Our authoritarian personality.

I have argued elsewhere that Latin American politicians, and leftist intellectuals in particular, have become “wound collectors” that always manage to blame the United States, or multinational corporations for all the ills that afflict the region. The authoritarian predisposition is to always blame problems on outsiders. Sadly, Latin culture is not, preeminently, a culture of personal freedoms, openness, tolerance, intellectual experimentation, and democracy.
José Azel.

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Hannah Arendt is considered one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th century, and her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism is regularly cited as one of the best non-fiction books of the era. In it, Arendt famously identifies the “authoritarian personality.” More recently, other scholars, such as behavioral economist Karen Stenner, have researched personality traits such as the “authoritarian predisposition.”
An authoritarian predisposition is one that favors homogeneity and order. This contrasts with a “libertarian” predisposition that favors diversity and difference. In Stenner’s terminology, authoritarianism in not political, and it is not the same as conservatism. Authoritarianism appeals to people who have difficulty with complexity, and there is nothing intrinsically “left-wing” or “right-wing” about authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is a frame of mind, not a set of ideas. Both predispositions can be present without overt manifestations.
Professor Stenner’s claims that about a third of the population in any country possess an authoritarian predisposition. And she argues that “…the central elements of democracy are not just anathema, but actually insensible to authoritarians. Disagreement, dissent, and disobedience; determination of the ‘common good’ by debate and negotiation between partisans of competing worldviews: none of this is comprehensible, let alone palatable from the authoritarian perspective.”
Dr. Stenner is Australian, and although I do not find in her work specific research on authoritarian predispositions in Latin American, I am convinced that this phenomenon is abundantly present in Latin America. And, specifically within my Cuban tribe where strong-man authoritarianism does not seem to lose its appeal in its open or closet varieties
Meritocracy was one of the great innovations derived from the French Revolution. And, in North America and Europe, most people believe that democratic, meritocratic, and economic competition are preferable to inherited or ordained power. Not so much in Latin America.
In The Federalists, Madison wrote: “The first object of government is the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property.” But democracy and free markets often produce disappointing outcomes. This is especially true when people are entering the marketplace from very different starting points, or when market interactions are poorly regulated. Inevitably, those not advancing in a competitive model will question the usefulness of meritocracy and competition. Madison’s dictum does not fit well with the authoritarian predisposition of Latin American culture.
In her new book, The Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum notes that “…people are often attracted to authoritarian ideas because they are bothered by complexity. They dislike divisiveness. They prefer unity. A sudden onslaught of diversity—diversity of opinions, diversity of experiences—therefore makes them angry. They seek solutions in new political language that makes them feel safer and more secure.”
Mrs. Applebaum, who is the author of three award-winning histories of the Soviet Union, adds that: “We have long known that in closed societies the arrival of democracy, with its clashing voices and differing opinions, can be complex and frightening, for people unaccustomed to public dissent. The noise of argument, the constant hum of disagreement—these can irritate people who prefer to live in a society tied together by a single narrative.”
Democratic governance and free markets are the conditions in which social stability, social freedom, and social equality, have most often coexisted. And yet, to authoritarian personalities the political success of a project is often deemed more important than its empirical success. In Latin America, strong-man authoritarianism is often invoked as the solution to a country’s problems.
I have argued elsewhere that Latin American politicians, and leftist intellectuals in particular, have become “wound collectors” that always manage to blame the United States, or multinational corporations for all the ills that afflict the region. The authoritarian predisposition is to always blame problems on outsiders. Sadly, Latin culture is not, preeminently, a culture of personal freedoms, openness, tolerance, intellectual experimentation, and democracy.
In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner wrote an exquisite phrase that always comes to mind when I contemplate a future for Cuba or Latin America in light of the authoritarianism in our history. As Faulkner put it: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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