A little while back I posted a link to this article by Jonathan Haidt on libertarian moral psychology. I wanted to do a bit of follow up on that because it is well worth it as there are some serious gems in the article.
Essentially what emerges from the research on libertarian moral psychology, and this would apply to those who consider themselves conservative who have the psychological traits in question, is an explanation for the extreme and extremely irrational moral views that libertarians believe to be true.
Here are some of the most important basic elements of libertarian psychology:
1) Libertarians are very low on positive feelings towards others, empathy for others, loving feelings towards others, and feelings of connectedness to other human beings.
2) They are the only personality type to be higher in systematizing than empathizing. If this sounds austistic it is because it is. The authors actually draw the comparison.
3) Although libertarians have very low empathy and generally low levels of positive feelings towards other they do have one emotional response that they experience powerfully, anger when anyone interferes with their liberty. They score very high on something called the Hong Reactance Scale. The picture the study paints is that the primary emotion libertarians feel is towards other is negative when those others interfere with their life.
Looking at the above it is very clear what the origin of libertarian political philosophy is. The authors say, “Libertarians’ weaker social interconnectedness is consistent with the idea that they have weaker moral intuitions concerning obligations to and dependence on others.”
It is not only consistent but it is the only explanation as arguments for libertarianism don’t make any rational sense.
To answer the question in the title of the post, “Libertarianism is a unique political and ethical view that prioritizes individual liberty over all other moral concerns. This strange view is due to a unique set of psychological factors in which an individual has very low feelings of kindness, warm, empathy, and love towards others while in general feeling very disconnected from society and instead considering themselves in isolation from other members of society while at the same time feeling very strong feelings of anger in response to perceived infringements upon their autonomy. This particular set of psychological characteristics leads them to ignore normal lines of reasoning and normal emotional considerations that lead most people to think they have obligations to other members of humanity. They tend to think of their success in insolation from other members of society and therefore fail to understand that no one can be successful outside of society. They tend to resent taxes and social welfare programs due to a combination of low empathy, a highly negative emotional response to any interference with their individual freedom.”
Here are some quotes from the article:
“As predicted, libertarians in our sample appeared to be strongly individualistic. Compared to liberals and conservatives, they report feeling a weaker sense of connection to their family members, romantic partners, friends, communities, and nations, as well as to humanity at large. While liberals exhibit a horizontal collectivistic orientation and conservatives a vertical collectivistic orientation, libertarians exhibit neither type of collectivism, instead displaying a distinctly individualistic orientation.”
“Libertarians’ weaker social interconnectedness is consistent with the idea that they have weaker moral intuitions concerning obligations to and dependence on others”
“Libertarians scored relatively high on just one moral concern: liberty. The libertarian pattern of response was found to be empirically distinct from the responses of liberals and conservatives, both in our cluster analysis of participants and in our principal components analysis of measures. We found strong support for our first prediction: Libertarians will value liberty more strongly and consistently than liberals or conservatives, at the expense of other moral concerns.”
“The only emotional reaction on which libertarians were not lowest was reactance – the angry reaction to infringements upon one’s autonomy – for which libertarians scored higher than both liberals and conservatives. This disposition toward reactance may lead to the moralization of liberty and an attraction to an ideology that exalts liberty above other moral principles – namely, libertarianism.”
“libertarians were the only one of our three groups for which systemizing scores were higher, in absolute terms, than their empathizing scores”
“They exhibit a high degree individualism, a low degree collectivism, and generally report feeling less bonding with others, less loving for others, and less feelings of a sense of common identity with others. Libertarians have a lower degree of the broad social connection that typifies liberals as well as a lower degree of the tight social connections that typify conservatives. These social preferences were related to their moral attitudes suggesting that libertarians have less functional use for moral concerns.”