A recent comment by Safe Bets Amy on what it means to be liberal inspired this post.
A one paragraph description of liberalism is not enough. Contrasting liberalism to conservatism is, likewise, not enough. It is probably best to try to find the root difference in the liberal and conservative psyche and elaborate on how those differences play out in government and everyday life.
Jonathan Haidt and co-workers have published for a number of years articles supporting their proposition that liberal and conservative stances are built on five moral foundations; harm, fairness, in-group, authority and purity. To summarize their work, everyone ascribes to these moral foundations but the degree varies between conservatives and liberals.
Harm has to do with the ability to empathize with the suffering of others.
Fairness goes to basic concepts of justice and equality.
In-group underlies the belief that protecting one’s own group and showing allegiance to it is of high importance.
Authority speaks to tradition, respect for those with power, and the enactment of laws that preserve those attitudes.
Purity has to do with disgust for non-virtuous behavior. Virtue is seen differently between liberals and conservatives.
Not surprisingly, liberals place much more emphasis on harm and fairness than on in-group, authority and purity, and conservatives place more emphasis on the latter three moral foundations.
A conservative’s attitudes about fairness are framed within their concept of the in-group. In other words a different in treatment between members of one’s group and those who do not belong is not seen as unfair. Similar attitudes prevail on subjects of harm.
Purity attitudes among conservatives are more related – in Haidt’s words – with “what touches them, and liberals views on purity are more related to what they ingest.”
These attitudes based on moral foundations play out in confusing ways at times. For example, a poor white person in the Deep South, because of his or her respect for those in authority, belief that their group –white, evangelical Christian – may vote against their own economic interests in order to preserve their loyalty to their group and religious and social values of right and wrong.
Subsequent studies have examined whether couching an argument that is counter-attitudinal for either liberals or conservative, in a frame that they prefer, may shift attitudes in daily life and in the political sphere.
There have been few studies in that regard. One study that sought to find whether the attitudes of conservatives on pro-environmental issues could be changed, found that some headway could be made it the argument for preservation of the environment was made in a purity frame, but not in a harm frame.
Curiously, liberal's views were not swayed by arguments in either frame.
The studies reported by Day, Fiske et al, (cited above) in which liberals were exposed to arguments counter to their attitudes framed in any foundation showed that liberals were unaffected. Conservatives, on the other hand, were somewhat changed when arguments were couched in terms of authority, in-group or purity, but not on the basis of fairness or harm.
Both groups responded to pro-attitudinal arguments on moral foundations that they held high by becoming more entrenched in their attitudes.
These studies confirm the earlier study concerning pro-environmental issues.
The take-away from these studies is that any attempt to dissuade a person of the opposite conservative or liberal persuasion using arguments that convince you are a waste of time and energy. Arguments have to be couched in terms of a moral basis that the other person finds appealing.
Now, based on our knowledge of the moral foundations of liberals and conservatives, what do liberals believe in? And what stances indicate that a liberal may be a closet conservative?
Economy: Liberals believe in an economy that provides opportunity for everyone. This translates to attitudes about employers paying a living wage, job opportunity based on ability, but providing opportunity for workers with varying levels of education and ability. There is vigorous opposition to rigged systems in which only the wealthy and powerful can succeed and there is no opportunity for success based on ambition and hard work.
Social Welfare: Liberals feel that there should be opportunities for healthcare based on need rather than wealth and income, and that those who are less fortunate have assistance in finding food and shelter that does not depend on the charity of the wealthy.
Religious Freedom: Liberals tend to believe that the choice of belief of an individual should not be governed by employment, the government or those with different beliefs.
Change: Liberals, because they are little influenced by tradition or authority, are open to change that will foster the above ideals.
In everyday life and in politics there are pressures to compromise the above ideals. Liberal individuals, in order to find work, may be pressured to do things that are counter to their beliefs. Politicians, in order to get elected, take donations from conservatives with interests contrary to those of liberals and are thus compromised. The desire to get Democrats elected following Civil Rights legislation and the gradual loss of influence by labor unions created chimeras such as politicians who described themselves as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. That is an oxymoron. Socially liberal programs can’t be sustained by fiscally conservative programs. Fiscally conservative programs look out for the interests of the wealthy and powerful, and those interests run counter to social welfare programs and full, life sustaining employment.
A $15.00/ hour minimum wage is hardly adequate if in going from $7.50 an hour to $15.00 an hour the employer replaces half of the work force with robots.
I don’t know how one would mount an argument for full employment and a living wage based on purity. Perhaps by using an appeal to authority using biblical passages such as, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” or, “the worker is worthy of his wages.” the conservative might be persuaded.