Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Emily Esfahani Smith summarizes findings from a study of the values held by libertarians: “Understanding Libertarian Morality." The study confirms my own image of libertarianism although I certainly do know self-defined libertarians who probably aren't — or at least have very different values than these people. From the article:
.... After surveying nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians, the researchers determined that libertarians have a set of moral values that are distinct from those held by ordinary conservatives and liberals.

It’s well known that libertarians hold fiscally conservative and socially liberal views. What is less known is that libertarians, in prizing liberty above all else, place less emphasis than others, according to the study, on caring for others, avoiding harm, behaving benevolently and acting altruistically — values that traditionally have defined virtuous and heroic behavior in nearly all of the moral systems of the world. ....

In his bestselling book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mr. Haidt, a co-author of the libertarian study, breaks down the foundational moral principles that shape liberal, conservative and libertarian ideology. According to research Mr. Haidt has conducted, liberals rely on three of the six core moral foundations: care, liberty and fairness. Conservatives rely on all six — the three that liberals favor plus sanctity, loyalty and authority.

Libertarians have the narrowest moral sense, relying on only one of the six universal moral foundations — liberty. Revealingly, they score lower than both conservatives and liberals on measures of care for others and protecting others from harm. What libertarians do care about, almost to the exclusion of all else, is individual rights — the group’s “sacred value,” according to the study. ....

Prominent libertarians object to the study’s findings that their beliefs are morally and politically monochromatic. David Boaz, vice president of flagship libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, says that he sees “no evidence that libertarians display less love, compassion or morality than other people.”

Legal scholar Richard Epstein, Mr. Haidt’s colleague at New York University, agrees, noting that libertarians make a distinction between the political and personal world when responding to such questionnaires. Libertarians believe, Mr. Epstein says, that liberty is the guiding value on matters of public policy while “allowing for the personal values to dominate [personal] interactions.” [more]
Libertarians' profile, mystique increases in election year - Washington Times