The F Scale, Revisited

A post by Bryan Caplan reminds me of the F scale, an instrument designed by Theodore Adorno, et al., authors of The Authoritarian Personality. Their stated objective was to determine the degree of authoritarianism in a person’s makeup. Their not-so-hidden agenda was to equate authoritarianism with conservatism.

In my earlier post on the subject, I quoted John Ray’s “Does Authoritarianism of Personality Go With Conservatism?” There, Ray explains that “Authoritarian personalities alone are equally likely to be found on either side of the Left-Right divide.” Ray also makes that point in “Libertarians and the Authoritarian Personality.” As I say in my earlier post,

the authors of The Authoritarian Personality define conservatism to be authoritarian. They then wrongly assert that “authoritarians” (conservatives) are psychologically “sick” and that they behave in an authoritarian manner. The fact, however, is that authoritarian behavior knows no ideological bounds. The histories of Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia, Britain (under Labour), and the U.S. (beginning especially with the New Deal) amply demonstrate that fact.

Leftism and Rightism are statisms with different agendas.

As for the real meaning of the F scale, Caplan point to another piece by John Ray, “The Old-Fashioned Personality,” which I had not read. Ray concludes that

a view of the ‘F’ scale as primarily a measure of old-fashioned orientation has considerable explanatory force. It may be, of course, that having an “old-fashioned orientation” is not the most ultimately accurate way of characterizing high F scale scorers. That they could also fairly reasonably be characterized by related descriptions such as “cultural traditionalists” or “cultural conservatives” is admitted. “Old fashioned” would, however seem to be a simpler characterization so is perhaps to be preferred under the principle of parsimony.

I find Ray’s term, “old fashioned,” vague and even tautological in this context. An old-fashioned person prefers traditional things, which is but another way of saying that an old-fashioned person is a conservative one.

“Older” is more fitting than “old fashioned.” That is, one’s outlook tends to become more conservative with age, as one learns (usually from experience) that tradition merits respect, not scorn. Tradition is the glue that makes possible civil society and, hence, liberty. The peaceful pursuit of happiness — liberty, in a word — is impossible absent the mutual respect and restraint that arise from the observance of socially evolved behavioral norms. (For much more on this point, see this post and the posts listed at the end of it.)

Just for fun, I took this version of the F scale, presented by one Chuck Anesi, who (appropriately) scoffs at its creators. Here is my score, followed by Anesi’s tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the scale:

Your F Score is: 4.033333333333333
You are disciplined but tolerant; a true American.

If your score is… You are…
Less than 2 A whining rotter.
2 to 3 A liberal airhead.
3 to 4.5 Within normal limits; an appropriate score for an American. (The overall average score for groups tested in the original study is listed in the 1950 publication as 3.84, with men averaging somewhat higher and women somewhat lower.)
4.5 to 5.5 You may want to practice doing things with your left hand.
5.5 or higher Have trouble keeping the lint off your black shirts?