Here's the stuff I have in mind. Nicholas D. Kristof writes that:
“The Righteous Mind,” by Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor, argues that, for liberals, morality is largely a matter of three values: caring for the weak, fairness and liberty. Conservatives share those concerns (although they think of fairness and liberty differently) and add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity.And:
Another way of putting it is this: Americans speak about values in six languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but liberals are fluent in only three.This makes conservatives sound better than liberals. William Saletan produces a similar kind of sound:
Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn. Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression. This is Haidt’s startling message to the left: When it comes to morality, conservatives are more broad-minded than liberals. They serve a more varied diet.There is a basic mistake here which I think is easy to see if we substitute racial purity for any of the listed themes or values: having more values is not necessarily better (although I agree that it might be), in the way that having a more varied diet or speaking more languages is undoubtedly better. I'm guessing that the common source of this error is Haidt himself, although I'll have to read his book to find out.
A second problem is the apparent use of charity in interpreting people's political beliefs. Perhaps the Tea Party hates redistribution because its members believe in reaping what you earn. But perhaps these people oppose redistribution for purely self-interested reasons (they expect to do badly from it), or because they are racist and think of the poor as likely to be members of ethnic minorities that they regard as lazy. I imagine that individual members of the Tea Party vary, and that some are influenced by two or more of these and other considerations.
Saletan also says:
Haidt has read ethnographies, traveled the world and surveyed tens of thousands of people online. He and his colleagues have compiled a catalog of six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Alongside these principles, he has found related themes that carry moral weight: divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation.The concern he attributes to the Tea Party seems to have to do with fairness. But it's worth asking whether people actually do reap what they earn. Some do, some don't, surely. Some people get rich by working hard or being very talented, or both. But luck usually comes into it somewhere, and not every talented, hard-working person has good luck. Similarly, some poor people are lazy. Some lack talent (but is that their fault?). And some are simply unlucky. If anyone denies that luck is involved (and thoughtful conservatives such as Hayek do not do so) then they aren't necessarily showing sensitivity to some value to which others are blind. They might be in denial of the truth. And the more values we have to attribute to them in order to try to make charitable sense of their beliefs, the less coherent their belief-system might be.
Another question concerns the idea that liberals don't care about all six "themes." Trades union members care about loyalty, for instance. Religious people, many of whom are politically liberal, believe in and value authority. And supporters of women's rights often refer to women's bodies as things that the government should not touch. Isn't that a kind of sanctity? Perhaps it is better counted as a concern with freedom. Still, Haidt's views seem problematic in a variety of ways. They do address an important issue though. Which is why I need to read his book.