2018 Forum Lecture: Sharon D. Welch, The Soul of Democracy

“The Soul of Democracy”

Dr. Sharon D. Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Unity Church—Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 3

Respondent, Prof. Wilson Yates, United Theological Seminary


The thought and example of James Luther Adams carries significant lessons for countering the rise of authoritarianism today.  To be effective “creative builders of community” liberals need to be self-critical with respect to individualism and other biases.



“The Soul of Democracy”

Dr. Sharon D. Welch



My fellow citizens, we are in a struggle for the very soul of democracy, and all that we hold dear – interdependence, reason, compassion, respect for all human beings, and stewardship of the natural world that sustains us, is under direct, unabashed assault.[1]

We are experiencing a rise of authoritarianism in the United States that is as dangerous as the anti-Communism of the McCarthy era of the 1950s, and potentially as deadly as the eradication of basic political and human rights for African Americans after  the Reconstruction period following the civil war; we are also witnessing  a resurgence  in authoritarianism not seen in Europe since the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

We are living in a time of genuine threat – not only rising authoritarianism, racism and xenophobia, but increasing environmental degradation, morally unconscionable income and wealth disparities, a dangerously militarized police force and a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets African Americans.

At this momentous juncture in history, the words of the sociologist Michael Dyson in Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,  are telling: “We have, in the span of a few years, elected the nation’s first black president and placed in the Oval Office the scariest racial demagogue in a generation. . . . The remarkable progress we seemed to make with the former has brought out the peril of the latter.”[2]

The magnitude of what is at stake here is unquestionably immense.  As we confront these threats of the present, we can learn from the lessons of the past and from the courage of those who confronted dangers of equal magnitude and responded with honesty, creativity and compassion.

James Luther Adams

One such model is the activist, minister, and professor of social ethics, James Luther Adams. As a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, Adams visited Germany in 1927, and what he experienced shook him to his core:

In 1927 in the city of Nuremberg . . .I was watching a Sunday parade on the occasion of the annual mass rally of the Nazis. ..As I watched the parade,…I asked some people on the sidelines to explain to me the meaning of the swastika, which decorated many of the banners. Before very long I found myself engaged in a heated argument. Suddenly someone seized me from behind and pulled me by the elbows out of the group . . .At the end of the alley my uninvited host swung me around quickly, and he shouted “You fool.  Don’t you know? In Germany today when you are watching a parade, you either keep your mouth shut, or you get your head bashed in….If you had continued that argument for five minutes longer, those fellows would have beaten you up.”  [3]

Adams was rescued by a man who had visited New York city when he was a sailor with the merchant marine.  He was an unemployed worker, and invited Adams to his home for supper.

“…I learned vividly of the economic distress out of which Nazism was born….I learned that one organization after the other that refused to bow to the Nazis was being threatened with compulsion. . .Freedom of association was being abolished. . . At this juncture I had to confront a rather embarrassing question . . .What in your typical behavior as an American citizen have you done that would help to prevent the rise of authoritarian government in your own country?  What disciplines of democracy (except voting) have you habitually undertaken…[to] directly affect public policy? More bluntly  . . . I asked myself, What precisely is the difference between you and a political idiot?” [4]

From this time forward, Adams took up “the discipline of social responsibility,” and he resolutely encouraged others to understand the importance of citizen participation. [5] He was involved in Chicago ward politics, and became a co-founder of the Independent Voters of Illinois, a group that was created in 1940 to ‘fight isolationism, counter racism and the rising tide of McCarthyism…. .  Adams was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served fifteen years as chairman of the Committee on Church and State in the Massachusetts branch.  He was one of the founders of FREE, the Fellowship for Racial and Economic Equality (now the Southeastern Institute).  [6]

George Beach gives a clear account of the significance of Adams civic engagement:

A list of the voluntary associations that have engaged Adam’s energies over the decades hardly conveys the intensity of his activities in the struggles against racism, poverty and the violation of civil liberties and rights.  He tells, for example, of an all-night vigil in a new federal housing project in Chicago from which whites were excluding blacks . . He tells of representing race-relations organizations before officials of the Red Cross, in Washington, to demand an end to the racial segregation of blood for soldiers in World War II. . . .He tells of working with Homer Jack of the Mayor’s Commission on Race and with Wallace Robbins for the desegregation of the Billings Hospital of the University of Chicago . . .[7]

The intensity of Adams’s struggles for social justice was grounded in his awareness of the immensity of racial violence, both individual and systemic.

During the Second World War it was at one time my task to lecture on the Nazi faith to a large group of U.S. Army officers who were preparing for service later in the occupation army in Germany.  As I lectured I realized that together with a just resentment against the Nazis I was engendering…self-righteousness…a hundred percent ‘Americanism’ that was not the faith we were supposed to be fighting for…. [To check this] I recapitulated the ideas of the Nazi ‘faith;’… stressing the Nazi belief in the superiority of the Teutons and in the inferiority of other ‘races.’ also reminded the officers of similar attitudes to be observed in America…[8]

Adams then asked the military officers if there were any essential differences in their attitudes toward African Americans and Jews to the Nazi attitudes toward other races. He asked them not just about a difference ‘in brutality’ but a difference in basic philosophy  – did they think African Americans and Jews were inferior?

“I blush when I think of some of the responses I received,” Adams said,  He then cites the explicitly racist and anti-Semitic responses that he heard in the hour-long discussion.  After each racist and anti-Semitic response, Adams stated, “I simply repeated my question again and again: ‘How do you distinguish between yourself and a Nazi?’  Seldom have I witnessed such agony of spirit in a public place.  …..[They] spoke the faith that was in them, ….a trust in white, gentile supremacy – faith in the blood.”[9]

In contrast to the faith in white supremacy, Adams clearly called all of us to the faith of the free, a faith based on three foundational tenets. The first is ultimate dependence upon a creative power and process that is larger than the individual self. The second is the recognition that the meaning of human history can be found in free cooperative effort for the common good, of exercising our freedom in working for justice for all and thirdly, the recognition that “the achievement of freedom in community requires the power of organization and the organization of power.”  [10]

Let’s look more closely at this dimension of Adams’ activism, what is power organized for and what are the principles of that organization?

Adams clearly articulated a two-fold goal – first, an honest acknowledgment of the systemic injustice of the past, and, second, work for a genuinely inclusive and expansive common good.

What, then, are the principles of organizing power to meet these goals? Adams called for processes that are radically inclusive. He decried all forms of segregation, by race, age, gender and class.  He knew well the importance of open discussion of diverse perspectives, and of paying attention to disregarded perspectives in the determination of shared goals and related strategies.  He was also well aware of the threat even then of the popular media in thwarting the processes of critical and inclusive civic engagement. Adams decried the “….impersonal forces of a mass society with its technological devices for producing stereotyped opinions….”  He criticized the “opinion industries” that “create a community of support for . . . the interests of nationalism, racism, and business as usual,” seeing all of these as a form of  authoritarianism…” [11]

Throughout his career Adams challenged such exclusive and hierarchical forms of community and sought to promote and expand the vocation of social responsibility. He resolutely highlighted the possible transformative power of voluntary associations: [organizations] “ that [provide]the means for bringing citizens together to achieve consensus on issues of common concern and to find ways of acting on that consensus.” [12]

At this moment in history I find it ironic that the threats of authoritarianism that Adams saw in his life have re-emerged, and that the potentially transformative power of his vision of social responsibility is being lived out in multiple sectors of our society. Before we explore these constructive forms of civic engagement, and their resonances with the work of James Luther Adams, let us examine more closely the contemporary rise in authoritarianism.


Within the world of political science there is a well-established analysis of what activates authoritarianism at times like these of increasing economic, political and environmental threat. This analysis is both challenging in what it discloses and profoundly evocative in what it fails to see.

First – what it discloses. According to many political scientists there is a significant proportion of the human population that remains authoritarian.

There is also a larger subset of the population whose authoritarianism is episodic, not constitutive, and is evoked under conditions of normative  threat and extensive social change.[13]

Authoritarians perceive the world as a threatening place, and value community based on hierarchy, order, and sameness. They seek and respect leaders who are “simple, powerful and punitive.” [14]  The political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler provide a stark summary of the core characteristics of authoritarianism…. “a tendency toward intolerance predicated upon one’s need for social conformity and consequently, aggression toward those perceived as threatening the status quo.”  And, a fundamental driver of this aggression and intolerance is “a need for order” and a lack of “tolerance for ambiguity.”[15]

According to these political scientists, there is a strong tendency toward authoritarianism, nationally and internationally, that is activated at times of perceived threat and extensive social change. While this seems to be a salient characteristic of human communities worldwide, in the United States authoritarianism has long been expressed in virulent racist attitudes and physical attacks against [people who are] Native American, African American and Latinx, and is now also being manifest in attacks on Muslim citizens and refugees.[16]

Karen Stenner also states that there is a basic divide between a desire for group cohesion and individual autonomy and freedom and her prognosis for a genuinely democratic society is grim.

If there are inherent predispositions to intolerance of difference, if citizens so predisposed pop up in all societies, and if those predispositions are actually activated by the experience of living in a vibrant democracy, the freedom feeds fear that undermines freedom, and democracy is its own undoing.  The overall lesson is clear: when it comes to democracy, less is often more, or at least more secure.  We can do all the moralizing we like about how we want our ideal democratic citizens to be.  But democracy is most secure, and tolerance is maximized, when we design systems to accommodate how people actually are.  Because some people will never live comfortably in a modern liberal democracy.”[17]

Stenner goes so far as to conclude that the pace of social change must be curtailed and that democracy itself has to be limited in order to survive. She challenges us to forego the “religion of democracy for the science of democracy.”.[18]

If Stenner is right, gains in civil rights, equality for women, for people who are LGBTQI, more rights for those with disabilities, and increasing racial, cultural and religious diversity will inevitably produce authoritarianism.

While this political science is clear in its diagnosis, it is also fundamentally flawed and intrinsically limited, and here is our hope, here is our task.  There are two core flaws. The first is that  authoritarianism is measured, not by political beliefs, but by childrearing values that are then correlated with specific political positions. Before I proceed further, I ask you to join me in an experiment.  What are four childrearing values that you think are most important? After you consider these, let us turn to the choices that are posed in the existing research.

These are values that are set in opposition to each other, and people are asked to choose one over another. There are two scales.  This is the first, utilized by Karen Stenner in her research: [19]

Obeying one’s parents                                         Thinking for oneself

Respecting elders                                                   Following one’s conscience

Following the rules                                               Exercising good judgment

Being well-mannered                                           Being responsible for one’s own actions

Being neat and clean                                            Being interested in how and why things happen

This is the second scale, utilized by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler. [20]

Respect for elders               Independence

Obedience                              Self reliance

Good manners                     Curiosity

Well behaved                        Considerate

Do you notice anything missing in both sets of choices? Are there other values that you hold central?

I have asked this of audiences throughout the U.S. since the fall of 2016, and the answers are clear. What is missing? Kindness, cooperation, a commitment to justice and fairness, empathy, compassion, service to and with others, delight in helping people and in helping others grow.  And, what is set in opposition? Values that actually sustain and evoke each other –

Being well mannered because we are considerate;

Respecting our elders because they nurtured our interdependence.

These measures used by Stenner have nothing about our attitudes toward others.  The choice is that of cohesive community based on obedience and uniformity or progress grounded in individual freedom and creativity. There is nothing about individual creativity expressed in helping others, or in working with others for common goals. The more current research by Hetherington and Weiler is slightly better in this regard.  One of their measures does entail attitudes toward others – consideration.  They pose it however, as the opposite of being well behaved, rather than imagining that the motivation for good behavior is consideration of others.

The flaw in this research is not the correlation of childrearing values with political beliefs. The flaw is the limited range of childrearing values and the correlative truncated views of freedom and community. Stenner sees people as being on a spectrum of authoritarianism and libertarianism, seeking either  cohesive community or emancipated individualism. Missing from this choice is what many of us honor and uphold – the desire for generative interdependence, a community that fully values diversity and connection, that nurtures creativity and scientific rigor, that embodies responsibility for others and the freedom to find new and better ways of living out, and creating, expansive human communities of connection, respect and cooperation.

The second flaw in this research is that the data is derived solely from people who are white.  This is significant because we find in much of the work of people who are African American, Latinx and Native American a very different view of social order.  Here we find traditions in which the choice is not cohesive community or diversity, not coherent communities or emancipated individualism.  The real choice is that of a cohesive order based on creativity and collective problem solving instead of a  cohesive community based on hierarchy, violence, control and sameness.[21]

As Adams knew so well, we are capable of more than a libertarian pursuit of individual freedom and a disregard for community.   What he advocated, what many of us seek, is a  different way of being in deep community.

Adams called us to radical laicism, to the prophethood of all believers, to a commitment to the ongoing search to implement the promise of justice in our collective lives.  This commitment remains compelling, and is being expanded in two ways.  First, Adams describes how we could live out the principles of democracy and the pursuit of justice through voluntary associations.  He called people to move beyond the concern only with their professional or family lives. [22] At this time in history, there are many of us who are seeking to live out the mandates of democracy in just those other places – finding ways to raise our children to stand up to the injustices that stunt their lives  and the lives of others, and to find the joy and fulfillment that comes from being accountable and self-critical builders of community and makers of history.

Many people are also creating alternatives to authoritarianism and excessive individualism in their professional lives.  We can see this catalytic social engagement as manifest in the world of social entrepreneurship –growing numbers of co-ops, small and medium scale social enterprises and corporations with a commitment to social equity and environmental sustainability. This movement is manifest in the work of Engagement Scholarship, public and private universities who have expanded their mission – no longer simple teaching and research, but teaching, research and mutually beneficial community engagement. It is also exemplified in people denouncing an unjust, racially discriminatory and ineffective criminal justice system, coming together to both stop police violence against people of color and to enact substantive criminal justice reform.

This commitment to social impact is long-standing and is taking on even greater urgency in the face of rising authoritarianism, hatred, and fear. The words of the founders of the B Lab, an organization that supports and certifies business that are committed to an interdependent economy, are unabashed in their call to business leaders to expand their work for social justice. Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan, and Jay Coen Gilbert, the founders of B Lab, posted “An Open Letter to Business Leaders” on February 6, 2017. They began by reiterating the B Corps values:


That we must be the change that we seek in the world,

That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered,

That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.

To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations. [23]

While these values are of long-standing, Kassoy, Houlahan, and Gilbert were unabashed in their warning of the direct assault on them in this time of rising authoritarianism, and equally forthright in their challenge to business leaders:

At this moment, we call on all business leaders to do two things. First, in this chaotic moment, to stand up and to speak out, together and unequivocally, when we see injustice, hate, and the violence they produce. Second, to take concrete action in our businesses to create an inclusive economy that is equitable and creates opportunity for all for the long term.[24]

The numbers of business leaders who share these goals are significant, their impact is real, and they are a significant source of support for generative interdependence.

At the core of democracy is a social compact that fully embodies respect for the rights of all, and, what is of equal importance, a recognition of the limits of all. We are all partial, fallible, and capable of the misuse or abuse of power to serve the needs of the few rather than the good of the many. We need checks and balances to address the possible misuse of power; we need multiple voices and perspectives to address the partiality of our knowledge and the mistakes in our reasoning.


Now, a final expansion of one of Adams’ key insights – the importance of white Americans genuinely confronting and acknowledging the history of racism.

In order to fully live out the promise of constructive political and social change, it is imperative  that we see, name, and contain our constitutive and intrinsic forms of evil. It is here that we have much to learn from the work of Carol Lee Sanchez. Sanchez is of Pueblo and Lebanese descent, raised in the Laguna Pueblo, and was an author, artist, and professor of American Indian studies. In her writing and in her teaching, Sanchez shared with us the fundamental insight that the indigenous respect for the natural order is not simply natural, and, in fact, is just the opposite. Reverence for the natural world is learned from hard-won lessons of what had gone wrong when there was a lack of respect for both the natural and the social order. Respect is maintained only through two ongoing social processes—telling the stories of environmental degradation and social inequity, and checking the tendencies to repeat those patterns through specific rituals. In her teaching and writing, Sanchez did not share with us the rituals that were used by the people of the Laguna Pueblo, but encouraged us to tell our own stories of disruption and to create our own rituals of respect and belonging, our own recognition of the necessity and power of the Beauty Way.[25]

We find the same wisdom offered by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi Nation.[26] In addition to seeing our gifts, and learning to use them in responsible ways, Kimmerer challenges us to see and check our constitutive evil. She tells the story of the Windigo, a person driven by greediness with a heart as cold as ice, only focused on his or her own needs. Once focused only on one’s own needs, the longing for more becomes both insatiable and ruthless, even leading one to experience pleasure in taking from others and causing pain to others.[27]

Kimmerer provides a compelling account of the way in which the Windigo shapes the lives of so many of us, not only indigenous peoples. She sees the Windigo at the core of rapacious globalization and exploitative and extractive capitalism. The wisdom here is pointed. We can see this greed and violence and contain it in others, and we must see it and contain it in ourselves:

Gratitude for all the earth has given us lends us courage to turn and face the Windigo that stalks us, to refuse to participate in an economy that destroys the beloved earth to line the pockets of the greedy, to demand an economy that is aligned with life, not stacked against it. It’s easy to write that, harder to do.[28]

While we can find antidotes to the Windigo, we cannot destroy the ongoing threat of isolation and insatiable greed. The Windigo remains as a recurring temptation that can lead us away from a respectful grounding in the social and natural plenitude that could sustain us.[29]

Now, here is the crucial lesson. What are our other forms of evil and injustice? For those of us who are white, what are the forms of evil that prevented us from seeing the humanity of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the humanity and dignity of the African people we so readily and cruelly enslaved, that led us to the exploitation of both the natural world and of the human resources of those people of all races who were  seen primarily as labor to be used, rather than as fellow human beings to respect?

It is clear that we too, have been and are shaped by the Windigo spirit of greed and domination. Our task, then, is threefold—first, how do we honestly tell the histories of this exploitation? Second, how do we identify other forms of intrinsic evil that have shaped our collective lives and limited our moral imagination? Third, how can we learn to check all of our Windigos earlier rather than later?

Here is the challenge. I have not found the political science that demonstrates empirically the constitutive weaknesses of white liberals who are committed to constructive social change. What I have to offer are hypotheses for further research, and invite you to join me in this process. In my other work I have identified seven possible Windigos, but will here focus only on four.

One moral danger is clear, and is demonstrated in the research on liberalism. We may be tempted to choose excessive forms of individualism, of isolated self-assertion, rather than finding our freedom and creativity in collaboration and mutual respect.

A second danger is remaining unaware of our own capacity for error and partiality. We can be morally pure but strategically inept, and when that happens we lose.

A third related danger is our failure to take on the multiple expressions of racism and checking these in our personal, civic, and professional lives. We may focus only on the virulent racism of others  in which a positive group identity requires superiority to and suppression of  other groups,  and not confront the ongoing dangers of implicit bias and structural racism in our own personal and professional lives. Conversely, we may focus only on structural white supremacy and not confront the resurgence of violent and virulent racism by white Americans against people who are African American, Latinx, Asian American, Muslim, and Native American. Both threats require deliberate and sustained attention, analysis, and activism.

A fourth danger, closely related to the third, is the utopian expectation of definitive revolutionary change, or linear and assured progress. We can become complacent about the solidity of hard-fought social gains. When this happens, we fail to be vigilant guardians of an expansive democracy that genuinely embodies liberty and justice for all.

In conclusion, what does it mean to be self-critical and creative builders of community and makers of history?

I am grateful that I learned much of this way of being in the world from my parents, James and Reta Welch.  This is how they lived out their faith as members of the Community of Christ.  I am also grateful for the leadership of James Luther Adams, and his clarion call to embrace “the responsible, creative, healing power of justice and love.”[30]

And, finally, I am grateful to all of you who are combating authoritarianism and exercising countervailing power. Together we are living for justice and saying no to hatred:  no in our votes; no in our laws; no in our policies.

And yet it is vital to remember that our no to hatred, fear and violence is grounded in a deep, a generative and expansive yes.

A yes to difference;

To the richness of diversity;

To the gift of reason;

To the joy of cooperation;

To the deep soul satisfaction of compassion.

Let us continue to learn from each other, to support each other, to work together to keep alive the promise of freedom, the joy of compassion and cooperation, and the very soul of democracy.



[1] Portions of this lecture will be published in Sharon D. Welch,  After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation. New York: NYU Press, Forthcoming, January 2019.

[2] Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop; A Sermon to White America. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2017. page 3.

[3] “The Indispensable Discipline of Social Responsibility: Voluntary Associations,” in The Prophethood of All Believers, edited by George K. Beach. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986, p. 255.

According to Beach, this address was first presented at the University of Padua in 1962, following the Second Vatican Council, where Adams was a Protestant observer. It was published in The Journal of the Liberal Ministry Volume 6, no. 2 (1966).


[4] Ibid., p. 256.

[5]  Ibid. George K. Beach describes this evolution in political awareness and engagement as follows: “The experience in Germany gave Adams a ‘shock of recognition’ as an American; he has said that at this time he came to see white racism as our Nazism.” According to Beach, Adams asked himself “If Fascism should arise in the States, what in your past would constitute a pattern or framework of resistance?’’ Adams was unsatisfied by his past of reading the newspapers and voting, preaching in defense of strikers, but “no adequate conception of citizen participation.” George K. Beach, “Introduction,” The Prophethood of All Believers, p. 17.


[6] George K. Beach, “Introduction,”  James Luther Adams: An Examined Faith: Social Context and Religious Commitment. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991, p. 7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Adams, “A Faith for the Free,” In The Prophethood of All Believers, p. 45.  According to George K. Beach, this essay was first published in Together We Advance, ed. Stephen Fritchman. Boston: Beacon Press, 1946.

[9]  Ibid., pp. 45-46.

[10] Ibid., pp. 48-51.

[11] Adams, “Our Responsibility in Society,” in The Prophethood of All Believers, p.  162. Beach states that this essay was first published in Faith and Freedom, edited by Peter B. Godfrey, Vol.VI, Part II, Spring, 1953.


[12] Adams, “The Indispensable Discipline of Social Responsibility: Voluntary Associations,” p. 258, pp. 256-263.

[13] . Karen Stenner, The Authoritarian Dynamic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005,pp. 19-36.

According to the political scientists Marc  Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, “there are…fewer Americans at the nonauthoritarian pole than at the authoritarian pole and the center of gravity of the distribution remains on the authoritarian side of the scale.” p,  62. In their 2006  study,   only about  25% of the population was solidly non-authoritarian. p. 51 Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

[14] Amanda Taub, writing for Vox in March 2016, provides the following summary of the conclusions drawn by. Hetherington and Weiler in their 2009 study, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics: “Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.  This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which “activated” authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien. Trump embodies the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful and punitive.” Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American authoritarianism.” Vox. March 1, 2016



[15]  Hetherington and Weiler, p. 34. Can authoritarians be leftist, or are they always conservative?  Hetherington and Weiler, along with Stenner, make a distinction between authoritarianism and conservatism.  Stenner makes a distinction between authoritarianism and ‘status quo conservatism,” “an enduring inclination to favor stability and preservation of the status quo over social change” and “laissez-faire conservatism – a persistent preference for a free market and limited government intervention in the economy.”( p. 86 – see also chapters five and six). Hetherington and Weiler claim that while there may well have been an authoritarianism of the left, when “Stalinism and Maoism were major forces in world politics, with nontrivial followings in Western liberal democracies,”  this authoritarianism  no longer exists in a politically relevant way: “Those movements, animated by rigidity, varying degrees of ethnocentrism, political intolerance, and intolerance of ambiguity, could fairly be said to share many of the characteristics associated with authoritarianism of the right. However, Stalinism and Maoism, outside of North Korea, are long dead.” p. 42


[16] “We find that authoritarianism can provide the most complete account of intolerance, explaining around 32 percent of the variance in intolerance of difference expressed across three decades of U.S. history. That is to say, fundamental orientations toward oneness and sameness, reflected by nothing more than preferences on whether children should be obedient, neat, and well-mannered, account for almost a third of the variance in contemporary opinion on such issues as interracial marriage and residential segregation; civil rights, censorship, and freedom of speech and assembly; pornography, homosexuality, and compulsory school prayer; gun ownership, aggressive policing, and capital punishment”.  Stenner, p. 194


[17] Stenner, pp. 334 – 335.

[18] Stenner, p. 330.

[19] For Stenner, another way of measuring the same dynamic is not to ask about childrearing values per se, but “by subject’s choices of the word that ‘appeals to you more”. . .predispositions toward authoritarianism were indicated here simply by their varying inclinations to prefer the words ‘obey,’ ‘rules,’ and ‘obedience,’ over ‘question,’ ‘progress’ and ‘curiosity.’ p.53.

[20] This is the ‘four-term authoritarianism index introduced by the NES (National Election Study) in 1992. Hetherington and Weiler correlated response to this scale with Feldman’s 2003 Social Conformity-Autonomy Scale and the RWA  (Right-wing authoritarianism) scale. pp.48-49.


[21]For a rich description of the ethical challenges and political power of cohesive communities based on interdependence and collective problem-solving see De La Torre, Miguel, Latina/o Social Ethics: Moving Beyond Eurocentric Moral Thinking. Waco Texas: Baylor University Press. 2010.; Collins, Patricia Hill, Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998; Coleman, Monica A., Making a Way out of No Way, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008; Baker-Fletcher, Karen and Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, My Sister, My Brother: Womanist and Xodus God-Talk. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997; King, Thomas The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.; Kimmerer,Robin Wall,  Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions. 2013.


Even Stenner’s qualitative research shows the flaws of her own and her colleagues’ quantitative measures.  In interviews with people who measured as most libertarian, interviewers found them to be deeply connected with others, appreciating ‘their friends, neighbors, their social lives,” and ‘courteous and respectful of others.” It is clear that these people do not care only about themselves.  They are genuinely interested in others, eager to learn from them and to explore with them new ideas. Stenner, pp. 228-234.

[22] Adams, “Our Responsibility in Society,” in The Prophethood of All Believers,” 152-155.

[23] Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan, and Jay Coen Gilbert, the founders of B Lab, posted “An Open Letter to Business Leaders” on February 6, 2017. https://bthechange.com/your-business-should-be-a-force-for-good-an-open-letter-to-business-leaders-b6909beab17f  Accessed May 1, 2018.


[24] Ibid.

[25] Carol Lee Sanchez, “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: The Sacred Connection,” in Ecofeminism and the Sacred, ed. Carol J. Adams, New York: Continuum, 1993. pp.377, 375.

[26]  Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013, p.7.



[27] Ibid, p. 377.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Adams, “Theological Bases of Social Action,” in A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism: Volume Two From 1900 to the Present. Edited by Dan McKanan. Boston: Skinner House Books, 2017.  p. 162.