Political Psychology, Spring/Summer, Vol. 3, 1981-82, pp. 158-172.
CONSERVATISM AND MISANTHROPY
JOHN J. RAY
School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia
Before we can ask whether or not conservatives are characteristically misanthropic, we must also ask what is meant by "conservative." Whatever we take conservatism to mean, it is surely something much more than just adherence to the status quo or defense of some orthodoxy. In fact, the origin of the term "conservative" in British political life was as much abusive as anything else; it was a term of some derision applied to people with a particular set of beliefs. It just happened that the particular constellation of beliefs corresponded fairly closely to what was already considered accepted practice at the time. I would claim, however, that defense of the status quo is not the basic element of what we call a conservative attitude. In fact, there can be circumstances where a conservative advocates change. A strong conservative would, for instance, advocate that we allow private enterprise competitors to the Post Office. Given the steadily worsening service provided by our present postal monopoly, such an innovative step may be the only chance we have to get rid of the present bureaucratic inefficiency.
From my own research into people's attitudes, I have come to the Burkean conclusion that a conservative is, above all, someone who has a cynical or hardened view of humanity (see Ray, 1972a and 1974). Without condemning or disliking man, a conservative believes that man is predominantly selfish and cannot be trusted always to do good. Such a view indeed makes the conservative cautious about social change and has given rise to the perception that conservatism is merely opposition to any change. By contrast, our considerate radical or liberal believes that man is inherently good and that this goodness will ensure that no matter what you do with good intentions, the desired effects will in the end be achieved. A good example of this is the classical Marxist formula: "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need." The radical seems to assume that the very fact that you are giving goods and services to each according to his need will itself be enough to ensure that everybody produces all that he is able to produce. If man were naturally good, this would indeed be true. Unfortunately, it seems that even the Russians have found that man needs other incentives than those provided by moral suasion. As Bob Ellis (an Australian journalist) once put it rather pessimistically: " The Left-wing intellectual believes that people are the saints they ought to be rather than the slobs they really are." In Edmund Burke's (1790) terms, the conservative, by contrast, believes that man is "imperfectible."
This characteristic orientation towards man must, at least at first, seem to lay the conservative open to the charge that he is misanthropic or even paranoid. A little thought should suggest, however, that to be wary of man is not necessarily to dislike man. Mankind could be loved in spite of its faults. In fact, those who idealize man might be the ones with a problem. This is summed up in a popular poster saying: "I love humanity -- It's just people I can't stand." Even in current political debate the best claim to misanthropy does not seem to come from any conservative group as it would usually be conceived. There are surely few more misanthropic slogans than "People are pollution" yet this is the slogan of the otherwise radical-appearing zero population growth movement.
A priori considerations do not therefore lead us very far in deciding on whether or not conservatives are misanthropic. We need to do research on the question. The existing research, however, is rather disappointing. Rosenberg (1956) in his ground-breaking study saw a "faith in people" dimension as underlying much ideological variation and devised a scale to measure it. He applied this scale to college students and found that it "had little to do with being a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative (in the formal sense)" but that it did have to do with "a skepticism about freedom of speech and a willingness to suppress certain political and religious liberties" (p. 694). He also felt that misanthropy was one characteristic of authoritarianism in the Adorno et al. (1950) sense.
In Rosenberg (1957), the same author found that more aggressive and militaristic foreign policy was favoured by misanthropes. Readiness to place reliance on co-operation and mutual understanding as methods of settling international disputes was characteristic of those with high faith in people. Again the subjects studied were students. Using slightly different methodology, but again students as subjects, Worchel (1967) came to almost identical conclusions a decade later.
Perhaps the strongest rhetoric directed toward involving the conservative with misanthropy comes from Maccoby (1972). He, in fact, claims to show that conservatives are "necrophiliacs." This startling charge, though, conceals something of a neologism. Maccoby is referring not to disturbing the dead but to the love of dead things. He believes that conservatives do not like any living things at all -- let alone other men. Whether the items of Maccoby's "Biophilia" scale tap primarily attitude to life in general, however, is not at all clear.
Ray (1972a) found that "acceptance of aggression" (i.e., belief that aggression is an inevitable and natural part of human life) correlated both with conservatism of political party choice and with conservative ideology. Although this concept again was not exactly misanthropy, one could claim that there ought to be some a priori relationship between the two. This study did at least have the virtue of being carried out with a community rather than a student sample.
Finally, in another study using student subjects, Hicks (1974) found that conservatives were not less trustful of people, nor were they less socially responsible. A study by Hanson (1975) also found no relationship between dogmatism and misanthropy but since dogmatism is supposed to be unrelated to political ideology (Rokeach, 1960), this may not be very relevant to the concern of this paper.
Clearly, one of the major problems in the research so far has been sampling. Does what is true among available groups of American college students tell us much about the world at large? Obviously not necessarily. In fact variations in the structure of the different non-samples used could quite well in and of itself explain the variations in the results obtained. It is clearly time that a random community sample of some kind was resorted to. This, then, was the primary purpose behind the present study: To examine the correlation between conservatism and misanthropy among a random sample of an entire national population.
A second but more minor purpose of the present study was to give a thorough test to Rosenberg's hypothesis that misanthropy is an integral part of authoritarian attitudes in the sense of Adorno et al. (1950). It was thought to do this not only by using better sampling than had previously been used but also by employing a form of the Adorno F-Scale that controls for the old problem of acquiescence. Once the center of a mighty debate (see Christie, Havel, and Seidenberg, 1956), acquiescence has subsided to the role of a problem that most people now see as very minor. This should not, however, mislead us into thinking that the problem has gone away. In spite of the great onslaught by Rorer (1965), subsequent work (Peabody, 1966; Ray, 1979a; Ray and Pratt, 1979) still substantiates the role of acquiescence as a confounding variable, at least, in the authoritarianism/conservatism area. Fortunately, the final arrival of a balanced F-Scale that works (Ray, 1972b, 1979b) does make it unnecessary to speculate any longer. F-Scale type authoritarianism can now be measured without at the same time risking an acquiescence artifact.
Given the origin of the F-Scale as an attempt at covert measurement of Nazi-type personalities, Rosenberg's hypothesis that high F-scorers are also misanthropic is a rather obvious one. Deliberately wiping out six million people would seem to imply at least some misanthropy. It is, however, far from proven that the F-Scale does, in fact, index Nazi-type personalities (Ray, i976). Again, therefore, we have a relationship with misanthropy that cannot be assumed.
The sample used in this study was, in fact, a sample of a sample. The roughly 6,000 respondents in one of Australia's better known public opinion polls were sent a mail questionnaire as a follow-up. The response rate was 74% -- exceptionally high for a mail survey. Since large numbers were not required for the present research (beyond 200 subjects there are practically no gains in the statistical significance of correlations), a subsample of 201 from the available pool of over 4,600 completed questionnaires was taken. The subsample was, of course, itself drawn randomly from the deck of cards representing the larger sample. It is results from this subsample that are reported below.
No sample is perfect and the present one is no exception. A major problem with any sample is the volunteer artifact -- the fact that those who do not take part in the survey may quite conceivably differ considerably from those who do take part in their psychological and sociological characteristics. Most germane to the present inquiry, House and Wolf (1978) have even suggested that it is precisely those who do not take part in surveys who might be most misanthropic. Fortunately, however, House and Wolf found from their results that virtually the only predictor of non-response rates in different areas was the local crime rate. Nonresponse, in other words, is more a reflection of realistic fear than of misanthropy. Given the quite high response rate in the present survey (achieved by sending out several waves of questionnaires to nonresponders and the use of minor bribes), we can be reasonably confident that a fair range of variation in levels of misanthropy was, in fact, achieved.
The questionnaire that was sent out included the five items of the Rosenberg Misanthropy Scale plus two scales designed to measure social and economic conservatism respectively. This division of conservatism was out of deference to Lipset's (1960) contention that conservatism on economic issues is differently determined than conservatism on other issues. The items of both scales are listed in an appendix. Also included in the battery was the Ray (1972b) balanced "F" ("BF") Scale in its short form of 14 items. These items are also listed in the appendix.
Control for acquiescence was achieved by having each scale comprised of both "pro" and "anti" items. Respondents who tended to agree indiscriminately with items did not, thereby, automatically get a high score. Only in the case of the BF scale, however, was the balance between the two types of item exact. It may be noted that Block (1965) found that partial balancing was as effective as full balancing in eliminating the effects of acquiescence.
Aside from acquiescence, the other well-known type of response set is, of course, the social desirability response set. To control for this, a short form (Greenwald and Satow, 1970) of the Crowne and Marlowe (1964) approval motive scale was included in the battery. With such an independent measure of social desirability readily available, the effects of this response set can, if necessary, be removed by partial correlation or analysis of covariance.
Respondents were also asked their most probable vote if an election for the Australian Federal Parliament were held "today." Answers were scored "3" for a Right-wing vote (i.e., Country party, Liberal party, Democratic Labor party), "2" for a centrist vote (i.e., no preference or Australia party) and "1" for a Left-wing vote (i.e., Labor party, Communist party, or other fringe radical party).
Because reliability is considered a more critical attribute of a scale than reproducibility, Rosenberg's Misanthropy Scale was scored as a Likert rather than a Guttman scale. When this was done, the coefficient "alpha" reliability was found to be rather low. Removal of one bad item brought the reliability up to a still minimal .57. In a scale as short as four items, however, this does represent a highly satisfactory result from the point of view of item homogeneity. It may perhaps also be worth noting that House and Wolf (1978) also used a shortened form of this scale. It is not, of course, unusual for the suitability of scale items to change somewhat over time. See the appendix for the actual items used.
The reliabilities ("alpha") of the two conservatism scales were .83 and .84. The correlations between them and misanthropy were -.036 and -.020 -- neither of which is anywhere near significance. Voting intention was found to correlate .004 with scores on the misanthropy scale -- which could hardly be more nonsignificant. Neither in vote nor in ideology, therefore, were conservatives particularly misanthropic.
Scores on the Rosenberg Misanthropy Scale were found not to be contaminated with the social desirability response set (r = .010). They did, however, correlate significantly (on a one-tailed test only) with scores on the balanced F-Scale. The correlation of -.136 means that there was a faint tendency for individuals with authoritarian attitudes in the Adorno et al. (1950) sense to be misanthropic.
With this plethora of nonsignificant or barely significant correlations, one might be inclined to ask whether the Rosenberg scale is measuring anything at all. Is it valid as a measure of what it purports to measure? Fortunately, some test of this is available. As the present survey was a large one, there were several scales included for purposes other than those of the present paper. One of these was a sociability scale derived from the high loading items on this factor reported by Eysenck and Eysenck (1963). We would expect that misanthropy and sociability would be inversely related. The correlation actually observed between the two scales (- .239) was both in the expected direction and significant -- p < .01. This result suggests that the Rosenberg scale is not deficient in validity. If the correlation seems low in absolute terms, it should be noted that even the two conservatism scales correlated only .250. Again we find that apparently similar constructs need not always be very similar in reality. For what interest it might have, sociability itself correlated only - .077 with vote.
A final issue that it seems important to address in the analysis of the present results is the issue of suppressor variables. Rosenberg (1968, pp. 88-89) suggests that when we find little or no relationship between two variables and we suspect that under at least some conditions these two variables may be related, a suppressor variable may be at work. The difficulty in testing this possibility, however, is to specify the possible range of suppressor variables in any particular instance. As the full results of previous Australian postal surveys (Ray, 1982) using the present form of the Rosenberg scale show no relationship between this scale and the four basic demographic variables of age, sex, occupation, and education, it was felt that demographic variables could be ruled out a priori. This leaves personality and attitude variables as a possibility. As some test for these, the embedding of the present study in a larger survey again proved useful. The overall survey (Ray, 1980) included scales to measure (in addition to those already described): environmentalism, consumer consciousness, patriotism, sensation-seeking, experience-seeking, impulsiveness, success-orientation, task-orientation, fashion consciousness, upward mobility, frugality, and family cohesiveness. Of these, only patriotism and fashion consciousness related significantly to misanthropy. Misanthropes showed a very slight tendency not to think well of their country (r = -.154) and an almost equally slight tendency not to be interested in fashion (r = -.161). Controlling for these variables by means of partial correlation did not, however, serve to raise the correlations between misanthropy and the three measures of conservatism to significance. McNemar (1962, p. 166) has pointed out that it is invalid to partial out nonsignificant correlations, so partialling of all the other variables was not attempted. It may be concluded then that a fairly extensive search for suppressor variables has not revealed any which could explain the present finding of no relationship between misanthropy and conservatism.
This study has, of course, so far been concerned with misanthropy as it is distributed in the general population. Another analysis that might be of some subsidiary interest involves comparing people who score very high on Rosenberg's Misanthropy Scale with those who score very low -- extreme misanthropes versus extreme philanthropes. As a preliminary foray in this direction, the present sample was divided up into those who answered three or more of the four Rosenberg items in the misanthropic direction and those who answered three or more of the same items in the philanthropic direction. Those scoring in between were disregarded. There were 67 "misanthropes" and 27 "philanthropes" by this criterion. This preponderance of "misanthropes" would appear to represent yet another blow against the House and Wolf (1978) theory that misanthropes do not answer surveys. It was found, however, that on none of the three conservatism variables nor on the balanced F-scale did the two groups differ significantly.
Clearly in spite of the general association between F-Scale authoritarianism and conservatism, what is true of the one is not necessarily true of the other. The very slight tendency of authoritarians in the Adorno et al. (1950) sense to be misanthropic does not carry over into an association between misanthropy and any form of conservatism. As was intimated in the introduction to this paper, traditional conservative cynicism about human nature does not necessarily imply lack of liking for man or lack of trust in man. Misanthropy is no more characteristic of the conservative than of the socialist. Maccoby's (1972) characterization of the conservative as "necrophilic" is certainly not supported by the present evidence.
As conservatives generally seem to get something of a bad press in the social science literature, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the ability of the conservative to accept his fellow man while at the same time being alive to his faults could, in fact, be seen as a rather mature form of adjustment.
Although it is difficult for any study in the social sciences to be definitive, the present study would seem to have at least some claims in that direction. Not only does it employ a far more representative sample than most previous ones but precautions taken against acquiescent response set, social desirability response set, and the multi-factorial nature of conservatism itself were considerable.
A conservative interpretation of the present data would be that the conservative belief in the "imperfectibility" of man has been shown to be an outcome of realism rather than of misanthropy. To be wary of man, you only have to know him well. You do not have to be bitter and twisted about it.
One result that might be construed as rather encouraging from a methodological point of view is that the present study of a random population sample of Australians produced results that were fairly well in accord with results reported earlier (Rosenberg, 1956; Hicks, 1974) using available groups of American college students as subjects. To find any commonality between such diverse groups of subjects must add something to our confidence in the generalizability of the findings.
In a sense, the finding of no relationship between Rosenberg's Misanthropy Scale and measures of conservatism is as disappointing to me as it apparently was to Rosenberg -- but for a very different reason. Rosenberg thought that conservatives actually were misanthropic; I had doubts about what exactly his scale measures. On looking at the items of the scale, we see that as well as measuring outright dislike of one's fellow man, they also seem to reflect the cynicism and reluctance to trust that I have argued underlies conservative ideology. One can argue that it is not only Rosenberg's theory that has been upset by the present results but also mine. Not only do conservatives not dislike man, they do not even distrust him. Thus, even with a scale which, I would argue, is unfairly loaded against conservatives, they still cannot be shown to be misanthropic.
SCALE ITEMS USED IN STUDY
Respondents were asked how satisfied they personally were with each of the following items. Available answers were: Very Satisfied (scored 5), Satisfied (4), Indifferent (3), Dissatisfied (2), Very Dissatisfied (1). Items marked R were scored in reverse (1 for Very Satisfied, etc.).
1. Moves to liberalize abortion laws R
2. Moves to tighten censorship
3. Moves to legalize homosexuality R
4. Death penalty for committing murder
S. Stricter moral training for children
6. Easier availability of birth-control pills R
7. Moves to legalize marijuana smoking for adults R
8. Sex before marriage
9. Free love R
10. Stricter control on pornographic material
11. Marriage as part of our society
These items were responded to and scored in a similar manner as those for social conservatism.
1. Higher rates of tax on large income earners R
2. Cuts in government spending on pensions and other social service payments
3. Government control of all health insurance R
4. Power for the Federal Government to control prices R
5. Power for the Federal Government to control incomes R
6. A free dental service provided by the Government R
7. Government control of the big industries such as steel R
8. Cuts in tax rates for everybody
9. Power for the Government to control big businesses and monopolies
10. Doctors being allowed to work free of Government interference
11. A postal service run by free enterprise
12. The Government keeping out of business altogether
13. Development of Australia's natural resources being in the hands of the Government R
14. People doing more to help themselves instead of relying on Government handouts
15. The workers having an equal say in running the industry they work in. R
Items Used From the Rosenberg Misanthropy Scale
Responses were from "Strongly Agree" (Scored 5) to "Strongly Disagree" (1). Again a midpoint (3) was allowed as a response. Item 2 was deleted from the scoring after item analysis.
1. You cannot be too careful in your dealings with people R
2. Most people are more inclined to help others than to look out for themselves
3. If you do not watch yourself, people will take advantage of you R
4. No one is going to care much what happens to you when you get right down to it R
5. Human nature is basically co-operative
The Balanced "F" ("BF") Scale
This scale was administered and scored in a similar manner to the Rosenberg scale (above).
1. Homosexuality between consenting adults may be disagreeable but it should not be regarded as a crime R
2. Many of the radical ideas of today will be the accepted practices of tomorrow R
3. People who want to imprison or whip sex criminals are themselves sick R
4. It's all right for people to raise questions about even the most personal and private matters R
5. Insults to our honour are not always important enough to worry about
6. Sex crimes such as rape and attacks on children are signs of mental illness and such persons belong in hospitals rather than prisons R
7. Most honest people admit to themselves that they have sometimes hated their parents R
8. No sane, normal decent person would ever think of hurting a close friend or relative
9. Young people sometimes get rebellious ideas but as they grow up they ought to get over them and settle down
10. Sex crimes such as rape and attacks on children deserve more than imprisonment; such criminals ought to be publicly whipped or worse
11. Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn
12. What the young need most is strict discipline, rugged determination, and the will to work and fight for family and country
13. There is hardly anything lower than a person who does not feel great love, gratitude, and respect for his parents
14. Homosexuals are hardly better than sex criminals and ought to be severely punished
1. I am grateful to R.S. Wilson of Probe Pty. Ltd. for making these data available.
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Below is an update of a comment I posted on my "Dissecting Leftism" blog on August 31st., 2003 about the above article:
Dennis Prager makes a point about Left/Right differences that we often hear: "At the heart of liberalism is the naive belief that people are basically good. As a result of this belief, liberals rarely blame people for the evil they do. Instead, they blame economics, parents, capitalism, racism, and anything else that can let the individual off the hook"
Another of my published academic articles [The article above] presents some survey evidence on that claim. It is undoubtedly true that Leftists do usually talk as if we can trust the innate goodness of humankind to make their do-gooder programs work out in practice but do they really believe it? Is a different view of man really basic to who is Leftist and who is Rightist?
Rather surprisingly, my survey showed no relationship at all between a cynical view of man and whether or not you are conservative. People in the community at large who were cynical about human motivations were just as likely to be Leftist as conservative. That does tend to suggest that the "trusting" view of man sometimes expressed by Leftists is just a ploy to help them win arguments -- not something that they really believe. Leftists as well as Rightists realize that man is basically selfish but only conservatives regularly try to take realistic account of that in the policies they frame.
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