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Irving Kristol’s quip that “A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality” gains empirical support :

For people who feel psychologically all at sea, the conservative values of authority, order and tradition provide a comforting anchor. That’s according to psychologists who further argue that a psychological threat, for example in the form of injustice or reminders of mortality, can even turn a liberal-minded person temporarily into a conservative—a response they call “defensive conservatism”.

Across three studies, Paul Nail and colleagues tested the conservatism and liberalism of students before and after subjecting them to a threat. Their consistent finding was that a threat turned liberal students into conservatives . . . .

“We believe that political conservatism has psychological properties that make it particularly appealing when vulnerability is dispositionally or situationally salient,” the researchers said. “Moreover, defensive conservatism appears to be a general psychological response to vulnerability that is not necessarily strategically linked to the eliciting threats.”

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