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The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won't Admit It
Weeden, Jason and Robert Kurzban
Princeton University Press / Softcover / 2016-08-01 / 0691173249
Social & Political Issues / Cognitive Science
price: $28.95 (may be subject to change)
376 pages
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When it comes to politics, we often perceive our own beliefs as fair and socially beneficial, while seeing opposing views as merely self-serving. But in fact most political views are governed by self-interest, even if we usually don't realize it. Challenging our fiercely held notions about what motivates us politically, this book explores how self-interest divides the public on a host of hot-button issues, from abortion and the legalization of marijuana to same-sex marriage, immigration, affirmative action, and income redistribution.

Expanding the notion of interests beyond simple economics, Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban look at how people's interests clash when it comes to their sex lives, social status, family, and friends. Drawing on a wealth of data, they demonstrate how different groups form distinctive bundles of political positions that often stray far from what we typically think of as liberal or conservative. They show how we engage in unconscious rationalization to justify our political positions, portraying our own views as wise, benevolent, and principled while casting our opponents' views as thoughtless and greedy.

While many books on politics seek to provide partisans with new ways to feel good about their own side, The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind illuminates the hidden drivers of our politics, even if it's a picture neither side will find flattering.


Part I: Political Minds
Chapter 1: Agendas in Action 3
Chapter 2: Investigating Interests 26
Chapter 3: Machiavellian Minds 44
Part II: Political Issues
Chapter 4: Fighting over Sex: Lifestyle Issues and Religion 69
Chapter 5: Rules of the Game: Group Identities and Human Capital 96
Chapter 6: Money Matters: Redistribution and Hard-Times Programs 123
Part III: Political Coalitions
Chapter 7: The Many Shades of Red and Blue 145
Chapter 8: The Republican Coalition 160
Chapter 9: The Democratic Coalition 176
Part IV: Political Challenges
Chapter 10: An Uncomfortable Take on Political Positions 195
Acknowledgments 217
Appendixes 219
Data Appendix for Chapter 2 219
Data Appendix for Part II 236
Data Appendix for Chapter 4 251
Data Appendix for Chapter 5 268
Data Appendix for Chapter 6 287
Data Appendix for Chapter 8 304
Data Appendix for Chapter 9 321
Notes 343
References 351
Index 359


"[T]hought provoking."--John R. Hibbing, Science

"[T]his disturbing book may provoke debate, dismay and considerable anger."--Kirkus

"[A]n unusually witty and engaging academic book."--Ethan Epstein, National Journal

"[I]nteresting throughout."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind is provocative and often persuasive. . . . Weeden and Kurzban remind us that self-interest is a complicated concept."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

"The book is a thoughtful reminder that politics is often simply a contest over finite resources in which different voters want opposing things."--John McDermott, Financial Times

"Authors Weeden and Kurzban have written a well-researched . . . analysis of the political mind. . . . [T]he book satisfies the intellectual demands of researchers and general readers. Perfect for fans of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?"--Library Journal

"Weeden and Kurzban's book is well worth a read."--Anthony Randazzo, Reason

"Weeden and Kurzban’s argument will trouble those who believe that politics is about more than trying to find ways to satisfy one’s interests."--Choice

"[O]ne of the most interesting books I have read on politics in quite a while. . . . A fascinating book."--Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (London)

About the Author

Jason Weeden is a senior researcher with the Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology (PLEEP) and a lawyer in Washington, DC. Robert Kurzban is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of PLEEP. He is the author of Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind (Princeton).

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