The Good Tsar Bias

 I propose to call it “the good Tsar bias,” for the proverbial attitude of ordinary Russians to the Tsar in contrast to his ministers before the revolution. (Whether ordinary Russians actually held this attitude is a different question — looking around lazily, I can only find one good reference, in W. Bruce Lincoln’s Sunlight at Midnight, p. 188 — but the belief that they did was already proverbial in the 1930s. Even the Security Service of the SS made reference to the “good tsar” idea to account for the widespread finding of their public opinion researchers that people hated the Nazi party, but did not blame Hitler for their everyday woes; Kershaw quotes a report from them that claims that before WWI in Russia people used to explain their dissatisfaction with the government by saying that “Father Tsar knows nothing of it, he would not wish or tolerate it” before going on to warn that “Russia’s fate proves this principle is dangerous”

.. Though the “good Tsar bias” seems to be related to what psychologists call the just world bias, insofar as it appears to serve as a compensatory form of system justification, it does not seem to be quite the same thing. The “good Tsar” bias does not incline people to say that the world is just, or to rationalize injustice as somehow deserved, only to deny that those leaders who are closely tied to the symbols of the nation (the Tsar, the Führer, the King, etc.) bear responsibility for bad outcomes in everyday life; that responsibility, instead, is assigned to subordinates. In this respect, the bias appears to be more closely related to what Dan Kahan and others have called “identity-protective cognition“: the closer a leader is tied to the symbols of the nation or group with whom they identify, and the closer people’s identification with the nation or group is, the more difficult it should be for them to accept that the leader is responsible for bad outcomes, since such acceptance threatens one’s identity, and the more likely it will be for them to displace that responsibility onto subordinates as a protective measure.