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THE EXAMINED LIFE

Right mind

MOVE OVER, AL FRANKEN. A dense academic paper on the relationship between conservative political beliefs and mental habits like fear and aggression has got America's suspenders-and-bowtie crowd in an uproar.

Stanford business school professor John T. Jost and his coauthors may think that ``Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition'' (which appeared in the journal Psychological Bulletin in May) is simply a ``meta-analytic review'' of the bases of political conservatism. But according to the Sept. 1 issue of National Review, it's ``driveling,'' ``moronic,'' and ``crazy.''

The study, which analyzes decades' worth of social-scientific research from several countries, concludes that certain ``interrelated epistemic, existential, and ideological motives''–including fear, aggression, and need for order–predict whether a person holds politically conservative attitudes. The report cites Hitler and Ronald Reagan as examples, and suggests that its findings may help explain the George W. Bush pronunciamento, ``I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.''

Last month, the House Republican Study Committee griped that the papers' authors had received $1.2 million in federal research grants since 1995. ``When you are basically confiscating money from taxpayers to fund left-wing rhetoric ... I think you have a real problem with credibility,'' Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney told National Review Online.

The pundit George F. Will was more restrained. Apparently tickled that one of his best lines (``Conservatism is a demanding mistress and is giving me a migraine'') was used as the paper's epigraph, he noted that the responsible parties are ``professors''–a term he uses as a pejorative.

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