Depending on one's ideology this may seem either obvious or
counterintuitive but that is what a powerful set of five successive
studies has found.
Laura Niemi & Liane Young, Caring across Boundaries versus Keeping Boundaries Intact: Links between Moral Values and Interpersonal Orientations. PLoS ONE 2013. Open access → LINK
Prior work has established robust
diversity in the extent to which different moral values are endorsed.
Some people focus on values related to caring and fairness, whereas
others assign additional moral weight to ingroup loyalty, respect for
authority and established hierarchies, and purity concerns. Five studies
explore associations between endorsement of distinct moral values and a
suite of interpersonal orientations: Machiavellianism, prosocial
resource distribution, Social Dominance Orientation, and reported
likelihood of helping and not helping kin and close friends versus
acquaintances and neighbors. We found that Machiavellianism (Studies 1,
3, 4, 5) (e.g., amorality, controlling and status-seeking behaviors) and
Social Dominance Orientation (Study 4) were negatively associated with
caring values, and positively associated with valuation of authority.
Those higher in caring values were more likely to choose prosocial
resource distributions (Studies 2, 3, 4) and to report reduced
likelihood of failing to help kin/close friends or acquaintances (Study
4). Finally, greater likelihood of helping acquaintances was positively
associated with all moral values tested except authority values (Study
4). The current work offers a novel approach to characterizing moral
values and reveals a striking divergence between two kinds of moral
values in particular: caring values and authority values. Caring values
were positively linked with prosociality and negatively associated with
Machiavellianism, whereas authority values were positively associated
with Machiavellianism and Social Dominance Orientation.
A synthesis of the results of the five studies is presented in figure 2:
|Figure 2. Summary of correlations observed across all studies.|
Each square represents an observation of a significant partial correlation (politics, religion, and gender controlled). Each circle
represents an observation of a significant zero-order correlation.
Study (#) indicated on each circle/square. Moral values are color-coded.
"Mach" means Machiavellianism and "SDO" means social dominance orientation,
which are clearly and positively correlated among them, via the same
set of "group values" (ingroup loyalty, authority and purity). Instead
helping those close to oneself and prosocial distribution are very
positively correlated among them and associated with the "humanist
values" or caring and fairness.
This is very much counterintuitive, especially as the authors use the
term "individualizing" for the caring and fairness values, which makes
absolutely no sense to me, as individualism means selfishness and
aloofness, even misanthropy. Hence I replaced that term for "humanist"
although I also pondered "personalist" (as the person can be something
more whole and socially connected than the individual).
The produce of the two sets of values is even more at odds with the concept individualism. In fact it is the group
(or "binding and dividing") value people who actually strive for social
dominance and favor Machiavellianism. This is because they do not think
in the group as extensive but as intensive and almost certainly as tool
for their own individualist selfish goals.
Most interpersonal behavior requires
individuals to balance selfish motivation with prosocial motivation –
to be a positive social partner who helps other people. These
orientations are not mutually exclusive – care for the self is at times
necessary to enable care for others. However, for some individuals, a
motivation to dominate or exploit the group for selfish aims,
measureable as Machiavellianism  or Social Dominance Orientation , may take precedence. Individuals
high in Machiavellianism (“Machs”) admit to employing manipulation and
deception to achieve power, status, control, and financial success .
These goals require successful management of group relations, which
may in turn shed light on the paradoxical nature of Machiavellianism. Machs are often described as socially skilled, well-liked, popular, and excellent at building alliances , but they are also subclinically psychopathic  and exploitative of others' trust , .
Machiavellian negotiation of relationships and social structures for
personal gain may benefit from a moral stance that elevates values like
loyalty and deference to authority. More specifically, these values are
critical for the preservation of existing social order but largely
insensitive to concerns about caring and fairness. Moralization of these
values – alongside relative indifference to caring and fairness values
– could facilitate strategic hierarchy management while freeing the
individual to feel morally justified in engaging in manipulative or
Subclinically psychopathic is a most revealing concept. I have often though of this as a real social problem of first order. The subclinicality
may only be because psychiatry has established a boundary not to touch
the powerful, what would be playing with fire. But, as we will see
below, there is more to it.
What happens with social dominance orientation?
Relatedly, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is characterized by a desire for inequality and a tendency to categorize people along a hierarchical “superior-inferior dimension” . SDO,
like Machiavellianism, has been found to predict various antisocial
outcomes, including explicit racism and sexism as well as reduced
empathy and concern for others , , .
While SDO has previously been identified as negatively correlated with
individualizing values and positively correlated with binding values ,
SDO has not yet received attention for its potential positive
connection with binding values when political orientation is controlled.
Since an orientation towards social dominance requires a strict
hierarchical worldview, a positive correlation between SDO and authority
values, regardless of political orientation, would be predicted .
Later in the discussion they turn back to "Machs":
What could account for the positive
relationship between respect for authority and Machiavellianism, an
antisocial interpersonal style associated with strategic manipulation?
Indeed, Machs have been shown to lie more convincingly , steal more readily , and rationalize deeds with callous unemotionality . To provide the foundation for two potential explanations for this surprising relationship, we first describe two
relevant aspects of Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism and
psychopathy are distinct in relation to social norm processing, and (2)
Machs are likely to be dominant individuals in positions of authority.
Next, we propose two potential explanations for the positive
relationships between moral valuation of respect for authority and
Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism may entail moralization of
respect for authority for a variety of strategic reasons, and (2)
authority values may license Machiavellian behavior.
Discussing the subtle differences between Machiavellianism and outright psychopathy:
Although Machiavellianism is characterized by selfishness and shares some overlap with psychopathy , Machs are not necessarily aloof and unconcerned with social norms. Instead, the ability to manipulate others may actually benefit from a keen sensitivity to norms that govern social structure.
Instead most clinical psychopaths tend to be aloof.
Another key difference is that Machs are highly sensitive to punishment,
while again true psychopaths may be somewhat indifferent to this social
corrector, so Machs retreat and even give away profusely in order to
avoid this outcome.
Machiavellianism is also clearly related to dominance and control and, therefore to respect for authority:
In addition to being hyper-attuned to social structure, Machs are also likely to reside at the top of those structures in positions of authority.
Machiavellian-style social climbing tactics (e.g., manipulation and
deception) are more likely to be used by individuals high in dominance
and well-equipped to assume authority over others .
Likewise, Machiavellian supervisors in a range of business sectors
have been described by subordinates as employing authoritarian work
habits involving strict control over a hierarchical workplace structure
individuals who recognize they can personally benefit from “working
the system” from a position of authority – rather than attempting to
make the system work for all – Machs may be more likely to identify
respect for authority as relevant or even central to their concepts of
“right and wrong”.
Ironically Machiavellianism finds in authoritarianism a self-serving
morality. Being able to play the game and climb to the top, Machs
clearly benefit from such respect to authority themselves and will
spread the word among their subordinates. It also helps themselves to
self-regulate their behavior in ways that are within the boundaries of
the game, yet still selfish. Accepting others' authority acts as
self-protection and gives them a moral varnish, internalizing these
values allows them more easily to perform their flattery and igratiation climbing tactics (otherwise probably perceived as humiliation).
The authoritarian ethics
seem also useful in order to condone
otherwise anti-social behaviors such as cheating, graft or torture.
Other recent studies have shown that individuals
primed to feel high in power – that is, closer to “authority figure”
status – were more likely to endorse unethical and antisocial behavior , 
Something I really miss in this study is the proportion of tendencies
among the studied group, which could reflect general distribution in
society. While the statistical correlations are systematically produced
the proportion and intensity of the values of the actual human sample is
The authors assume that the prosocial values are generally desirable but
in reality what I have found way too often is that many people,
especially those in intermediate command positions or with a career to
develop, experience serious contradictions between the "official"
prosocial or humanist ethics and the "unofficial" but very real
Machiavellian one. I would even say that they often feel emotionally
broken by this contradiction. And this "they" at least sometimes becomes
"we" and "I", so painfully.
It would certainly be interesting to study this contradictory social and psychological reality, even cross-culturally.
In any case this study does produce some very interesting data that
should be most valuable for future and more comprehensive research. It
also produces very important information for our meditations on our
social and personal reality, and certainly it also applies to past
realities, at least since society became complex and hierarchical.