The “Conservatives Are Crazy” Study
Congressional investigators call for a new look at funding academic research.


Byron York

An academic study of conservatism that lumped together Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Ronald Reagan, and Rush Limbaugh was funded by federal grants, according to congressional investigators.

The study, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” was written by John T. Jost, a professor at Stanford University, Jack Glaser and Frank J. Sulloway, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and Arie W. Kruglanski, a professor at the University of Maryland. It was published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin.

Congressional investigators have found that the study was financed by $1.2 million in federal funds. According to the House Republican Study Committee, Kruglanski received National Institute of Mental Health grants totaling $976,762, Glaser received National Institute of Mental Health grants totaling $48,464, and Jost and Kruglanski together received an estimated $213,800 from the National Science Foundation.

The authors describe their work as an examination of “the hypotheses that political conservatism is significantly associated with (1) mental rigidity and closed-mindedness, including (a) increased dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity, (b) decreased cognitive complexity, (c) decreased openness to experience, (d) uncertainty avoidance, (e) personal needs for order and structure, and (f) need for cognitive closure; (2) lowered self-esteem; (3) fear, anger, and aggression; (4) pessimism, disgust, and contempt….We have argued that these motives are in fact related to one another psychologically, and our motivated social-cognitive perspective helps to integrate them.”

One of the more controversial assertions in the federally funded work is the authors’ argument that Hitler, Mussolini, Reagan, and Limbaugh share common traits as conservatives. “One is justified in referring to Hitler, Mussolini, Reagan, and Limbaugh as right-wing conservatives,” the authors write in a published adjunct to the study, “not because they share an opposition to ‘big government’ or a mythical, romanticized view of Aryan purity — they did not share these specific attitudes — but because they all preached a return to an idealized past and favored or condoned inequality in some form.”

Among the sources cited by the scholars in support of their conclusions are the works of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. For example, the authors write, “It has been observed that Republicans are far more single-mindedly and unambiguously aggressive in pursuing Democratic scandals (e.g. Whitewater, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair) than Democrats have been in pursuing Republican scandals (e.g. Iran Contra, Bush-Harken Energy, Halliburton). In commenting on the Republican ‘scandal machine,’ Krugman argued that, ‘there is a level of anger and hatred on the right that has at best a faint echo in the anti-globalization left, and none at all in mainstream liberalism. Indeed, all the liberals I know generally seem unwilling to face up to the nastiness of contemporary politics.’”

On another occasion, the authors cite Krugman on the legacy of Ronald Reagan. “[Reagan's] chief accomplishment,” they write, “in effect, was to roll back both the New Deal era and the 1960s, which was also the goal of former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and many other neo-conservatives often regarded as advocates of change. As Krugman observed in the context of current debates concerning the privatization of social security, ‘hard-line conservatives are determined to build a bridge back to the 1920s.’”

In an interview with National Review Online, Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney, who looked into the study and its funding, called the project “outrageous.”

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be required to pay for these things,” Feeney said. “If private universities, privately funded, want to study ridiculous hypotheses for political agendas, they have a right to do so, but when you are basically confiscating money from taxpayers to fund left-wing rhetoric and dress it up as scientific study, I think you have a real problem with credibility.”

The full text of the study can be found here. The adjunct, in which the authors address some objections to the study, can be found here.