Authoritarianism Emerges in Response to Threats of Pandemics and Famine

While the rise of authoritarianism as the result of a declared global pandemic may seem an unusual response to such an event, there is actually decades worth of research describing why we are witnessing this growth of tyranny.  For example, the study ‘Pathogens and Politics: Further Evidence That Parasite Prevalence Predicts Authoritarianism’, provides a deeper understanding of how humans react to perceived threats and how that relates to the type of government the people will accept.

“Results revealed that parasite prevalence predicted measures of authoritarian governance, and did so even when statistically controlling for other threats to human welfare. (One additional threat – famine – also uniquely predicted authoritarianism.)”

The study focuses on the “parasite stress” hypothesis which proposes that when a species faces parasites and diseases their values are shaped by the experience. In this context, “parasite” is used to refer to any pathogenic organism, including bacteria and viruses. The theory states that depending on how a disease stresses people’s development it can lead to differences in mating preferences and changes in culture. Proponents of the parasite stress theory also note that disease can alter the psychological and social norms of societies.

“According to a ‘parasite stress’ hypothesis, authoritarian governments are more likely to emerge in regions characterised by a high prevalence of disease-causing pathogens,” the researchers write. They define authoritarian governance as “highly concentrated power structures that repress dissent and emphasise submission to authority, social conformity, and hostility towards outgroups.”

Due to the invisible nature of “disease-causing parasites,” attempts to control the spread of a disease “historically depended substantially on adherence to ritualised behavioural practices that reduced infection risk.” The researchers also found that society tends to promote a collectivist worldview, favouring obedience and conformity from the population, in response to parasites.

They examined two different studies, which themselves were analyses of previous works on the parasite stress theory and the implications for authoritarian tendencies in government and individuals.

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