Jonathan Haidt's Moral Psychology Applied to American Politics

The post below is a review essay I wrote for Reason in Fall 2006 loosely related to George Lakoff’s Whose Freedom and Geoffrey Nunberg’s Talking Right, both books that attempted to explain Republican political dominance as a linguistic and rhetorical phenomenon. The review essay submits psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s theory of moral emotion — specifically his ideas about religious sentiments — as a better explanation of the Republicans’ electoral appeal. Before the piece was published, the 2006 midterm elections intervened, making the question of the psychological mechanisms behind GOP dominance seem pretty moot. I decided not to torture the piece into something less politically irrelevant, so it never ran. But I think there’s lots of interesting stuff in there that says a good deal about the psychological differences between conservatives and liberals. And given yesterday’s big Times Science Tuesday profile of Haidt and his ideas, it seems like a good time to ride the wave of internet interest in Haidt’s truly illuminating work. (And, of course, to prove that I was into it before it was cool.)

[Read the essay.]