Matt Ridley: The psychology of libertarian views
... In recently published paper, Ravi Iyer from the University of Southern California, together with Dr. Haidt and other researchers at the data-collection platform YourMorals.org, dissect the personalities of those who describe themselves as libertarian. ...
... The study collated the results of 16 personality surveys and experiments completed by nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians who visited YourMorals.org. The researchers compared the libertarians to tens of thousands of self-identified liberals and conservatives. It was hardly surprising that the team found that libertarians strongly value liberty, especially the "negative liberty" of freedom from interference by others. Given the philosophy of their heroes, from John Locke and John Stuart Mill to Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, it also comes as no surprise that libertarians are also individualistic, stressing the right and the need for people to stand on their own two feet, rather than the duty of others, or government, to care for people.
Perhaps more intriguingly, when libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use "cold" calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed "effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks" more than others do.
The researchers found that libertarians had the most "masculine" psychological profile, while liberals had the most feminine, and these results held up even when they examined each gender separately, which "may explain why libertarianism appeals to men more than women."
All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values. ...
I think one of the biggest blind spots of libertarians is an assumption of hyper-rationality in how people make decisions. Libertarians are frequently perplexed at how "stupid" or irrational people are, yet they expect freedom to result in a society where everyone rationally pursues what is in their best interests. In that sense, I think liberals and libertarians have, as Jonathan Haidt suggests (The Righteous Mind), a narrower sense of morality than conservatives, focused on justice and freedom respectively. Haidt discovered that conservatives were much better at acurately percieving the motives and rationale of liberals than liberals were of conservatives. I suspect something similar is true for conservatives and libertarians.
I don't think people can be neatly divided into these groups and it is inaccurate to talk in monolithic terms. Still, I think there are proclivities and tendencies in evidence. What do you think?