Jonathan Haidt, the author of the excellent “The Happiness Hypothesis,” has written an essay that explores what Democrats consider a fundamental paradox of American politics: Why do working-class Americans vote Republican, when their narrow economic interests would be better served by the Democrats’ redistributionist policies.
Haidt, a self-professed liberal atheist, concludes that there are two fundamentally different approaches to building a moral society. The Millian (John Stuart Mills) approach imagines society as a social contract between individuals, invented for their mutual benefit. Here, the values of caring and fairness are paramount. The Durkheimian (Emile Durkheim) approach views society as a composed of nested and overlapping groups, where the individual is less important. Here, the values of self-control, duty, and loyalty are paramount (as opposed to self-expression, rights, and compassion for outsiders).
Haidt’s research explored these five principles:
In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at www.YourMorals.org.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.
In other words, Democrats appeal strictly to adherents of a Millian view, while leaving Durkheimians with the impression that they ignore the majority of what makes a society moral.
This ties in neatly with some of the thoughts Ben Casnocha and I have had about the secular church; specifically, that secular humanism needs a stronger foundation for expressions of self-control, duty, and loyalty than the small beer of lengthy philosophical discussion. Indeed, were the Democrats wise, they would try to create the equivalent of a secular church based on American patriotism, this providing themselves with both a moral foundation and the means to dispute the Republican monopoly on flag-waving.
Finally, while I continue to stick to my policy of avoiding political affiliations (remember, “Republicans buy shoes“) I thought I would reward my loyal readers with a peek inside my moral world, courtesy of YourMorals.org:
In the graph below, your scores on each foundation are shown in green (the 1st bar in each set of 3 bars). The scores of all liberals who have taken it on our site are shown in blue (the 2nd bar), and the scores of all conservatives are shown in red (3rd bar). Scores run from 0 (the lowest possible score, you completely reject that foundation) to 5 (the highest possible score, you very strongly endorse that foundation and build much of your morality on top of it).