Repository logo

The authoritarian character: revisited.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In this thesis, I revisit the authoritarian character concept, as developed by members of the first-generation Frankfurt School. The authoritarian character concept (ACC) was a concept developed to understand the predisposition of individuals and societies towards seeking the domination of authoritarian demagogic as opposed to realising their own liberation. The need to revisit the ACC came about due to a noticeable rise of authoritarian demagogic leaders within liberal democracies. However, in researching the ACC, I observed that the dominant narrative was incorrect in its interpretation of the conceptual development of the ACC, and subsequently, is overly restrictive with regards to its conceptual parentage as it did not consider conceptual developments outside of 1936-1939. Therefore, in this project, I revisit the ACC with the aim of detailing a conceptually clear understanding of the ACC so that it could be used to help analyse the problem of contemporary authoritarianism. In revisiting the ACC, I hope to achieve four objectives. Firstly, to set out the foundations of the ACC by looking at the Frankfurt School and the conceptual makeup of the ACC. Secondly, was establishing a dominant narrative surrounding the ACC, which I termed the received view of the ACC. This received view holds the conceptual lifespan of the ACC as starting in 1936 and ending in 1939. Thirdly, to show that the received view of the ACC is incorrect with regard to the genesis of the ACC as work had been ongoing on the development of key concepts prior to 1936 and provide a revised account of the ACC to include this early conceptual development. Fourthly, to show that the received view of the ACC is incorrect with regards to the demise of the ACC, in 1939, as work was ongoing on evolving the ACC to meet more modern challenges well into the 1970s. Furthermore, these later developments of the ACC would ultimately complete the teleological arc of the ACC as a concept of Critical Theory as it is within these later developments that the ACC finally fulfils its goal of detailing a possible praxis that works towards an emancipated society.


Master’s Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.


Authoritarian character concept, Developments, Solution