Understanding Libertarian Morality

Today’s document is a 2012 PLoS ONE study that demonstrated the fact that self-identified libertarians (such as yours truly) are psychologically distinct from both the fascist conservatives and socialist progressives. If anything, I think this study, when combined with the results from the Testing Theories of American Politics one, really settles the consequentialist argument that opposes political crusading, especially under the guise of being a Donald Trump supporter. Below the humorous meme will be a summary of the results from the study as to what the scientists discovered about libertarian psychology.


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Libertarian Really Means (Bastiat Institute)



Libertarians are an increasingly prominent ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they have been largely unstudied. Across 16 measures in a large web-based sample that included 11,994 self-identified libertarians, we sought to understand the moral and psychological characteristics of self-described libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of personality differences in the organization of political attitudes.




While not all libertarians endorse the views of Ayn Rand, our findings can be summarized by the three quotations we have presented from her work. We began Study 1 with Rand’s exhortation to reject “the morality of altruism,” and we showed that libertarians do indeed reject this morality, as well as all other moralities based on ideas of obligation to other people, groups, traditions, and authorities. 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.

We introduced Study 2 with Rand’s claim that Western culture can only be reborn when it can be founded on “a rational ethics.” Consistent with Rand’s writing and psychological research concerning the intuitive origins of moral reasoning, we found that libertarians were indeed less emotional (less disgust sensitivity, empathic concern, and neuroticism) than liberals or conservatives. This lack of emotional reactivity may underlie an indifference towards common moral norms, and an attraction to an ideology where these moral codes are absent, libertarianism. 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.

We also found that libertarians showed a strong preference for and enjoyment of reasoning (higher on utilitarianism, need for cognition, systemizing, and a greater likelihood of answering correctly on the cognitive reflection task). We think it is worth repeating that libertarians were the only one of our three groups for which systemizing scores were higher, in absolute terms, than their empathizing scores, suggesting that libertarians are the only group that may be psychologically prepared for the Randian revolution of “rational ethics.” Thus, we found strong support for our second prediction: Libertarians will rely upon emotion less — and reason more — than will either liberals or conservatives.

We introduced Study 3 with Rand’s condemnation of love that is not based on a strong sense of self. We found that libertarians do indeed have a strong sense of self and the self’s prerogatives, and a correspondingly lower sense of attachment to others. They exhibit a high degree of 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 typifies conservatives. These social preferences were related to their moral attitudes suggesting that libertarians have less functional use for moral concerns. We found strong support for out third prediction: Libertarians will be more individualistic and less collectivist compared to both liberals and conservatives.

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  1. Pingback: Understanding Libertarian Morality • FPRN Radio

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