Race and Authoritarianism in American Politics

Christopher C. Towler and Christopher Sebastian Parker. "Race and Authoritarianism in American Politics." Annual Review of Political Science, 2019, vol. 22:503–19.


Authoritarianism, it seems, is alive and well these days. The Trump administration’s blatant dismissal of democratic norms has many wondering whether it fits the authoritarian model. This review offers a framework for under- standing authoritarianism in the American past, as well as the American present. Starting in the early twentieth century, this analysis seeks to provide a better understanding of how authoritarianism once existed in enclaves in the Jim Crow South, where it was intended to dominate blacks in the wake of emancipation. Confining the definition of authoritarianism to regime rule, however, leaves little room for a discussion of more contemporary authoritarianism, at the micro level. This review shifts focus to an assessment of political psychology’s concept of authoritarianism and how it ultimately drives racism. Ultimately, we believe a tangible connection exists between racism and authoritarianism. Even so, we question the mechanism. Along the way, we also discuss the ways in which communities of color, often the targets of authoritarianism, resist the intolerance to which they have been exposed. We conclude with a discussion of why we believe, despite temporal and spatial differences as well as incongruous levels of analysis, that micro- and macro- level authoritarianism have much in common.

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