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Individual and Society, Liberalism & Conservatism, The Moral Mind In Action

Liberal and Conservative – Individual and Community

It follows from the liberal employment of  primarily, the foundation of harm/care, and less so, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression, that liberals tend to be concerned almost exclusively with the individual.  
In “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations” (1) Haidt describes the harm/care and fairness/cheating foundations to be at the core of liberalism, saying “We refer to these two foundations as the individualizing foundations because they are (we suggest) the source of the intuitions that make the liberal philosophical tradition, with its emphasis on the rights and welfare of individuals, so learnable and so compelling to so many people.  Haidt also explores this notion in “Planet of the Durkheimians, Where Community, Authority, and Sacredness are Foundations” observing that, “Most academic [i.e., liberal] efforts to understand morality and ideology come from theorists who limit the domain of morality to issues related to harm and fairness,” and, from this perspective, “all that matters is the welfare of the individual.”  This focus on the individual essentially comprises the liberal notion of morality. 

Conversely, it follows from the conservative employment of all of the moral foundations– not just harm/care, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression, but also – and in equal proportions – loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation – that “social policies favored by conservatives,” broadly speaking, tend to “increase the cohesion and stability of communities. They therefore also increase the social capital of communities, which includes dense networks of obligations and trust, social information channels, and effective norms and sanctions for deviance.” Haidt observes that “conservatives tend to believe that strong institutions and social constraints are necessary for children’s socialization, valuable for human welfare, and hard to replace once called into question or delegitimated.” Also as stated earlier, the conservative notion of morality is the same as Haidt’s; Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices, institutions, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible.(2)


1) Graham, J., Haidt,  J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Available on the Publications page at MoralFoundations.org

(2) This definition is used throughout Haidt’s publications, here’s one that’s available online. 

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