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Keywords:

  • authoritarianism;
  • ideology;
  • social threat;
  • discourse analysis

This article presents a discursive analysis of participant accounts of authoritarianism, with the aim of understanding how participants construct accounts about authority, when, and for what purposes. Participants completed a 30-item Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale and were then interviewed about how they went about this task. Analyses revealed that, despite an overall consistency when answering items on an authoritarianism scale, participants in this study did not consistently choose to produce authoritarian responses in contrast to the nonauthoritarian alternative. Instead, the construction and expression of authoritarian ideas was found to be directly related to two rhetorical features of conversing about authoritarianism: (1) the ideological dilemma of society versus individual and (2) the mobilization of arguments about social and personal threat that allowed participants to construct accounts about collective rights or personal freedoms. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for current debates about how authoritarianism should be theorized and studied.