Civil Dialogue and Citizenship

Navigating Our Deepest Differences

Lesson I. A More Perfect Union and Political Differences

Step 2. Political Differences



Why do Americans seem so divided? People who love their friends and family and want to build a better community have strongly different opinions on what policies should be made for the public square. Moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt wrote a book called The Righteous Mind: Why People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. In it, Haidt asks why people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens. 

He first said that politics are in part driven by personality. Conservatives value order, routine and tradition while liberals value variety, diversity and new experiences. 

Then Haidt outlined a moral foundations theory to help us understand why people come to the conclusions they do. In this theory, there are six categories that help us understand political views. Both Liberals and Conservatives share the first three categories, but only Conservatives see the last three categories. 

Care/Harm--reducing suffering, being kind to others 

Liberty/Oppression–rejecting bullies and tyrants

Fairness/Cheating–the moral sense that cheaters should be punished and hard work should be rewarded. 

In Haidt’s moral foundations theory, Conservatives care about these three categories, but they see three more categories that Liberals do not. 

Loyalty/Betrayal--rewarding team players and rejecting those who do not honor the group

Authority/Subversion–protecting institutions and suppressing those who try to undercut them

Sanctity/Degradation–enforcing purity, protecting the group from outsiders and threats 

We can look at the issue of illegal immigration at the U.S./Mexican border to better understand this moral foundation theory at play. 

Liberals look at the Care/Harm aspect of people fleeing violence and seeking a better life. Other categories might be at play, but this one is highly influential. Conservatives might care about the Care/Harm aspect to some degree, but emphasize more Sanctity/Degradation of protecting the group from outside possible threats that undermine the authority of the law by crossing the border illegally (Authority/Subversion). 

Liberals and Conservatives are looking at the same issues, but emphasizing different aspects to make a decision about how to respond. 

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Lesson I. Step 2 of 6


Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.