In today's NRO, Jonah Goldberg hits the nail on the head regarding Justice Ginsburg's use of the term "conservative," a point I've been making for quite a while, albeit not as eloquently as Goldberg.
Many strident liberals can have conservative temperaments, and many philosophical conservatives can have private lives that make a brothel during Fleet Week seem like a retirement-home chess club. Conservatives in America love the free market, which is the greatest source of change in human history. Liberals, alleged lovers of change and “progress,” often champion an agenda dedicated to preserving the past. Just consider how much of the Democratic party’s rhetoric is dedicated to preserving a policy regime implemented by Franklin Roosevelt nearly 80 years ago.
You can also be conservative with respect to a given institution while being un-conservative in every other respect. The most ardent Communists in the Chinese or Cuban politburos are often described as “conservatives.”
This might be news to the authors of a recent article titled "Low Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism," and recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Basically they tested people while intoxicated, under time stress, or otherwise cognitively distracted, and found that people under these conditions are more likely to give conservative answers on their questionnaires. Conservatives, that is, are more likely to reach opinions based on low complexity thinking.
'When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient,' the researchers write in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 'These conditions promote conservative ideology.'
Frankly, I'm not all that impressed. They operationalize "conservatism" as “an emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and a preference for the status quo.” All but the first seem to me to be too broad to be terribly meaningful at least when it comes to what modern conservatism actually is.
Goldberg's point is relevant here because much like Justice Ginsburg, the authors of this study are not using a useful definition. It's hard to judge without having their questionnaires in front of me, but I have to wonder which viewpoints they considered "conservative." After all, if we define support for hierarchy and the status quo in our definition of "conservative," then we have a problem on our hands. On this definition, the conservative answer to the question "do you support single payer health care?" is an unequivocal yes in Great Britain, and an unflinching no in the US. Similarly, the conservative answer to "do you believe Medicare should be restructured/abolished?" would have to be no, as this supports the current status quo, despite general acceptance among conservatives that something has to be done to fix entitlements. This just looks it's just psychologists spending grant money on telling us what we already know: people don't like it when their world gets shaken up.