Personal Morality Translated into Political Attitudes

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4341.htm)

The tension between individualists and collectivists was noted near the start of this book (2.2) as an example of people’s inherent diversity.  Similarly, people may be innately conservative or they may be inclined to be progressive in their attitudes towards change.  These are tendencies within a continuous spectrum of possible viewpoints.  And any one person might take up different positions according to the issue being considered.

Feelings can be very strong, particularly on the role of government in providing publicly-funded socio-economic benefits.  People see this as a moral issue, as described in a Northern Illinois University article: NIU sociologist Jeffrey Kidder leads new study that finds everyday tax talk is ‘morally charged’.  In democracies their attitudes translate into support for political parties, as shown in a Pew Research survey: Why people are rich and poor: Republicans and Democrats have very different views.

By choosing which politicians to support, or by indicating their acceptance or not of government policy, people’s moral attitudes are translated into political power.  They empower the politicians who take decisions on their behalf, and they might wish to advocate specific policies on some issues irrespective of the political party that they belong to.  Moral attitudes ultimately drive society’s decisions on many major questions:

  • Individualists don’t agree with paying taxes to the State for it to provide public services and welfare payments, whereas collectivists believe that to be morally right ( The specific policies are subject to political negotiation (6.7.1).
  • As A.C. Grayling explained, in an article entitled Ed Miliband is right and wrong about poverty, financial inequality is an “ethical consideration” separate from poverty; he noted that “In their examination of the question, The Spirit Level (2009), Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett make an unanswerable case for saying that excessive inequality heightens levels of distrust, anxiety, illness and over-consumption”.  Political policy towards inequality is discussed later (6.7.2).
  • People’s empathy with, and sense of moral duty towards, refugees can legitimise the political decisions ( to accept them and provide the necessary resources.  For example, a Guardian report in September 2015 was headed Cameron bows to pressure to let in more Syrian refugees.

There are numerous other aspects of political policy where people’s moral attitudes determine the support they give to the politicians who are entrusted with decision-making.