Political apathy is a crime against humanity

Democracy and participation

Oliver Rathkolb

To person

Dr. iur., Dr. phil., born 1955; Professor and Head of the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna; Speaker of the initiative college "European Historical Dictatorship and Transformation Research", Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1, 1090 Vienna / Austria. [email protected]

For comparison, 1,000 people in Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were asked about their authoritarian attitudes. These can not only be demonstrated as aggressive dimensions.


In a comparative research project in November and December 2007 in Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, 1,000 people aged 18 and over were asked about their individual authoritarian attitudes. [1] In this context, "authoritarianism" is defined as a disposition of the individual that can be demonstrated through expressions such as "authoritarian aggression" and "authoritarian submission". This differentiation is based primarily on recent research on authoritarianism.

Under authoritarian personality[2] the sociological research on authoritarianism understands a type that can be described using several attitude patterns as follows:

Norm conventionalism: Obedience and absolute respect for authorities are in the foreground, with severe punishment for norm violations being part of this factor. This includes a strong formalistic approach to the rule of law. A repressive sexual morality and belief in the importance of material wealth are also significant. Time and again, norm conventionalism is ignited by the debate about modern art. Exaggerated nationalism is also very pronounced.

Desire for power and strength and rejection / contempt for the weak: These include the call for a "strong man", for a "leader", as well as the search for scapegoats and enemy images (Jews, strangers, foreigners ...), as well as anti-Semitism and the transfiguration of the Second World War. It is also characterized by a strong irrationalism, symbolized by a belief in astrology or invisible powers. Social Darwinism ("the capable one prevails") thrives in such an environment, as does pronounced militarism, both of which shape everyday life and social relationships.

The methodological starting point for all studies on authoritarianism is a pioneering social science study from 1950, developed by a group of German and Austrian exiles, including Max Horkheimer and Else Frenkel-Brunswik, [3] and the Americans Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford. Under the direction of Theodor W. Adorno, they jointly developed an analysis and questionnaire model at the University of California at Berkeley. [4] Today, studies on the history of science have shown that Adorno's share was lower than, for example, the theoretical and methodological preparatory work by Erich Fromm in Berlin, the development of the F (aschism) scale by Sanford or the questionnaires as well as the depth psychological expertise of Frenkel-Brunswik. Adorno didn't think much of the empirical part of the study.

So far, authoritarianism studies have primarily been based on sociological, psychological and psychoanalytic questions. In our approach, images of history (as part of history politics) are relevant for the first time as additional indicators for authoritarian or democratic potential. Furthermore, we consider historical context knowledge about the framework conditions for other indicators of authoritarian potential to be just as essential when it comes to interpretations of changes or persistence of attitudes towards xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia as well as anti-democracy. I am aware that the authoritarianism theory according to Adorno has been questioned again and again since Altemeyer [5] and Austria [6]; for our approach, however, it is entirely valid, even if we have shifted the focus significantly in the direction of anomie and new political authoritarianism.

This article highlights a specific aspect of authoritarian attitudes that only plays a marginal role in traditional studies of authoritarianism. While these analyzed above all the aggressive or submissive dimensions of authoritarian attitudes, in our study, due to the developments in Central Europe, special emphasis was placed on "anomie"; Above all, the sub-dimensions of "disorientation" and feelings of "political powerlessness" were measured.

It is noteworthy, although not reflected by the literature, that the French sociologist Émile Durkheim [7] developed and discussed this term in connection with the "First Globalization" (from 1850 to the First World War). Similar to today, rapid social change before 1900 swirled up the societies of Europe and the USA - with global repercussions. Traditional social, political and cultural as well as religious orders showed strong disintegration effects due to the rapid succession of radical socio-economic and cultural changes that cannot be processed due to the speed. [8] As a result, individuals can no longer orientate themselves to traditional norms and are increasingly shaped by fears and self-doubt, which in extreme cases can lead to suicide. Economic crises and doubts about the functioning of the capitalist system as well as increasing social disintegration reinforce the trend towards suicide, according to Durkheim. [9] Even earlier than Durkheim, the future Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk addressed these extreme consequences of forms of anomie in his habilitation in 1879 at the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Vienna [10].

In 1998 the Viennese sociologist Hilde Weiss and her colleague Christoph Reinprecht used anomie as an analysis model for authoritarianism and identity patterns in East Central Europe. [11] They reflect a broad approach of anomie as a form of lack of attachment and disorientation due to a lack of accepted systems of norms: "Such negative reactions are expressed in a lack of trust in democracy as well as in the search for simplistic ideologies (as they represent e.g. anti-Semitism and xenophobia) and over-identification with group styles or orientation offers that are able to bring about a community experience. "[12]

In their analysis of democratic patriotism or ethnic nationalism in East Central Europe, Weiss and Reinprecht show a significant effect of subjective disorientation on nationalist attitudes (positive correlation) and support for democracy (negative correlation) for two of the four countries examined, particularly for Slovakia and Hungary. Increasing subjective disorientation and dissatisfaction also correlates with an uncritical awareness of history, a kind of mythization of the past. The team of authors comes to the conclusion that ethnic intolerance is seldom just a consequence of the "transformation anomie", but rather "a historically deeply rooted tradition, which can therefore easily be activated and politically instrumentalized and can only be revised through intensive educational and clarification efforts". [13] At the time of this survey, between November 1994 and February 1996, there was a clear trend towards pessimism and negative future prospects among Hungarians and Slovaks, whereas the Czechs and, subsequently, Poles were much more optimistic. [14]

In the survey conducted by the author and Günther Ogris at the end of 2007, the social-psychological construct anomie was measured with the dimensions "disorientation" and "political powerlessness" (see graphic 1 of the PDF version). For a better classification, a short summary of the other queried items follows. Based on the historical experiences of the Berkeley group around Adorno, the tendency towards authoritarian aggression against groups of people who could be called "others" in the broadest sense was examined with the construct of group-related enmity. Furthermore, we have reflected on possible encroachments on central civil rights as a form of New Political Authoritarianism. By integrating this construct into our theoretical model and into our analyzes, we take current developments into account. After the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the US-led one that followed was on terror this topic has quickly found its way into the European political discourse. Discussions about the curtailment of civil rights are part of the debate on the fight against terrorism.

The concept of democracy was captured on the basis of three dimensions: 1. concrete personal political behavior; 2. trust in democratic institutions; 3. Satisfaction with the current democracy. With the help of this construct, attitudes to democracy or to authoritarian forms of government (return to communism, military dictatorship, rule of a strong / authoritarian leader) are to be measured.