Is Authoritarianism Behind the Right’s Opposition to the Parkland Students?

Chauncey Devega's argument about authoritarianism displays a chronic problem in our society. Namely, the lack of effort by one side of a debate to truly understand the other.

By Liberty McArtor Published on April 6, 2018

Chauncey Devega blames “authoritarian parenting” for conservative opposition to the Parkland students’ demand for gun control. That’s right. We don’t just disagree with them. We supposedly want to control them. That’s declared on that Bible of bad leftist thinking, Salon: “Conservatives see the Parkland students as disrespectful and dangerous β€” and those feelings stem from primal fears.”

“For conservative-authoritarians young people are viewed as extensions of the parents’ will and ego,” Devega writes. “Young people’s political agency is not allowed unless it is a projection of what the parents believe is right and true: Autonomy and dissent by the child are thus not permitted.”

Why People on the Right Oppose Gun Control

Authoritarianism might explain why some people oppose the Parkland teens speaking out. (In fact, I wrote about this a few days ago.) But it is hardly the reason most on the right do.

So why do we oppose the Parkland students? Here are three basic reasons.

One: Conservative gun owners do not like being called complicit in murder. Especially when all we’ve done is exercise a constitutional right. Often, we exercise that right out of a desire to protect others.

Two: The data is clear: the majority of the gun control proposals touted by those on the left won’t work. They are not applicable to America’s unique situation. They have not been proven to meaningfully reduce crime. And they often ignore other real, contributing factors to gun violence and mass shootings.

Three: Gun control advocates don’t understand guns. They purport to speak about guns with authority. But they constantly blunder even the most basic firearm terminology. Gun-owning Americans are tired of being lectured by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

So yes. Many conservatives are frustrated that teens with little knowledge about guns have been given almost unlimited latitude to demonize gun owners. But the issue of leftist ignorance about guns has angered conservatives for a long time β€” not just since teens took the helm.

He cites death threats against the Parkland students. Then he lists two right-wing pundits who “engaged in a concerted campaign of character assassination.” Finally he cites Republican lawmakers who have largely “remained silent,” allegedly because of NRA donations. That’s his evidence. All of it.

Intellectual Dishonesty

That Parkland students have received death threats is deplorable. But they’re not the only ones. NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch has received threats for years, including against her children.

But right-wing pundits aren’t writing death threats. Maybe they’re just jerks, but they’re not threatening anyone. Republican lawmakers aren’t either. In fact, many of them support measures like background check improvements and more funding for school security. They’ve even worked with Parkland students on such legislation. Florida Gov. Rick Scott spent hours listening to students and advocated some of their suggestions. Working with and listening to students? Not very authoritarian.

So what Devega argues isn’t true. Worse for him, by his logic, conservatives could argue that authoritarianism drives the left’s devotion to the Parkland students. Consider this again: “Young people’s political agency is not allowed unless it is a projection of what the parents believe is right and true.”

The mainstream media can’t stop talking about the Parkland students demanding gun control. They have ignored the Parkland students who oppose it. Some, like Kyle Kashuv, reject strict gun control, but are still pursuing bipartisan activism in other ways. That should be a great subject for a journalist, a student who’s doing the unexpected. Yet you don’t see him included in march coverage or on Time magazine covers. What of his political agency?

Does this mean the left-wing media is authoritarian? No. It just means that the left is guilty of the same thing the right is sometimes guilty of: elevating young voices because they agree with them. I recently criticized both sides for this. People like hearing their own ideas repeated back to them.

Tricky Numbers

Devega tries to prove his point with one study of Donald Trump’s “strongman rhetoric.” It claims that “at least 18 to 30 percent of the American people are authoritarians,” Devega writes. “Support for authoritarian child-rearing techniques is one of the variables that predicted whether a person was more likely to vote for Donald Trump than other Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential primaries.”

Devega cites the numbers correctly. The problem is that he implies these numbers mean all people on the right are authoritarian. (He never differentiates between the multiple factions on “the right.”) He also implies that all people who oppose the Parkland students on gun control are Trump supporters. Not true.

The right and left are guilty of the same thing: elevating young voices because they agree with them. It stems from a human proclivity to like hearing your own ideas repeated back to yourself. Not authoritarian parenting.

Devega links to a Washington Post article, which breaks down the study. It reports that Republicans are more likely to hold authoritarian views than Democrats. But:

While some scholars have argued that authoritarianism is associated with conservatism, there are certainly authoritarians in both parties. And MacWilliams [the man who did the study] found that the likelihood that participants in his poll supported Trump had little to do with how conservative they were. (Emphasis added)

So … “Conservative-authoritarians?” Not really.

Just Silly

Devega then goes on to make some wild assumptions. “Conservative-authoritarians also possess high levels of what psychologists have described as ‘mortality salience'” and view “guns as a means of making oneself immortal.” He goes on: “the gun is almost a magical fetish object that is imagined to offer its owner protection against death and other vulnerabilities.”

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That’s just silly. Conservatives know that guns do not make us immortal. But they can extend one’s life when used in self-defense. In fact, they save lives often. So there’s no “imagined” benefit to owning guns for self-protection. The benefit is real. And yes, conservatives know we will die eventually. But there’s nothing that says we must die at the hands of an armed attacker before our time. Not if we have the means to protect ourselves.

That’s not anxiety. That’s common sense.

Gun rights advocates have long opposed gun control. They’d say exactly what they’re saying if eighty-year-olds were now leading the movement. What do we say about the Parkland students? Kids can be wrong too. Not because they’re kids. Because they’re wrong.


Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Devega’s article appeared in Slate, not Salon.

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