Liberal vs. Conservative Morality

Never mind that Vice-president of the Cato Institute gets his salary from some of the most dastardly people alive.  He’s a bit of an articulate genius.  While discussing five important books, he shares the following insight regarding morality:

When liberals talk about morality they are almost always talking about two different basic intuitions – intuitions about harm and care. That is, we don’t want people to be harmed and we want to care for people when they are hurting. Also, fairness and reciprocity: we want things to be fair, we want like cases to be treated alike. This is the basic liberal morality – whether it is libertarian morality or modern liberal morality, those are the buttons that get pushed that activate a liberal sense of moral outrage. But there are other moral buttons in the human moral imagination that liberals don’t pay much attention to that are still very present and lively and salient in the conservative moral imagination. Those are what Haidt calls the authority foundation, the in-group, out-group foundation and the sacreds versus disgust foundation. Authority is the sense of hierarchy and the sense that everything should be in its proper place. The leaders should lead and the followers should follow, people should know their station in life. The in-group out-group is just the solidarity of the tribe – that the key distinction is between us and them.

Nationalism, forms of patriotism, that kind of thing?

Yes. Then there is the perception of the world as divided between the sacred and the profane: a sense of elevation and holiness about some things and a sense of revulsion about others, which, in conservatism, often comes down to issues of sex. We see that very much in the conservative freak-out over gay marriage: it’s just disgusting and it’s soiling the sacred institution of marriage. When liberals hear conservatives vaunting authority or being patriotic or nationalistic or being homophobic they think that’s not a moral reaction at all, they’re just being Neanderthals. Haidt says no, they are being moral, they have a moral imagination. It’s just a different one from what you have and it’s actually one that has much more in common with how people thought morally for a long, long time. I think that’s right – in the current setting the moral buttons that get pushed for conservatives are different from the ones that get pushed for liberals. But the fact is that those other three foundations of morality are more traditional, more old-fashioned and are under constant attack by the social forces that are shaping the contemporary world.

And are not going away anytime soon.

And they’re not going away anytime soon at all.

[Brink Lindsey @ Five Books via the Browser]

[image via Uba Kontrovasie]
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August 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Reading.

2 Comments

  1. Keith replied:

    Another facit of this morality: I recently heard a radio show discussing recent attacks by radical Islamic terrorists. The focal point of the conversation (so to speak) was how the recent attackers (or plotters, in a few of the examples) seemed like traditional type people, and traditional Muslims. This was followed by comments along the lines of: “see, people are telling us that traditional Muslims aren’t dangerous, but you just can’t tell when they’re going to snap and convert to radical Islam.” Comments which seemed to imply that Islam as a whole was wrong, or dangerous, or immoral. What was left out? The fact that you can’t really tell when anyone, regardless of religion, is going to snap and become willing to harm society or a faction thereof.

  2. philliposophy replied:

    Very interesting Keith. I think many have de-humanized muslims to the point that they no longer see them as normal people subject to normal rules.

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