Aspen Ideas Fest: One-sided morality the liberal downfall |

Aspen Ideas Fest: One-sided morality the liberal downfall

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A one-dimensional morality is proving the undoing of the Democratic Party, according to a social psychologist who outlined the moral values of liberals versus conservatives Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

“It’s self-inflicted wounds,” said Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “The Democrats are doing this to themselves.”

Haidt, speaking to an audience at the Aspen Institute’s Doerr-Hosier Center that overwhelmingly identified itself as either liberal or moderate, offered his insights on “The Psychological Foundations of the American Culture War (or, How ‘Liberal’ Became a Dirty Word).”

He outlined the “moral foundations theory,” which identifies five fundamental moral values that are the basis of “intuitive ethics.” Haidt is among a group of professors and graduate students that is surveying individuals’ values, in conjunction with their political leanings, at

The research indicates Americans who identify themselves as liberal tend to value care for others at a higher level than they do the other fundamental values (fairness, loyalty, respect for tradition and the sanctity of the body). While both liberals and conservatives identify with all five values, care and fairness rise to the top for liberals. Conservatives rate the five values more equally, Haidt said.

Even within the context of a moral value, say fairness, the two sides differ, he explained. While a liberal’s sense of fairness allows taking from the haves to aid the have-nots in the name of compassion, a conservative view of fairness means being entitled to as much as you are willing to earn.

The rise of the Tea Party movement as a response to government bailouts illustrates the differing ideologies, Haidt said.

Haidt and his colleagues have found that liberals tend to place a lower value on purity – the notion that the body is, on some level, sacred – than do their conservative counterparts. The split defines the battles over such issues as abortion, gay rights and cloning, he said.

“You get to make fun of Christians if nothing is sacred,” Haidt said.

When it comes to moral values, liberals frequently commit sacrilege in the eyes of many Americans, he said.

“Liberals have basically a one-foundation morality,” Haidt said. “They leave the rest of the moral domain to conservatives and conservatives take advantage of that.

“Americans, especially the working class … vote Republican because they like the Republican morality better,” he said.

Calling himself a “passionate centrist,” Haidt nonetheless had praise for the liberal fight for justice and the voice liberalism gives to the underdog.

“There are a lot of good ideas on both sides,” he said. “To run a successful society, you need the wisdom of both sides.”

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