Monday, January 15, 2018

Jonathan Haidt on Libertarian Psychology

Circle Rothbard-San Francisco member Mark Addleman sent along to the group a video clip of an appearance by Jonathan Haidt at the Cato Institute.


A few comments on the talk:

Perhaps because he was limited by time  Haidt provided only the conclusions of his surveys and not the questions themselves. I don't believe you can form a complete opinion of Haidt's conclusions without knowing the questions asked.

Second, Haidt seems to suggest some very strong cause and effect correlations from the results of his surveys. I am not so certain the correlations necessarily fit.

For example, Haidt seems to imply that those who like to debate are more likely to become libertarians. But the cause and effect might be the opposite. If someone becomes a libertarian, they may then become more willing to debate because they are confident in their positions and have logical responses.

There are many lefties who don't debate us. Is it because they know we will out logic them, rather than their general fear of debate?

And libertarians may like to debate because with our logic we can win debates, rather than we become libertarians because we like to debate.

Haidt raises some interesting points in his talk but more definitive conclusions on his points require digging much deeper.



  1. Haven't watched the video but critical thinking involves sort of a self-debate in order to arrive at the truth, and I think libertarians probably think this way more than others, rather than forming an opinion first and then finding ways to rationalize it.

    1. Before I was a fully-formed libertarian, a friend asked why I thought marijuana prohibition was fine but alcohol not. I couldn’t use the old canard of constitution on that. My “logic” was that one session gets you high but not one drink. Once I became a full-on libertarian and had that internal debate again on weed, I realized how infantile that was. Libertarianism is an adult thought process. The question is how do we get the kids to grow into adult libertarians? Well, besides our own.

  2. I agree with Robert, that without knowing the questions it's hard to know what to make of these findings. For instance, to say that libertarians are less emotional and more individualistic strike me at face value as ridiculous assertions. I'm sure many libertarians are very emotional about their loved ones, cute dogs, etc; but a libertarian just doesn't believe that others should be forced to act in accordance with the libertarian's emotions. Similarly, I'm sure many libertarians really enjoy the company of others, join associations, etc. as opposed to living as atomized individuals; but a libertarian just doesn't believe that others should be forced to associate with him, nor vice versa.

    Arnold Kling wrote a book a number of years ago entitled "The Three Languages of Politics" in which he claimed that conservatives, Progressives and libertarians each look at the world using different lenses. Conservatives see the battle as between civilization and barbarism, and the purpose of the state is to civilize the barbarian streak in people. Progressives see the battle as between the oppressors and the oppressed, and the purpose of the state is to even the score. Libertarians see the battle as between coercion and liberty, and there is no purpose for the state (he didn't say that, but that's how I would modify his conclusion). Because we all use different lenses, we all talk past each other on the same topics.