To call these sorts of studies entirely useless is probably unfair. No doubt Block has more or less accurately charted the path of his subjects. And even he concedes that the study tells us little about the rest of the country. But it's also pretty clear that Block wants to find psychologically satisfying explanations for what makes people conservatives. It's not hard to imagine that if the whiny, sniveling brats turned out to be liberals, he would explain this as proof that liberals are born more emotionally sensitive and with a greater acuity for spotting injustice.
One reason this isn't hard to imagine is that this is a very, very old game. Ever since Theodor Adorno came out with his scandalously flawed Authoritarian Personality in 1950, liberal and leftist social scientists have been trying to diagnose conservatism as a psychological defect or sickness. Adorno and his colleagues argued that conservatism was little more than a "pre-fascist" "personality type." According to this school, sympathy for communism was an indication of openness and healthy idealism. Opposition to communism was a symptom of your more deep-seated pathologies and fascist tendencies. According to Adorno, subjects who saw Nazism and Stalinism as similar phenomenon were demonstrating their "idiocy" and "irrationality." Psychological counseling, many argued, could cure these maladies. But for some it was too late. In 1964, an ad in The New York Times reported that 1,189 psychiatrists determined that Barry Goldwater was not "psychologically fit" to be president.
In 2003, another Berkeley study, led by John T. Jost, reviewed four decades of research of conservatism and found that conservatives tended to be fear-driven dogmatists, terrified by ambiguity. The study linked Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The findings were hardly surprising since they basically recapped the branch of "scholarship" launched by Adorno.
Yet another Berkeley professor, George Lakoff, has convinced leading Democrats that psychology is the best way to tackle politics. People see things through "frames," according to Lakoff, and if Democrats could simply recast those frames in their favor, conservatives would see the light. Howard Dean calls Lakoff "one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement."
Perhaps the more revealing psychological insight can be found in the fact that so many liberals think disagreeing with them is a form of psychosis.
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