The moral foundations of Occupy Wall Street

The foundations are like the taste receptors on the tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Each culinary culture creates its own unique cuisine using some combination of these tastes, including elements that lack immediate appeal on their own, such as bitterness. Similarly, each political movement bases its claims on a particular configuration of moral foundations. It would be awfully hard to rally people to your cause without making any reference to care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, or sanctity.

My colleagues and I found that political liberals tend to rely primarily on the moral foundation of care/harm, followed by fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression. They are very concerned about victims of oppression, but they rarely make moral appeals based on loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, or sanctity/degradation. Social conservatives, in contrast, use all six foundations. They are less concerned than liberals about harm but much more concerned about the moral foundations that bind groups and nations together, i.e., loyalty (patriotism), authority (law and order, traditional families), and sanctity (the Bible, God, the flag as a sacred object). Libertarians, true to their name, value liberty more than anyone else, and they value it far more than any other foundation. (You can read our complete research findings at

So what is the mix of moral foundations at Occupy Wall Street (OWS)? In my visit to Zuccotti Park, it was clear that the main moral foundation of OWS is fairness, followed by care and liberty. Loyalty, authority, and sanctity, by contrast, were very little in evidence.