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Civility is the ability to disagree with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. Civility begins with understanding. We can best understand our political differences by first understanding the moral foundations upon which political views are built. This site features research, resources, and commentary related to the pursuit of Civility through understanding.

“All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we’ve reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification” (Klein, 2006)

This from an academic study out of Canada called Why are people liberal?  Provocative as the idea that political ideology is really a nature vs nuture problem, two ideas stood out in particular:

1.  “Need for Change uniquely predicted political liberalism such that greater desire for new experiences and rebellion predicted greater endorsement of political liberalism.”   The Obama campaign may have been MUCH smarter than most of us imagined.

2. “Need for Inclusiveness strongly predicted political liberalism, especially among individuals higher in political knowledge.” 

The study refers to similiar work on political conservatism.  Such ideas set a high bar.  If so, we need to not only think our way through the issues, we need to think our way out of our predispositions.

  3 Responses to “Are we born Liberal?”

  1. To quote Haidt further:

    “In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger…But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb? [that edit is a fairly big jump in the text]

    In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s…”

    Pretty clear who the Professors regards as “narrow-minded”.

  2. My liberal (don’t know about complex and dextorous) brain hesitates over “simple moral points.” The liberal view
    is that the noble, sanctified life is implicit is treating one another well–almost in a tautological way. But no:
    religious conservatives claim a sanctitiy dependent on judgment, rejecting those actors and actions involved
    with homosexuality, abortion,etc. So the simple moral points are caught in a nexus between compassionate
    inclusion on one had and judgmental exclusion on the other. Liberals would of course say that the road from
    judgmental exclusion leads towards intolerance and worse.

    Liberals can’t be too sanguine, though, because an overemphasis on respect and compassion can result in
    a quagmire of moral relativisim where standards fall to confusion and chaos. So. Liberals need to acknowledge
    that morality is dependent on institutional authority and constraints, conservatives should acknowledge that
    such authority and constraints should be hedged about with tolerance and skepticism. A truism, but a truism
    with a utopian tinge and therefore forever receding over the horizon.

    Where am I going with this? I don’t know. Maybe that where morality is concerned there really are no liberals, or
    conservatives, but only an ongoing struggle over a liberal/conservative dynamic always tending toward a muddle,
    or middle. At any rate, I think we shoud be wary over neat liberal/categoies in the moral sphere, which may be
    germaine to Haidt’s argument.

    Of course I have’nt yet read the article. If these comments don’t apply, please cancel.

  3. Here’s a provocative article from University of Virginia’s Johathan Haidt, who provides ammunition for everyone’s perspective on the antecedents to liberal or conservative opinions. ( )

    The piece is an argument for liberals to advance their cause by better understanding conservative psychology.

    “…the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer.”

    To clarify the “it” he continues…

    “We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate.”

    With enough effort the thinking liberal can penetrate the simple conservative minds and offer the shiny beads and warm blankets most likely to draw them from their caves.

    In fairness, I think the Professors point is liberals need to understand and adopt to society’s need for morality, undoubtably a good thing. The arguments irony lies in the need of the complex and dexterous liberal mind for a mosaic and labyrinth route to a simple moral point. Did I make that sufficiently obtuse?

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