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?