On “Authoritarian Personality” and Democracy


Masoud Kazemzadeh
by Masoud Kazemzadeh

On "Authoritarian Personality" and Democracy

In my opinion the single best work on democracy’s institutional needs is:


My own view is that to have democracy, several factors, in some mix, have to be present:

socio-economic (large middle class)

political culture (civic culture among the educated/or and the masses)

democratic personality (democratic leaders)

global conditions (antipathy towards dictatorial ideologies, interests of great powers)

To have dictatorship, also several factors have to be present:

socio-economic (ruling monarchies, small middle class, oligarchies with dictatorial ideologies)

political culture (authoritarian culture among the educated and/or masses)

authoritarian leaders (authoritarian personality)

global conditions (interests of great powers; dictatorial ideologies like Islamic fundamentalism, fascism, Stalinism are conducive for dictatorship)

The best work on socio-economic conditions for democracy and dictatorship is Barrington Moore’s classic study:


a good primer on civic culture and democracy:


a good article (later on book) on global conditions is Samuel Huntington’s "Democracy’s Third Wave" published on the Journal of Democracy.

Some scholars believe that some individuals (as followers and leaders) hold a cluster of characteristics that predisposes them towards authoritarian or democratic personality. It began with Erich Fromm and then the Frankfort School. There have been much corrections and modifications from the original formulations.

brief description of authoritarian personality


scholarly article on authoritarian personality (you might want to print and read it; some pages are upside-down).


I do have reservations on each of the above. But each contains great amount of wisdom and analyses. We could cull together from each that makes sense and discard that which does not.

If all the four factors are present, we see consolidated democracy. Otherwise, we might get dictatorship. Personality of leaders, educated middle class, and the masses each plays a significant and at times determining role. For example, in all indications, India in 1947 was NOT conducive for democracy. But the democratic personality of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Laal Nehru made the difference. If these two leaders possessed authoritarian personalities, then India would have become dictatorial. But due to their personalities and commitments, they were able to create an enduring democracy despite massive poverty, huge ethno-sectarian divisions, mass illiteracy, and bad global conditions for democratization.

Pakistan was similar to India is almost all the indices. Except the religion and the leadership. Pakistan and India were part of the Indian subcontinent with the same class structure and same colonial history. Also the experience of Bangladesh is instructive that is similar to Pakistan in terms of religion, and was dominated by it, but became democratic, in large measure perhaps due to the influence of India during its war of independence.

In the U.S., the authoritarian personality of Nixon was so harmful (and the dictatorial actions he committed) that the Congress began the process to impeach and remove him. Nixon resigned on the eve of certain impeachment (and very highly likely removal). The democratic system in the U.S. along with the democratic civic culture of the U.S. removed a person with terribly dictatorial personality from ruling them.

In Iran today, we have a conducive situation for a transition to democracy. But it is not guaranteed. Certainly, the primary obstacle to a transition to democracy is the fundamentalist regime. But if the leaders possess authoritarian personality, we will not have a transition to democracy. If the educated individuals and the educated middle class support anti-democratic groups, then we will not have democracy.

We need to shun those with authoritarian personalities and support those with a democratic personality. Therefore, increase the likelihood of democratization and then democratic consolidation.

What are some of the characteristics of authoritarian personality? What are some of the characteristics of democratic personality?

Democratic personality:

accept diversity; tolerance of dissident views; pluralism; accept the rights of those with whom one disagrees; accept the rights of others to criticize one’s policies; defend the rights of those with whom one disagrees

Authoritarian personality:

viciously attack those who hold a different view; go ballistic when someone criticizes one’s policies; do not defend the rights of those with whom one disagrees; want permanent leadership in one’s group’s hands (more than just the policy, but rather a characteristic);

A person with democratic personality put in charge of a dictatorial system could cause it to collapse. For example, Gorbachev was the leader of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union. The CPSU was a total dictatorship. Its ideology was a dictatorial ideology (did not allow the right of dissent, did not allow free democratic elections, free press, etc). But Gorbachev’s reforms caused the whole system to collapse.

Stalin Personality: I define Stalinist personality as a personality that talks about progressive ideals while at the same time engaging in or supporting of, or being silent about terribly horrendous genocidal policies. Stalin talked about commitment to socialism (getting rid of exploitation, equality, and liberation) while at the same time mass murdering members of the CPSU’s own politburo, Central Committee, and putting millions of human beings in concentration camps and mass murdering them.

Hitler Personality: This personality regards other human being who think differently as pests and roaches to be exterminated. This personality does not think mass killing is bad. There is an aspect of psychopathic disregard for human life in their personality. The more sophisticated among this group hide their genocidal personality. Others in this group who are less sophisticated do not realize that genocide is regarded as bad by others, so they do not hide it until others condemn them. Many Pahlavi monarchists and many Islamic fundamentalist in Iran posses this kind of personality.

The Hitler personality is a fascist personality. This was discussed by Erich Fromm and then others in the Frankfort school (Adorno, Habermass). The individuals possessing the Hitler personality hold strong hierarchical views of society and government. In their view, those who are dissidents have to be eliminated. They are against democracy, freedom, and human rights. The more sophisticated among them hide their true views, while the less sophisticated express them. When one hears someone uses words like "pest" for human beings, then we should be alarmed about the existence of this personality in that person or group. When someone says that there should be ONLY one group or leader, then we have become alarmed.

The role of educated middle class and the educated individuals.

If we want freedom, democracy, and human rights, then we have to oppose dictatorial groups and support pro-democracy groups.

We should respect the rights of those with whom we disagree to hold their views. If they are anti-democratic, we should defend their rights and oppose the content of their ideas and policies.

In other words, we need to be actively civil libertarian. This means that we should defend the RIGHTS of those with whom we disagree to be able to express them.

At the current time, the number one enemy of democracy and freedom in Iran is the fundamentalist regime. This requires that we strongly and unequivocally criticize them and condemn them. This requires that we defeat them. Those on the streets of Iran will do the real heavy work and pay the highest price for freedom. Those of us in the safety of our homes outside Iran can and should do all we can to confront and defeat the supporters and apologists of the fundamentalist regime.


sorry for the typos

I may add if I could get some free time


more from Masoud Kazemzadeh
Masoud Kazemzadeh

Dear Anahid, Divaneh, and Mehrban

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Dear Anahid,

Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them very much.






Divaneh jaan,

Thanks. I will write more on authoritarian and democratic socialization and their relationship with authority in few days. I will also write some on why capitalism and democracy developed in Europe instead of say the Middle East. Just wanted to acknowledge your question and let you know that I will attempt to answer your question.

And yes, I am concerned about the rise of extreme violence.

Highest regards,





Dear Honorable Spokeswoman of the Government,

You are right. All books have to be burned. No more reading of Western Olum Ensani.





Dear Masoud,

by Mehrban on

I simply do not understand why you think we may need references and/or knowledge of works of people that might have been studying the idea of Democracy for a long time and may have even been living in Democratic societies (if you can call them that :-\).  Well I have to inform you that WE are fully capable of developing our own idea of Democracy _or any other topic- any day.  As a matter of fact we can (and we do) even come up with a different concept of Democracy or anything else everyday.  So there! Enough of using other people's ideas can't you think for yourself for once, do you have to always adhere to this old methodology of history of thought and precedents? News flash! WE have a new method a method by which we are going to bring the pompous :-/ west (lc) to its knees.  It is called the method of "Man Daravardi" (remember you saw it here first), we have been successfully using it for the past 30 years.   You see Mr. Kazemzadeh, in the country that I come from, for the past 30 years it doesn't matter what we say and if what we say does not hold even a single drop of water it is okay because it is authentic (it is our own) unlike you who is so not creative to the level that you stoop to reading reference materials and researching the topic, my ideas are by no means tainted with that of any expert.   Did I remember to say bigot somewhere too?  Hmmm


Ps.  and I know what you are thinking, "heck, I sould have never given the job of the speaker of the government to that big mouth girl, now it has gotten to her head and she's gone rogue."   :-).


Thanks for this eye opener

by divaneh on

Thanks Masoud jaan for this informative article and the provided references. Do you think that as a patriarchal society we have more tendency for dictatorship and more capable of accepting it? It would be interesting to know whether it is the dictatorship at home and organisations in the society that creates the dictatorship at the top or vice versa.

Let me share a fear with you. I think some of the highly radicalised people and amongst them many monarchists are capable of creating a dictatorship far worse than the existing one. A sample of those people in this site exhibit intolerance, blind justice, narrow views, denial of historical facts, lack of respect for the people (as if what matters is the soil) and complete detachment from the realities of Iran and its present needs. This new band of dictators at hearts worries me greatly. With respect to monarchists, I have to add that if Reza Pahlavi stays true to his words then he may lead them to more democratic views, but then he is not the only one with the claim to the throne.

Anahid Hojjati

Dear Masoud, another great blog, thanks

by Anahid Hojjati on

Masoud jan, thanks for sharing. I particularly liked the reference you made to India, where you wrote:"...Gandhi and Jawahar Laal Nehru made the difference. If these two leaders
possessed authoritarian personalities, then India would have become
dictatorial. But due to their personalities and commitments, they were
able to create an enduring democracy despite massive poverty, huge
ethno-sectarian divisions, mass illiteracy, and bad global conditions
for democratization. "

I still have to check the links but your blog is important because in Iran we have so many Hitler and other negative type personalities in the leadership of IRI.

Niloufar Parsi

'The Hitler personality is a fascist personality'

by Niloufar Parsi on

absolute genius! would never have guessed it doc!

is this the third in a series of humourless 'comedies'? or is it supposed to be a serious one?

i see a couple of 'my own view' claims, but they are hard to take seriously. i think you hardly have any views of your own. you are just rolling out other people's work parrot-fashion.

a kind of a 'fake' personality... add it to your boring list, next to the 'authoritarian personality' where you belong.

and if you don't believe me, read its defintion, look at your own postings, and then try to use the grey matter upstairs rather than copy someone else.

btw, your depiction of the defining difference between pakistan and bangladesh is just pathetic, i have to say. did you have to comment on issues you have no understanding of?

Masoud Kazemzadeh

Dear R2-D2

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Dear R2-D2,

Glad you liked it.  I look forward to reading your comments when you have had time to read some of the links.

Best regards,




by R2-D2 on

This is a very Thought-Provoking blog ...

I suggest you submit this also as an "Article" so that Jahanshah can feature it at the center of the front page ...

P.S. Will get back to you after reading the entire blog and the links :)

Tks .....