British Poll on Attitudes to Human Rights and Equality Matching

The main claim of this blog is that politics can be understood in part as the interaction of Fiskian Social Models and Haidtian Moral Foundations.  When I set up this blog I speculated that one of Fiske’s models – Equality Matching (EM) had the particular effect of structuring politics as in the following diagram:


Fiske claims that in the EM social relation

“the precepts of equality, of justice as equal treatment, in kind compensation, or the righteousness of strictly reciprocal revenge, together with fairness as an even distribution and uniform contributions, comprise the effects of Equality Matching”

Now clearly the establishment of human rights and their maintenance is psychologically underwritten by the EM social relation.  The notion of justice as equal treatment and fairness as evenness are central drivers in the establishment of rights. Now there is an interesting question as to why it took 400,000 years of human existence before the notion of inalienable rights appeared in the first human brain and the best answer to this is to be found in Our Political Nature by Avi Tuschman . In summary, he argues liberalism can only get going as xenophobia and the absolute centrality of kin relationships decline.  The psychological mechanisms that underpin “justice as equal treatment” and EM as a whole applied initially to kin and then from the 16th century onwards in England and odd thing happened, justice as equal treatment started to include non-relations and the liberal revolution was under way.

I never had any direct evidence for my assertion around EM and its shaping of politics but now I think that I have now – in the UK, the You Gov polling organisation as reported by the Independent has gone and asked British voters about their attitude to human rights to find that 46% of UKIP voters do not believe that Human Rights really exist.  The results were as follows

% Agreeing that Human Rights Really Do Not Exist 2

and inverting the question to ask whether Human Rights exists we get an inversion of the diagram immediately above.  At the top of the page I have a diagram showing free market and national security conservatives (a good descriptions of UKIP) as low in EM


% Agreeing that Human Rights Exist 2 (1)

86% of Lib Dems agree that Human Rights exist compared with 68% of voters, 50% of Conservative voters and 41% of UKIP voters.  Those are very different percentages indeed and contradict the established piety that in democratic politics at least the fundamentals are agreed upon.  The 86% of Lib Dems agreeing is a very strong number bolstered (and made more accurate) by the decline of the Lib Dems in the opinion polls.  The people left saying that they are going to vote Lib Dems are liberals fundamentally.  68% Labour to 50% Conservative is again a meaningful difference, dropping down like a series of steps to 41% of UKIP voters.

The steps are inverted as the question is inverted in a notably symmetrical way.  The headline figure is that only 41% of UKIP voters agree that Human Rights do exist.  Now the question is ambiguous in a way in which it makes it more useful.  Objectively the British do enjoy rights such a fair trials and freedom of speech but UKIP voters may be answering that they don’t agree or have sympathy with those things or more likely, that UKIP voters believe that human rights don’t exist in nature and are an arbitrary and recent social convention.    Another possibility is moralised antagonism to liberalism as different populations on the political spectrum sense the moralised basis of others beliefs (the Lib Dems and Labour) and develop the opposite moralised stance.  Moralised antagonism reveals or moralised psychology is operating as Fiske contends, around his social structures.

Back to Haidt and the differences between Conservatives and UKIP in terms of moral foundations – with the UKIP people more strongly wedded to in-group authority being the key differentiator.  Another reason for the UKIP 41% result could be their perception that human rights are imposed via the European Convention on the same.

Recall that Tuschman argued that liberalism and rights only got going as xenophobia waned and you have another explanatory variable, the waxing of xenophobia is going to be associated with human rights scepticism.


3 responses

  1. Dear Martin,

    Thank you very much for your interest in _Our Political Nature_, and for mentioning it in your blog post.

    I’d like to make a clarification. My book does not argue that liberalism emerges later in time after some other earlier force; rather, it shows that it has always existed: “We’re here with the political orientations we have because our ancestors’ personalities helped them survive and reproduce successfully over thousands of generations. Their political personalities were instrumental in the regulation of inbreeding and outbreeding. These dispositions helped them mediate biological conflicts between parents, offspring, and siblings. And their moral emotions also balanced various types of altruism against self-interest in countless social interactions” (p. 402). Our political orientations stem from epic biological conflicts, which have given rise to solutions across the spectrum since before the emergence of modern humans. “In some types of social or ecological environments, more extreme personality traits were adaptive. In most cases, moderate personality solutions proved fit. That’s one reason why there are many moderates among us. Another reason for moderates and flexibility is that environments change, so it wouldn’t make sense for our genes to rigidly determine our personalities. They just influence them based on the “memory” of our ancestors’ success” (ibid).

    I hope that you’ll have a chance to read through Our Political Nature, which is the first science book on the anatomy and origins of human political orientation. Unlike some other popular books, it substantiates its arguments by measuring fitness differences in human populations, and showing how they’re directly related to variation in personality and political behavior.

    Best wishes,

    Avi Tuschman

    • Dear Avi,

      I am familiar with your recent book and I intend to review it as part of this blog as I think it is of critical importance to the creation of a viable political psychology.

      I expressed myself clumsily: I absolutely accept your thesis about the ancient antecedents of political liberalism and I meant that liberalism as we understand it (democracy, human rights, liberty, freedom of expression, freedom from various harms) could only exist if the psychological foundations were there. I observed that 30 billion liberals lived and died before one of them was able to say that “human rights are inalienable” and that is fascinating. Francis Fukuyama in the Origins of Political Order offers an explanation as to how modern liberalism emerged in England as kin relationships (he calls it the Tyranny of Cousins) declined: you argue that that earlier wave of liberals (much, much earlier) offered xenophilia and reciprocal altruism in societal tension with the xenophobia and kin selection of conservatives.

      Best regards,


  2. Dear Martin,

    I just came across your reply above. Again, thank you very much for your interest in the book. I very much look forward to reading your review on your blog. Please write to me through to let me know when it goes up.

    I think Francis Fukuyama’s contributions to our understanding of political history, and how institutions have culturally evolved in different places, with respect to the forces of human nature, are extremely interesting and important and complementary with Our Political Nature. I intend to reread his Origins of Political Order again this fall, before reading Part II, which comes out soon.

    A brief thought about forms of altruism: political orientation forms a continuous spectrum, so my view of liberals and conservatives isn’t as binary is it sometimes seems. Along these lines, I wouldn’t say that one “type” uses one form of altruism and the other political “type” uses another form of altruism exclusively. This is probably my fault for calling kin selection the conservative altruism, and reciprocity the liberal one, but these were just ways of characterizing the different properties of these forces — forces that affect all of us regardless of our political orientation, albeit to different degrees in different societies and depending on different economic environments and individual differences.

    Warm regards,


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