There is no Left or Right (Part 2)

It was argued in There is no Left or Right (Part 1) that a better explanation for conspiracy theories and their pervasive hold on sections of public opinion, was not, that they have salience on the extreme left and extreme right as left/right are traditionally expressed, but rather conspiracy theories represent the strategic reasoning of strong moralised anti-authoritarianism and strong moralised pro-authoritarianism.

In another blog post on the LSE blog website Jonathan Wheatley argues that Politics is too complex to be understood just in terms of Left and Right.  Indeed…….here at politics is Moral Psychology it is argued that politics is form of moral psychology and requires reference to the moral foundations of Haidt and almost certainly Robert Fiske.

Wheatley proposes two axis of political belief:  the traditional economic left right dimension and “communitarian/cosmopolitan” dimension with “communitarian” defined as anti-immigration, anti-EU, localist, anti gay marriage and English nationalist.  Leaving aside nationalism, those attitudes look strikingly like what two American political scientists, Hetherington and Weiler found in their Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics (2009) as the defining attitudes of pro-authoritarianism.  They found that attitudes to authority shaped views on welfare, immigration and terrorism.

Wheatley finds the split proposed here that UKIP represents a split on the right between the pro markets, low tax, small state standard Right and the Pro-Authoritarian Right.   Wheatley finds evidence that UKIP voters are not Conservative at all by the standard measure. Also, Wheatley’s definition of the “cosmopolitan” vote seems weak; they are simply not “communitarians” it appears and the Greens and the Lib Dems are competing for the same space apparently.

In Politics is Moral Psychology it is argued that we need Haidt’s Moral Foundations (Authority Pro and Anti, Freedom, Fairness, Harm Reduction) and Fiske’s notion of Equality Matching (EM) and Market Pricing (MP).  In EM sits support for rights and relationships and democracy and MP provides support for markets, capitalism and contracts.  Note that it is required here that the structure of these two is for and against.  Some people for example simply despise capitalism and markets and see it as morally bankrupt, others value it a an entirely moral system rewarding the industrious and talented.

If the prominent political leaders from the past were to be mapped then what would the result look like?


For current British political leaders?


Taking the Moral Foundations one at a time

Haidt Authority

The post-governing Liberal Democrats will revert to their traditional anti-authority stance, repudiating the liberal interventionist ISIS hating, tough security policy that they adopted in government. Corbyn as observed here has an irreducible (possibly overwhelming) element of anti-authoritarianism in his politics.  Farage is the strong authoritarian or “communitarian” as Wheatley has it.  Cameron occupies the necessary authoritarianism of those who would govern in the UK.

The difference in position between Cameron and Farage here is what is driving the decision to hold and in or out referendum in Europe.  Cameron is attempting to close the gap with a “remain” decision and harvest UKIP voters

Haidt Fairness

Farron will attempt to move back to a strongish Fairness stance post the governing coalition with the Conservatives who according to Haidt have weak attraction to Fairness.  Very weak if the analysis of the IFS is to be believed (and uniquely they are).

Tory Fairness

This projected pattern of the strong adverse impact of future changes on the poorest sections of British society is entirely consistent with their last government

Tory Fairness 2

To consistently display this pattern Conservatives cannot be motivated by a strong moral sense of Fairness.

Haidt Harm Reduction

Conservatives and UKIPers  denounce the “nanny state” politics of the left but in practice there has been little deregulation from the Conservatives and UKIP rhetoric hopes for a bonfire of regulation post EU exit

Haidt In Group Loyalty

Farage’s British Nationalism is the most striking feature here, the addition of the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to the chart would see here occupy the same space as Farage. Different In Group,same Moral Intuition

Fiske Equality Matching

This Foundation is the core 19th century John Stuart Mill classic Liberalism and as such is the core foundation of the old Liberal Party.  Mr Farron is likely to track back strongly to this core and hope to use it as a base for a Lib Dem political recovery

Fiske Market Pricing

A poll of Corbyn supporters found evidence for moralised hostility to Markets.  See the dramatic difference between Corbyn supporters and current and potential Labour voters in the last two questions in this table:

Corbyn Markets

On the LSE blog website Jan-Willem van Prooijen  and Wheatley speculate that politics is more than about left or right as it is traditionally conceived.  Looking closely at the Moral Foundations of politics strongly bears out this thesis.

2 responses

  1. One thing that I wouldn’t quite agree with here is the statement that “Wheatley finds evidence that UKIP voters are not Conservative at all by the standard measure”. I didn’t quite say that; what I meant was that UKIP voters are not economically right-wing. They are, of course, deeply conservative with a small “c”, or even reactionary. Bewildered by globalisation and often unable to cope in a new world, they cling to past certainties and try to turn the clock back to the 1980s (or even the 1950s!).

    Also I was interested to note the statement that “the addition of the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to the chart would see her occupy the same space as Farage”. I presume you are referring to a chart on Haidt In Group Loyalty, rather than mine! Although I have not published the data yet, a sneak preview of Scottish data suggests that amongst Scottish voters certain ideological trends tend to reinforce one another to form a single super-dimension, rather unlike the two-dimensional structure observed south of the border. At one pole of this super-dimension are economically left-wing, cosmopolitan and pro-independence voters, while at the other pole are economically right-wing, communitarian, “better together” voters. SNP voters are much closer to the former pole. Sturgeon has been rather successful in framing the independence issue as about “protecting Scotland from Westminster austerity”. The image of Scotland that the SNP likes to portray is one of a cosmopolitan Scotland open to the rest of the world; the polar opposite of Farage’s vision. Whether or not you take this image at face value is a matter of opinion.

    Still, an interesting and thought-provoking piece.

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