This concise definition of “authoritarian” is not as delightful as my all-time favorite definition — squeamish: exhibiting a prudish readiness to be nauseated — but it’s pretty good:
favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.
Synonyms are autocratic, despotic, tyrannical, totalitarian, rigid, oppressive, inflexible, and things like that.
I had a friend who was raised by a father who was openly autocratic, the mother fawningly loyal and obedient to her husband’s every firm opinion and summary dictate. The boy never had a chance, he obeyed his father resentfully, feeling helpless to do otherwise. Anger at the way his life had been dominated by his never wrong father drove him to be very much the same way in his own adult life.
I think it’s a fairly typical scenario, which is why you see graphics like this in your internet search results:
The authoritarian personality, in the crudest sense the “bully,” is described this way (as per exhaustive five second internet search):
The authoritarian personality is a personality type characterized by extreme obedience and unquestioning respect for and submission to the authority of a person external to the self, which is realized through the oppression of subordinate people.
One of history’s most infamous infallible authoritarians was Germany’s Mr. Hitler, whose word was German law (Fuhrer worte haben Gesetzeskraft!) during the twelve years of his Thousand Year Reich. As a boy he’d been famously abused by his father, a vicious, drunken, petty bureaucrat authoritarian who beat young Adolf regularly, and without mercy, for sport. The same goes for the current leader of the radical right in the USA, our golden-haired poster boy for authoritarian infallibility. He was raised by a certified piece of shit, and it doesn’t appear he got much love from his gold digger mother, either. No severe beatings that we know of, in fact, he seems to have been spoiled as a child, except for the endless psychological torment of being judged harshly as unqualified by the demanding, driven father who groomed you, his reluctant second choice, to take over his empire.
The authoritarian depends on his subjects viewing the world as divided neatly into good and evil with no gray area in between. This black and white worldview makes things easier, and much simpler, for everybody. You can tell at a glance who is friend, and a good person, and who is foe, and a very bad person you can do whatever you want to. Obedience to the wise leader is good, defiance of the leader’s will is evil. Also, any rule the authoritarian makes, he can change at any time, with or without notice.
There are groups whose members can obey and praise the wise leader as much as they like, they will remain hated since they are members of an out-group that can never be equal to the ideal subjects of the authoritarian. The fascist worldview depends on this hated out-group being seen as an existential threat, beyond redemption, an enemy to be treated harshly and pointed to as the reason for the autocrat’s rule. Having a few token members of these despised groups march with the authoritarian is seen as a good thing, since it has the effect of making the authoritarian’s undeniable appeal seem to cross even to the hated out-group.
Not all authoritarians are on the right, by the way, though most of them seem to be. You can have rigid, inflexible, overbearing, bossy types on the right, the left or anywhere in between. They will not allow debate unless all of their rules for debate are followed. You must use certain words only, using the wrong phrases will end the possibility of debate before it begins. Tolerance of opposing views, or views expressed differently than required, is seen as a kind of moral weakness. There are Nazi types among us, as we can see on TV every day, and there are also the same rigidly self-righteous types on the extremest edge of the left.
For the ones on the left, the phrase I like is “there is a guillotine waiting” whenever they fall afoul of the newest orthodoxy. Unlike on the right, autocratic types on the left are subject to being hoisted on their own stinking petards when the political winds change.
They may not be there in the same proportions (American acceptance of autocracy is very high among those who consider themselves conservatives, it is not widely accepted on the left) but there are these intolerant motherfuckers on both sides, often dictating the terms of debate, as this type often seems to, down to the language that may be used in these debates. Some very fine intolerant motherfuckers on both sides, on both sides…