Thursday, August 08, 2013

Conservative 'Righteous Minds' Conserve Sanctity the Most

Jonathan Haidt gives three pictures of the moral matrices of liberals, libertarians, and social conservatives at the end of Righteous Minds. Each matrix is attached by lines of varying thickness to six moral spectra – care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.

In the liberal picture, care/harm is twice as thick as liberty/oppression, which is twice as thick as fairness/cheating. The other three are minimal.

In the libertarian picture, liberty/oppression if four times as thick as fairness/cheating; the other four are minimal.

In the social conservative picture, all six lines are of equal thickness.

I think he is wrong that social conservatives place equal value on all six moral foundations.   

Conservatives get the greatest emotional reward from conserving. The things most worth conserving, most worth defending from degradation, are sacred things. Authority is authoritative because it defends – and defines – what is sacred. Institutionalized authority that defends the sacred creates institutions worth being loyal to.

Haidt's larger picture would be more symmetrical if liberals emphasized Care/Harm the most, and conservatives emphasized Sanctity/Degradation the most.  Symmetry is not a necessary feature of his theory, of course.  Indeed, one of his main points is that conservatives understand liberals more than the reverse because conservatives draw from all six moral foundations, whereas liberals only draw from three.

Nonetheless, I think envisioning the social conservative position as heavier on conserving sanctity, just as the liberal position is heavier on preventing harm, is closer to the truth than the picture Haidt draws in the book.


Diane M said...

I think liberals have a strong sense of sacredness, it's just that different things are sacred to them.

At the same time, liberals don't like the idea of something being sacred and don't quite recognize that the values that can't be violated fall into the sacredness/disgust part of morality.

Gruntled said...

One of Haidt's points is that liberals think only preventing Harm and preventing inequality (as not Fair) are the rational bases for public policy.