Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck: Theodor Adorno knew the type


Andrew Sullivan pairs this quote of Theodor Adorno to an image of Sarah Palin, but the quote works for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as well:

The leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically, and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions what is latent in them, rather than by any intrinsic superiority. The leaders are generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak incessantly and to befool the others. The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to members of crowds.

Actually, Sullivan’s Adorno quote goes on for another two paragraphs, but you get the idea: Adorno, a close observer of European and American populist demagogues and authoritarians, had a clear take on the type. And notice how he distinguishes magical  language from rational  language: the one drives people into crowd behavior and “archaic regressions”; the other encourages intelligent individuality and significant discourse. 

Below is a photograph, from Wikipedia Commons, of Adorno with Max Horkheimer (and a young Jurgen Habermas lurking over Adorno’s shoulder). Here’s how Wikipedia tags the photo: “Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jeremy J. Shapiro at the Max Weber-Soziologentag. Horkheimer is front left, Adorno front right, and Habermas is in the background, right, running his hand through his hair.”


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck: Theodor Adorno knew the type

  1. andrewclunn says:

    While that does apply aptly to Sarah Palin, I am inclined to believe that Glenn Beck is more sophisticated than his typical viewer. He knows when he’s stretching things and self edits effectively, while Sarah Palin can barely manage to read the lines written for her by others. I cannot comment on Rush as he’s gone to the ‘wacko’ end of things lately in my opinion, so I stopped listening to him a little while back.

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