All about libertarians: Group’s mystique increases as profile is raised

by
October 18, 2012

By Emily Esfahani Smith – Special to The Washington Times

If you’ve ever observed a group of libertarians at a bar — perhaps discussing objectivism, the Second Amendment, or marijuana, all with reverence — then you know that they are a species of political being unlike the rest of us.

But they are an important group to understand this election cycle, as topics such as the economy, the size of government and entitlements take center stage (and “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” opens in movie theaters nationwide). According to Gallup, libertarians make up about 20 percent of the electorate — and they are a vocal and influential minority, as the tea party movement has shown. The ascent of the “Atlas Shrugged”-loving Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket is another indication that the libertarian movement may be in the midst of its political moment.

But what exactly do libertarians believe?

Psychologists Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter Ditto and Jonathan Haidt set out to answer this very question in the largest study of libertarians to date, “Understanding Libertarian Morality,” published recently in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

After surveying nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians, the researchers determined that libertarians have a set of moral values that are distinct from those held by ordinary conservatives and liberals.

It’s well known that libertarians hold fiscally conservative and socially liberal views. What is less known is that libertarians, in prizing liberty above all else, place less emphasis than others, according to the study, on caring for others, avoiding harm, behaving benevolently and acting altruistically — values that traditionally have defined virtuous and heroic behavior in nearly all of the moral systems of the world.

This calls to mind the muse of the contemporary libertarian movement, Ayn Rand, and her provocative position that altruists, far from being the self-sacrificing heroes that our culture makes them out to be, are “evil.” One who commits an altruistic act is, for Rand, like one who sacrifices his life in suicide — a madman or a fool.

“If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject,” Rand argued.

In his bestselling book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” (2012), Mr. Haidt, a co-author of the libertarian study, breaks down the foundational moral principles that shape liberal, conservative and libertarian ideology. According to research Mr. Haidt has conducted, liberals rely on three of the six core moral foundations: care, liberty and fairness. Conservatives rely on all six — the three that liberals favor plus sanctity, loyalty and authority.

Libertarians have the narrowest moral sense, relying on only one of the six universal moral foundations — liberty. Revealingly, they score lower than both conservatives and liberals on measures of care for others and protecting others from harm. What libertarians do care about, almost to the exclusion of all else, is individual rights — the group’s “sacred value,” according to the study. Mr. Iyer and his colleagues found that the most prominent feature of libertarians is “self-direction” — or independence.

To read more, visit: Libertarians’ profile, mystique increases in election year – Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/oct/16/all-about-libertarians-mystique-profile-increases/#ixzz29bm4mVR4

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