Liberals Are as 'Obedient' to Authority as Conservatives


South Park

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.

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  1. “Conservative groups such as the U.S. Tea Party and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood”

    Don’t forget liberal groups like the Democratic party and government of North Korea.

    1. Touche

    2. This reminds me of an episode of one of those talking head political commentary shows years ago where Al Hunt referred to the old Soviet Union hard line communists as “right wingers”

    3. Hayek = North Korea?

      What a fucking idiot you are.

    4. Thank You!

  2. Here’s a good definition of a progressive: Someone who needs a study like this to give themselves permission to acknowledge the obvious.

  3. I really hate this study shit, it in no way changes my outlook on things and is insulting to my intelligence(albeit what little I have). Besides Heinlein succinctly pegged people years ago without this study.

  4. Chris Mooney call your office.

  5. Someone needed a study to figure out that libertarians don’t put a high value on altruism and respect for authority? Next they’ll need a study to prove water is wet.

    1. How are they defining “altruism” in these studies?

      Apart from the surviving Randians, I would suppose that libertarians were open to making voluntary charitable donations.

      1. How are they defining “altruism” in these studies?

        Good question. I assume it means using force in some way, like tax funded charity.
        Because if you don’t support something being done by force, then you don’t support it being done at all.

        1. Advocating forcing SOMEONE ELSE to provide something or do something doesn’t remotely resemble altruism to begin with.

          1. I think that was how Rand used it, actually – forced altruism. Often misquoted, that.

            Perhaps a few modifiers could have given her better PR, but probably not.

        2. Even if they aren’t using a definition that includes force, there are so many ways to ask that question that would elicit a ‘no’ answer from me – despite the volunteer hours and dollars I spend freely and happily.

      2. Tainted by association at the very least. I can tell you that when I hear altruism, I can expect a 75%+ chance of violence being involved.

        Same thing that happened to “liberal”.

      3. I would expect that libertarians give more to charity than “liberals”, and wouldn’t be surprised to see that they give more than “conservatives.”

        1. I would expect that libertarians give more to charity than “liberals”, and wouldn’t be surprised to see that they give more than “conservatives.”

          Liberals honestly feel they are “contributing” by getting laws passed to fund their favored programs.

          Conservatives give to churches.

          1. There’s actually nothing wrong with giving to churches, per se.

            Many of the churches in my neck of the woods do a great deal of charity, and help many people.

            It’s giving to places like the Vatican that’s bad.

      4. Auguste Comte defined altruism as the moral obligation to sacrifice something you value to others. Most charitable contributions by this definition would not qualify as altruism. If you value, say, cancer research and as a consequence contribute to the American Cancer Society, that is not altruism, because your are supporting something you value. You must give up something and not get anything in return–a true sacrifice.

        Altruism has been used to justify all dictatorships, crimes against humanity like the holocaust, mass starvations, etc. It is used to morally justify, in other words, all statism. It is the moral command that you must be willing to give up even your life to the group or the poor, or the elite, or whomever (as long as it is not something you do for yourself) if the folk so demands it of you. It is the exact opposite of individual rights.

        1. My definition of Alturism is to give up something to the benefit of others without an expectation of returns. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t inconvenience me, it’s the value to the recipient that matters.

          1. If you do something for a friend or a loved one, though, that is not altruism. That is enhancing the life of another because YOU value them.

            If you give something of value to someone you do not know or have any relationship with that is altruism. Altruist say that it is your moral obligation to give like that this. Your own personal values be damned. It is not true sacrifice if you give to someone you love, for instance.

        2. Comte’s definition is as bad as Rand’s definition of sacrifice.

          You would think someone who grew up in Russia would understand sacrifice from chess.

          A sacrifice is giving up something of value to gain something of greater value later on. Sacrifice a pawn to gain position, for example.

          1. That would be a gambit.

          2. If I give up some short term pleasures to study for a medical exam, that is not sacrifice, I do this for a long term value–the ability to practice medicine. that is something that I greatly value and want to do for myself. That is not sacrifice, that is acting out of individual interest.

            This is not the kind of “sacrifice” the communist demanded. They demanded sacrifice for the public good. They did not ask you to expect anything in the future, you should just feel good you are helping the group. Period. It is the root of most evils we see in the world.

            1. Right, but studying to become a doctor comes with an expectation of returns to oneself (becoming a doctor).

              The definition you’ve provided is idiosyncratic wrt how the word is used by people today. Here’s a definition:

              the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others

              With altruism, any returns on your action are purely a bonus; non-altruistic actions presume a benefit unto oneself.

            2. That’s why I always refused to bunt.

          3. BTW: Comte originated the word altruism.

          4. It may well be “as bad”. It was, however, the origin of the term as it is used in most philosophical discussions.

            Maybe we need another term for what most people generally practice, an unselfish act that returns both for the individual giving and those receiving. Goodwill?

        3. Altruism = the Holocaust.

          Interesting perspective.

        4. “Auguste Comte defined altruism as the moral obligation to sacrifice something you value to others.”
          David Wall Sir Dude Sir!!!
          You have spoken the Truth to us today, and Ah Thanks Ye Fer it! Truly!
          Vaguely shame-facedly, ah has to admit to you that I ams an admirer of Jesus H. Christ, actually? Semi-secretly? I hope that doesn’t put you off? But Jesus RAGGED sternly on self-righteousness! FAR more than he ever ragged against gays or whores or politically incorrect people! (Which was actually none, truth be told). If there was ONE thing we could just flat-out GIVE UP ON (sacrifice), that wouldn’t REALLY hurt us much if any? and would help this planet out a whole butt-load? It would simply be to sacrifice our self-righteousness! I’m working on it myself, I know it is hard? HOW does one call to the attention of others, that we should ALL be working on this, w/o being self-righteous about it? Now THAT paradox boggles my mind! But as M. Scott Peck said, any truly viable or vaguely complete view of life MUST admit paradox!

  6. s: You might nevertheless want to take a look at my 2010 article, “The Science of Libertarian Morality.”

    1. You SugarFree’d the link.

      1. That might have been the joke.

    2. All: Sorry. Here’s the link to the “Science of Libertarian Morality.”

    3. Is that you, Ron?

      If so, for the love of God learn the difference between flout and flaunt.

      “flaunting the orders of authorities”.


      When you flaunt yourself, your wealth, or your accomplishments, you’re parading them in front of people?showing off.

      “Flout” means “to disregard, scoff at, mock, or show scorn.” A rebel flouts rules and laws.

      1. I’m thinking we need knouting of lawmakers, not just flouting of laws.

  7. I’m actually a little surprised this study ever saw the light of day.

  8. Liberals Love Big Brother.

    Film at eleven.

  9. It is a truism among academics that political conservatives like to be ordered around.

    Considering the correlation between conservatism and rural places, and most of the rural people I’ve met in my life, this leads me to the conclusion that academics haven’t spent any time in the country.

    That conclusion also fits well with the bulk of the academics I’ve met.

    1. But if these rural people were making decisions for themselves, they’d vote for politicians approved by the academics. But they don’t always do so. Ergo, they are being ordered and manipulated to vote against their interests.

      1. False consciousness!

    2. Conservatives like to be ordered around. Just not by anyone currently alive.

      1. Ha Ha, good way to put it. Of course, hopefully they do that because of so many lessons learned in the past.

      2. By contrast, liberals want to be ordered around by people who are alive.

        They want to be slaves to *real people in the here and now*, instead of invisible all powerful bogeymen. That’s why they’re much more dangerous than conservatives.

  10. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

    “Social Psychology”, like most of what passes for sociology, is Determinist horseshit. It merely confirms the biases of the “Top Men” cult that if that they just seize enough power, and enforce enough of their preferences on people, humans will just become whatever is imposed upon them.

    We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.

    -O’Brien, Nineteen Eighty-Four

    1. Insightful and nuanced. Thanks for your input, CA.

    2. Social psychology is the science of studying how individuals behave in social situations. Granted there are a lot of psychologists who are deterministic–specifically radical behaviorist, but considerable knowledge has been gain from the field of social psychologist. For instance, I have used social psychology to develop teamwork, leadership training and improve cooperation in manufacturing environments my whole career.

      Your comment is uninformed.

      1. Team work? Leadership? Some rugged individualist you are.

      2. For instance, I have used social psychology to develop teamwork, leadership training and improve cooperation in manufacturing environments my whole career.

        So you used propaganda and manipulation to get people to do what you wanted them to do.


        1. So you used propaganda and manipulation to get people to do what you wanted them to do.

          Also known as “management”.

      3. Indeed. Social psychology is also quite useful for understanding the persuasion tactics of politicians. It’s crucial to deconstruct their manuevers so that we can expose the politicians as the used car salesmen that they are.

        1. Come on down to Crazy Al’s Crazy Greenhouse Gas Emporium!

  11. Q: Is uninformed truculence any better than blind obedience? I don’t think most parents would answer that question in the affirmative. It is important to ask what authority one seeks to rebel against and why in order to determine whether the rejection of authority is a legitimate one. My rejecting a person’s authority to lock me up for pot use is obviously different from my rejecting a person’s authority to lock me up for murder. If I’m consistent to principle, I will subordinate myself and my whims to the principle and therefore to the rightful executors of the principle. Obedience/disobedience seems rather pointless without a context in which they manifest.

    recent research suggests that libertarians are smarter than both liberals and conservatives

    Whatever confirms your prejudices, Bailey.

    1. IMT: Smart people don’t have prejudices. 🙂

  12. Even though this is yet another Ron Bailey patented report on a study from Bumfucksville U that tells him something he likes to hear, I don’t have a problem with the conclusion at first glance. It does not dispute the research that shows that conservatives are less tolerant of ambiguity and disorder. That is the more important distinction, imo, because deference to authority is a good thing as long as you choose the right authorities (science, for example). I also doubt that libertarians would be exempt from the tendency toward in-group loyalty (to authorities such as fringe economists and a good helping of right-wing propagandists).

    1. “Tony – imo, because deference to authority is a good thing as long as you choose the right authorities ”

      Truer words were never written.

      1. You can believe yourself to be the only good authority. But you might run into trouble should you ever be wrong about stuff.

      2. I hope this quote follows tony around like a djembe slapping hippy outside of the RNC.

  13. What we call “liberalism” (but is actually “tax-happy, coercion-addicted, power-tripping State-fellating”) has a strong sadomasochistic streak. Some “liberals” are drawn more to the “S,” while others more to the “M.” I lived for a long time in Manhattan, where the masochistic, self-hating “liberal” was more prominent: guilt-ridden, middle-, upper-middle and even upper-upper class “liberals” who seemed to want to be punished for their affluence. (“Tax me, Uncle Sam! Tax me, good and hard!”) The Far Left seems to be drawn more to the sadistic side: getting their jollies using the Mailed Fist of the State to force the rest of us into living, running our businesses and spending our money the way the lefties want us to. I call the first group the Eloi and the second group the Morlocks. Both Eloi and Morlocks have a strong authoritarian and authority-loving streak. It’s become more obvious since “Il Dufe” became president. That’s when, as one wag wrote, “liberals” began covering their “Question Authority” bumper-stickers with bumper stickers saying “Obey.”

    1. Dath,
      I think you hit the nail on the head. I am not a psychologist, but every die hard liberal I’ve known was a complete asshole trying to run my life and everybody else’s life, or they are masochistic to the point of where I would eventually lose all respect for them. In other words, they’re either a Hitler/Stalin type or a wannabe slave. Thinking was never a strong point for them, but the idea of obedience to an idea or a person was uniformly present their psyche. When this hypothesis of mine was introduced to them by me, denial was always the reply, usually vehemently. I think you have come across something very significant. Kudos.

  14. In other words, people listen to others if they tell them what they want to hear. Big surprise. Anyone with a 2-year old child knows this.

  15. “Preference for obedience is contextually bound.” No, shiite.

    Would it be too small a point to make that rebelling against the man carries profoundly different repercussions than rebelling against the preacher man. A conservative’s idea of rebellion is much different than that of a liberal. You know, putting spikes in trees and threatening to burn down Hobby Lobby. Conservatives obsess on the rule of law to the point of being kryptonite.

    1. Prog response: Oh yeah, what about the Crusades? Or imperialism? BOO YA teathuglikkkan faile!

  16. Prog voice: Obviously, this study was racist because liberals have hearts and care for other people while conservatives want to bring back sslavery and dmp oile in to teh oceans and kill all the Nemos because they hate brown people.

  17. ‘liberals,’ is a misnomer. they mostly hate liberty. try ‘leftists,’ instead.

  18. Another condescending article by a libertarian: Rather than address the criticisms of your ideology that are manifold, resort to a childish argument (“We’re more intelligent than you!”), without any substance whatsoever. Whilst the liberal respondents may have responded in such a way that was interpreted to be obedient to authority or not, it does not reflect the deferential dispositions of the political left as a whole.

    Nor does it reflect the overarching ideological position of libertarians: Emasculate the government to the point it cannot tackle corporate greed, fraud, or the inevitable abuse of workers (there is no such thing as democracy in the workplace in a libertarian economy); so long as the government aren’t involved, there must be liberty, otherwise — god forbid — libertarians may actually be proven wrong.

    1. So your first paragraph is a complaint that proper respect was not given for nuances of leftist’s positions.

      Your second paragraph then follows up with a dullard’s simplification of libertarianism.

      Bravo. You have mastered leftist logic, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with Tony.

  19. One would think the elections since 2008 would clearly and accurately reflect the current deferential dispositions of the political left as a whole. They are shown to be wrong on a daily basis. They can run but they cannot hide despite being the cockroaches they are.

    Another liberal spouting their contempt for freewill and misrepresenting Libertarianism with false premises and gems like…..”no such things as democracy..cannot tackle corporate greed (aka picking winners and loser)…fraud…yada yada bullshit.
    Are you naturally this intellectually dishonest or just that much of an ideologue.

  20. lets rephrase the title to “liberals want to be the authority”

  21. Just from his post above, I’m seeing “dandunne” as being more on the “S” wing of the Stat Cult than the “M” wing. Note theocratic desire to use Der Staat to punish the “sin” of greed (i.e., people making more money than he does, even if they do so without using force or fraud).

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