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Benno Herzog
Humanities & Social Sciences Communications
Publication year: 2021

The rise of the notions of authoritarianism and the authoritarian personality is directly linked to pathologies of early modernity and to social constellations that systematically produce dispositions of character that ultimately form the base of Nazi fascism. The aim of this article, thus, is to explore sociological actuality, i.e., the explanatory power and informative value of the concepts of authoritarianism and the authoritarian personality. Therefore, throughout the article, authoritarianism is framed as a social, i.e., relational approach, similar to that of recognition. However, as authoritarianism does not point towards autonomy, it can be read as a pathology of recognition. The text starts by presenting authoritarianism and authoritarian personality as introduced to the academic debate by early Critical Theory, including a description of the historical and intellectual conditions of the time. It then explores three essential elements of these concepts and how they have changed from then to now; namely, authorities, authoritarian measures, and psychological dispositions used to accept both. The sociological tools thus laid open are then used to respond to current questions about authoritarianism using the example of the impact of experts on crisis discourses. Pointing towards discursive mediation, I ask when and how the need to rely on experts fosters authoritarianism. There are basically two ways of understanding authoritarianism as still present in our society. The first is as a backward-leaning ideology of the good old times. Especially in politics, we can find a wish to overcome complex democratic decision-making procedures with strong, authoritarian leadership. The second form involves understanding authoritarianism not as a personal authority but as a swarm authority in the modern and (digital) panopticon. This pathology of recognition leads to alienated relations with others as mere anonymous providers of evaluations.