Personality & Individual Differences Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 731-732, 1987

Conservatism and attitude to love: an empirical rebuttal of Eisler and Loye


School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney, Australia

(Received 21 April 1986)

Summary -- Eisler and Loye propose that there is an age-old polarity underlying contemporary liberal-conservative differences. They identify this as affectionate, linking attitudes versus hierarchical, aggressive attitudes. These are also linked to sexual equality/inequality. There are however other previous proposals for what underlies the Right-Left division and the evidence advanced for their case by Eisler and Loye seems to consist principally of quotations from past 'authorities' (philosophers, historians, feminists etc.). Empirical evidence from contemporary society is lacking. To remedy this deficit, the Munro-Adams Love-attitude Scale was administered together with four scales of conservatism to a random postal sample of 377 Australians. By far the most love-oriented people were moral conservatives -- people who reject sexual permissiveness. The results are then quite the opposite of what the Eisler and Love theory requires.


Eisler and Loye (1983) put forward the simplifying thesis that some sort of Right-Left division in politics is age-old and that the essence of the division is a contest between preference for hierarchy and a preference for human linking. Their theory is, however, only the latest of many theories that have tried to capture the essence of the Right-Left division. Fromm and his followers postulate that the fundamental contrast is between preference for living versus non-living things (Maccoby, 1972) while another theory traceable as far back as Edmund Burke is that trust versus cynicism about human nature is the essential difference (Ray, 1981/82). These theories are obviously not the same and a critical examination of the new entrant does therefore seem called for. Rather than attempting a comprehensive review of the Eisler and Loye theory, the present paper will simply point out some evidential weaknesses in the theory as so far presented.

As a preliminary, it should be noted that much of the evidence used by Eisler and Loye is very non-rigorous and would not seem to be of a kind normally acceptable to scientifically-oriented psychologists. An important, indeed central, part of the Eisler and Loye theory is the intimate connection between sexual inequality and various other forms of social injustice. While this seems plausible, the main evidence advanced for the thesis is the words of past commentators on the subject -- such as J. S. Mill, Marx and Engels, Tristan, Fourier. Since there is no shortage of eccentric opinions in the world, this is surely exceptionally weak evidence of anything. The opinions of two historians (Roszak and Rattray-Taylor) are also referred to as is a finding from an anthropological study of pre-literate cultures. Apocryphal scriptures from early Christian times are also referred to but the only evidence of the postulated relationship derived from a study of modern Western society that the authors give is the much discredited work of Else Frenkel-Brunswik and her associates (Adorno Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford, 1950). See Ray (1976) and Altemeyer (1981). It is also curious that the Adorno et al. work is referred to under the heading "New findings from Social Science". New? Finally, Eisler and Loye turn to speculative reconstructions of earliest human prehistory by certain archaeologists. More rigorous and more contemporary evidence is obviously sorely needed if the theory is to be taken seriously.

At the heart of the theory is the claim that soft, 'linking' attitudes are opposed to conservatism in its various guises. Soft, linking attitudes are said to be at the heart of liberalism whilst hierarchical, aggressive attitudes are at the heart of conservatism. A contemporary test of this theory would therefore be to see who are the most love-oriented, liberals or conservatives. Love is surely the quintessential type of soft, linking attitude so belief and trust in it should be at the heart of any test of the Eisler and Loye theory.

As it happens, some evidence with direct bearing on this hypothesis was gathered by this author in 1979. As it has so far been circulated only privately, it seems opportune to describe it here.


The data on attitude to love were gathered by use of the Munro and Adams (1978) Scale as part of a larger survey primarily concerned with the measurement of conservatism. Only the Munro-Adams Scale data has so far gone unreported. The main findings regarding conservatism have been given elsewhere (Ray, 1982, 1983 and 1984). To avoid more repetition, therefore, only brief methodological details will be given here.

A mail-out sample of 377 respondents was obtained by sending questionnaires to people chosen at random from the voter registration lists of the Australian States of Queensland and New South Wales. Voter registration in Australia is universal and compulsory for all adult citizens so the sampling frame was unusually comprehensive.

Given one main thrust of the study, conservatism was measured in a particularly careful way. Not one but four scales were used. The first three were designed to measure conservatism on moral issues (permissive versus traditional stances on sex-related issues), on economic issues and on general social issues. The fourth measured what was general to the first three.

The Munro-Adams scale was used as published with seven response-options per item. It contains three sub-scales of Romantic Love, Romantic Power and Conjugal love.

Table 1. Correlations between conservatism and attitude to love among 377 Australians

...........................................Conjugal...Romantic....Romantic.....Overall Love

Social conservatives..............0.192........0.120..........0.210..............0.223
Moral conservatives...............0.288........0.323..........0.393..............0.432
Economic conservatives........-0.085.......-0.174.........-0.153.............-0.178
General conservatives............0.242........0.236..........0.338..............0.353

Correlations above 0.110 are significant < 0.05.


The correlations observed between the scales are given in Table 1. It will be seen that the strongest predictor of attitude to love was moral conservatism. The impermissive, conservative killjoys believed and trusted in the power of love much more than did the progressive, permissive liberals. This is the exact opposite of the Eisler and Loye hypothesis. Other measures of conservatism yielded similar results with the exception of economic conservatism. It must be recollected, however, that Lipset (1960) presents evidence in support of the view that conservatism on economic issues is determined not by general ideology but by economic self-interest. This scale is, then, the one of least use in assessing general or overall ideology -- which is what the Eisler and Loye theory is concerned with. It is concluded then that only the subjective type of 'evidence' upon which they rely enabled Eisler and Loye to come to the conclusions they did. More rigorous and more contempory evidence leads to a conclusion opposite to theirs. It is conservatives who are love-oriented, not liberals.


Adorno T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik E., Levinson D. J. and Sanford R. N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality Harper, New York.

Altemeyer R. A. (1981) Right-wing Authoritarianism. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg.

Eisler R. and Loye D. (1983) The "failure" of Liberalism: a reassessment of ideology from a new feminine-masculine perspective. Political Psychology 4, 375-392.

Lipset S. M. (1960) Political Man Doubleday, New York.

Maccoby M. (1972) Emotional attitudes and political choices. Politics & Society 2, 209-241.

Munro B. and Adams G. R. (1978) Love American style: a test of role structure theory on changes in attitude to love. Human Relations 31, 215-228.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1981) Conservatism and misanthropy. Political Psychology 3(1/2), 158-172.

Ray, J.J. (1982) Climate and conservatism in Australia. Journal of Social Psychology, 117, 297-298.

Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.


For a report of other aspects of this survey, see also:

Ray, J.J. (1985) Conservatives, permissives and love. Quadrant 29(1 2), 39-40.

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