • Means-ends contradiction. A resolution of contrasts (called promoting peace, exporting democracy, or other) unilaterally and violently imposed reveals quite soon a considerable fragility that is connected to the existence of a contradiction between means employed (violence) and ends prospected (peace).

Unfortunately many individuals are not at all aware that their way of behaviour is the outcome of authoritarian attitudes. Even with the best of their intentions they cannot avoid the authoritarian trap. As a matter of fact we find these attitudes in religious individuals, in quite progressive folks, and even in very passionate anarchists.

If these are the revelatory features of the authoritarian individual, it is quite simple to characterize a non-authoritarian (an-authoritarian) human being.
This person:

  • Makes soft statements and proceed by tentative hypothesis in putting forward proposals and setting up projects.
  • Favours variety (instead of either/or) and plurality (instead of polarities) of visions and solutions.
  • Lets everybody free to look for his/her own solution and intervenes only when aid is expressly requested or evidently necessary (e.g. to protect a persecuted person). Personal aid should generally be only a temporary measure (e.g. until the violence persists) and certainly not a permanent intromission in people’s lives (like the welfare state).
  • Applies coherence between means employed and ends desired.

The XXI century has started in the worst possible way, with the destruction of the Twin Towers (9/11/2001), the widespread massacres in various parts of the world (Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Sudan, Palestine, Ethiopia, etc.) and the increase in the number and arrogance of authoritarian governments (Afghanistan, Russia, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc.).
If we add the recurrent episodes of insecurity (floods, fires, tornadoes, epidemies and pandemics, etc.) contributed also by a misuse and mismanagement of natural and human resources, we have plenty of reasons for the central powers to justify and strengthen their authoritarian stance.

For all these reasons, promoting and spreading non-authoritarian attitudes and habits of behaviour is now necessary more than ever. And the first step is to clarify and distinguish between the authoritarian and non-authoritarian attitudes whatever the pretentions or justifications put forward by certain individuals. The next step would be to set up projects and activities that show the beauty and fruitfulness of a non-authoritarian approach. It is very likely that the example will make wonders for spreading the message and for multiplying the diffusion of non-authoritarian practices.


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