According to Erich Fromm, the authoritarian character is a personality with low self-esteem, unable to engage with a complex and contradictory environment, and thus prone to prejudices, conformity, destructivity, and unquestioning obedience. The analysis of this personality structure already emerged around WWI (H. Mann, Schnitzler, Le Bon, Freud). It was a little later that it received its most prominent scholarship around WWII by the early Frankfurt School (Reich, Fromm, Horkheimer, Adorno). After this ‘classical period’ the analysis of the authoritarian mindset became subject of individual research on ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’ (Mitscherlich, 1967), obedience (Milgram-Experiment 1961, Stanford-Prison-Experiment 1971)‘Beziehungsunfähigkeit’ (Theweleit 1978), and narcissism (Lasch 1979), while at the same time slowly disappearing as an influential concept of social and cultural theory.
Our panel would like to pose several questions revolving around the disappearance of the figure of the authoritarian personality as a concept of investigation. The most evident question would of course be whether it has disappeared at all. If it has, however, is it because this questioning of authority has itself been branded a gesture of authority - as many poststructuralist writers have argued? Or has the figure not vanished but been replaced by other, more contemporary figures as they may appear in many different areas of contemporary politics and subjectivity?
What can be said about the authoritarian personality in relation to fear of immigration, refugees and Islam? Can we find the authoritarian personality in populist parties and movements? What kind of authority is produced by flat hierarchies, concepts of “work-life balance,” playful creativeness, and the lifestyle of a so-called “digital bohemia” (Holm Friebe/Sascha Lobo)? In all of these cases the major question runs: who would be the heirs of the ‘classic’ authoritarian personality and where can we find their representations in theory and literature, different milieus as well as in contemporary politics and populism?
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg