E. J. Dionne, in Conservatives used to care about community. What happened?, comments on several divergent elements in conservative thought and practice. He begins by lamenting that conservative Republicans “have abandoned American conservatism’s most attractive features: prudence, caution and a sense that change should be gradual.” This description of conservatism follows closely with what Patrick Allitt, in the course I’ve written about earlier, refers to as traditional conservatism, in the mold of Russell Kirk and going back to Edmund Burke. Dionne further laments that conservatives no longer care about community, instead concentrating on ‘the heroic and disconnected individual — or the “job creator.”‘ This is more closely allied with the libertarian strand of conservatism.
Professor Allitt’s course discussed various strands of conservative thought and practice; what stands out in American conservatism are three strands, traditional conservatism, libertarianism, and neoconservatism. While we tend to think of conservatism/liberalism on a continuum, this three-fold division of conservative thought can be more productively thought of as intersecting planes or areas, making it three-dimensional conservatism.
I’ve been reading Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind. He, too, imagines individuals in a single-dimension as being more or less conservative, more or less liberal. But he uses his six moral foundations to plot a graph of this movement from liberalism to conservatism, or conservatism to liberalism. Those six foundations are:
Moral responses of liberals are heavily weighted toward the care, fairness, and liberty foundations, while conservatives respond with a more even mix of all six.
When I saw the graph, I was struck by the sense that it was pigeon-holing individuals onto this single dimension, more or less conservative or liberal. But since the graph used the six moral foundations to plot this information, it seemed more meaningful to think of our moral/political belief system in many dimensions. It seems that each foundation is a line, or a plane, or even an area, which intersect and diverge from each other in various ways in a three-dimensional space, giving us three-dimensional conservatism, or liberalism, or moral foundations.
With E.J. Dionne we have an analysis of conservatism from the point of view of contemporary political commentary; with Patrick Allitt the same from the point of view of historical investigation and analysis; and with Jonathan Haidt, from the point of view of the moral bases of conservative/liberal thought. I hope I can, with continued investigation, come up with a better multi-dimensional model of conservative/liberal/political thought which can accommodate the nuances in all of these positions, but also their affinities with each other.