Review of “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition” (2003)


Arie W. Kruglanski (writer), Frank J. Sulloway (writer), Jack Glaser (writer), John T. Jost (writer).

Read in 2020.

An overview of theories on how political conservatism can serve specific psychological needs, and of the empirical support for each such theory. Observable empirical regularities are seen to explain why “specific psychological motives and processes (as independent variables)” lead to “particular ideological or political contents (as dependent variables)”.

[M]any of the theories we integrate suggest that motives to overcome fear, threat, and uncertainty may be associated with increased conservatism, and some of these motives should be more pronounced among members of disadvantaged and low-status groups. As a result, the disadvantaged might embrace right-wing ideologies under some circumstances to reduce fear, anxiety, dissonance, uncertainty, or instability (e.g., Jost, Pelham,S heldon, & Sullivan, 2003; Lane, 1962; Nias,1973), whereas the advantaged might gravitate toward conservatism for reasons of self-interest or social dominance (e.g., Centers, 1949; Sidanius & Ekehammar, 1979; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).

The authors find that the avoidance of uncertainty is particularly tied to a literally conservative resistance to change, while concerns with fear and threat are linked to the second core dimension of conservatism, the endorsement of inequality.

A lovely overview, though a child of its time. There’s more than one irrelevant quote from George W. Bush, and a curiously long aside on the political beliefs of Joseph Stalin as an apparently popular counterexample, but the commentary on mortality salience and the USA’s hard turn to the right after the attacks of 9/11 is cogent and relevant.

References here: The revolted hero, Soft drinks and ethical nihilism.

text non-fiction