Thursday, March 17, 2011

defining Libertarian (vs. Conservative or Liberal) Morality

Excerpts from a long and interesting article by Ronald Bailey in Reason...

When it comes to morality, libertarians are often typecast as immoral calculating rationalists who also have a somewhat unseemly hedonistic bent. Now new social science research shows that libertarians are quite moral, just not in the same way that conservatives and liberals are.

University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done considerable previous work probing the moral differences between American liberals and conservatives, but came to recognize that a significant proportion of Americans did not fit the simplistic left/right ideological dichotomy that dominates so much of our political and social discourse. Instead of ignoring outliers, Haidt and his colleagues chose instead to dig deeper.

The result: A fascinating new study, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology”...involving moral surveys of more than 10,000 self-identified libertarians gathered online at the website yourmorals.org...

So what did the study find to be the basis of libertarian moral thinking? It will not surprise Reason readers that the study found that libertarians show (1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle and correspondingly weaker endorsement of other moral principles, (2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional intellectual style, and (3) lower interdependence and social relatedness....

In his earlier work, Haidt surveyed the attitudes of conservatives and liberals using what he calls the Moral Foundations Questionnaire which measures how much a person relies on each of five different moral foundations: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. Typically, conservatives scored lower than liberals on the Harm and Fairness scales and much higher on Ingroup, Authority, and Purity scales. In this case, libertarians scored low on all five surveyed moral dimensions....

The Schwartz Value scale measures the degree to which participants regard 10 values as guiding principles for their lives. Libertarians put higher value on Hedonism, Self-Direction, and Stimulation than either liberals or conservatives and they put less value than either on Benevolence, Conformity, Security, and Tradition. Like liberals, libertarians put less value on Power, but like conservatives they value Universalism less....Haidt and his colleagues eventually recognized that their Moral Foundations Questionnaire was blinkered by liberal academic bias by failing to include a sixth moral foundation, Liberty. They developed a liberty scale to probe this moral dimension....And guess what? The researchers found that libertarians dramatically outscored liberals and conservatives when it came to putting a high value on both economic and lifestyle liberty. Most dishearteningly, liberals scored two full standard deviations below libertarians on economic liberty....

Clearly, libertarians are not amoral. Rather, standard morality scales do a poor job of measuring their one central and overriding moral commitment.”...


2 Comments:

At March 28, 2011 at 4:07 PM , Blogger Darrell said...

Bailey writes: “Libertarian morality, by rising above and rejecting primitive moralities embodied in the universalist collectivism of left-liberals and the tribalist collectivism of conservatives, made the rule of law, freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and modern prosperity possible.”

I read this over the weekend and did part of the survey myself. This concluding line is laughable at best.

A social order that allows for ordered liberty, individual rights constrained by law, was a product of European Christianity not “libertarian morality”. Said Euro-Christianity contained traits that we could called universalist and tribalist. Euro-Christians, particularly Protestants shaped by the Reformation, created a social theory that balanced the one and many and was able to avoid, for a time, falling into nominalism on the one hand or realism on the other.

Speaking simply to the question of “modern prosperity” I think that a free market necessarily rests on broad social trust, above and beyond any sort of legal framework. Outside the mentality Bailey deems “tribalism” I don’t know that it can exist. Invariably when you get nations or empires with multiple ethnic and religious groups there is also an increase in state power, undermining the prosperity allegedly generated by “libertarian morality”.

 
At March 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

When I read that, I thought he was critiquing a subset of conservatives, but perhaps he meant it in a broader sense. If so, he overstates the case quite a bit!

That said, I would not lay everything at the feet of EC, however that term might be defined-- religiously or with respect to politics and economics. Either EC has to be defined or it was refined or modified by something like LM.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home