Don’t miss Jon Haidt’s response to my questions. It’s in the comments, but I reproduce it here in its entirety.
Dear Bryan, and other commentators:
The question you ask is one of the most important ones we’ve been
trying to answer for the last 2 years. The original theory was not
developed to understand politics; it was to understand cross cultural
variation, while drawing on evolutionary psychology to help pick the
best candidates for being true foundations upon which cultures can
construct many contradictory moralities. That’s how we came up with the
first 5. But once we applied it to politics, it quickly became clear
that we were missing something about liberty/autonomy, and that
fairness was much more complex than concerns about justice and equality
(which liberals score higher on). As one of your readers commented, we
do poorly by libertarians. But we’re about to fix that. If anyone wants
to see the data as it grows, on the various kinds of liberty and
various kinds of fairness, please go to www.yourmorals.org and take the
NOw, as to whether liberals have the ingroup, authority, and purity
foundations at all: As one of your readers said, it’s a matter of
degree. So I’ve always thought that they have them, but don’t build
nearly as much on them. But the story is different for each one:
INGROUP: yes, liberals can do ingroup, but mostly just contra
conservatives and racists. And they don’t do it terribly well. The
Democratic Whip has a much harder job than the republican Whip. Social
conservatives take to it so readily. Liberals and libertarians can do
it, but not as readily or as reliably. Liberals in particular are
universalists; they are morally opposed to tribalism, although they can
kinda do liberal tribalism. So yes, liberals would consider voting for
a republican as a kind of treason.
AUTHORITY: This is the one that I think really is different. Many
liberals tell me that we have authorities, but our authorities have to
earn our respect, like a scientific authority. But i see this as
something of a pun. The ethology of authority is related to dominance
and submission, most primates do it, but conservative primates do it
much more readily than liberal primates, and on the far left
anti-authoritarianism is such a strong value. Dancing on MLK’s grave is
extreme sacrlilege (see purity), it is not defying an order, defying
the teacher, father, etc. I think this foundation might be one that
some liberals lack completely, others have weakly.
PURITY: I have long thought that liberal purity exists and is best
found in liberal attitudes about the environment. I have a short blog
post titled ‘in search of liberal purity’ here:
So yes, your question about littering is a very good one, i might
test it out if you give me permission. To see the current items that we
are testing, please go to www.yourmorals.org and take the MFQ-C, which
has items we are using to explore liberal purity.
Bottom line: Moral Foundations Theory, in its first draft, has done
a surprisingly good job of capturing the culture war, particularly the
old one with the religious right. But it is incomplete, it is
constantly being improved, and questions and criticisms such as yours
are one of the most important ways that we improve it. We’re likely to
come out with a revision in late 2010, based in part on what we find on
the MFQ-B and C.
Thanks for posing these questions, and inviting me to respond.
Mar 16 2010 at 2:13pm
As for ingroup loyalty, how about the left-wing (“liberal”/socialist/Democrat) preference for protectionism versus the right-wing (conservative/libertarian/Republican) preference for free trade? When it comes to trade and glocal capitalism the left turns out to be mildly xenophobic while the right tends to be far more cosmopolitan: Left-wingers accept trade between Alaska and Arkansas, but want to undermine trade between America and Africa or America and Asia, while right-wingers just love the universalist(!) concept of trade between individuals(!).
As for authority, left-wingers are far more inclined than right-wingers to accept the authority of trade unions or coercive government when it comes to things like the freedom of contract, wage negotiations, school choice. Left-wingers tend to see collective groups, while right-wingers see individuals and emergent institutions.
As for purity, in my view the left-wing view that there is a natural “right” to kill one’s child even one minute before it is born (partial birth abortion) is rather based in a certain kind of puritanism than in the notion of fairness. As a classical liberal or libertarian-conservative, my preference is rather to do justice to both individuals that are involved, the mother and the child, in a way that is far more grounded in true fairness than in puritanism.
Mar 16 2010 at 2:30pm
He seems not to have noticed how liberals respond to mild transgressions of their racial taboos – disproportionately, ruthlessly, without forgiveness.
Mar 16 2010 at 2:47pm
“yes, liberals can do ingroup, but mostly just contra conservatives and racists.”
That just jumped out at me; how should i read it?
The first thing I thought about while reading Haidt’s response is this article:
It was also written by Haidt, though I had forgotten. In both, he has a very high opinion of liberals and a very low opinion of conservatives. It seems to me to be a fatal flaw for someone researching the differences between the two groups.
Mar 16 2010 at 3:13pm
“INGROUP: yes, liberals can do ingroup, but mostly just contra conservatives and racists. And they don’t do it terribly well. The Democratic Whip has a much harder job than the republican Whip. Social conservatives take to it so readily. Liberals and libertarians can do it, but not as readily or as reliably. Liberals in particular are universalists; they are morally opposed to tribalism, although they can kinda do liberal tribalism.”
I have great respect for Jon Haidt, but, again, I think he is confusing moral behavior with moralistic justification. This is a chronic problem with the five foundation theory, which is ironic, because Haidt himself often stresses the fact that moral reasoning is often an effect, rather than a cause of moral judgment and behavior. There is no reason to assume that each foundation plays an equal role in top-down and bottom-up processes either across the board or within particular groups.
Liberals are very unlikely to justify their behavior by invoking the value of ingroupism (e.g. loyalty). But they are as tribal and intolerant of differences as conservatives are. Haidt should join Daily Kos, praise George W. Bush i see what happens. Or, for that matter, go to a conference and discuss possible consequences of differences in variability of aptitude between men and women. Oh, wait.
In a sense, Haidt admits as much by saying that liberals, in fact, “do ingroup, but mostly just contra conservative and racists”. But conservatives form about 40% of US population (and the one not very different from the population of “racists” in the liberal mind). So, this pretty much means that they “do ingroup” all the time.
Finally, the reason why Pelosi has problems herding Democrats is because the bill is unpopular and Democrats in the current Congress are ideologically varied. But they are varied not because Democrats are more tolerant and “universalistic” but because, in the US, conservatives outnumber liberals in almost 2:1 ratio. Democrats have to be ideologically diverse in order to win. So do Republicans, but not to the same extent.
Mar 16 2010 at 4:12pm
Let me state up front that I do not want to make this a partisan issue, and I am sure that Jon [as I shall call him to show that I have little respect for authority] never intended to make it a partisan issue, either.
Having said that, I believe that Jon is biased by his implicit assumption that American “conservatives” are Maistre conservatives, instead of Burkean Whigs. This is evident in the article linked to in aub’s comment. (I blame WF Buckley’s adoption of the “conservative” label for this confusion.)
WRT his remarks on ingroup:
yes, liberals can do ingroup, but mostly just contra conservatives and racists.
Agreed, but that is a problem for us in the rest of the world: American “liberals” have constantly sided with our oppressors (even with a person who should not be mentioned in an internet thread: see Stephen H Norwood’s The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower), just to annoy “conservatives”.
Liberals in particular are universalists; they are morally opposed to tribalism
Are they? what is multiculturalism, if not multi-tribalism?
Mar 16 2010 at 4:17pm
Order versus Chaos. Yin and yang. Eastern philosophers recognized the need for harmony between these two.
He notes how Democrats have a hard time getting their party in line. Conservatives can point out that Democrat mayors have a harder time getting their citizens to obey the law, liberal colleges have a harder time getting their students to behave, etc.
Communists were chaos unleashed, using the power of the state to tear down the very foundations of family, religion and law.
Chaos doesn’t fit into boxes, it breaks them. Destroy the group, destroy authority, destroy purity, destroy loyalty…
Mar 16 2010 at 4:21pm
This is part 2.
Many liberals tell me that we have authorities, but our authorities have to earn our
respect, like a scientific authority.
This is pretty funny, given recent events related to climatology. But I do want people to respect PhD.s in the hard sciences: after all, I have one myself!
More seriously, on the subject of authority: I think that Jonah Goldberg got it exactly wrong [which, of course, is much better than getting it partially wrong]. It’s not that fascism is “far-left”, it’s American “progressivism” that is far-Right, in the original French sense of Right. In a nation of individualists, Progressivism was always about authority, the collective, and the State, to adopt Mussolini’s definition of the Right (from The Doctrine of Fascism, probably ghost-written by Gentile.)
Jon might reasonably reply that “liberalism” is different from the original Progressivism. However, a movement that has whitewashed Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc, and is still busy whitewashing communism (when the French and Italian communist parties have lost almost all voters) cannot reasonably be defined “anti-authoritarian” in my view. I could go on about the way the American media treats Islam with greater respect than granted by the European media, but I have already mentioned multi-tribalism.
Jon: if you are reading this, perhaps you can give a tighter definition of “authority”, one that leaves less room for hand-waving. If you already gave one in your technical papers, I apologize for my ignorance.
Mar 16 2010 at 4:36pm
PS: once again, I find myself in agreement with Zeljka Buturovic. In particular, I like this:
I think he [Jon Haidt] is confusing moral behavior with moralistic justification.
Mar 16 2010 at 5:08pm
I think what we have here is a misuse of language. Modern progressives are not liberal in the sense you think. They have a VERY strong in_group/out_group function. Libertarians do too, look at the factionalism and fratricide within libertarian factions for a good example of that. It is just that the identification is more ideological than a club or official organization.
I also have to echo Snorri Godhi’s remarks. I don’t think he (Haidt) understand conservatives very well. Also, note the division in early american (post constution) politics was between the Whigs (who were what we in the US call conservative) and the Democrats (who were fairly libertarian).
It wasn’t until post Marx that this got jumbled up even more. Whig-minded and Libertarian-minded people ended up lumped together to oppose the left.
Mar 16 2010 at 6:06pm
I’m sort of interested in liberals and authority. How does one reconcile an anti-authoritarian bent with the starry-eyed, gushing, hero worship with which liberals favored Obama before the election?
Mar 16 2010 at 6:27pm
The ethology of authority is related to dominance and submission, most primates do it, but conservative primates do it much more readily than liberal primates, and on the far left anti-authoritarianism is such a strong value.
Could you clarify this? It may be that liberals are more resistant to authority imposed upon them, but they seem quite ready to demand obedience to authority from others. Consider the following :
Campus speech codes
Campaign finance and speech laws
Compulsory national service
All of the above are authoritarian measures/agencies supported by mainstream “liberals” in the U.S. For a group that is so disrespectful of authority, the success of most liberal programs seems to demand widespread obedience and respect for authority. How do you explain the discrepancy?
As for the far left, there have been a multitude of far left dictators/regimes: Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Castro, Chavez, Kim Il Sung and a host of others.
Who is staffing such regimes if not leftists who deeply embrace authority?
Mar 16 2010 at 8:38pm
To follow the post just above (Rasch’s):
While Haidt’s foundations chart show liberals pretty anti-authoritarian, when you get to the chart on attitudes about liberty, of course everyone is in favor of personal autonomy; liberals distinguish themselves by being pretty relaxed about freedom from government (not to mention their love for international law).
What do they think government is, if not authority? You could speculate they see it as just big expression of the general will, a la Rousseau. Or as my governor, Deval Patrick says: “government is the things we do together.”
Mar 17 2010 at 1:31am
A liberal sees a conservative smoking tobacco and dropping the butts on the sidewalk creating an unsightly mess and tells him “smoking is bad for your health, littering is antisocial, and that is the reason I’ve supported a smoking ban in public.”
A conservative sees a liberal smoking a joint trying very hard to release any of the smoke into the air, carefully putting out the fire and carefully placing the butt in his pocket, and arrests him with the hope of putting him in prison for 20 years.
Mar 17 2010 at 3:22am
Remember also that progressive activists played a crucial role in the passage of the first drug and alcohol prohibition laws, it was the liberals on the Supreme court (and that hypocrite Scalia) who affirmed the right of the Feds to ban pot in the recent Raich decision, and it’s liberal vice president Joe Biden, about whom Radley Balko wrote:
“Biden has sponsored more damaging drug war legislation than any Democrat in Congress. Hate the way federal prosecutors use RICO laws to take aim at drug offenders? Thank Biden. How about the abomination that is federal asset forfeiture laws? Thank Biden. Think federal prosecutors have too much power in drug cases? Thank Biden. Think the title of a “Drug Czar” is sanctimonious and silly? Thank Biden, who helped create the position (and still considers it an accomplishment worth boasting about). Tired of the ridiculous steroids hearings in Congress? Thank Biden, who led the effort to make steroids a Schedule 3 drug, and has been among the blowhardiest of the blowhards when it comes to sports and performance enhancing drugs. Biden voted in favor of using international development aid for drug control (think plan Columbia, plan Afghanistan, and other meddling anti-drug efforts that have only fostered loathing of America, backlash, and unintended consequences). Oh, and he was also the chief sponsor of 2004’s horrendous RAVE Act.”
Mar 17 2010 at 11:12am
One of my biggest questions about Haidt’s work: are people’s moral intuitions consistent across different situations?
We know that behavior is often not generalized across situations. i.e. interventions in children’s homes/families have little or no effect on their behavior at school.
I wonder if survey choices distinguishing between the private and public realms would yield very different weightings in different groups.
For instance: if we looked at honesty/truthfulness (a realm I very much wish that Haidt would explore–not just “authenticity” or integrity), would we find that Conservatives value it highly (more than Liberals?) in private, especially face-to-face, dealings, but downgrade it significantly in public dealings where groups are interacting–notably in public debate–situations where group loyalty would overwhelm it?
This in general raises the thorny issue of interactions between the realms, an issue that promises to do for Haidt’s work what genetic interactions and epigenetics have done in genetics: make it extraordinarily complex (and interesting).
Mar 17 2010 at 11:32am
I agree with Haidt about “liberal” attitudes toward authority. I think a distrust of traditional bastions of authority is still a hallmark of what guides a young mind into becoming a liberal (or “classical” liberal/libertarian). How that skepticism of authority most often becomes manifest as advocacy of nanny-state moralism and “Progressivism” is a great mystery to me. But it does, nevertheless. That weird fact is probably where a lot of this disagreement is coming from.
But as far as “Purity” and “Ingroup”, yeah there is absolutely no doubt in my mind there is as much of that on the left as on the right — moreso in some instances, less in others. But I will say, the readers of this blog are probably, as a group, more attuned to notice these traits in those on the left. And Haidt, on the other hand, definitely seems to notice them in righties more than lefties.
The thing that is heartening to me is that in these kinds of discussions, those on the left AND the right are always contending over the liberal (classically defined) high ground.
Mar 17 2010 at 3:48pm
I think a distrust of traditional bastions of authority is still a hallmark of what guides a young mind into becoming a liberal (or “classical” liberal/libertarian). How that skepticism of authority most often becomes manifest as advocacy of nanny-state moralism and “Progressivism” is a great mystery to me.
Maybe you are right: maybe it is possible to be anti-authoritarian in character while adopting an authoritarian ideology. However, I am not convinced. I think the cognitive dissonance is in Ingroup, as I indicated above: rejection of tribalism leads “liberals” to embrace other tribes, which means … embracing tribalism. It’s the paradox of tolerance.
Which leads me to a wild hypothesis: maybe the real difference is that American “liberals” are more tolerant of cognitive dissonance than the rest of the world.
Mar 18 2010 at 1:30am
Bringing an Indian perspective to muck up the divide even more. Gandhi is an icon of the left, and probably the cause of most of the left wingism in India. His ideology was, however a strange mixture of the admiration of bottom up phenomenon (what he called Gram Swaraj, meaning Village Republics, as opposed to the central authority), and a totalitarian fervor towards deindustrialization.
Purity was a major theme with him and he insisted on the virtues of abstinence (even in marriage), vegetarianism, and constantly purifying oneself, almost ritualistically.
He was decidedly pro-poor and professed hatred the rich, wanted equality and social justice. Like most on the left, he feared trade and wanted to isolate not just India from the world, but villages in India from each other.
He also was a luddite (typical in Indian lefties, probably because technology and science in general are percieved as “western”) and believed religion to be the biggest force for good, and the only reason he opposed communists was their atheism. The ingroup thing manifested not in religious or carsteist terms but nationalistic and ideological ones.
Where does he fit in the left right spectrum? Much to the left I guess, but Jon’s “ideal liberal” would be really uncomfortable espousing several of Gandhian ideas. I wanted to illustrate something I have been thinking about for some time, that its essentially impossible to classify individuals, except on individual issues, and that the standards of even a half century ago are horribly outdated today.
To that extent, Jon, your morality argument, which i first heard in your talks with Will Wilkinson, are profoundly flawed as they are rooted in the concept of stereotypes.
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