By Jonathan Haidt
We can define moral capital as the resources that sustain a moral community. More specifically, moral capital refers to “the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.”
The Moral Matrix
The left builds its moral matrix an three of the six foundations, but it rests most firmly and consistently on the Care foundation.
Liberals are often suspicious of appeals to loyalty, authority,and sanctity, although they don’t reject these intuitions in all cases (think of the sanctification of nature). For American liberals since the 1960s, I believe that the most sacred value is caring for victims of oppression. Anyone who blames such victims for their own problems or who displays or merely excuses prejudice against sacralized victim groups can expect a vehement tribal response.
Some liberals began to see powerful corporations and wealthy industrialists as the chief threats to liberty. These “new liberals” (also known as “left liberals” or “progressives”) looked to government as the only force capable of protecting the public and rescuing the many victims of the brutal practices of early industrial capitalism. Liberals who continued to fear government as the chief threat to liberty became known as “classical liberals,” “right liberals” (in some countries), or libertarians (in the United States).
You can see the fork in the road by looking at the liberal moral matrix. It rests on two foundations primarily: Care and Liberty (plus some Fairness, because everybody values proportionality to some extent). Liberals in 1900 who relied most heavily on the Care foundation – those who felt the pain of others most keenly – were predisposed to take the left-hand (progressive) fork. But liberals in 1900 who relied more heavily on the Liberty foundation – those who felt the bite of restrictions on their liberty most keenly – refused to follow. In fact, libertarian writer Will Wlkinson has recently suggested that libertarians are basically liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.
Social Conservative Wisdom
We have found that social conservatives have the broadest set of moral concerns, valuing all six foundations relatively equally. Their breadth – and particularly their relatively high settings on the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations – give them insights I think are valuable, from a Durkheimian utilitarian perspective (i.e., recognizing that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness).
A more positive way to describe conservatives is to say that their broader moral matrix allows them to detect threats to moral capital that liberals cannot perceive. They do not oppose change of all kinds (such as the Internet), but they fight back ferociously when they believe that change will damage the institutions and traditions that provide our moral exoskeletons (such as the family). Preserving those institutions and traditions is their most sacred value.
Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.
This book explained why people are divided by politics and religion. The answer is not, as Manichaeans would have it (i.e., battleground of forces of light and of darkness), because some people are good and others are evil. Instead, the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult – but not impossible – to connect with those who live in other matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations.
By Don McCanne, MD
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in “The Righteous Mind,” provides us with a background on the evolution and development of the moral matrices that have contributed to our political divide. Although some might want to challenge details of his Moral Foundations Theory, there is absolutely no doubt that moral differences do exist, and he has provided plenty of experimental data to show that political views do correlate with the six moral foundations described.
Single payer supporters certainly identify with the Care foundation. That’s what single payer is all about – making sure that absolutely everyone is able to receive needed health care. Care is the most defining moral foundation of liberals. In contrast, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity are barely on the radar screen of many liberals.
Social conservatives are driven by all six foundations of the moral matrix, especially Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Although they are also driven by Care, Care can be suppressed to some extent by by the “groupish righteousness” of Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Although libertarians are often included on the right with conservatives, libertarians are unique in that they are influenced very little by the moral foundation of Care. Unabashed libertarians likely would never be single payer supporters.
So if social conservatives are partly driven by the moral foundation of Care, would they ever support single payer reform? In fact, many of them do. Most believe that everyone should have health care, and many recognize the efficiency of the single payer model. However, the groupish righteousness of Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity often keeps them from breaking ranks with their conservative peer groups. Nevertheless, there does seem to be an opening for conservatives to join forces with liberals in advancing the concepts of single payer.
What about the liberals? They would certainly welcome the opportunity to work with conservatives on single payer. But if we listen to Jonathan Haidt, the liberals have been making a mistake by remaining oblivious to the conservatives’ moral values of Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity – fundamentals of moral capital.
He writes, “If you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire, and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism – which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity – is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.”
As a liberal, I confess that I am fixated on the moral foundation of Care. I also confess that I have a blind spot on the full range of moral capital. However, the conservatives do not have a blind spot on Care, even
if they seem to have other priorities. Do you suppose that the conservatives would be willing to help us liberals understand the moral capital hidden in that blind spot, in exchange for liberals helping the conservatives understand better what it means to Care?