G. Richard Jansen
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO, 80521
November 29, 2003
In the May issue of the Psychological Bulletin Jost and his colleagues published a paper on political conservatism that has justifiably stirred up a hornets nest of controversy. In the same issue of the journal Greenberg and Jonas challenged the authors and in a third Jost et al responded.
First to the hypothesis. Jost and his colleagues put forth the argument that political conservatism is characterized by, among other variables, dogmatism,, intolerance of ambiguity, a lack of openness to experience, uncertainty avoidance, and a need for order and structure(1). This hypothesis was tested and in their view confirmed by carrying a meta-analysis involving these and other psychological variables in 88 studies carried out in 12 countries and involving 22,818 subjects. The authors further concluded that the “core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality,” and can best be explained a theory of motivated social cognition.
In the second paper Greenberg and Jonas take issue with the broad conclusions of Jost, and especially the definition of the core ideology of conservatism(2). These authors demonstrated conclusively that, rather than being resistant to change, conservatives are clamoring for change. They acknowledge that conservatives do not favor equality of condition but are, in contrast, strongly for equality before the law and equality of opportunity. Greenberg and Jonas also demonstrate that left-wing governments have historically exhibited a high tolerance for inequality, the Nomenklatura in the old Soviet Union comes to mind, and that there is also ample evidence and human experience that demonstrates that political leftists are easily as dogmatic and unchanging as political conservatives. The contention of Jost that Stalin is a figure of the political right, not the political left is laughable on its face. What is true, of course, is that the extreme political left, exemplified by Stalin, and the extreme political right exemplified by Hitler, ended up in much the same place and indeed admired each other prior to the attack on the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941. As Greenberg and Jonas pointed out, on a scale ranging from libertarianism to totalitarianism, conservatives are closer to the libertarian pole than are either moderates or liberals. Jost and colleagues in their rejoinder accept most of the points made by Greenberg and Jonas but claim they are the “exceptions that prove the rule”(3). Nonsense. Although the authors cited Popper they should read Karl Popper more carefully. What Greenberg and Jonas did was falsify the Jost et al hypothesis, i.e. reduce it to rubble. Jost and his co-authors saw 22,818 trees and missed the forest completely. However much more needs to be said on their controversial claims.
Jost and his colleagues carried out a meta-analysis of 88 studies involving 22,818 individual subjects in which approximately 27 discrete psychological variables were examined, according to the authors, in terms of the political orientation of the subjects. However the political variable in these diverse studies included fascism, authoritarianism-rebelliousness, onservatism-radicalism, general conservatism, economic conservatism, right-wing political orientation, conservative voting record, conservative orientation, RWA scale, SDO scale, C scale, and Economic System Justification scale. The methodology and software employed were not described, indeed in this paper there is not even a section entitled methodology or methods. Meta-analysis to be even valid much less successful should be based on a systematic review of the available literature, definition of terms, and a complete unbiased collection of original high quality studies that examine the same, not 27 variables in terms of 12 other variables.
This clearly was not done. As mentioned a hodgepodge of variables were examined in studies involving mostly undergraduate students. The subjects, other than undergraduates were not adequately described, either qualitatively or quantitatively. Gender, age, race or ethnicity were not addressed The authors describe no efforts to attest to the quality of the studies examined, or the biases potentially involved in the studies themselves or by the investigators, not to mention their own biases. Many of the studies quoted apparently were not peer reviewed since they were in monographs book chapters and conference papers.. The impression of statistical rigor is more apparent than real, and may lead un-critical readers into unjustified acceptance and an unwillingness to examine the myriad of studies cited.
Definitions of Terms
Jost and his co-authors do not adequately define terms. Indeed in the meta-analysis they use such terms as conservative, right-wing, authoritarianism, and fascism without distinction or definition. For example the title refers to political conservatism as the subject of the paper, but in the first paragraph the emphasis switches to the political left and right, and then to authoritarianism and fascism. As we will see, the political right is not necessarily or even mainly conservative and it is clear that the political left is no longer liberal in the classically and historically correct sense.
Conservatism can be contrasted with liberalism, the political right with the left, collectivism with individualism, a constrained with an unconstrained vision or understanding of human nature, and finally today’s Republican Party with today’s Democratic party in the United States. Historically liberalism stood for liberty and freedom from coercion by the State in the political and economic realms under the rule of law. Jefferson said it well when he said that that government is best that governs least. Conservatism historically was based on a tradition and social stability under established institutions, especially the family and the church. As is now well understood, while conservatism per se has changed relatively little liberalism since Marx and the Fabians has changed much and now increasingly emphasizes larger governments, higher taxes and more government regulation especially of business and commerce at the expense of individual freedom. Historically the political left stood for greater freedom and well being of the common man and the right for duty and obedience to lawful authority combined with the ideal of moral propriety and a moral order to society. In the 20th century the extreme left was represented by communism and socialism, and the moderate left by social democracy and the New Deal. The extreme right was represented by Naziism and fascism and the moderate right by a advocacy of market economy combined with limited government and protection of private property, i.e. pretty much the classical liberalism abandoned by the left.. The poles at the extremes have come together when one compares the actuality of communism with fascism and Stalin with Hitler.
F. A. Hayek, in his seminal book The Road to Serfdom emphasized the crucial importance of individualism over collectivism(4). In communist and socialist States the collective control of the means of production and distribution is accomplished by government ownership while in social democracies by taxation and government regulation. Thomas Sowell in his equally seminal book A Conflict of Visions (5) divided political “visions” into unconstrained and constrained. Briefly the unconstrained vision sees people as infinitely malleable and improvable by societal conditions and government policies while those holding the constrained vision see people constrained by the realities of human nature. For example when Madison said we wouldn’t need government if men where angels this is a classic expression of the constrained vision which was pretty much held by most if not all of the Founders at the Constitutional Convention.
Now for the political parties. Since the New Deal the Democratic
party has stood for social democracy more than classical liberalism,
collectivism more than individualism, an unconstrained vision of human
nature and is clearly on the political left as the term is generally understood.
The Republican party is more difficult to categorize. There remains
some classical conservatives in the traditional sense. However since
Reagan the Republican party is increasingly attracted to individualism
and the classical liberalism of Hayek. While compared to the Democratic
party it is placed on the political right, its policies are strongly Hayekian
in terms of limited government, lower taxes, less government regulation
of commerce and business, and protection of private property rights.
Reagan, Thatcher and now George W. Bush are followers of Hayekian political
economy which Hayek considers to be classical liberalism and who considers
himself to be an “Old Whig.”
These distinctions and definitions, while somewhat tedious and pretty much ignored by Jost are crucial to any discussion of conservatism and liberalism and an evaluation of the variables examined in the paper under consideration. In the following discussion rather than using such poorly defined terms as conservative and liberal which have, as considered above, changed substantially with time we will compare the political right with the political left which, after all, is
the thrust of both Jost et al(1) and Greenberg and Jonas (2).
Resistance to Change
The political, left of today , whether the Democratic party in the United States, the Labour Party in the U.K., or one of the Social Democratic parties in Europe are resisting change and desperately trying to conserve failing Welfare States in Europe and what remains of the New/Fair Deals in the United States. The political right, mainly Republicans still known, if somewhat inaccurately as conservatives, are working to get rid of these failed political and economic systems that have held sway through much of the 20th century. Liberals do not want to try vouchers for private schools as a means to rescue failing schools , especially in the big cities. Liberals are resistant to change in respect to preferential employment policies and college student admissions which are way past their time of usefulness. It is conservatives such as President Bush who are trying to change the world order for the better by taking the war on Terror to the enemy including Iraq with the liberal left fighting the President every step of the way. In spite of graphic pictures of babies developing in the uterus, liberals refuse to change from their absolutist position including opposing partial birth abortion which is opposed by a strong majority of the public. No matter whether there are issues where conservatives are indeed resistant to change such as the sanctity of marriage and its reality of being exclusively between a man and a women, the thesis that today’s conservatives are more resistant to change than today’s liberals simply cannot be sustained.
Justification of Inequality
In this case also, clarity and definition of terms are important. It is clear from the history of the last several hundred years, certainly since the French Revolution, that maximum equality and maximum liberty are not compatible with each other. As Madison observed in Federalist 10
“The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.” In other words all men are not equal in condition or outcome but are equal before the law. Maximum liberty will inevitably increase inequality of condition or outcome. The only way to force equality of condition and outcome is to restrict liberty. In this equation today’s political left favors equality over liberty and equality of condition over equality of oportunity. In contrast, the political right favors liberty over equality, and equality of opportunity over equality of condition.
Dogmatism and Intolerance to Ambiguity.
A better way to compare the political right with the political left is to look at publications and individuals that best represent these respective views to the American people. On the right we have, for example; The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary, Charles Krauthammer, Joe Scarborough, Cal Thomas, George Will, Bill Kristol, Pat Buchanan, Brit Hume and President George W. Bush. On the political left the New York Times, The Nation, The New Republic, Chris Matthews, Paul Krugman, Paul Begala, Dan Rather, Nome Chomsky , Robert Scheer, James Carville and Al Gore. It would be pretty hard, indeed impossible to claim that the political right, as exemplified by these representative voices is more dogmatic and intolerant to ambiguity than the left. Take any of the important social, political, economic or national defense issues of today and the argument of Jost and his co-authors falls apart as soon as it confronts the real world of opnion and ideas as contrasted with social theory.
Lack of Openness to Experience.
What has the experience of the 20th century taught us?
1. Communism was not the wave of the future but rather an evil
and failed political and economic system that, as the Black Book of Communism
detailed (6) was responsible for the life of over 100 million innocent
2. Lenin, Stalin and Mao were brutal, evil men presiding over oppressive totalitarian systems.
3. Socialism has failed as a political and economic system all over the world, especially in less-developed countries.
4. The social democracies of Scandinavia and Western Europe are failing as productivity and national income can not keep up with social costs.
5 Collectivism, must and does, by its very nature inevitably lead to a loss of liberty and personal freedom.
6. A market economy is demonstrably superior to a command economy.
On all these issues, the dominant political and economic issues
of the20th century, the political left was not only resistant to experience
and on several of them still is to this day, but was wrong and on the wrong
side of history.
Communism cannot be written off as an aberration of socialism. It is indeed socialism, and in its day it was much admired by the non-Communist “intellectual left” as exemplified by the following quotes from Hollander’s book Political Pilgrims (7)
On Visiting Communist Russia
Lincoln Steffens; “I am a patriot for Russia; the future is
there; Russia will win out and it will save the world.”
Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury; “Stalin is no oriental despot. His new Constitution shows it. His readiness to relinquish power shows it. His reluctance to add to the power he already possesses shows it. His willingness to lead his people down new and unfamiliar paths of democracy shows it.”
Lion Feuchwanger; “The air which one breathes in the West is stale and foul. In the Western Civilization there is no longer clarity and resolution.......One breathes again when one comes from this oppressive atmosphere of a counterfeit democracy and hypocritical humanism into the invigorating atmosphere of the Soviet Union.” “The realization of socialist democracy is Stalin’s ultimate goal.”
Corliss and Margaret Lamont; “The direction in the soviet, both from the material and cultural standpoints, seems steadily and on the whole upward, and the problems those of growth. Elsewhere in the world the direction seems downward and the problems those of decay.”
John Strachey; “To travel from the capitalist world into Soviet territory is to pass from death to birth”.
Edmund Wilson; "One gradually comes to realize that, though the people’s clothes are dreary, there is little, if any, destitution; though there are no swell parts of the city, there are no degraded parts either. There are no shocking sights on the streets; no down and outers, no horrible disease, no old people picking in garbage pails.”
John Dewey; “As it is, I feel as if for the first time I might have some inkling of what may have been the moving spirit and force of primitive Christianity.”
George Bernard Shaw; “Stalin has delivered the goods to an extent that seemed impossible ten years ago; and I take my hat off to him accordingly.”
Henry Wallace on visiting the notorious gulag at Kolma, where the annual death rate is now known to have reached 30%, “The Kolma gold miners are big husky young men, who came to the Far East from European Russia. I spoke with some of them.”
Sidney and Beatrice Webb (nee Potter); “Stalin is not a dictator....he is the duly elected representative of one of the Moscow constituencies to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. By this assembly he has been selected as one of the thirty members of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, accountable to the representatives for all activities.”
Joseph Davies, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, author of Mission to Moscow. “His (i.e. Stalin’s) brown eye is exceedingly wise and gentle. A child would like to sit on his lap and a dog would sidle up to him.”
On Visiting Communist Cuba
Saul Landau; “Cuba is the first purposeful society that we have had in the Western Hemisphere for many years- it’s the first society where human beings are treated as human beings, where men have a certain dignity, and where this is guaranteed to them.” To Saul Landau, Castro was “a man who has been steeped in democracy.”
Elizabeth Sutherland, art editor from The Nation; “He
(Castro) seems, first of all, utterly devoted to the welfare of his people-
and his people are the poor not the rich. When he speaks, it
is as if his own dedication and energy were being directly transfused into
his listeners with an almost physical force.”
Susan Sontag; “It seems sometimes as if the whole country is high on some benificent kind of speed, and has been for years.”
Jonathan Kozol; “There is a sense, within the Cuban schools, that one is working for a purpose and that purpose is a great deal more profound and more important than the selfish pleasure of individual reward. The goal is to become an active member in a common campaign to win an ethical objective."
On Visiting Communist North Vietnam.
Tom Hayden and Staughton Lynd; “We knew too what the
Vietnamese contribution to a humane socialism would be; it was evident
in the unembarrassed handclasps among men, the poetry and song at the center
of man-women relationships, the freedom to weep practiced by everyone.....as
the Vietnamese speak of their country....Here we begin to understand the
possibilities for a socialism of the heart.”
Susan Sontag; “in Vietnam one is confronted by a whole people possessed by a belief in what Lawrence called ‘the subtle lifelong validity of a heroic impulse."
Ramsey Clark; "You feel a unity in spirit. I doubt very seriously that I could walk in safety in Saigon, or the cities and villages of South Vietnam, as I have here, because of the division and the confusion and the lack of faith and belief there.”
On Visiting Communist China
David Rockefeller; “One is impressed immediately by the
sense of national harmony. From the loud patriotic music at the border
onward, there is a real and pervasive dedication to Chairman Mao and the
Moaist principles. Whatever the price of the Chinese Revolution
, it has obviously succeeded in producing more efficient and dedicated
administration, but also in fostering high morale and community of purpose.”
Urie Bronfenbrenner; “To me China seems like a kind of benign monarchy ruled by an emperor priest who has won the complete devotion of his subjects. In short, a religious and highly moralistic society.”
Simone de Beauvoir; “life in China today is exceptionally pleasant.....Plenty of fond dreams are authorized by the idea of a country where the government pays the people’s way through school, where generals and statesmen are scholars and poets.”
John K. Fairbank; “The people seem healthy, well-fed and articulate about their role as citizens of Mao’s new China”. “The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in centuries...Maoism...has got results.”
Staunton Lynd and Tom Hayden; “We landed in Peking early in the afternoon....The sense of a different world was immediate...... We could feel the West was behind us.... The communist Internationale boomed with conviction from outdoor loudspeakers at the large modern airport.....Walking before breakfast.... we passed a group of women energetically singing before a days work. Everywhere is the pulse of purposeful activity.”
The inability of the political left to assess reality and learn from experience cannot be over-stated.
Uncertainty and Need for Order and Structure
The avoidance of uncertainty and the need for order and structure conveniently can be considered together. The political left favors a large central government, a Nanny State, if you will, with strong governmental regulation of business. It favors generous redistributionist income and inheritance policies and a very generous panoply of social services. In clear contrast, the political right favors a smaller government consistent with a strong national defense, minimum regulation of business, minimum income and inheritance redistributionist policies and less generous social services. Clearly the left is more in favor of order and structure in government and in the economy, and less willing for people to face the uncertainties of life without generous income redistribution and social services.
Additional Real Differences between the Political Left
We come now to several real and seminal differences between the political left and the political right. First, as to the fundamental nature of man. The left believes that man is inherently good while the right, to the contrary, believes that man is inherently evil, or at a minimum has a sinful nature. Abraham Maslow, one of the fathers of humanistic psychology was one of many in that movement who was convinced that man is inherently good. In a paper published after his death, Maslow wrote that the biggest problem among those on the liberal-left was the failure to understand and confront evil.. Reinhold Niebuhr, a man of the left very far from being an Evangelical Christian, nevertheless broke with the left on this issue and held that man was inherently sinful. He famously said that the Christian doctrine of Original Sin was a doctrine that could be empirically verified merely by observing the behavior of mankind. This is dealt with in more detail in the paper A Neurophysiological Perspective on Original Sin ((8). original sin . Rousseau believed in the innate goodness of man and that all the ills of mankind derived from civilization. Hobbes of course believed just the opposite as did Madison who said that if men were angels, i.e. innately good, we wouldn’t need a government.
The other major issue on which the left and right differ fundamentally is belief in a transcendent and all powerful God and the importance of religion in public life. The French revolutionists enthroned a Goddess of Reason to replace the Christian God and the result was the reign of terror and murder. Our founding Fathers believed just the opposite as expressed by George Washington in his Farewell Address;
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle”
The political left, in the main, does not believe in such a transcendent and all powerful God while the political right, in the main, does. Numerous polls have demonstrated this to be true and this difference between the left and the right can be traced back to the time of Hegel when his main followers, the Hegelian Right, did believe in a transcendent God and the Hegelian left, the young Hegelians led by Feuerbach, did not.
Right after the 2000 Presidential election CNN published a major exit poll covering 13,130 subjects. The result couldn’t have been clearer and less ambiguous;
Attend Religious Services % %
More than weekly 36 63
Weekly 40 57
Monthly 51 46
Seldom 54 42
Never 61 32
Passing of an Illusion.
As described by the late French author Francois Furet the political left from 1917 until the passing of the old Soviet Union was living an illusion that abruptly disappeared with the demise of communism, except of course in American universities. Unfortunately, Jost and his co-authors are still beating a dead horse, whether that horse is called communism, socialism or social democracy Their description of the characteristics of the political right, conservatives if you will, is evidence of such an illusory World view by individuals so imbedded in their own biases as to render them unable to see clearly.
1. Jost, JT, Glaser, J., Kruglanski, AW, Sulloway, FJ. (2003)
Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition. Psychological
Bulletin 129: 339-375
2. Greenberg J and Jonas, E. (2003) Psychological Motives and Political Orientation-The Left, the Right, and the Rigid: Comment on Jost et al (2003) Psychological Bulletin 129: 376-382
3. Jost, JT, Glaser, J., Kruglanski, AW, Sulloway, FJ. (2003) Exceptions that Prove the Rule- Using a Theory of Motivated Social Cognition to Account for Ideological Incongruities and Political Anomalies: Reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003) Psychological Bulletin 129: 383-393
4. Hayek, FA (1944) The Road to Serfdom.. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL
5. Sowell, T. (1987) Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins in Political Struggles. William Morrow and Company, New York NY
6. Courtois, S. et al (1999) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
7. Hollander, P. (1981) Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the soviet Union, China and Cuba Oxford University Press, New York, NY
8. Jansen, GR (1999) A Neurophysiological Perspective on Original Sin. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine . 42: 262-269
Additional Reading; The Provenance of Liberty and the Evolution of Political
Thinking in the United States
Provenance of liberty