Are there psychological explanations for people being drawn to neo-nazism or other bad ideologues?

Since surely the people are not believing in them for no reason. But what is it that they try to achieve through such ideologues? Are these people "sane"?

Or perhaps e.g. their "superior race" beliefs mean that their ideologue is "rational" in the sense that they feel that they belong to the superior race and other races ought to be discarded in order for only the superior race to flourish?


3 Answers 3


There are a few questions here which are related:

I will try and put some time aside to build a more full answer with references, but to give a starter, there are a lot of studies on this subject starting with conformity studies such as the Milgram Experiment (here is a documentary on the experiment) and the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Philip Zimbardo who was in charge of the Stanford Prison Experiment wrote the book "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" and led a talk on his research on the subject including other examples, but the biggest one for me was turned into a movie in Germany called Die Welle, and in English under the name The Wave.

The movie covered the true story of an experiment with a group of school children who wanted to understand the very same question you are asking, not believing it could happen today. Things turned nasty and out of control.

Teacher, Ron Jones's "Third Wave" experiment, which took place at a Californian school in 1967 was put together to explain how the German population could accept the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War. He founded a totalitarian, strictly-organized "movement" with harsh punishments that was led by him autocratically. The intricate sense of community led to a wave of enthusiasm not only from his own students, but also from students from other classes who joined the program later. Jones later admitted to having enjoyed having his students as followers. To eliminate the upcoming momentum, Jones aborted the project on the fifth day and showed the students the parallels towards the Nazi youth movements.

Cubberley Catamount Vol. 11, No. 14 (April 1967) Image: Cutting of Klink (1967)

All of these studies and experiments provide strong proof that the risk of full Nazi style regimes can return on a national level given the right circumstances.


Klink, B. (1967). 'Third Wave' presents inside look into Fascism. Catamount, 11(14), 3
Retrieved at: http://www.cubberleycatamount.com/Content/66-67/Catamount%20Pages/V11No14

See Also

Lesson Plan Movie
The documentary by the students and teacher of “The Third Wave” (aka “The Wave”)

Teacher, Ron Jones' account of the experiment


Milgram style conformity and Zimbardo's prison both relied pretty heavily on authority figures. A different mechanism is explored by the minimal group paradigm: people just seem predisposed to form in-groups and out-groups on the flimsiest pretexts. Although it's a different mechanism, in real life they're not independent. Zimbardo's work could be interpreted as an exercise in creating pretexts for this kind of arbitrary-group-formation tendency. (Although Milgram really was all about authority figures)

This perspective suggests that members of even the most incomprehensible ideologies (insert your own examples here) are basically held together by exactly the same sort of community-forming mechanisms that work well for creating other more positive/constructive cohesive communities (insert your own examples here)

There's a recent review of this sort of thing here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0a1f/7c2330ae9c85ad13b2a374c0ed21e4ace4d3.pdf


You can look at a number of theories that can explain why people find neonazism seductive.

Schizophrenia- meaning they're delusional. Social Bond theory- who they respect and bond with Attachment theory- bonded with a White supremacist caretaker Belongingness- the need to belong The idea of manifest destiny and the historical oppression of minorities among others.

I'll edit when I can think of more.

  • $\begingroup$ But manifest destiny ought to apply well to other non-libertarian political ideologues as well, right? Since e.g. Marxism contains a lot of "prophecies". $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 9:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you have any reference materials to provide which back up your claims? Can you please elaborate on each theory too? We require answers to be backed up by research and as it stands, your answer could be open to challenge as just opinion. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:37

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