BERKEFORD – Politically liberal agendas may range from opposing the Vietnam War to attacking traditional moral and religious values to supporting non needs-tested welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations? Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of liberalism report that at the core of political liberalism is the resistance to individual liberty, especially individual financial freedom, in favor of shared resources and security, and a tolerance, and sometimes a preference, for immorality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political liberalism include:
- Irrational guilt
- Fear of certainty and suspicion of moral clarity
- Resentment, and fear, of success
- Need for significance and a fear of being seen as ‘irrelevant’
- Unmet maternal needs & a search for substitute maternalism
- Persistent, unfocused anger, and a tendency to be very easily offended
"From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of Liberal ideological contents, either independently or in combination," the researchers wrote in an article, "Political Liberalism as Motivated Social Cognition," recently published in the American Psychological Board’s Bulletin of Psychology.
Assistant Professor Melvin Franklin of the University of California, Bertram Preston School of Public Policy and Visiting Professor Fred Sullivan of UW joined lead author, Associate Professor Jeffrey Jenkins of Arizona State’s Graduate School of Business, and Professor Ariel Trident of the University of Montana at Plentywood, to analyze the literature on liberalism.
The psychologists sought patterns among 88 samples, involving 22,818 participants, taken from journal articles, books and conference papers. The material originating from 12 countries included speeches and interviews given by politicians, opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, as well as experimental, field and survey studies.
Ten meta-analytic calculations performed on the material - which included various types of literature and approaches from different countries and groups - yielded consistent, common threads, Franklin said.
The avoidance of certainty, for example, as well as the striving for uncertainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of liberal thought - the resistance to moral certitude or hanging onto the status quo of potentially destructive behavioral patterns, they said.
The irrational guilt feature of liberalism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where some people appear to seek out and even embrace the very outsiders most likely to threaten the status quo of cherished freedoms and prosperity, they wrote. Resentment of success can be linked to a second key dimension of liberalism – a fierce opposition to individual financial liberty and personal property rights, a view reflected in the excesses of the now defunct Soviet Union, Maoist collectivism and the liberal, socialistic politics of former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Disparate liberals share a resistance to true diversity, especially of ideology, and insistence on near homogeneity of thought as a substitute for equality of value and opportunity, the authors said. Stalin, Hitler, and former President Lyndon B. Johnson were individuals, but all were left-wing liberals because they preached a utopian vision of an idealized future and condoned repressive contemporary Government policies for the “greater good”. Numerous entertainment figures such as Ed Asner and Susan Sarandon can be described the same way, the authors commented in a published reply to the article.
This research marks the first synthesis of information about liberalism, and the result is an "elegant and unifying explanation" for political liberalism under the rubric of motivated social cognition, said the authors. That entails the tendency of people's attitudinal preferences on policy matters to be explained by individual needs based on personality, social interests or existential needs.
The researchers' analytical methods allowed them to determine the effects for each class of factors and revealed "more pluralistic and nuanced understanding of the source of liberalism," Sullivan said. While most people resist moral uncertainty, Jenkins said, liberals appear to have a higher tolerance for destructive lifestyle choices, traditionally labeled as immoral, than conservatives do. As for liberals’ penchant for accepting oppressive measures to enforce ‘sameness’ (the liberal version of ‘equality’), he said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending specifically targeted privileges to radical elements of behavioral minorities such as gays and lesbians, often at the expense of the so-called majority, compared to conservatives' opposing position.
The researchers said that liberal ideologies, like virtually all belief systems, develop in part because they satisfy some psychological needs, but that "does not mean that liberalism is pathological or that liberal beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled."
They also stressed that their findings are not judgmental.
"In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being committed to ambiguity, high on the need for process with no closure, or low in cogency of ideas might be associated with often expressed characteristics such as lack of personal discipline and a striving for the perception of significance in the absence of actually achieving it," the researchers wrote.
This insistence on ambiguity can lead people to cling to the fallacious notion that personal problems are so complex as to be unmanageable without societal (i.e. Government) assistance, and to impose needlessly complex ‘solutions’ on simply stated or nonexistent challenges, the researchers advised.
The debate in the past decade about the possibility that the Bush administration ignored intelligence information that discounted reports of Iraq buying nuclear material from Africa may be linked to the liberal intolerance for moral clarity and the resistance to decisive action to counter legitimate threat, said Trident. "For a variety of psychological reasons, then, left-wing populism may have less consistent appeal than right-wing populism, especially in times of potential crisis and instability," she said.
Franklin acknowledged that the team's exclusive assessment of the psychological motivations of political liberalism might be viewed as a partisan exercise, especially, he said, because of the main-stream media’s penchant for labeling politicians as ‘conservative’ more than four times as often as they apply the ‘liberal’ label.
Although they concluded that liberals are less "integratively cogent" than others are, Franklin said, "it doesn't mean that they're simple-minded." To the contrary, liberals are near compulsive in their need to create and jump through complex, intellectual and emotional hoops in order to justify their wildly complex and costly schemes for curing the ‘ills’ of the world, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing traditionally understood ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as morally equivalent and stating so in ways that would make conservatives squirm," Finkelweitz said.
He pointed as an example to the 1998 Grand Jury testimony where President Bill Clinton was asked to reconcile his admission of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinski with his earlier denials made under oath. An obviously irritated Clinton responded with a convoluted and tortured soliloquy regarding the distinct meaning of the word, “is”.
*There is no such publication. This entire post...is satire :-).