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It is, for many conservatives, a familiar feeling – the sense that our counterparts on the liberal left not only disagree with us, but don’t even understand us.

Well, it seems there is hard evidence to support our suspicions. It comes from an unlikely source – the American psychologist (and political liberal) Jonathan Haidt. The basis of his research is a framework of five moral ‘foundations’: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sacredness/degradation. Gathering masses of survey data (to which you can contribute here), Haidt and his colleagues have built-up a detailed picture of the degree to which these various foundations underpin the liberal and conservative worldviews.

In a book review for Prospect, David Goodhart provides an excellent summary of Haidt’s findings:

  • “His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five.
  • Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred.
  • As Haidt puts it: ‘It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.’”

Haidt’s recommendation to his fellow liberals is to make a greater effort to understand conservative concerns:

  • “For example, if you want to improve integration and racial justice in a mixed area, you do not just preach the importance of tolerance but you promote a common in-group identity. As Haidt puts it: ‘You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals and mutual interdependencies.’”

For David Goodhart – a prominent liberal opponent of multiculturalism – the Haidt approach is the “last chance for the left.” However, one might also argue that if you start acting upon conservative moral insights you might as well become a conservative.

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