In the April issue of Prospect, David Goodhart champions Jonathan Haidt’s recent book The Righteous Mind as a potential “scientific manual for the movement that [he calls] post-liberalism,” and even “the last hope for European liberalism.” Haidt’s book is the culmination of many years’ research into moral judgement, which he believes to be driven primarily by emotions, rather than by rational reflection, as many philosophers have assumed. But what are the implications of this for liberal politics?
In short, Haidt thinks that liberals have lost touch with certain central dimensions of moral judgement: loyalty to the in-group, authority, and the sacred. This, Goodhart argues, is what makes Haidt’s research so important. We should, however, be cautious about drawing such hasty political conclusions from Haidt’s fascinating psychological work.
Haidt has done a tremendous amount to highlight the ways in which real-life moral thinking frequently fails to live up to the lofty standards imagined for it by philosophers. In one study, for example, Haidt and colleagues showed that subjects were more likely to pass harsh moral judgements on others when they took a survey in a room littered with empty pizza boxes than when they took it in a clean one. In another, they primed subjects to negatively respond to words like “o…