In Moral Foundation Theory, the description of the Authority foundation leaves little room for doubt. Libertarians and Liberals have essentially no Authority foundation in their diet while Evangelicals and Conservatives eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I assert this perspective does not adequately describe the situation. The moral viewpoint undergirding Authority experiences isn’t an on/off switch, rather it is a slider that insists True Authority resides in the Self or Outside the Self. Those who experience True Authority as residing in the Self are not just baffled by those who place it Outside the Self (God, Country, Familial duty) but actually feel reflexively that people doing that are wrong and immoral.
I know that the tendency is to separate people into authoritarians and anti-authoritarians, but I have quite a bit of uninvited experience with people who believe I represent authoritarianism. They aren’t just anti-authority. They are anti-submission. And they aren’t just anti-authority and anti-submission in some sort of rational way or caring way. They are emotionally activated by authority, reminders of authority, and someone else appearing to submit to the wrong authority, who is outside of that person. There is a correct authority, and it resides in the Self. As a plain Quaker, I meet a lot of challenge from fellow Quakers who do not dress plain. We are not the Amish. Only a few Quakers feel they should dress plain; it is an individual leading or choice. If I talk about wearing plain dress as a personal leading and as a choice, that is okay with Liberal Quakers. Most will concede that point. If I talk about wearing plain dress as a submission to God, that is not okay with Liberal Quakers. Conversely, Evangelical Quakers are more comfortable with the latter.
It is easy in Moral Foundation Theory to see how those with the liberal moral viewpoint might see Christians and Christianity as violating the Liberty/Oppression and Care/Harm foundations, and hence immoral. I think, further, that some view all organized religions as violating these foundations as well as violating a moral standard that True Authority must reside in the Self. The complaints about and pathologizing of authoritarianism could be placed under the Liberty and Care foundations, but it makes sense to have an Authority foundation not because everyone except those of the WEIRD and liberal moral viewpoint have a locus of authority, but because everyone has a locus of authority. One they will defend against incursion. Authoritarians aren’t an attack on democracy, per se, they are an attack on placing the Authority in the Self.
It happens with some regularity that I have an interaction with someone who wants me to stop wearing plain dress. Those who choose to confront me are almost always people who seem to hold the liberal moral viewpoint. The vehemence with which they want to change the way I dress feels like I have committed a moral violation, but what foundation am I violating? Does it become a matter of the Care foundation when someone else wants me to stop wearing plain dress? The Care foundation seems a poor candidate. They Care so much about me the want to stop me from doing something that brings me great comfort and peace? The energy behind these interventions does not feel like Caring to me.
Or does it become a matter of the Liberty foundation when someone else wants me to stop plain dressing as a symbol of my submission to an Outside Authority? That seems an incredible distortion of the Liberty foundation to explain the impulse to try to get me to change my manner of dress. Are they trying to save me from Oppression of my Liberty? There could be something of that being triggered there. But it is something that feels profoundly authoritarian, not evocative of Liberty. Is it that I need to not allow myself to be Oppressed? That I report that I don’t feel Oppressed when I submit myself to the Authority of God is entirely dismissed (as has been reported also by hijab wearers). I assert that there are some who do not want me to have the Liberty to submit myself to an Authority other than the Self. They may invoke the Liberty foundation in the rider, but it is the elephant that is having a visceral desire to control me and prevent me from violating an important moral foundation: the Self is the only True Authority. Submitting to an Outside Authority is immoral and must be stopped. Once the violation of the Liberty foundation is pointed out, most people back down. But if there were a pill to change this orientation, if it were possible to change a person’s perspective from placing themselves under an Outside Authority, I know there are some people who would want to force me to take it. For their own good. I mean, my own good.
That is where left-wing authoritarianism comes from. It baffles me that many deny such a thing exists. Some may bemoan the “love the sinner not the sin” trope of some Christians, but there is nothing remotely similar coming from the “other side” as it were. If one is an authoritarian, one cannot be loved. One needs to be fixed or cured or controlled. Similarly, anyone viewed as racist, homophobic, or sexist cannot be loved in their “sin.” They must be denounced, shunned, and condemned. And hopefully fixed by reason, education &etc.
I do think some of the liberal moral viewpoint would still argue that the Authority of the Self is more important than social stability, that any system that places the Self under its Authority is immoral and should be destroyed. We have seen this before. I can’t help thinking we will see it again. Those of the liberal moral viewpoint deny an impulse toward social dominance as they seek to socially dominate. I think those of the liberal moral viewpoint are so uncomfortable with Sanctity, Loyalty and Authority as concepts that they cloak their use of them in euphemism and have a strategy of denial. They tell themselves: “The other side does this, not us. The immoral side engages these things, not us. We are rational and pure. Those are the foundations of bullying and general evil. And they aren’t moral. Jonathan Haidt calling them moral foundations at all is immoral.” (Isn’t it true that when something disgusts us, we cloak it in euphemism?)
I think a flip side of not being able to place oneself under any sort of Authority is that there is no one else to take responsibility for things. No one else to turn things over to if they are too big or too difficult. I must personally do anything that needs to be done. I have seen this overwhelm good-hearted people of the liberal moral viewpoint. There is so much to fix. They become frozen by the entrenched nature of the gazillion problems in the world. They want desperately to do something but don’t know what. I have no such sense. I am confident that God will show me what my duty is, what Needs I am called upon to meet, and I leave the other things to him. I may have to dress like a fool and suffer being considered a fool, but I am relieved of a considerable burden by letting an Authority I experience as superior at handling things handle things. I do believe he uses me to handle some things. I just don’t think I am called upon to do more than I am capable of, and the Lord knows what I am capable of accomplishing. It might be easy or it might be hard, but it is what I am called to do, and that is sufficient.
It can be baffling to those with a conservative moral viewpoint to watch those of liberal moral viewpoint be unable/unwilling to assert their (necessary) authority over their children and pets. People need trainers to teach them how to (gently) place themselves in authority over their dogs, for instance. Parents sometimes have trouble placing themselves in authority over their children. Conservatives view such hesitation to wield Authority as a profound failure of a parent’s responsibility.
It seems to me people of the liberal moral viewpoint have their eyes on the horizon. They are seeking. Progress. Possibilities. Evolution. The protection of the Self and the Helpless. They look for the greatest good. Liberals will always have to watch a harm they wanted to prevent occur. Their sorrow and horror at this will only just exceed the level of their anticipatory dread. By denying their own tribalism and tribal mechanisms, they are spectacularly blind to these foundations. Not because they don’t engage them in their moral make up, but precisely because they deny how they use them. Using them is immoral, so they are blind to how they use them. When they disagree with someone they want to change the person, re-educate them.
In contrast, people of the conservative moral viewpoint have their eyes on the things and people around them quite keenly. They value the good in what is. It will elicit perhaps some empathy to realize that every conservative will always see something that they wanted to preserve destroyed. Their grief at its loss will be only slightly worse than their anticipatory grief. They are blind to the ways in which others are harmed by the things they are trying to preserve. When they disagree with someone they want to close them out of the system, or use a systemic mechanism to quell them.
I am seeing an undertow in the writings on the biological basis of political orientation that the liberal moral viewpoint is an evolutionary and perhaps genetic advance. This seems problematic in a lot of ways, including that it seems unlikely to be true since this conflict between those who desire to preserve and those who desire to creatively destroy has been written about almost since writing was invented. But also, that means the entire world outside of the WEIRD-world Liberals is less evolved. Ouch. I also see hints of a desire to find a “cure” for this backwardness. Friends and neighbors, conservatives and liberals really are yin and yang. If we were all conservatives we would all still be in Africa, if not extinct from lack of adaptability and risk taking. If we were all liberals, we would never have developed civilization as we know it, and perhaps we’d be extinct from excessive risk taking and failure to coalesce. We need each other.