The Difference Between Conservative and Liberal Morality


Dennis Prager has a predictably simplistic and self-righteous column at the Worldnutdaily about the Anthony Weiner scandal that claims that liberal moral ideals provide a cover for their behavior in a way that conservative morality cannot. What he shows in the process is how deeply wrongheaded his own sense of conservative morality is.

There is something about liberalism that is not nearly as true about conservatism. The further left one goes, the more one finds that the ideology provides moral cover for a life that is not moral. While many people left of center lead fine personal lives, many do not. And left-wing ideals enable a person to do that much more than conservative ideals do.

There is an easy way to demonstrate this.

If a married – or even unmarried – conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Wiener has not been called – a hypocrite.

Why? Because conservatives – secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives – are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not. Liberals rarely called Bill Clinton a hypocrite for his extramarital affair while president. George W. Bush would have been pilloried as such.

But let’s be clear what he’s talking about when he talks about “moral values.” The only thing he means by that is, in essence, sexual purity, which is what conservatives nearly always mean by it. Morality begins and ends, for many conservatives, with what you do with your genitalia. Nothing else really matters. He makes that pretty clear himself:

I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school, Columbia University, behaved. Aside from their closing down classes, taking over office buildings and ransacking professors’ offices, I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives.

For Prager, it is immoral to protest against something as heinous and vile as the Vietnam War. Shouldn’t the killing of at least two million people on the basis of a lie be a more serious moral offense than premarital sex? If you don’t think it is, I would argue that your own moral values are woefully deficient.

My sense was that the radicals’ commitment to “humanity,” to “peace,” and to “love” gave them license to feel good about themselves without having to lead a good life. Their vocal opposition to war and to racism provided them with all the moral self-esteem they wanted.

Yeah, we get it. You don’t like hippies. But again, if being a cheerleader for unjust wars is not far, far more immoral than putting your penis into someone you aren’t married to, your moral values are not just wrong, they’re repulsive and dangerous.

Comments

  1. says

    Ed:

    The difference between “conservatives*” and “liberals” IS morality, as morality is defined by people with functioning brains.

    * For the value of “conservative” that is represented by most of the ones that speak publicly

  2. dogmeat says

    If a married – or even unmarried – conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Wiener has not been called – a hypocrite.

    Yeah, he should have been having an affair with her, divorce his wife while she is going through chemotherapy, have an affair on that second wife while impeaching a president for lying about an affair, and then marry his mistress after divorcing his second wife while declaring his first marriage never happened and the kids from that marriage are bastards. THAT would be the moral thing to do. Then there is the appalachian trail, the morality of that story brings a tear to the eye.

    Anthony Wiener is just weird.

    Liberals rarely called Bill Clinton a hypocrite for his extramarital affair while president. George W. Bush would have been pilloried as such.

    I’m not certain Clinton ever claimed to be a paragon of moral virtue, but he did break his marriage vows. Now that’s something for he and his wife to discuss, but if you want me to, I’ll call him a hypocrite. There are other policy decisions that he made that annoy me more than the affair, the affair made him a douche to me. On the other hand, that “moral” Dubya, I mean the trampling of constitutional liberties, the war of choice in Iraq, tends of thousands of dead, what’s not to like? I mean if he’d cheated on his wife rather than do all of those “moral” things… what would happen to the country, *sniff* we just wouldn’t be the same *sob*

  3. slc1 says

    Why? Because conservatives – secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives – are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not.

    Gee, like David Vitter and Mark Sandford.

  4. says

    An amusing claim on his part when Newt Gingrich is treated as a legit candidate by conservatives, despite having committed adultery with two different women.

  5. Scr... Archivist says

    For a while now I have been interested in Doug Muder’s model of Inherited Obligation versus Negotiated Commitment. To me, this spectrum is a better explanation of conservative and liberal morality.

    For example, if Muder is right, this would make sexual purity part of the Inherited Obligations of manhood and womanhood (and mostly for the latter, of course). He also specifically writes in the linked page about how his model relates to abortion and same-sex marriage.

    Perhaps people here would like to read about it: http://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/politics/209.html

    What I find interesting about this is that it shows how conservative morality can be adaptive under certain social and material circumstances, particularly those of scarcity and fear.

  6. slc1 says

    Re timgueguen @ #4

    But, but, since those were not real marriages according to the Raping Children Church, he didn’t commit adultery. End snark.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    If a married – or even unmarried – conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Wiener has not been called – a hypocrite.
    Why? Because conservatives – secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives – are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not.

    Not quite. It’s not just “being identified with” moral values, it is trying to legislate the moral (i.e. sexual) lives of others. So the charge of hypocrisy is justified. Examples too numerous to list.

    … I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives.

    He sounds like a voyeur.

  8. says

    Wait, what do conservatives think of David Vitter, The Newt, Jeff Miller, Ensign, Mark Foley, Jack Ryan, Larry Craig, Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoweth, Bob Packwood, Strom Thurmond, Ken Calvert, Jim Bunn, Neil Goldschmidt, and Mark Sanford?

  9. says

    Yeah, we get it. You don’t like hippies.

    That’s a very common thread that runs deep in “conservative” “thought.” I hear the same thing from supposedly educated, cultured, sensible secular conservatives like George Will: the ’60s were a terribly frightening time when drug-crazed hippies almost destroyed civilization as they knew it, and it traumatized them so very deeply that they’ve become a little like Gollum: “Thief! Thief! Thief! Liberalism! We hates it! We hates it! We hates it forever!”

  10. iplon says

    I think he’s experienced a big mix up in why people call people hypocrites.

    They’re hypocrites not because they are conservatives caught in sex scandals, but because they specifically as individuals are self-righteous about “sexual morality” while committing the same deeds they specifically condemn.

    To compare: you wouldn’t really be considered hypocritical if you were a gay republican. However, if you were a republican that preached against the evils of homosexuality and then it was discovered you had engaged in a homosexual affair, the hypocrite label suddenly applies.

  11. says

    “despite having committed adultery with two different women.”

    Two women that confirm having had sex with that piece-of-shit in a suit makes me tremble with fear for the fate of humanity!

    “… David Vitter, The Newt, Jeff Miller, Ensign, Mark Foley, Jack Ryan, Larry Craig, Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoweth, Bob Packwood, Strom Thurmond, Ken Calvert, Jim Bunn, Neil Goldschmidt, and Mark Sanford?”

    Who? Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

  12. Larry says

    Er, Neil Goldschmidt was a Democrat.

    OK, replace him with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. And add Herman Cain while your at it. And don’t forget Mr. Dittohead himself, Rush Limbaugh. And Donald Trump.

  13. Larry says

    I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school…

    All the while, this turd sat in his classes with his student deferment whilst supporting having others go off to fight and die.

    Obviously, his morality trumped that of those protesting.

  14. says

    There is no such thing as conservative morality. The whole sex negative thing is about erecting a facade of morality for selfish political purposes, prohibiting certain actions like morality does, but without any understanding the reasoning behind the prohibitions of real morality. They don’t even do a good job of maintaining that facade.

    Naturally, fundamentalist Christianity and the Just World Hypothesis mixed in with it play a big part in preventing them from developing a morality. Their god invented Hell to punish people who broke his random, arbitrary rules, so they define evil as the set of behaviors that are punished instead of defining punishment as something you do to deter or correct evil behaviors.

  15. cptdoom says

    Why? Because conservatives – secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives – are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not.

    If you don’t want to be judged as a hypocrite for sexual impropriety, then don’t set yourself up as a paragon of moral virtue and demand the entire country follow a code of sexual ethics you choose to ignore.

    Yeah, he should have been having an affair with her, divorce his wife while she is going through chemotherapy, have an affair on that second wife while impeaching a president for lying about an affair, and then marry his mistress after divorcing his second wife while declaring his first marriage never happened and the kids from that marriage are bastards. THAT would be the moral thing to do.

    dogmeat – you forgot the part about hiring the second mistress onto the staff of the Speaker of the House, so she would be more available for sexual antics, thereby adding misappropriation of government funds for the sake of prostitution to your system of GOP morality.

    The real irony is that liberal men who commit sexual improprieties tend to have far more negative consequences to their behavior than conservative. As has already been noted, Sanford, Gingrich, Guiliani, Vitter and McCain are all still viable politicians or candidates, while John Edwards couldn’t get elected dog catcher, Spitzer and Weiner were forced to resign and Gary Hart lost any chance at the Democratic nomination just for having a hot woman sit on his lap. Sure Ted Kennedy was re-elected time and again, but that was because he was a Kennedy and turned out to be a really good Senator. And Bill Clinton would have had a lot less support from Democrats if he hadn’t been targeted for impeachment by the GOP.

  16. John Hinkle says

    The further left one goes, the more one finds that the ideology provides moral cover for a life that is not moral.

    Christian 1: I screwed my friend’s wife, nicked a couple of twenties from the dresser, and on the way to the car took a popsicle from a kid.
    Christian 2: That’s horrible. What’re you going to do now?
    Christian 1: Time to play my Get Out of Hell Free card.
    Christian 2: What’s that?
    Christian 1: Ask Jesus for forgiveness.
    Christian 2: Good man!

  17. matty1 says

    The thing is we mean different things and it isn’t just the sex obsession of conservatives. Conservative morality is about rules and norms – to a conservative you are good if you do what is expected of you. Liberal morality is about working out for yourself how to apply general principles like treat others as you want to be treated and be the kind of person you respect.

    In liberal morality the correct behaviour falls out of moral reasoning, in conservative morality you start with certain behaviour being wanted then come up with reasons it is moral.

  18. says

    If a married – or even unmarried – conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Wiener has not been called – a hypocrite.

    Actually, unlike Wiener, he would be called “Congressman”.

  19. abb3w says

    There’s some fascinating related research by Jonathan Haidt (et al); purity/disgust is indeed one of the major differences between liberals and conservatives. However, it’s not the only one; there also appear to be differences in attitude on authority/respect and on ingroup/outgroup importance, which appear to correlate with the purity/disgust sensitivity. Both liberals and conservatives value equity/reciprocity and are averse to pain/harm; however, conservatives also equally use the other three “flavors” for moral judgements as well, while liberals tend to emphasis just the two.

    Interestingly, analysis on a four-group fit rather than a two group fit seemed to indicate two further clusters beyond the basic “liberal secular left” and “religious conservative right”: a “religious liberal” cluster, who had some sensitivity on the trio although to a lesser degree than religious conservatives, and a “libertarian” cluster, who were unusually low in sensitivity to all five.

    So… it’s not so much that liberal ideals of morality give cover to behavior conservatives consider immoral, but that liberals tend to give only minimal weight to the basis by which conservatives are making the judgements in that area of behavior. Thus, when a conservative violates the purity norms they seek to impose on others, liberals are more offended on a basis of equity than on purity. This confuses conservatives, who perhaps mistake the reaction as a purity response. Similarly, conservatives don’t see killing of two million out-group as as big a deal as liberals would, and so are less concerned by war and racism.

  20. hunter says

    I find that Prager’s understanding of morality is just the same as that of those in the anti-gay business: “morality” equals “rules,” and has little or nothing to do with attitudes or values.

    I call them “Liars for Jesus.”

  21. Reginald Selkirk says

    John Hinkle #19: Christian 1: Time to play my Get Out of Hell Free card.

    Oh well, he just meant it metaphorically. I thought at first he was going to take it literally.

  22. caseloweraz says

    @naturalcynic (#18):

    Also the late Strom Thurmond. No doubt there are plenty more names that could be added to the list.

  23. jack stephens says

    The reason sexual peccadillos by conservatives are so much more noticeable than those of liberals is not that they are more moral in that sense, but they make a great show of being so. Hypocrisy stands out like a sore thumb.

  24. says

    Because conservatives – secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives – are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not.

    Well, yes. That’s because conservatives make it their business to be identified as such, by self-righteously proclaiming themselves to be the standard bearers of all that is moral and holy. When a person like this gets caught with his pants down (which happens daily, it seems) then that person is a hypocrite. That’s why they get called a hypocrite. It shows that what they’re really interested in is policing the sex lives of other people, not in living up to the personal standards that they supposedly champion. In short, a fraud.

    What Prager really needs to do is ask why so many prominent conservatives get caught having adulterous affairs or worse, and yet their fellow conservatives don’t seem too bothered by it. Mark Sanford infamously left his post to visit his mistress in another country, and yet the morally righteous people of SC just saw fit to elect him to Congress. If you’re really worried about personal morality, shouldn’t this seriously bother you? But no. It’s somehow all the liberals’ fault.

    This is about more than personal failings, it goes to the heart of what conservatism is really about, which is privilege and power. Rules are for the little people to keep them in line. Conservatives see themselves as the elect, which absolves them of adhering to the same standards they insist on for everyone else. And it’s not just sex, it’s the way they see everything. Republicans on a routine basis pull stunts like threatening to shut-down the government or refusing to raise the debt limit that they’d never accept as legitimate for Democrats. Indeed, they’d scream it was treasonous if the Democrats did it. It’s this rejection of moral symmetry that makes conservatism so disgusting, and has left the country virtually ungovernable.

  25. Pen says

    But again, if being a cheerleader for unjust wars is not far, far more immoral than putting your penis into someone you aren’t married to, your moral values are not just wrong, they’re repulsive and dangerous.

    Or your vagina around the penis of someone you aren’t married to, of course.

  26. scienceavenger says

    Prager is poster child for the conservative preference for style over substance. He speaks in a very pleasant barotone, and uses a lot of philosophical language, but the content is consistently simplistic if not downright stupid. It can’t be overused: he’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.

  27. freehand says

    Area Man, that last paragraph is eloquent and insightful. Conservatives’ inability and unwillingness to see themselves allows them to be hypocritical bullies, free of shame. Their use of rules(1) as the foundation for morality allows them to be cruel, for the morality of a Fundamentalist Christian (or pseudo-Libertarian) regards consent as irrelevant.
    .
    (1) Conveniently laid down by an all-powerful but invisible King.

  28. Childermass says

    If a liberal makes a career out of saying x is wrong and is destroying America and then is discovered do be doing x, then I will have no problem calling him a hypocrite. His ideology should not give him cover.

    Of course this is precisely why we attack the religious right for their sex scandals. They campaigned loudly about how horrible such behavior is, how immoral it is, and how destructive it is and they did what they called horrible, immoral, and destructive.

  29. dingojack says

    abb3w (#22) – “… a “libertarian” cluster, who were unusually low in sensitivity to all five [moral indexes].”

    So, libertarians are virtually amoral, colour me shocked!* :)
    Dingo
    ——–
    * seriously, I’d love to see how morality and political voting patterns corralate (or not, of course). .
    PS thanks for the reference I jhave been racking my brains for this paper for months.

  30. dogmeat says

    dogmeat – you forgot the part about hiring the second mistress onto the staff of the Speaker of the House, so she would be more available for sexual antics, thereby adding misappropriation of government funds for the sake of prostitution to your system of GOP morality.

    Too true, I did forget to mention that, thanks for catching my oops. ;o)

    My uncle fits into this mold rather well. A self-righteous conservative Republican prick who embezzled at least three hundred thousand dollars from my grandfather’s estate while denying his mother the “expense” of traveling down to Florida to visit her sister; “hiring” his kids to work for the estate, what they actually did, as far as we can tell, nothing; selling the family home to a friend at less than half the market value while pocketing a “broker’s fee;” all the while having an affair with an employee which it turned out wasn’t fully consensual. He was then furious when his sisters, discovering what he had done when the estate books didn’t add up when my grandmother died, “cheated” him out of his fair share of the proceeds while not filing criminal charges against him. But church? Oh the guy went to church every weekend.

  31. says

    abb3w;

    This:

    ‘Similarly, conservatives don’t see killing of two million out-group as as big a deal as liberals would”

    resonates with me.

    Of course I also see that where liberals and actual conservatives might see “In/Out” groupings the reactionary fuckwits who comprise the “deciders” in today’s GOP see US and livestock.

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