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The Conservative Elephant

The same studies which show that the liberal morality rests on a small number of moral foundations, show that the conservative morality is built on all of them in equal balance. It includes care, fairness, and liberty, just as the liberal morality does, but it does not end there. It also depends equally on a sense of loyalty to the group. People expect all members of the group to work for, defend, or otherwise support, the success of the group. The conservative morality also includes a respect for the structure of society, and recognizes the authority of those who may be above ourselves in that structure, whether they be our elders or in formally recognized positions of authority. Conservatism also rests on a sense of sanctity, a sense of esteem and respect for the physical health and well being of each member of the group, and thus of the group as a whole. In contrast to the liberal morality, the conservative morality is focused not just on the needs of the individual, but on needs of the society as well, and on the balance between the two.

Since conservative morality – the conservative elephant – is an equal balance of all of the moral foundations, Haidt’s definition of morality and that of conservatism are, therefore, essentially one and the same:

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. (1)


(1) This definition can be found in many of Haidt’s works, here’s one that’s available online.


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