Revisiting Tomkins’ Polarity Theory: How Humanism and Normativism Shape Political Ideology
According to Silvan Tomkins’ (1963, 1965) Polarity Theory, all ideologies are polarized by a fundamental conflict between Humanism, which idealizes and glorifies humanity, and Normativism, which portrays human beings as inherently worthless and able to attain value only through achievement of external norms. Research has shown that Humanism and Normativism do indeed form two coherent and negatively related worldviews that encompass attitudes about human nature, society, morality, affect, and epistemology. They are also, as Tomkins hypothesized, closely related to left-wing and right-wing ideology, respectively, although Polarity Theory is seldom incorporated in empirical research on political ideology today. Here we seek to illustrate how Humanism and Normativism can help to enrich and unify the study of the psychological underpinnings of political ideology. Using data from both Sweden and the US, we demonstrate that Humanism is associated with left-wing identification through moral concerns about fairness and the avoidance of harm and preference for equality, whereas normativism is associated with right-wing identification through moral concerns for ingroup, authority, and purity, system justification motivation, and resistance to change. We also present data on how Humanism and Normativism are related to Social Dominance Orientation, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, dangerous-world and competitive-jungle beliefs, existential and epistemic motivation, as well as personality traits, and we conclude by discussing how these results fit into the larger picture of political ideology that is developing in the field today.
- polarity theory
Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology