This book proposes a structural theory of social attitudes, presents the empirical evidence for the theory, and defines and explores liberalism and conservatism and the justification for associating social attitudes with these terms. The core ideas are that the structure of social attitudes, those sets of beliefs about social "objects" or referents shared by many or most people of a society, is basically dualistic rather than bipolar, and that the referents of social attitudes are differentially criterial to individuals and groups of individuals. The commonly held belief that social attitudes are polarized, with liberal beliefs at one end of a continuum and conservative beliefs at the other end, is questioned. Instead, liberalism and conservatism are conceived as separate and independent sets of beliefs. The book will elaborate and explain these statements and bring evidence to bear on their empirical validity.
Most of the research described in the book was conceived to test aspects of the above theoretical ideas. Its results, however, may have independent value. It describes, for example, factors of social attitudes that can be used in psychological and sociological research with other variables. It also suggests that social attitudes can be measured using what I call the referents (objects) of social attitudes as items, for example, profits, religion, private property, equality, blacks, and labor unions. Scales using such referents as items have been found to be reliable and factorially valid. Moreover, the factors formed by the referents—Economic Conservatism and Sexual Freedom, for instance—may be important attitude variables. The research also shows that the well-known rubrics liberalism and conservatism have empirical meaning in the sense that social attitude factors are usually clearly identifiable as liberal or conservative (but not both). Therefore the research may have scientific and practical value apart from the criterial referents theory.
An overview of the organization and contents of the book may be helpful. The book begins with a general discussion of social attitudes and their theoretical and practical importance in the context of Fleming's conception of "attitude man." In addition, the questions to which research answers are sought are also asked in Chapter 1.
In Chapter 2, liberalism and conservatism, the book's chief concepts or latent variables, are defined and explained. The treatment is historical and . . .