Preface to The Authoritarian Personality

by Max Horkheimer

This is a book about social discrimination. But its purpose is not simply to add a few more empirical findings to an already extensive body of information. The central theme of the work is a relatively new concept—the rise of an "anthropological" species we call the authoritarian type of man. In contrast to the bigot of the older style, he seems to combine the ideas and skills which are typical of a highly industrialized society with irrational or antirational beliefs. He is at the same time enlightened and superstitious, proud to be an individualist and in constant fear of not being like all the others, jealous of his independence and inclined to submit blindly to power and authority. The character structure which comprises these conflicting trends has already attracted the attention of modern philosophers and political thinkers. This book approaches the problem with the means of sociopsychological research.

The implications and values of the study are practical as well as theoretical. The authors do not believe that there is a short cut to education which will eliminate the long and often circuitous road of painstaking research and theoretical analysis. Nor do they think that such a problem as the position of minorities in modern society, and more specifically the problem of religious and racial hatreds, can be tackled successfully either by the propaganda of tolerance or by apologetic refutation of errors and lies. On the other hand, theoretical activity and practical application are not separated by an unbridgeable gulf. Quite the contrary: the authors are imbued with the conviction that the sincere and systematic scientific elucidation of a phenomenon of such great historical meaning can contribute directly to an amelioration of the cultural atmosphere in which hatred breeds.

This conviction must not be brushed aside as an optimistic illusion. In history of civilization there have been not a few instances when mass delusions were healed not by focused propaganda but, in the final analysis, because scholars, with their unobtrusive yet insistent work habits, studied what lay at the root of the delusion. Their intellectual contribution, operating within the framework of the development of society as a whole, was decisively effective.

I should like to cite two examples. The superstitious belief in witchcraft was overcome in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries after men had come more and more under the influence of the results of modern science. The impact of Cartesian rationalism was decisive. This school of philosophers demonstrated—and the natural scientists following them made practical use of their great insight—that the previously accepted belief in the immediate effect of spiritual factors on the realm of the corporal is an illusion. Once this scientifically untenable dogma was eliminated, the foundations of the belief in magic were destroyed.

As a more recent example, we have only to think of the impact of Sigmund Freud’s work on modern culture. Its primary importance does not lie in the fact that psychological research and knowledge have been enriched by new findings but in the fact that for some fifty years the intellectual, and especially the educational, world has been made more and more aware of the connection between the suppression of children (both within the home and outside) and society’s usually naive ignorance of the psychological dynamics of the life of the child and the adult alike. The permeation of the social consciousness at large with the scientifically acquired experience that the events of early childhood are of prime importance for the happiness and work‑potential of the adult has brought about a revolution in the relation between parents and children which would have been deemed impossible a hundred years ago.

The present work, we hope, will find a place in this history of the interdependence between science and the cultural climate. Its ultimate goal is to open new avenues in a research area which can become of immediate practical significance. It seeks to develop and promote an understanding of social‑psychological factors which have made it possible for the authoritarian type of man to threaten to replace the individualistic and democratic type prevalent in the past century and a half of our civilization, and of the factors by which this threat may be contained. Progressive analysis of this new “anthropological” type and of its growth conditions, with an ever‑increasing scientific differentiation, will enhance the chances of a genuinely educational counterattack.

Confidence in the possibility of a more systematic study of the mechanisms of discrimination and especially of a characterological discrimination‑type is not based on the historical experience of the last fifteen years alone, but also on developments within the social sciences themselves during recent decades. Considerable and efforts have been made in this country as well as in Europe to raise the various dealing with man as a social phenomenon at organizational level of cooperation that has been a tradition in the natural sciences. I am thinking of are not merely mechanical arrangements for bringing work done in various fields of study, as in symposia or textbooks, but the mobilization of different methods and skills, developed in distinct fields of theory and empirical investigation, for one common research program.

Such cross‑fertilization of different branches of the social sciences and psychology is exactly what has taken place in the present volume. Experts in the fields of social theory and depth psychology, content analysis, clinical psychology, political sociology, and projective testing pooled their experiences and findings. Having worked together in the closest cooperation, they now present as the result of their joint efforts the elements of a theory of the authoritarian type of man in modern society.

They are not unmindful that they were not the first to have studied this phenomenon. They gratefully acknowledge their debt to the remarkable psychological profiles of the prejudiced individual projected by Sigmund Freud, Maurice Samuel, Otto Fenichel, and others. Such brilliant insights were in a sense the indispensable prerequisites for the methodological integration and research organization which the present study has attempted, and we think achieved to a certain degree, on a scale previously unapproached.

SOURCE: Horkheimer, Max. Preface to The Authoritarian Personality (1950). First section excerpted here; balance of preface on the organization of the research.

Text retrieved from Critical Theory and Society, edited by Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Kellner (New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 219-221 of 219-232. Improperly titled, author attribution missing.

See also the Introduction by Adorno (et al), Chapter 1, Section A at Scribd.

For entire study see: The Authoritarian Personality, by T.W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson and R. Nevitt Sanford, Harper & Brothers, Studies in Prejudice Series, Volume 1, American Jewish Committee, 1950.

Descartes & Marxism: Selected Bibliography

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy in Relation to Social Theory, Cultural Theory, Science, and Interdisciplinary Research.
Phase 1: Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse in the 1930s.
Study Group Syllabus

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