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 and take the
“MFQ-Part B”

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 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.