What's Behind Rising Authoritarianism: Answers from Political Psychology & the Third Reich

7 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2020 Last revised: 6 Mar 2021

See all articles by Michael Shammas

Michael Shammas

Tulane University School of Law; Duke University; The Civil Jury Project; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; U.S. District Court for the District of Maine

Date Written: December 12, 2019


Liberty is never more precarious than in uncertain times. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession, from the Peloponnesian War to the so-called War on Terror, harsh times attract harsh measures. Sufficiently frightened, humans become quite willing to trade liberty for security, citizenship for slavery. Although preferring security to liberty makes psychological sense, in our modern world it can backfire. The evolutionary rationale for fear-based traditionalism, the search for certainty in a world fundamentally defined by uncertainty, rebounds — mutates — injecting into the populous what political psychologists call the “authoritarian personality.” This paper examines the rise of the Third Reich to show how economic and political uncertainty can undermine liberal democracy.

Keywords: third reich, world war 2, political psychology, terror management theory, adolf hitler, weimar republic, authoritarian personality, political theory, demagogues, causes of war, international relations, history of conflict, inter-state conflict, moral psychology, mass movements, theories of conflict

Suggested Citation

Shammas, Michael, What's Behind Rising Authoritarianism: Answers from Political Psychology & the Third Reich (December 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3503164 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3503164

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