It is a truism among academics that political conservatives like to be ordered around. A new study, "Political Conservatives' Affinity for Obedience to Authority is Loyal, Not Blind," published by researchers from the University of Winnipeg in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looks more deeply at how "obedience" works among conservative and liberals. One confounding problem they discover with prior research is that when researchers simply ask people about how to respond to "authorities," research subjects typically infer "authority" means "conservative authority."
To get around this problem, the researchers ask subjects sorted along the typical two-axis political spectrum how they feel about being obedient to specific authorities. Guess what? It turns out that conservatives think that people should obey conservative authorities, e.g. religious leaders and traditions, whereas liberals think that people should obey liberal authorities, e.g. civil rights leaders and environmentalists. Shocking, no?
The study concludes:
The findings suggest that obedience itself is not ideologically divisive. Counter to the intuition that obedience itself is a mode of conduct that conservatives preferentially champion, these data suggest that liberals and conservatives have the same sentiments about obedience. Conservatives only favor obedience when they perceive the authority to be a conservative. Liberals also favor obedience when the authority shares their ideology…
[T]he Occupy Wall Street movement justified ignoring police and court orders on the grounds of justice, democracy, and protection of individual rights. Conservative groups such as the U.S. Tea Party and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood too have challenged authorities. Both liberals and conservatives have the moral psychology for flaunting the orders of authorities. Preference for obedience is contextually bound; both liberals and conservatives call for rebellion when the authorities are from the "other team."
By the way, some earlier research finds that
libertarians appear to live in a world where traditional moral concerns (e.g., altruism, respect for authority) are not assigned much importance.
In addition, recent research suggests that libertarians are smarter than both liberals and conservatives.