In a piece for the Sunday Age, Chris Berg says progressives think conservatives are heartless because they “don’t realise the right has a different and legitimate moral framework.” Perhaps so, but what about libertarians?
Berg draws on Jonathan Haidt‘s moral foundations research. Haidt argues that moral judgments are largely intuitive and rest on six foundations – care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation.
Haidt and his colleagues have found that progressives (liberals) rely almost entirely on the first three foundations when making moral judgments. In contrast, conservatives rely on all six.
In many ways libertarians are like progressives. “We found that libertarians look more like liberals than conservatives on most measures of personality” Haidt wrote in his recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. However:
Where they diverge from liberals most sharply is on two measures: the Care foundation, where they score very low (even lower than conservatives), and on some new questions we added about economic liberty, where they score extremely high (a little higher than conservatives, a lot higher than liberals).
So if progressives are wrong about conservatives, could they be right about libertarians? In a recent paper, a group of researchers including Haidt reported that libertarians reject the morality of altruism “as well as all other moralities based on ideas of obligation to other people, groups, traditions, and authorities.”
Interestingly, the research suggested libertarians may be less satisfied with their lives than either progressives or conservatives. The researchers reported that “libertarians may be less happy in part because they care less about others and (most likely) bond less with others, particularly close others.” Libertarians seem to rely less on emotion and more on abstract reasoning.
Given their lack of interest in conservative values, why do American libertarians consistently favour the Republican party? According to Haidt:
People with libertarian ideals have generally supported the Republican Party since the 1930s because libertarians and Republicans have a common enemy: the liberal welfare society that they believe is destroying America’s liberty (for libertarians) and moral fiber (for social conservatives).
There is always potential for tension between conservatives and libertarians. As I argued in a 2008 article for Policy magazine – ‘Defusing the American Right‘ – the alliance comes under stress when conservatives enlarge the size and scope of government in order to pursue their values. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on drugs were areas of tension under the Bush administration.
But perhaps not all libertarians lack concern for people who are poor and marginalised. Recently a number of libertarian thinkers have gathered together at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog. Some of them are even talking about social justice.