Successful groups give their members the power to put ideas into practice. As we have seen, this brings psychological benefits to individual members. The implications for society will be more varied and will depend upon the particular belief systems associated with particular groups. Where these beliefs are undemocratic and oppressive, groups can be tyrannical. Conversely, where these beliefs are democratic and open, groups can safeguard humanity.
But why do people support oppressive groups? When and why do we fall under the spell of tyrants?
Our study suggests that this happens when groups fail. When people cannot realize their own values and beliefs, they are more like to accept alternatives – however drastic – that provide the prospect of success. In particular, when their group is failing, they are more likely to embrace a strong figure who promises to make things work for them. It is this combination of failure and promise which made our participants become more authoritarian. In history too, these are conditions that have precipitated tyranny.
The answer to tyranny is not to distrust or to fear power. It was this that created problems for the Guards' regime and for the Commune. Rather, the answer is to use group power responsibly, democratically and in defence of humane values. In this way, we can act together to resist tyranny – either one imposed by others or one made by ourselves.