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Inside the Libertarian Mind: Moral Psychology Speaker Jonathan Haidt
Politics | October 23, 2012

Inside the Libertarian Mind: Moral Psychology Speaker Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt's bestselling book The Righteous Mind offered a fascinating look into the psychology, and the morals, of liberals and conservatives, among other things. In a recent study, Haidt studies the motivations behind another group: the often-misunderstood libertarians. Recapping the study, The American Conservative writes: "Self-identified libertarians have a distinct moral code based on the priority of freedom, are inclined toward abstract reasoning rather than emotional response, and value individuality over community." While these findings will not surprise anyone familiar with political affiliations, Haidt goes on to examine where libertarians lie in comparison to liberals and conservatives, and why this makes the elusive dream of consensus even more unrealistic.

"Haidt’s analysis challenges the assumption that political positions can be placed on a flat left-to-right axis," says the Conservative. "Libertarians, as they appear here, aren’t somewhere 'between' liberals and conservatives. They have an distinctive outlook defined by an independent cluster of intuitions and dispositions." The notion that libertarians are a branch of conservatism, Haidt argues, is a gross simplification. That someone like Ron Paul runs for the Republican nomination is merely out of convenience—a case of choosing whoever is closest in a strict two party system. Why then, is there not a strong Libertarian Party? "The reason that libertarianism isn’t better represented in electoral politics is that this psychological profile seems to be relatively rare," says the article, adding that, "in Haidt’s study, only 7.6 percent of respondents identified as libertarians."

Haidt's work on the moral psychology behind politics brings much a much-needed sense of objective clarity to the often vitriolic political arena. If we can better understand what makes someone a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian—and identify the values they most associate with—we can hopefully move toward a more civil public discourse. Both in his writing and on stage, Haidt helps us re-think politics, and better understand our fellow citizens.
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