The Progressive Post

Strengthening progressive language

Luis Arroyo has helped to analyse the S&D group's language and suggested more effective ways to get their message through.


In 2018, Luis Arroyo has helped to analyse the S&D group’s language and suggested more effective ways to get their message through.


Progressives are somewhat more sensitive to Protection and Fairness, and as we move on the scale that goes from “very progressive” to “very conservative”, sensitivity to both progressively decreases. The differences, however, being statistically significant, are not as great as we might think. To put it bluntly, conservatives are not soulless individuals who go around the world hurt- ing others or who do not trust solidarity at all. They are simply somewhat less sensitive than we are to these two moral foundations.

The most notable differences between conservatives and Progressives are in their sensitivity towards the other three elements of the Moral Foundations Theory: Authority, Identity and Purity. The more conservative an individual is, the harder he defends respect for authority, and the unity of the group in contrast to other groups and the more he appeals to God or to the pagan equivalents, such as tradition, customs or the natural order of things. In short, and simply, conservatives are as they are because they have to be harder, more patriotic and more devoted than their progressive counterparts.

Protection and Fairness, Authority, Identity and Purity

Progressives are very comfortable when they appeal to the principles related to Protection and Fairness. Therefore, they should always be able to explicitly appeal to them. But it is crucial that in their language they clearly identify who they want to protect through their proposals and what injustice they want to solve and who are those traitors promoting or admitting these injustices against the good of the many.

Words are powerful tools
The most important challenge for progressive communication is to not allow conservatives (and populists) to dominate the debate with their concepts of Authority, Identity and Purity. Even the most progressive citizens believe that there are sources of authority that must be respected, identities that distinguish and organise human groups, or transcendent values that must be maintained.
The challenge for Progressives is to proclaim and defend their genuine moral foundations – Protection and Fairness – without abandoning those other three which, to a greater or lesser extent, most human beings also defend: Authority, Identity and Purity.

For instance, in defending policies that are more tolerant on migration, Social Democrats can emphasise that they want to protect those who come to Europe flee- ing from war and hunger, and also that they want those who stay to fulfil their obligations: with Social Security, with the Treasury, with the rules of the host country. The emphasis should not only be on care and rights of those who arrive, but also on their obligations, reconciling us with the foundation of Authority. Naturally, the same thing happens when we talk about an orderly reception of migrants. While the words “welcome”, “refugee”, “humanitarian”, “human rights”… identify us with the typically progressive narrative, the words “regularisation”, “duties”, “integration”, “order” reconcile us a more conservative frame.

Support for equality in marriage (which we often erroneously call “homosexual marriage”) is another good example as it increases significantly when Social Democrats appeal not only to “equal rights” (typically progressive argument), but also when they point out that same-sex couples are composed of compatriots who contribute like others to the economy and society in which they live – the argument closest to the conservative logic, insofar as it matches with the foundations of Identity and Authority.


Strengthening progressive language box.jpg


Arroyo, L. 2013. Frases como puños. El lenguaje y las ideas progresistas. Edhasa.

Haidt, J. 2012. The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage.

Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Lakoff, G. 2004. Don’t Think of an Elephant. Vintage.

Willer, R. y M. Feinberg. 2015. “The Key to Political Persuation”, in The New York Times, November, 13



Find all related publications

Responsibility-sharing or shifting?

New Pact Implementation series

Separation or divorce? The popular class and social democracy in Poland


The Crisis and Force Majeure Regulation: Towards future-proof crisis management and responses?

New Pact Implementation series

Computer in command

Digital Programme: Algorithms at the workplace
Find all related news

FEPS celebrates its annual General Assembly and welcomes new members


FEPS represented at T20 Brasil International Advisory Council


FEPS at UN Civil Society Conference in Kenya


Notice of vacancy – Policy analyst on international relations

Find all related in the media
In the media

Falsely historic European elections bring little change, says FEPS

by Agence Europe 18/06/2024
Agence Europe's article features an analysis of the EU election results by Ania Skrzypek, FEPS Director for Research and Training, published in The Progressive Post.

Die EU-Osterweiterung nach 20 Jahren: Kann die Konvergenz sozial und wirtschaftlich nachhaltig gestaltet werden?

by Wirtschaftsdienst 13/06/2024
'EU Eastward Enlargement After 20 Years: Socially and Economically Sustainable Convergence?' FEPS Secretary General László Andor co-authored this article of the German journal Wirtschaftsdienst

Flere har en computer som chef: »Det dræber al gejst og motivation«

by Finans 12/06/2024
'Several people have a computer as their boss: "It kills all spirit and motivation" Finans article features FEPS latest policy study and survey 'Computer in command'

Un comisario de democracia para Europa

by Confidencial 11/06/2024
"A Democracy Commissioner for Europe". FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues co-authors this article, advocating for the establishment of a Democracy Commissioner.