The Moral Realms of Political Belief

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In a politically polarized America, the quest for common ground between liberals and conservatives can feel like a search for the lost coty of Atlantis. The work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, highlighted in Miller-McCune, sheds light on this political division, finding there isn’t simply one moral compass, but five “moral realms” on which we place importance. For liberals, ideas of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity reign supreme, while conservatives focus more on in-group loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.

Some issues may gain supporters on both political sides because of their appeal across different moral realms. Haidt highlights the environmental movement as one example, where liberals were likely motivated by the harm/care dimension, while conservative Evangelical Christians found it spoke to their emphasis on authority/respect. “They’re driven by the idea that God gave man dominion over the Earth, and keeping the planet healthy is our sacred responsibility. If we simply rape, pillage, destroy and consume, we’re abusing the power given to us by God.”

“The climate crisis and the economic crisis are interesting, because neither has a human enemy,” he adds. “These are not crises that turn us against an out-group, so they’re not really designed to bring us together, but they can be used for that. I hope and think we are ready, demographically and historically, for a less polarized era.”

But that, says Miller-McCune‘s Tom Jacobs, “will require peeling off some bumper stickers. Contrary to the assertion adhered onto Volvos, dissent and patriotism are very different impulses. But Haidt persuasively argues that both are essential to a healthy democracy, and the interplay between them — when kept within respectful bounds — is a source of vitality and strength.”

Source: Miller-McCune

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