Podcast #11—The Fascism Scale: A Look at Theodor Adorno and the Murky World of Psychological Testing

English: Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jer...

English: 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. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Theodor Adorno, philosopher, musicologist, academic, and Frankfurt School member, is a name familiar to many in the “truth movement,” due in part to assertions some have made that he was instrumental in transforming The Beatles from a struggling British band, playing seedy Hamburg clubs, into the culture-changing phenomenon they eventually became.

What many may not know, however, is that the Tavistock Institute associate, in the 1950s, also authored a personality test that, at least ostensibly, was intended to measure the level to which a person has traits and thought patterns supposedly associated with fascism.

To establish some context for a discussion of Adorno as a psychometrician, J.Q. first takes a look at the murky history of psychological testing, with its early origins in the work of Charles Darwin and his cousin, Francis Galton–who both, arguably, approached “mental testing” from a eugenicist perspective. J.Q. also touches on some of the odder aspects of the field, such as Timothy Leary‘s background as a psychometrician who developed a test that has been used by the CIA to screen potential employees, as well as the Church of Scientology’s use of a personality inventory as a recruitment tool. These extremes of the field are also contextualized with a look at notable critiques of the validity of even widely used, mainstream instruments such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

J.Q. then takes an in-depth look at Adorno’s odd little psychometric instrument–called The F-Scale–which has also been used at times as an employment screening test. Is it valid to suggest that having traits like a conservative view toward homosexuality,  or a belief in an omniscient supernatural power, is evidence of a “fascistic” personality? Or does this test itself, at least to an extent, reflect author biases reflective of a worldview that is itself highly authoritarian?


More on the F-Scale

English: German philosopher Theodor Adorno

English: German philosopher Theodor Adorno (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who listen to my Thoughts from a Useless Eater podcasts, you may recall that in #6 — “When the World Stopped Making Sense” — Part 2 I digress for an anecdote about an experience I had with an archaic psychological test called The F-Scale (the F stands for Fascism) as an employment screening test for a job I interviewed for, maybe 13 years ago. The test was created decades ago, to measure the subject’s susceptibility to buying into a fascist regime–which, as I discussed in the podcast, makes its use in an employment screening scenario odd indeed.

I also mentioned an entertaining Web site I had found back then on which someone had put up an interactive version of the F-Scale that you can actually take online, if you’re curious about how good you might have been at doing the goose-step in Nazi Germany. However, in the course of my effort to find the URL of that online test, to post it as a reference for listeners, I discovered something else that I hadn’t found back around 2000 when I was asked to take the F-Scale for job screening purposes: a Wikipedia article about said instrument, the full name of which is The California F-Scale (1947).

I found that Wikipedia article even more interesting in the context of the subject matter I deal with in my podcast and in this blog, because when I read it I saw a connection that had previously evaded me: the F-Scale was authored by none other than Theodor Adorno–which is ironic indeed because, as a member of The Frankfurt School, Adorno is associated with the “other end” of authoritarianism on the false left-right paradigm.

Among the many interesting things about Adorno is that, in certain circles of the fringe-media world, he has been alleged to have been involved with the transformation of The Beatles into a cultural psy-op tool–an allegation that, to the best of my current understanding, has not been well substantiated, as plausible as it seems given what I have learned elsewhere about The Frankfurt School.

Nevertheless, this connection with a highly questionable psychological assessment instrument is intriguing and worthy of further scrutiny. So don’t be surprised if sometime down the road you find some further posts or podcast segments here on the subjects of Adorno in particular and the strange world of psychological testing in general.