American Conservatives are the Most Extreme in the World

Posted on Posted in Ethics, liberal/conservative, moral psychology, Political Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized

Out of all the conservatives measured Americans were the most extreme in their conservatism. American conservatives were the only conservatives in the world to value traditional conservative values of in-group loyalty, authority, and purity more than fairness or justice.

Jonathan Haidt, in his research on liberal and conservative morality, found that liberals have a have a “two channel” moral psychology consisting of harm/care and fairness/justice fairness. For liberals there are only two moral considerations in any situation. The harm being done and the fairness of an action. Conservatives on the other hand have a “five channel” moral psychology. Consisting of harm, justice or fairness, in group loyalty, purity, and authority. Interesting for both liberals and conservatives the most important moral consideration was harm. Harm is the most foundational moral concept from a psychological point of view. See the ted talk below for a bit more on Haidt’s theory of conservative and liberal moral psychology:

(Check out his book, The Righteous Mind, for even more fun moral psychologizing.)

One really interesting feature that his research uncovered is that conservatives in the united states value fairness less than the other three conservative values of group loyalty, authority, and purity. This is particularly significant because it shows that conservatism in the United States is particularly extreme.

Let’s compare the charts from the various countries.

Here you can see the chart for the United States:


Liberals rank high in harm and fairness and low in the other three traits, whereas conservatives are highest in harm, followed by the other three traits and lowest in fairness.

Below are the charts for Australia/NZ, Muslim Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, Canada, and Eastern Europe:




CanadaEast AsiaEastern EuropeLatin AmericaSouth Asia UK

It is not a totally homogenous group. For example the UK, Eastern Europe, Australia/NZ, and East Asia  purity rank a bit lower than the other concerns. Conservatives in those countries rank fairness, authority, and ingroup pretty closely with purity lagging a bit with some variation depending on the country. The purity measure is basically tracking overall influence of religion in the culture. But all the them have fairness ranked pretty similar to the other conservative moral concerns.

Now let’s take a look at western Europe:

Western Europe

Interestingly Western Europe is the only place where conservatives rank fairness significantly higher than authority, ingroup, or purity. Although South Asia, East Asia and Latin America do have fairness ranked slightly higher than the other conservative moral concerns.

As you can see conservatives in other countries do attach moral value to concerns of in-group loyalty, authority, and purity but rank them equal to or less than concerns of justice or fairness whereas in the United States concerns of justice and fairness rank well below the other conservative moral considerations.

Fairness comes into conflict with values of in-group loyalty in many areas of policy. For example a policy that would provide a redistribution of income that would benefit mostly minorities would be opposed by a mostly white conservative population. Conservatives are also going to attach less value to the harm done to those in other countries less than liberals will, due to not valuing fairness as much as other moral considerations. Similarly conservatives are also much less likely to view immigration positively do to not valuing fairness in the way liberals do.

This is particularly problematic in that it makes finding common ground between conservatives and liberals much more difficult here in the United States. Social justice or fairness is really the defining feature of liberalism. And conservatives don’t countenance  liberal concerns of social justice when they come in conflict with conservative concerns of purity, authority, and sanctity.

I think this is just another clear illustration of what is obvious to many, that conservatism in the United States is quite extreme. In fact more extreme than anywhere else in the world.

Conservatism is a psychological profile. It is not going anywhere. But what this research shows is that there is more than one way to be a conservative. There will always be people who value authority and in-group loyalty more than people do. There will always be people who are less open to new experience (openness to new experience is strongly correlated with liberalism). But there doesn’t always have to be people who value fairness and justice less than other concerns.

Western Europe offers hope for the rest of the world that someday everyone on the planet will value fairness and justice as the foundation of their moral reasoning. Hopefully we won’t kill ourselves before then.



to receive notification of new posts via email and here about the latest updates on my book projects and other supercool awesome stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *