Moral Principles and Political Tension

September 21, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Riffing last week on the Jonathan Haidt’s moral chart, I said (here) that the conservatives’ choice of five moral principles makes it easier for them to justify any idea or action.  Liberals have to get by on just two such principles. 

It hadn’t occurred to me that this moral diversity may also make it harder for conservatives to agree among themselves. We usually think of the Democrats as the weak magnet, unable to keep its iron filings from floating away.  Hence Will Rogers’s famous “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

But B.A., who blogs for The Economist,* notes (here) that the different branches of the Democratic party are not really at odds on specific policies.
Obama’s embrace of gay marriage did not require him to cut food stamps. Supporting card check neutrality for unions does not interfere with opposing tort reform. In fact, all of these positions can be collectively thrown together under the rubric of fairness and equality.
In fact, the policies mirror Haidt’s liberal diptych
  • Harm / Care
  • Fairness / Reciprocity
Things are different on the other side of the aisle.  Republicans seem remarkably similar to one another – the  convention in Tampa looked like a huge gathering Buick drivers – but the ideological voices aren’t always in harmony.  B.A. refers to
the competing blocs within the party – pro-immigration businesses versus nativists, tax-cutting zealots versus defense hawks and retirees who want to keep their entitlements . . .
He could have added the Randian libertarians and the religious conservatives. These seem to comprise all five of Haidt’s moral principles – the liberal two plus
  • Ingroup/ Loyalty
  • Authority/ Respect
  • Purity/ Sanctity
(Haidt has recently added a sixth  – liberty, a card which he deals to both sides of the table, making the count six vs. three.) 

B.A. credits this moral diversity in the GOP for Romney’s refusal to make specific proposals lest he offend one of those blocs.  But these blocs have long been part of the GOP.  Back in the Bush years someone (can’t remember who) referred to them as “The Taliban, the Predators, and the Neo-cons.”  But as long as the party was winning, everyone was happy, and these differences seemed unimportant.  Now that the party teeters on the verge of losing the big prize yet again to a Kenyan socialist, conservatives are looking at one another and wondering whose principles should be put front and center to bring back the glory days.  That goal, “taking our country back,”** may be the main thing they all agree on.  They just can’t agree on which of their principles to push forward.

Mo’ principles, mo’ problems.

* The Economist identifies its bloggers only by initials.  Apparently, in the magazine’s view, these scribblers are not worthy of a full byline.

** An earlier post on this meme is here.

1 comment:

maxliving said...

An interesting idea, but I'm not sure if the election conclusions necessarily follow. Wouldn't you think that it would be the common enemy (Obama) that would unite these groups? Maybe the problem is that Bush was able to satisfy more of these groups (seems like his personality encompasses all three) whereas Romney really only appeals to the business people. Or just that there's only so long you can hold these contradictory blocs/beliefs before everything falls apart.