Protecting the First “Little Platoon”

The Righteous Mind - Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Jonathan HaidtPantheon Books, 2012; 448 pages, $28.95 “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” So wrote the Whig statesman Edmund Burke in his landmark Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). More than 200 years later, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the 21st-century moral attitudes that protect “the little platoons”—family, neighborhood, church, local community—in modern America and those that shatter those platoons into deracinated individuals. To be sure, Haidt looks at much more than the fate of society’s “little platoons” in his analysis of moral intuitions guiding modern Americans. He examines the frequency with which people reach a very quick moral judgment but then labor to develop some rational theory to justify it, surveys striking differences separating typical Americans from typical Indians, and probes the role of the senses in affecting our moral judgments. Still, very early in his exposition, Haidt introduces the pivotal distinction between a moral perspective that is “sociocentric . . . placing the needs of groups and institutions first, and subordinating the needs of individuals” and a moral perspective that is “individualistic . . . at the center and makes society a servant of the individual.” The consequences of this profound distinction will matter a great deal to readers who cherish the family as the most immediate and important “little platoon.” Beginning the research that culminated in this book as a partisan liberal, Haidt was initially committed to an individualistic and rational morality resting on “secular, questioning, and egalitarian” premises and strongly hostile to “authority, hierarc
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