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Keywords:

  • authoritarianism;
  • prejudice;
  • intolerance;
  • social conformity;
  • threat

Fifty years after the publication of The Authoritarian Personality, the empirical literature on authoritarianism continues to grow even though there is no widely accepted theory to account for the phenomenon. The absence of a secure theoretical grounding severely limits our understanding of authoritarianism. This paper offers a new conceptualization in which authoritarian predispositions originate in the conflict between the values of social conformity and personal autonomy. Prejudice and intolerance should be observed among those who value social conformity and perceive a threat to social cohesion. These hypotheses were tested with a sample of undergraduate students; the questionnaire included new measures of the dimension of social conformity–autonomy as well as items from Altemeyer's RWA (right–wing authoritarianism) scale.