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.

Views: 139

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on January 3, 2018 at 11:05am

Yeah, okay...

I eschew the use of "liberal" any longer.  That word has been taken over by the Centralists and the stealth right-wings (which would include at least 50% of the Democratic Party).

As to your point on how each "group" thinks?  I'll use two memes (you know me and memes... LOL):

A "Progressive" agrees with this one -

Image may contain: 1 person

A conservative agrees with this one -

Comment by koshersalaami on January 3, 2018 at 11:51am

In terms of talking to conservatives, welcome to my world. There's a reason I talk about liberalism in business terms. 

I can’t figure out how to define conservativism any more because it’s mutated to something that no longer makes internal sense. I find defining liberalism easy, because as far as I can see it all comes down to one thing:

Liberals are obsessed with level playing fields. Almost every liberal position I can think of can be traced back to that principle. 

Comment by Maui Surfer on January 3, 2018 at 2:59pm

Yes, Liberals are obsessed with level playing fields, and Conservatives are actually only trying to "conserve" one thing and one thing only, keeping them from becoming level.

The Whitewashing of US herstory is deep, a deep state if you like-ha! In fact, Buckley and the so-called fathers and founders of what is supposedly today's conservatism began immediately after Truman's integration of the Military, was one hundred percent focused on keeping the "others" from attaining the same Civil Rights they enjoyed, and was described by Good Ol' Boy Bill himself as, "American Politics is the South's Revenge for losing the Civil War."

It is all ready to read up on in the microfiche of the National Review for anyone else who has, from time to time, read that toilet paper.

Comment by Rodney Roe on January 3, 2018 at 3:35pm

@ Amy, the problem with terms (and words in general) is that their meanings change.  Sometimes, as with the word liberal, it is intentional. “Progressive” was Teddy Roosevelt’s term and Progressives then we’re not the Progressives of today, but Progressive is how I describe my self. Liberals like the Clintons look like what used to be called moderate Republicans.

Modern Conservatives seem to embrace a lot of unrelated stands until you view them through the moral foundations they value. 

Comment by koshersalaami on January 3, 2018 at 4:38pm

I use liberal because I won't desert the term just because conservatives have badmouthed it for so many years. I prefer liberal to progressive for that reason. Tax and spend liberal? Makes a whole lot more sense than don't tax but spend conservative. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on January 3, 2018 at 4:45pm

The Progressive Party, informally the Bull Moose Party,  platform called for tariff reform, stricter regulation of industrial combinations, women's suffrage, prohibition of child labor, and other reforms.  Teddy Roosevelt had been a Republican, and formed the Progressive Party because he didn't get the Republican nomination.  The Republican party opposed him because of his stand against Trusts or monopolies as well as his interference in the practice of using child labor and working women long hours without an increase in compensation.  While Roosevelt's advances seem moderate by today's standards, they were seismic in the early 20th century.

Comment by Rodney Roe on January 4, 2018 at 3:53am

An article in The Atlantic in 2012 listed these 21 beliefs articulated by part of the 2/5ths of the U.S. who referred to themselves as Conservatives:

  1. An aversion to rapid change; a belief that tradition and prevailing social norms often contain within them handed down wisdom; and mistrust of attempts to remake society so that it conforms to an abstract account of what would be just or efficient.  
  2. A desire to preserve the political philosophy and rules of government articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
  3. A belief that it is imperative to preserve traditional morality, as it is articulated in the Bible, through cultural norms. 
  4. A belief that it is imperative to preserve traditional morality, as it is articulated in the Bible, using cultural norms and the power of the state.
  5. An embrace of free-market capitalism, and a belief in the legitimacy of market outcomes. 
  6. A belief that America is an exceptional nation, a shining city on a hill, whose rightful role is leader of the free world.
  7. A belief that America should export its brand of democracy through force of arms.
  8. The conviction that government should undertake, on behalf of the American polity, grand projects that advance our "national greatness" and ennoble our characters.
  9. An embrace of localism, community and family ties, human scale, and a responsibility to the future.
  10. A belief that America shouldn't intervene in the affairs of other nations except to defend ourselves from aggression and enforce contracts and treaties.
  11. A desire to return to the way things once were.
  12. Affinity for, identification with, or embrace of Red America's various cultural cues. (For example, gun ownership, a preference for single-family homes oriented around highways rather than urban enclaves organized around public transit, embrace of country music, disdain for arugula and fancy mustard, etc.)
  13. Disdain for American liberalism, multiculturalism, identity politics, affirmative action, welfare, European-style social policies, and the left and its ideas generally.
  14. A desire to be left alone by government, often coupled with a belief that being left alone is a natural right. 
  15. A principled belief in federalism.
  16. The belief that taxes should be lower and government smaller.
  17. The belief that the national debt and deficits put America in peril.
  18. The belief that whenever possible, government budgets should be balanced.
  19. Consciousness of the fallibility of man, and an awareness of the value of skepticism, doubt and humility.
  20. Realism in foreign policy.
  21. Non-interventionism in foreign policy.

I fail on a number of counts; most notably in my fondness for arugula. (see #12)

Comment by Rodney Roe on January 4, 2018 at 4:14am

Infant mortality is a good example of the difference in the way liberals and conservatives view the world.  In one of the most reports by the CDC infant mortality was broken down not only by state, but by race and ethnicity.  Not surprisingly infant mortality was highest in the children of black mothers and lowest in white mothers.  In fact, when further looked at by state, the lowest black (non-Hispanic) infant mortality rate was higher than the highest white infant mortality rate.  A link with an interactive map of the U.S. giving rates and rankings by state, is below.

Liberals see the disparity in infant mortality by race as evidence of societal policies that make it harder for black mothers to receive good maternal care.  Conservatives see the difference as a result of poor life choices among black mothers, and therefore not something that government need be involved in, since it is viewed as a matter of personal responsibility.


Comment by koshersalaami on January 4, 2018 at 5:27am

I'm glad you said the last thing. One difference I've noticed is that liberals concentrate on collective responsibility (it takes a village) while conservatives concentrate on individual responsibility. I find this an idiotic and counterproductive distinction. Nothing works without both. 

Comment by koshersalaami on January 4, 2018 at 5:39am

This is what was so cool about the Million Man March. I’m obviously not a fan of Louis Farrakhan, given his very public antisemitism, but the Nation of Islam’s point that the Black community cannot rely on White collective responsibility is unfortunately a correct one, and the March was about emphasizing personal responsibility among a traditionally liberal population. Anything that boosts any kind of responsibility is a good thing, and that’s more true of crossover responsibility - an emphasis on the kind of responsibility the other side traditionally emphasizes. 


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