The Righteous Mind

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind.jpg
AuthorJonathan Haidt
CountryUnited States
SubjectSocial psychology, evolutionary psychology, political psychology, moral psychology
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
A simple graphic depicting survey data from the United States intended to support moral foundations theory.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a 2012 social psychology book by Jonathan Haidt, in which the author describes human morality as it relates to politics and religion.


In the first part of the book, the author uses research to demonstrate social intuitionism, how people's beliefs come primarily from their intuitions, and rational thought often comes after to justify initial beliefs. He cites David Hume and E. O. Wilson as thinkers who gave reason a relatively low estimation, as opposed to more popular thinkers who give reason a central place in moral cognition, such as Lawrence Kohlberg and his stages of moral reasoning.

In the second portion of the book, he presents moral foundations theory, and applies it to the political beliefs of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians in the US. Haidt argues that people are too quick to denigrate other points of view without giving those views full consideration, and attempts to reach common ground between liberals and conservatives. He makes the case in the book for morality having multiple foundations (more than just harm and fairness), and said in an interview that morality "is at least six things, and probably a lot more than that"[1]: 8:55  and "[religion and politics are]…expressions of our tribal, groupish, righteous nature."[1]: 13:06  Haidt himself acknowledges that while he has been a liberal all his life,[2] he is now more open to other points of view.[3]

In the third part of the book, Haidt describes a hypothetical "hive switch", which turns a selfish human "chimp" into a "groupish" human "bee", Cultures and organizations have techniques for getting people to identify with their groups, such as dancing, moving, and singing in unison.

Key concepts and scholars discussed[edit]


The book received mostly (though not uniformly) positive reviews and was #6 on The New York Times Best Seller list for non-fiction in April 2012.[4]

Journalistic reception[edit]

William Saletan wrote in The New York Times:[3]

It's a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself.

The book received two reviews in The Guardian: Ian Birrell called the book a "compelling study of the morality of those on the left and right [that] reaches some surprising conclusions";[5] and Nicholas Lezard wrote that he was "in the odd position of being wary of a book I am also recommending. It's entertaining, snappily written and thought-provoking. It might even help Labour win the next election. But it still doesn't explain the gang running the country at the moment [the UK Conservative Party]."[6]

Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a review of The Righteous Mind in which he accused Haidt of supporting "social Darwinism".[7] In his response, Haidt disagreed with this interpretation of the book, claiming that Hedges took quotations from conservatives and inappropriately attributed them to Haidt.[8]

In an expanded version of an academic review, social psychologist John Jost wrote that "Haidt's book is creative, interesting, and provocative.... The book shines a new light on moral psychology and presents a bold, confrontational message. From a scientific perspective, however, I worry that his theory raises more questions than it answers." Jost criticized Haidt for what he perceived as showing more empathy for why conservatives hold their views than for why liberals do, and said Haidt "mocks the liberal vision of a tolerant, pluralistic, civil society, but, ironically, this is precisely where he wants to end up."[9]

Academic reviews[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind" (MP3). Point of Inquiry (podcast). Center for Inquiry. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Jonathan Haidt on the Righteous Mind". Econtalk.
  3. ^ a b Saletan, William (March 23, 2012). "Why Won't They Listen? 'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
  4. ^ "Best Sellers". The New York Times. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  5. ^ Birrell, Ian (22 April 2012). "The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  6. ^ Lezard, Nicholas (7 May 2013). "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  7. ^ Hedges, Chris (June 28, 2012). "The Righteous Road to Ruin". Truthdig. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  8. ^ Haidt, Jonathan (July 1, 2012). "Chris Hedges Joins the Tea Party". The Righteous Mind. Retrieved 2019-07-19.
  9. ^ Jost, John T. "Left and Right, Right and Wrong: The Politics of Morality" (PDF). Monkey Cage. Retrieved 2019-07-19.

External links[edit]