623 Comments
founding

It is true that the parties are sorting based on the level of educational attainment.

I do find it insightful -- though perhaps not as Matt intended -- that Matt's examples to show how much smarter the left is than the right focus on professors, journalists and political think tanks. Now, that is the world Matt inhabits, so I understand why he comes to the conclusions he does.

But as a Floridian who golfs, I have many friends well to my right. These people are smart, but they aren't in the professions that Matt uses as his examples. Many small business owners, mid-level managers, doctors and attorneys. They aren't writing position papers, working at a think tank or writing movie reviews for the NYTimes.

My friends are often wrong on the details of why they believe certain things and I usually disagree with their political positions. But they are smart and I think it is incorrect (and bad politics) to dismiss them by calling them dumber than the professors and protesters currently occupying campuses across the country.

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author

This is all fair but look up the political affiliation of doctors and you’ll see that they are on the left these days.

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Apr 30Liked by Ben Krauss

Looking for numbers on this, I found this interesting article from 2016, which should also mostly sidestep the Trump issue (they wouldn't have changed parties by that point if at all): https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/upshot/your-surgeon-is-probably-a-republican-your-psychiatrist-probably-a-democrat.html

Almost half (46%) overall were republicans, but the breakdown showed that higher-paying specialities were more heavily republican than lower-paying ones.

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author

Interesting, that exact demographic (higher educated, higher earning) Republicans were the most likely to back away from Trump. So my guess is that has marginally flipped the other way 8 years later?

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The idea that doctors might be inclined to support Mitt Romney, and the Republican party he represented, in 2012 doesn't strike me as absurd. That was a very different world from today's.

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But either way, this suggests the education gap is not *that* big and closer to income (which is barely polarized at all these days) than white/black racial polarization (which remains very large even as we observe Hispanic movement.)

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I think you're extrapolating a little too much from the extremely limited dataset of doctors (a group which exhibits very weird traits in lots of ways due to being a highly hereditary profession that exhibits guild-like tendencies), I don't think this is any kind of evidence that the education gap is not that big. The evidence for that is that we can ask people who they vote for and if they have college degrees, and then we can see very clearly that people with college degrees increasingly support Democrats.

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founding

“Highly hereditary profession that exhibits guild-like tendencies” isn’t actually that unusual, is it? Doctors, professors, politicians, actors, and probably many others all exhibit these traits.

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But Republicans are winning roughly 40% of people with college and up degrees, right? I agree there's movement towards Democrats. It just looks pretty similar right now to what polls on Hispanic/non-Hispanic white polarization look like.

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Actually, it's also polarized by age. Older doctors tend to be more Republican.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30Liked by Ben Krauss

Also in that article there's a chart showing that there's been a generational shift in political affiliation for doctors toward Democrats, largely as a result of more women and nonwhites entering a profession that used to be overwhelmingly white men; changes in medical education; and the broader trend of college grads toward Democrats. The percentage of physicians who are Democrats is increasing, and as the older generation retires/dies, I would expect them to become a comfortable majority.

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The only two doctors I know are both women and both to the left; however, they complain that many of their (mostly male) colleagues were totally status-obsessed and only wanted to be in specific specialties so they could maximize their earnings. Both of these women are pro socialized medicine and work as pediatricians or family practice, most of the men they went to high school hate Obamacare because their dads (who are also doctors) hate it.

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Apr 30Liked by Ben Krauss

https://www.wsj.com/articles/doctors-once-gop-stalwarts-now-more-likely-to-be-democrats-11570383523

And this is pre-covid, which probably moved physicians left overall, as even those physicians who were not on the bleeding edge of COVID concern overwhelmingly 1) accepted its reality, 2) saw severe illness and deaths, 3) are pro vaccine.

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Finding Trump so odious that you are willing to vote for Biden and risk higher taxes does not put a doctor/entrepreneur “on the left,” especially when they would much rather vote for Nikki Haley or Mitt Romney.

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I think voting center-left as opposed to center-right for the presidency does matter. An interesting question is if ticket-splitting goes up or down as education rises. I think it goes somewhat down? Probably explains why I never went to grad school.

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author

There's still time!

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One significant challenge with the analysis you provide is that it comes after a long period of ZIRP and few fiscal trade offs. I'm curious how long you think the current distribution of professions and partisan preferences will hold once fiscal reality sets in?

If Democrats pass substantively higher taxes, I foresee a sizable number of PMC professions beginning to revert back to being more Republican leaning.

Meanwhile, I think if Republicans cut social benefits, there will be many people who depend on those services who will lean away from their cultural preferences (Republicans) and begin leaning into their economic preferences (Democrats).

That realignment will almost certainly address some of the intellectual disparity you identify as well.

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founding

So maybe the Obama-Biden pledge to not raise taxes on anyone in the $100k-$400k income range really has been important politically.

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Yes, but I don't think it can hold give the future fiscal realities. Taxes are going to have to go up broadly, or we're going to have to cut benefits. Once we reach that stage, I think there will a realignment back toward more traditional self interest. Not saying it will be 100%, but a lot of people are going to experience the cost of their cultural preferences rising pretty dramatically.

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Or we can have low taxes and high benefits. It will not be Weimar. Five percent inflation wouldn’t be so bad a price for building a just society. I’d rather soak the rich, but I’m a realist.

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The idea that the federal government could spend 40% more than it receives in revenue and the only consequence being an inflation rate of 5% is a wild assumption. And that assumes the situation doesn't get worse, which all evidence points to happening with increases needed to cover both SS and Medicare/Medicaid spending growth.

Let's also recall that the last time inflation broke 5% was in 1990, treasuries were over 8.5% and mortgage rates were over 10%. If *half* the current federal debt hits rates of 8.5% and half is 4%, that equates to $2 trillion in interest payments.

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Also, with specific regard to doctors, I guess they manage to hold this political affiliation despite still being able to engage in rent seeking actions via the AMA, which strikes me as a right coded action under the structure you've laid out here.

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founding

I suspect he wants to say that basically everyone does some right coded things and some left coded things. The question is just what the balance is.

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I think he demonstrated well that they thing they do that gets coded right is much more significant than the things they do that get coded left.

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I think the percent of US doctors in the AMA is about 15% and generally falling over time. Additionally, it's basically the older, right-wing group anyway.

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That would be very encouraging if it is a dying organization.

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My perception, as a physician, is that it is generally losing influence over time. Additionally, it appears to be moving left to try to attract new members, or add a result of overall demographic shifts-- effect TBD.

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Agree with your assessment (also a physician). The stuff the AMA gets blamed for was from its protectionism about 20-30 years ago when they held more power. That's an entirely different era. The AMA is much less relevant and holds almost no control over the way things are run (or even structured) nowadays.

The AMA has definitely moved left as doctors have moved left (like every other highly-educated group these days). I encourage people to just read the resolutions from the House of Delegates and it's clear this isn't some economic cabal.

https://www.ama-assn.org/house-delegates/annual-meeting/proceedings-2023-annual-meeting-house-delegates

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After all, their interest is in regulating competitors out of existence!

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To try to meet a crosspoint about what you and John are observing, I think it's best to split up "smart" into intelligence vs. wisdom. There have been many very intelligent people in history who do very selfish things that I am guessing you would not define as wise, under the features of this article you've written.

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Great build, but I want to push back on the left "focus[ing] on professors, journalists, and think tanks" in contrast to your smart golf buddies who run small businesses, have successful corporate careers, are doctors, etc.

I'm not sure there's an intentionality there so much as self sorting plus post-hoc rationalization of why the politics that best serve their interests as either intellectual or business elites happen to be correct. The intellectual classes listed are generally lower earning but genuinely impactful in driving culture, so of course they'd resonate with left wing politics. The business elites make money and need to be a bit individualistic, a touch more selfish than average, and dare I say morally flexible, so of course they'd resonate with right wing politics.

But on the broader point, yes. Elite business people and successful small business owners are often brilliant, not just smart, brilliant. There are plenty of very smart right wing people. Perhaps the reason right wing politics tend to be dumber is because the smart right of center types make too much money in business/private life to bother with politics, ceding the field to their dummy co-partisans who aren't smart enough to cut it in business. On the left, politics is a path to both cultural and economic success much more so than on the right in that regard.

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founding

I think it’s relevant that the kind of smartness on the right manifests in effective actions, while the kind of smartness on the left manifests in written explanations. The former is better for your immediate interests, but the latter spread themselves more effectively.

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I think the problem MattY highlights is with leadership of the conservative movement. It feels like the “conservative” think tanks have mostly pushed out their most capable people and the GOP has stopped trying to justify policy positions for a while.

Though I would also say that a lot of the behaviors we see from the the left and “activists” are also the result of the same intellectual laziness MattY laments.

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author

I'd say Brookings is still the top intellectual dog when it comes to pushing mainstream centrist and Democratic policy. But the progressive surge has boosted the prominence of more progressive shops, ie. Neera Tanden going from Center for American Progress to Director for the Biden's domestic policy council.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

The best "conservative" think tanks were always libertarian. Cato and AEI still do plenty of good work. Too bad the GOP is listening to fucking Heritage.

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Even Heritage did much better policy work in the 1980's. There's a reason the individual mandate ended up in Democratic health care plans and tenant ownership of public housing and welfare reform turned into real policies.

Heritage has really decided to dumb down to maintain its place in the movement. But it used to be a policy shop with a mix of good and bad ideas and now it is a joke.

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I would like someone to actually summarize the policy work Heritage did in the 1980s versus now. I'm pretty sure Heritage was always right-wing and controversial; it's just a lot of what they suggested in supply-side reforms has now made intellectual inroads with educated center-left people who follow politics a lot, so they don't realize how offensive this stuff was to left of center economists in the 1980s. Back then of course, Democrats were railing against Republicans as selling out the country and refusing to take national industrial policy seriously to help our Northeastern factories defeat the Soviets and hold the line against the Japanese menace.

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That's absolutely part of the story. Heritage put out some reasonable ideas, and because liberal policy wonks actually want to get policy right, when Heritage put something good out, they picked it up. That definitely happened with both health care stuff and cap and trade.

But I also think that in the modern era conservatives have decided they don't want or need a policy shop and have gone out of their way to make that clear to their aligned think tanks. Because it's not actually true that there are no issues in 2024 that could benefit from some smart Righties slinging some takes. For instance, housing policy is an excellent example of where we could use something like the 1980's Heritage Foundation to propose some free market friendly solutions to building more housing, but the 2020's Heritage Foundation puts out papers with titles like "Washington's War on the Suburbs" instead.

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Educated liberal policy wonks have railed against supply-side economics as terrible *for decades*. It's only now as they run into the climate issue that they've learned more about the general approach and stopped demagoguing quite so much about it. Housing policy isn't even that federal of an issue; since the levers are at the state and local issue, it seems a lax asylum policy will make a much bigger impact on municipal decisions than Heritage's federal policy recommendations.

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Back in college, I was writing a paper on Bangladesh's independence movement and the India-Pakistan War of 1971. I found in our school library a 1970's Heritage primer on the issues that was actually quite helpful and wasn't just a collection of right-wing grievance politics. Meanwhile, I've never seen them put out anything this century that existed for any other reason than culture war nonsense.

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They did interesting healthcare work back in the day before the brain rot took over.

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Has the Republican party even changed its big picture stance on healthcare over the entire existence of Heritage? Before Heritage came into existence in the '70s, Harry Truman was arguing for a full national system and Republican leaders like Bob Taft said absolutely not. I could understand being very unhappy with their stated policy shift on Atlanticism in foreign policy, but a lot of the big domestic policy positions haven't changed that much...

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

Heritage has not always been what it became with post-Tea Party/Trumpian populism. Stipulated.

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I've actually found catholic integralists to be more interesting intellectually than libertarians, the problem is people like vermouth and deneen are kind of afraid to make policy prescriptions because they sit outside what'd mostly be considered modern norms. So instead they just talk about what their good society would look like and leave the reader to do the math about it. Though, perhaps i'm a little biased toward them because they at least attempt to appeal to people of other viewpoints, which is unusual in libertarian circles i've found.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I disagree. The whole "kind of afraid to make policy prescriptions" bit is the problem--when you push on their thinking at all, those types immediately go into The Dance Of 1000 Veils. Every time I hear one of those guys on a podcast I start out hopeful, and it's always the same duck-and-weave. And that makes sense, honestly, because at the core, the policy prescriptions don't make follow except as a downstream affect of the really important thing, which is for everyone to become Catholic (or insert your own religious preference here).

It's the core problem with any kind of theocratic social construction, and the first question is always the one they have already decided not to answer, which is, "So why didn't it work before?" Because that question and its various answers are kind of fatal to the whole project UNLESS you believe that This Time God Will Make It Different. I respect faith; I grew up in a community of faith. But I don't trust it for policy recommendations.

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Yeah, it's a relative thing for me. I agree about the lack of policy prescriptions on their part, and that they're very pollyannaish about how they get to their ideal. They start good, and then once you get past the part where they can play to the audience, it ends up being deeply unsatisfying. I still think it's more coherent and interesting than the libertarian thinkers, but still quite flawed.

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I've found that Vermouth's writings go down easy, especially when part of a well-made negroni.

(One free pass for mocking me for any and all mistakes I make when quickly writing comments in the future.)

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I like that pretty much everyone here is familiar with Adrian Vermeule and knew that that was an obvious autocorrect gone wrong.

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Hey, i always appreciate a nice jibe at my behest when i let the autocorrect mangle my words.

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I was having a similar thought on the conservative/libertarian split and will elaborate further when I have a moment.

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There are plenty of conservative white papers, it just doesn't interest policy reporters that much at non-right media outlets and then as Matt said, right-wing media gets more middle-brow and thus less policy paper oriented.

I worked at a conservative think tank for a bit as comms and distinctly remember a senior fellow with a PhD in economics lamenting she could never get comment because her views aren't as click-bait worthy as MMT, thus skewing media representation of the field of economics towards those kinds of things. That seems right; she has plenty to talk about, it's just the reporters don't find pensions and safe asset classifications as sexy as "what if the old paradigms we knew are over."

The other funny thing is it doesn't really matter if the press gives MMT way more representation vs conservative economics; if a Democrat oversees high inflation and cannot raise broad taxes, they're going to lose to a Republican anyways? Most voters don't care for the reporting at this point.

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The bigger point is that there is a pretty robust correlation between higher IQ and holding left-wing political beliefs and that has some interesting implications for the truth of those beliefs that the left (because it’s uncomfortable with hierarchy and IQ) nor right (for obvious reasons) like to talk about.

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Are you really making IQ arguments? So people with higher IQs are more correct on values and other issues? Hmmm. I’m assuming the second the argument creeped beyond the limits of this macro discussion on US political parties you’d want it to instantly stop. The left typically vilifies people who make these kinds of arguments.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

Isn't the definition of higher IQ, being more correct on...stuff. \S

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There are conservative intellectuals (Hanania would probably be the central example here) who acknowledge this but also argue that there are some classes of bad idea that smarter people are more susceptible to. This mechanism is at least somewhat plausible (particularly if the driver is a preference for more internally consistent and comprehensive belief systems), so when it comes to specific policy issues, I think it’s better to decide based on the specific merits than look at who has the higher-IQ coalition (although the Right’s human capital problem does make it harder for them to actually govern in practice.)

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Hanania is a libertarian who agrees with Matt that conservatives have lower IQ than liberals. He has written about it many times.

His libertarianism seems to partly stem from his autism imo, which he has also written about. But he's undeniably smart, an independent thinker and has some interesting takes (which one may or may not agree with).

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Where do the white supremacy takes come from?

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Regardless of whether there are specific issues to which high IQ people are more susceptible, you are a fool if you just trust the "smart guys" all the time. It might make sense based on how well informed they are (MD's vs. rando's). The High-IQ block is what 1/2 standard deviation smarter than the other block (on average)? So, what they are right 15% more of the time?

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Hanania thinks IQ is an incredibly important measurement of human potential and it's the basis of everything he believes about racial policy, but somehow it is irrelevant to determining which side can come up with better ideas. That he explains the left wing IQ advantage with a meme (midwit theory) shows you his own intellectual handicap. If a thing is unpleasant to believe then you will find an explanation to fit whether it has any basis in reality or not.

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As stupid as the Republican Kampuchea caucus is, I don’t think this has anything to do with broader political-philosophical stances, there are plenty of examples of conservative cognitive-elite classes throughout history.

On another note, though, I have no sympathy for my “comrades” in certain academic departments that are being targeted by DeSantis, Rufo etc. I don’t owe those people solidarity for sharing a caste and I don’t think they deserve anything other than federal fraud trials for taking public monies intended for research and spending them on activism instead.

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I don't think Republicans would do a very good job running academic fraud trials. They should stick to what they're good at it, which is saying X has ridiculous values at odds with the median voter and slashing public spending on it accordingly. For the interests within higher ed as vocation, that's arguably the least bad outcome for them right now. Better for the multiversity to die and become an austere and smaller vocation than to live as a party machine via unilateral executive grants.

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Sure, in terms of actual policy. I just see a lot of attempts from within the academy to circle the wagons and impute a general desire to defund education onto Republicans, because you have to admit that their is an ideological component in higher education in order to realize that that's what they're against (and where they get popular support on education).

More specifically, that "ideological component" is most of the humanities and soft sciences, which have sold out intellectual honesty in return for political power. While some fields will always exist, the activists-disguised-as-scholars need to lose their jobs and a lot of departments (and pretty much all of the "studies" fields) are unsalvageable.

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"Reality has a well-known liberal bias", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwLjK9LFpeo

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I'm reading "Neither Liberal nor Conservative" and it makes a pretty strong case that the large majority of people are ideological even when you break down by knowledge and education. Correlation of responses on issues from the same respondents over time is surprisingly low even for high knowledge groups.

While your statistic may be correct, your broader point presumes that high IQ people have well developed and consistent ideologies. While they do more so than lower IQ people, ideological consistent people are still a minority among higher IQ people and since of your intelligent ideologues will in fact be conservative.

I struggle with the "conservative are dummies" argument having just finished Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue". I'm mean that directly on his core critique of the postmodern moment and his thoughtfulness as a critique is "dumb conservatives".

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author

This point has been made a few times, but gonna restate it here. I don't think Matt was arguing so much about the policy preferences of the general electorate and subsequent intelligence levels, but rather the people who are a part of the machinery of policy making. Which, in DC and the relevant parts of academia, just are overwhelmingly left.

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founding
Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I'll let Matt's writing speak for itself, but he didn't qualify his statement below as being related to people in policy-making or academia. He said the preponderance of smart people are on the left.

"A related issue, in a practical sense, is that the preponderance of smart people are on the left, and this is increasingly the case in an era of rising education polarization."

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I was responding more to Milan than Matt. I largely agree that intelligent right leaning people are engaged elsewhere and are less likely to define themselves using left/right political ideological paradigms. Milans point seemed to be that IQ correlation with left leaning positions says something about quality of the position, to which I respond that most people in these studies don't devote much mental energy to policy and ideology (nor is it rational to do so).

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After Virtue is a true classic (your post makes me want to re-read!) but the trajectory of neo-Aristotelian philosophy since its publication in 1981 is pretty interesting. I think of it as having terminated predominantly in the left-coded ethics of Nussbaum and Sen capabilities theory, with "human flourishing" as the telos and various forms of quasi-consequentialist (and hence necessarily, quasi-egalitarian-redistributionist) strategies as the means.

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Pretty massive leap from high IQ to reliably acquiring truth across all domains, and in particular one subject to as much motivated reasoning as politics. I would not make such a leap, even as someone who leans slightly more left than right myself.

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Doesn't the research suggest this is just social views though? For those of us who are DW-NOMINATE first dimension enthusiasts, that's not what most of politics is about...

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Not what it ought to be about, but clearly what a lot of it is about

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So much of the intensity to our politics seems to revolve around Republicans getting way better at winning the House of Reps starting in the 90s and thus delivering very partisan hardball procedural fights over government spending that didn't exist in the postwar period when Democrats ruled the House for 40 years. (One could argue even longer since the GOP only briefly held the House in the 50s since 1932.)

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I think that Matt was thinking about the people who have political influence. To express it in a Trumpian way, the right isn't sending their best.

And, while academic smarts doesn't generally work well for elected politicians (Elizabeth Warren being a rare exception to that rule), there is an entire class of advisers and policy analysts and think-tankers out there that back up the elected politicians on both sides and turn their broad visions into specific, implementable ideas and legislative language. The right has a lot of people who are smart people, but the right-wing people working in those sorts of jobs aren't nearly as smart now as the people at Heritage that wrote Romneycare or the people that designed Medicare Part D for Bush - or the people that designed the ACA or IRA for the left.

The idea that Paul Ryan became known as a wonk because his budget proposals had actual numbers in them is a sign of how the right has declined intellectually: there was no-one who could argue that his details were wrong, where any proposal from anyone on the left immediately generates stacks of criticism from the left about how they got the details wrong.

That says nothing - nothing - about the intellectual ability of ordinary day-to-day conservatives. But people on the left are mostly voting for people who are smarter than themselves, or, at least, are backed up by smart people doing the detailed work. People on the right aren't. I can't imagine those business owners, managers, doctors and attorneys looking at Marco Rubio and thinking either that he is smarter than they are, or that his staff are!

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Politics is a questionably appealing profession. Everytime there is an open seat in a local office, I have folks calling and asking if I am going to run. Which always seems odd because I have zero interest in that. I have a good job. Why would I want to give it up for a job that pays the same but with twice the hours and where I have to ask friends to give me money to get "rehired" every few years and in the meantime have to be pandering and nice while taking a lot of unearned shit no matter what I do. It is a job that would only seem to appeal if you placed an unduly high value on attention, power, or selfless service. To the extent that the Left is generally trying to push more selfless positions, it makes sense that there would be bright, competent people able to be very successful in other fields fighting for this crap job because a real mix of all three issue. To the extent the Right emphasizes selfishness as wisdom, it would make sense that many of the ones interested in this crap job would be mostly interested in the power and attention or they are not in fact smart and competent enough to be extremely successful in other fields. That doesn't mean that those smart competent bankers and hedge fund managers don't vote R because it is in their self interest but they don't volunteer to be the actual politician. Sacrificing your life for the virtue of helping other people achieve selfish ends would seem a rare thing.

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author

You should run! Do both if you can.

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I actually thought a lot about running for office when I grew up when I was a kid. I even did my 5th grade career report on being a US Senator and did Youth in Government as a high schooler.

But when I was 16 years old, I started to be stalked by a guys who had also done Youth in Government and ran a failed political campaign at 18 years of age. He continued to stalk me on and off for 10 years. I mostly only got extended breaks when he was in jail for unrelated white collar crime. He would stalk me online. He would lie on his resume to get jobs where I worked. He would sit outside my apartment and threaten me by phone. And he dedicated lots of time to lying to random strangers about me. Basically, every time I got any sort of remotely high profile job, he would inundated my employer and coworkers and even the press with lies about my background mostly with claims that I had slept my way into whatever position I got.

Even when folks on the receiving end thought he seemed nuts they still often took a "when there is smoke there is fire" or "there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle" approach to the issue that made it really hard for me to be believed enough to have any sense of safety. I quit multiple jobs because of him including one in which the University advisor to the student government advised me to quit because they were concerned that they couldn't ensure my physical safety while I was at work since he was also employed in my office. It was fucking awful and there was basically no period for that decade where I wouldn't have said the most likely way I would die would be because he killed me. I was eventually able to assemble a packet of evidence about his felony convictions and firings for misconduct from enough jobs that I could feel safe I could keep from having to work with him but I picked the law as a profession in large part because it is a profession that you really can't work in with a felony conviction and so while he frequently lied and said he was a law student or lawyer, I knew he couldn't actually be hired as one. Needless to say, running for office with that kind of threat hanging over me felt utterly impossible. If I couldn't get a paid job with the student government without getting negative press in the school paper amplifying crazy claims from him that I was only an effective lobbyist for teaching assistant pay raises because I was sleeping with lawmakers, I could only imagine what would happen if I was actually on a ballot.

For a long time that felt like something that he had robbed from me but I now view it as a small silver lining in the whole affair. I know plenty of folks who have a much greater need for public affirmation and attention than I do who are happy to run and I am happy to support them and give them policy advice without having to try to be a likeable enough woman to get elected.

I realize that my experience is somewhat unique but not as unique as it ought to be. When people wonder why there are not more women in some roles including public office, it is worth noting that some of us are missing from those ranks not simply because of some low level implicit bias level sexism but other are missing because being a woman in this society can involve a whole other level of threat and danger especially for folks in highly visible positions.

If I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would never have joined youth in government! The percentage of actual psychopaths in politics is low but it is higher than the average population which is not a promising things for any profession.

Note: I am no longer having to worry too much about him because he moved to another state but only after reaching the role of top advisor to my city's mayor with a fake PhD in Economics despite never actually graduating from college. It ended up being a big news story mostly because it turns out the mayor knew his qualifications were fake and still didn't want to fire him. The press was bad enough that the mayor was forced to fire him anyway and he moved to a city where no one knew him to start over. Which just goes to show that politics has also has a larger contingent of sociopathic enabling than you might hope to find in most professions.

He was operating on the Left where he had to at least lie about being at utter misogynist with violent tendencies. Can't imagine what he could have gotten away with on the Right. Well, I guess Trump sort of answers that question.

I don't think it is a coincidence that I was the one person least surprised by Trump's victory of all my progressive Seattle friends.

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If either Majorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert is the smartest Republican residing in her district then we have a more serious national IQ and education problem than previously thought. A lot of this seems to be a deliberate Republican strategy to elevate flamboyant and entertaining bile over sober intelligence as a way to bring low-information or disaffected voters to the polls. It's the information age analogue to offering vagrants hot meals in exchange for votes in the industrial age.

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It's bread and circuses, plus a real belief that smart people are "elites" who must be defeated/humiliated. There's always been an anti-intellectual streak on the right (and in the US as a whole, truth be told). That has been magnified (MAGAfied if you will) in the Trump era. You now have presumably not-dumb people who managed to go to Harvard/Yale/Princeton pretending to be stupid because being smart is uncool, just like in middle school (Cruz, Hawley, Vance, I'm looking at you). W also played dumb but was probably not as dumb as he pretended to be (though he may not have been as bright as his father), but GHWB didn't have to play dumb in what was then the Republican party. That changed.

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I think a lot of Americans don't want to vote for people who are smarter than them because they don't trust them feel looked down on by them. I personally would like everyone in public office to be smarter than me. But especially the President. That feels like a job that ought to exclusively be done by geniuses.

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Yes, I also always hired people who were smarter than me, if I could. Why fight with one hand behind your back if you don't have to?

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Matt definitely painted with too broad a brush here. I work in the finance industry and in a very not shocking twist, there are tons of very smart people with right of center and right wing views. It's funny that Matt brought up Elon Musk in his post as for all is very many flaws, he's clear a "smart" man.

I think this also can get into a semantic argument about what counts as "smart". In the NFL, there are a lot of "famous" examples of of guys who did poorly on the S2 cognition test who turned about to be very good quarterbacks. There is one last year in fact, C.J. Stroud who famously (in sports fandom circles) did terribly on the test that supposedly helps measure a prospect's ability to read the field, process information and generally do well in what's famously a position requiring pretty high cognitive function. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/2023-nfl-draft-c-j-stroud-responds-to-reported-low-test-score-im-a-football-player-not-an-s2-taker/. Yeah, I think Stroud proved last year to even the most casual football fan that he had the "smarts" to play in the NFL.

Having said all of that. I think if you're narrowing your focus to politics, economics, think tanks and just anything involved with running government, Matt probably has a point. Something I have to remind myself all the time is Matt is in a position to interact with all sorts of people on personal level (think tanks researchers, journalists, congressmen and even Presidents) that give him inside insight into a lot of areas. As an example, I was skeptical of his post that the New York Times was going to put their thumb on the scale to get Trump elected. And yet over last few months I've come around to his view. And as it turned out, one reason he wrote that post is he was emailing/talking/interacting with editors and reporters in a way that helped sway him that the brass (if not on the ground reporters) is going to subtly slant their political coverage in anti-Biden direction*. To bring back to the topic hand, I would not be surprised if based on Matt's interactions with Congressmen, think tank researchers, GOP staffers, he's come around to the idea that right wing has just become increasingly dumb for lack of better term.

* If Politico is to be believed, the Times is also slanting their political reporting in anti-Biden direction because they are butthurt Biden won't give an interview. Which is honestly an even worse reason than pure financial interest to slant your coverage this way.

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Also, I feel like the current left has a very deep tension between its moral concerns and its intellectual heritage. Many reporters actively don't report the truth because it will be "weaponized" by "bad" people. There's very similar shading in academia, where morally agreeable conclusions get little scrutiny and inconvenient ones are put through the ringer.

The last couple of years the moral concerns have seemed have a stranglehold over intellectual or empirical ones to a near crippling degree.

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I think being a small business owner selects for conscientiousness mostly while being an academic selects for intelligence. So while you obviously have to be smart to be a good at business (and you have to be conscientious to publish as an academic), I think Matt's larger point stands.

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Here's where I'd draw the distinction (admittedly as a center-right business owner...)

Working in academia requires intelligence, as does business. What academia requires that business doesn't is highly systematized thinking. In academia, creating coherent systems of thinking is how you make a name for yourself, and often how you get your PhD in the first place. This applies just as much to people one might consider right-wing (Gene Fama, John Mearsheimer).

In business, committing to ideological or systematized thinking is a great way to lose money. The world is messy. Managing people is messy. Business people (and parents... and military officers... and other folks whose main job involves managing messiness) typically become less rooted in systematic thinking because that thinking breaks down in application. I find in my own life that more loosely-held principles work better, and caution is often warranted when pursuing change. That's basically conservatism in a nutshell.

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I think you’re radically overstating the systemized thinking ability of academics. My wife has a humanities PhD and I’m in business, so I have a taste of both.

The bigger cleavage is in personality traits. Other than in science and engineering, academia does not reward working in a team and many very intelligent people who can’t play well with others self select into it.

Also, keep in mind that, these days, business types who are very good at systematized thinking go into consulting. They exist, but are most concentrated in that sector.

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100%. The owner of my company was complaining about it being a shitty thing to do, calling directly and/or poaching employees from competitors. Want to guess how I came to work here? I was headhunted while working for a rival.

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Hard to explain, but I recommend you check out a primer on supervised vs. unsupervised learning. I think you will find a good analogy there.

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I would be inclined to argue closer to the opposite: that systematized thinking is what business does best — business is literally working a system — and a college degree (at least a humanities degree) is often about broadening into new ways of thinking. (Or, ideally, it's supposed to be. But today's academia is far from ideal and the narrowing of permissible viewpoint diversity on campus means that no one's really being taught to think for themselves anymore.)

Mind you, the hands-on experience of running a business teaches people creative skills like solving day-to-day problems and human interaction skills. Sales and HR, in other words. But that's not thinking all that far out of the box in the grand scheme.

And on the other hand, many fields of education don't involve much outside-the-box thinking: engineering does involve problem solving, true. But it's ultimately about a strict set of rules. So is, say, chemistry.

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I overall liked Matt’s post but your reply is spot on. To be honest, he almost falls into one of the most typical leftist traps, which is to think that smart people are in the arts, or journalists or politics or similar arras, as if those are the pinnacles of human intellect.

The Federalist Society seems to have no problem finding very smart, but very conservative judges.

Having worked in a deeply technical field for 35 years, I can attest that there are at least as many, if not more right leaning, engineers, finance controllers and technical leaders as there are left leaning ones.

It seems more likely to me that there is an underlying philosophical driver that encourages certain types of professions for certain types of world views. Not by any means an absolute but something that produces a first order sort

Lastly, Matt’s thesis in his original post is that left and right coding are fundamental to humanity and not specifically to America. Do we really believe that most Chinese or Russian journalists are left coded?

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If it were easy to find intelligent conservative judges, the Federalist society would have no reason to exist. It does exist, precisely because it is rare to find people who are both conservative and highly intelligent members of the legal field. The job of the Federalist society is to support those people above what they could achieve in a true meritocracy. There is no left wing version of the Federalist society, the idea would be silly. The left wing version of the Federalist society is the legal profession itself.

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This is basically an accurate description of the pipeline side of Fed Soc, though it's also true that very smart conservatives aren't *that* rare; around 15% of students at HLS/YLS are conservative. They're rare enough that the Fed Soc pipeline is a big bump, but not so rare that it's a genuine struggle to find very talented conservative lawyers. I also think very talented conservatives self-select into law a bit because (1) law is in some ways an inherently conservative profession and (2) legal conservatism is the most attractive/functioning part of the contemporary conservative movement.

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That’s merely left leaning sophistry. It posits that the majority of all lawyers are left leaning and a trivial look at corporate law, campaign law, election law etc. shows that there is no lack of conservative lawyers.

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No offense to Matt, but why are we including journalists with doctors and academics? Surely the average accountant is much more intelligent than the average journalist. Look beyond the New York Times and it's not a particularly elite profession.

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As a journalist myself who often interacts with business people, academics, etc., I’d say that observation applied to pretty much any “knowledge” profession, writ large. All of these jobs are drawing from the upper half of the IQ distribution, but that doesn’t really make one “elite.”

Doctors, because they have to go through very intensive training, might be an exception. But most finance and business types, accountants, academics, journalists, programmers, lawyers, whatever, are reasonably intelligent but not “elite.” The elite is, by definition, a small group.

(I’m not taking issue with that idea that I’m not elite, by the way, because I’m not. I just think doctors are probably the exception here, not journalists.)

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The intelligent skill that journalists have is being inquisitive: knowing how to ask the right questions and where to look for the right info. It's a skill not unique to them (lawyers would have a lot of overlap), but it's one that many other professions don't rely on as much.

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Journalism is basically communication + information processing + networking. It’s an odd job because these three skills aren’t very well-correlated with each other, and most journalists are only really good at two of them (sometimes even just one).

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Not sure how productive this conversation is but I took the point as being about the "resources" which drive political discourse. The fact that said business owners are not writing position papers or working as party leadership is the point.

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Also, it's not as if the rank-and-file conservative movement is chockablock full of brilliant businessmen and maverick investors. It's extremely well documented that educational attainment strongly diverges between the parties, and it's appropriate to take that into account when you talk about the party ambitions and communication strategies.

The people who lead political movements (explicitly via leadership, or implicitly by providing the lion's share of funding) are by definition going to be elites who are likely to be intelligent and otherwise gifted individuals, but as Matt says these folks tend to settle into grifter roles in the modern GOP.

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A possible gap in this analysis of "smartness" vis-a-vis ideological orientation is that there are clearly different kinds of "smartness."

There are corporate CEOs who are quite ideologically conservative who are quite smart in the areas of financial management, building capabilities, managing infrastructure, and articulating useful differentiation.

These people are conservatives not because they're selfish; it's because they have a good sense of basic human behaviors (both for internal management of employees and customers) and know how to design systems to align with natural human drivers and incentive structures.

Now, selfishness is certainly one of many natural human drivers, but so is maintaining a positive self-narrative. To ignore these doesn't make anyone "less smart" - it's just a different kind of intelligence.

I'd argue that you need all different kinds of intelligences to make the whole human enterprise work, which is precisely why evolution has a system that auto-creates roughly a nice bell curve of the entire ideological spectrum.

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I think the bigger point, made in a flawed manner, is that there is very little right-leaning intellectual horsepower going into policy formation. It’s especially bad now that economics has skewed so far to the abstruse that there’s less opportunity for the next generation of Milton Friedmans to generate right-leaning thought leadership.

There’s a great study that found increasing polarization as education increased. Yes, left leaning views correlate with educational attainment , but it’s a fallacy, as you say, that they correlates with intelligence.

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I also think Matt got a bit over his skis here. The primary flaw I see with his observation is that he assumes that being an academic or public intellectual is a marker of intelligence, and today I think it has more to do with the gatekeepers in academia than it does with the spread of intelligence.

A generation ago, there were plenty of academic and other public intellectuals on the right: Milton Friedman, Bill Buckley, Joan Didion, George F Will, Donald Kagan, and many, many others. There are still a few out there (Will is still among us; Glenn Loury, Niall Ferguson, Andrew Sullivan, and Carlos Eire come quickly to mind), but they are fewer and further between, mainly as the pathway for a conservative through the academic world is a narrow one, particularly in the humanities and social sciences aside from economics. There are also plenty of bright centrist or right-leaning business people who are not Elon Musk: Cliff Asness comes immediately to mind, among others.

And as a conservative, why would one bother in academia anyway? It's much easier and more fulfilling to get an MBA or a science PhD and go out and work on a cure for cancer, or on getting goods to market and making people happy while making a buck or two that way, than it is to work through a system where success is measured by peer approval, and most of your peers disapprove of your politics or perspective from the get-go, the path to tenure is addled at best, and success means even more faculty arguments with low pay. But at least it offers prestige!

No thank you. Yes, part of me would rather have finished my PhD and be out teaching art and architectural history than working in alternative assets, but I must also admit that I love the intellectual stimulation of markets, the pay here is good, and I don't miss the pettiness of academia.

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Indeed, and the idea that out of tens of millions of conservatives in this country they can’t find a few dozen staffers smart enough to work at think tanks beggars belief. It is not important to the conservative political cause at the moment to do that work, so it is not valorized or rewarded, and is left to ideological hacks.

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Conservative ideology emphasizes making money more than liberal ideology does, so you should expect those capable conservatives to be disproportionately working in the private sector rather than at, say, the Heritage Foundation.

I’m sure there are a lot of very smart right-leaning people at Goldman Sachs

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

Honestly, this is gobbledygook to me. Basically none of the alignment Matt perceives feels coherent. The kind of "high minded" governance through moral intuition thing just feels like any other manifestation of tribalism with a healthy gloss of bias. Every authoritarian movement thinks they're the good guys, and they're just wrong. CS Lewis was right:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

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I tend to see things more like Matt than you do, but that’s a great quote!

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I mostly tend to affiliate with Matt's moral/tribal intuitions, he's generally right on those and I'm generally happy when good ideas proliferate in the culture. Where I get off the train is in governance. My moral intuitions aren't a good basis for how the system should work. No one should ever be in charge on the basis that they know the "right" thing to do. The system should shield differing intuitions. No one should get to consolidate the power to impose their tribal/moral intuition on people who don't share them. Liberal pluralism > technocratic utopianism.

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Nowhere do I see Matt calling for a dictatorship of the left. AFAIK he believes we have to compete in elections. But if one does think a particular policy position is superior to that of one's opponent on (among others) ethical or moral grounds, is one supposed to keep tight-tipped about that?

You're obviously free to differ with the moral calculus of someone you disagree with—and point out the flaws you see. But saying they shouldn't bring morality/ethics into into the debate in the first place seems untenable.

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You're supposed to create institutional checks and balances that elevate the rights of individuals above the moral intuitions of the majority and then leave the ultimate responsibility for their souls to those individuals.

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What basis do the rights of individuals have other than moral intuitions of the majority?

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I mean, we're approaching first principle's stuff like non-aggression at that point. Typically disputes over that sort of thing tend to get resolved through violence, of course that tends to end up badly for the majority, so you often work back to liberalism the long way from the utilitarian side instead of the principled one.

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On the basis of God-given freedom to worship their creator, the original public-private distinction born out of the experience of the English civil war which gave coherence to the rest of liberalism.

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We have checks and balances. Our system is replete with them. To the extent that individual rights are threatened, it seems to me the right doesn't have a very clean slate in this regard.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I'm not sure I've ever seen Matt make a principled case for counter-majoritarian checks and balances. As far as I can tell he mostly thinks democracy is the only legitimate check.

And of course the "right" isn't at all immune to these problems. Lewis is talking about religious cons.

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It’s interesting CS Lewis said this as this is the problem with conservative Christian’s. I suppose it’s his more liberal Anglican apologetics shining through.

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I never understood how American conservatism works with Christian faith. One is extremely selfish, the other promotes selflessness and helping people.

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It makes sense if your primary manifestation of your faith is moral absoluteism. The Bible is obviously full of moral rigidity on virtually every aspect of human life, and it's definitely hard to square that with left wing moral libertarianism. The problem is that the teachings of Christ move away from those strict moral codes and focus heavily on caring for the poor and upending traditional caste hierarchy, obviously a heavily left-wing coded belief system. I agree with you, it doesn't make sense.

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I remember reading the Bible and thinking "boy there sure is a lot of murder and crimes in here". I mean King David just YOLO'ing through life is a hell of a thing to read when you are 10.

Josh (Jesus Christ) was all about helping people but there is a lot of the Bible that has nothing to do with helping people and is more about tribal conflict and try-not-to-fuck-the-goats-please stuff. I'm being a little reductive here but its not hard for me to see how someone could come away with the idea of "almost any act is allowable If I feel like God would endorse the end result or I can repent later".

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

A luxury belief, this.

You may be right that it would be oppressive to live under a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims, but I can think of a worse one. Namely, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of itself. Which, quite frankly, is what most actual tyrannies are, all myth and modern bellyaching to the contrary.

Those who’ve never lived under or visited an actual tyranny in their lives are going to find a government that tries to be a do-gooder the most annoying, and therefore, the worst. Those who have, may have a different take.

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The comparison is between the tyranny of the "righteous" and the selfishness of the amoral constrained by liberal institutions, not "Which tyranny is worst?"

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CS Lewis quote is about "Which tyranny is worst" and he is wrong. It's worse to live in a system that tortures you for pure selfish enjoyment.

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Systems can't enjoy things. Only people can.

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Well, then systems cannot care about the "good of its victims", either?

Clearly Tyrannies are defined by the behavior of the Tyrants, not the system itself. That's kind of what the word implies, and why they are generally considered bad, and why, every time someone considers that a Tyranny would be better because you could "get shit done", someone has to come along and remind them that you only "get shit done" until some other asshole who has no interest in getting shit done takes over as the new tyrant.

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"High minded" governance can turn into authoritarianism is very different from "high minded" governance is doomed to turn into authoritarianism.

"High minded" governance turning most famously to authoritarianism is obviously most famously associated with Communist dictatorship. But "high minded" governance has also given America Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the G.I. Bill, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and ACA (to give a slew of many examples). And I bring all of these up as these were programs created by the left of center party and pushed for left of center and Progressive elites.

Want to especially highlight Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act as environmentalism in general is probably the paradigm example of an "elite" left wing top down governance as Matt alluded to yesterday. Matt has written a number of posts noting that Progressive and Progressive institutions are tactically making a number of mistakes. But the core motivations are good ones and ones that Matt fundamentally agree with. His beef is that their tactics are being counterproductive. And reality is stuff like Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have almost certainly made our world a better place (for all the devil in the details flaws) and again are probably the ultimate example of "high minded" elite governance. Reality is a huge number of the people who work at Sunrise or Sierra Club are graduates of elite colleges who could have easily gone into work like Consulting or Finance or Big Law and be making vastly more money. There is no way you're choosing to work at Sierra Club over other more remunerative options unless you're driven at least somewhat by unselfish motivations.

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Yeah and most of the communist revolutionaries weren’t particularly high-minded. At least not the ones who tended to win out, who tended to be particularly venal and vicious.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

This echoes one of the criticisms I have of the article. "[A] tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims" seems to explain a lot of socially conservative thought. There is a kind of "humanitarian" logic to social conservatism: however oppressive socially conservative norms are, they are far better than what humans would get up to without their guidance.

It may be true that many are drawn to conservatism because it's hierarchical, or they themselves are cruel or selfish. But many of the smarter conservatives are playing up the communitarian nature of their worldview.

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The main reason that I'm conservative is that I want to live (and I want my kith and kin to live) in a system that is both competitive and relatively durable/stable...and I think the left (or at least progressives) are severely undermining the latter.

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Funnily enough, this is a reason that I am staunchly anti-Republican, inasmuch as I consider “every year is hotter than the last” to be an example of an unstable (and bad) system, and also an outcome that one party has made it its mission to resist amelioration of at all costs.

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Not to put words in Belisarius’ mouth (or yours!) but Republicans as they currently exist are anything but conservative and IMO it’s possible to be a conservative who’s deeply distressed by the Republican Party, and even its unwillingness to consider action to address climate change. This doesn’t have to be the same thing as freaking out about a “climate emergency.”

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Except 90% of people who self-describe as conservative happily vote for the GOP. Yes, there's 12 guys in some think tanks very very very upset but the reality is the overwhelmingly majority of the Trump Coalition is still just the Bush/McCain/Romney Coalition.

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You should read the Richard Hanania essay that Matt linked above. He makes a compelling argument that most conservatives focus on personalities, not ideas, which allows the ideas to shift wildly. There are, of course, intellectual and idealistic conservatives who are idea-focused, but they've always had less influence than their left counterparts and today have almost none at all. https://www.richardhanania.com/p/liberals-read-conservatives-watch

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Yeah, I’m with Ethics Gradient here. The Republicans are the party of radical change and chaos these days. The Democrats much less so.

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In what specific areas?

An anti-NATO shift and maybe taking a somewhat protectionist turn are the only things I can think of.

(But that one is mirrored by the Democrats becoming more free trade oriented in some ways)

Otherwise the GOP's goals and policy preferences are more or less aligned with what they have been over previous decades.

The change is mostly one of tone, I think. Trump putting his filthy mark on everything

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Oh they’re for gutting the civil service, ending Chevron deference, returning to Lochner era jurisprudence, gutting SS/Medicaid/Medicare, onerous work requirements for things like basic food and healthcare assistance, and putting people like me back in the closet. Not to mention a realignment towards Russian kleptocracy. They want to deport millions of otherwise law-abiding people that grow our food and build our houses. And they want to dismantle the education system.

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Setting aside the histrionic wording...none of this is really a change from, say, 20 years ago.

They are legitimate points of disagreement between right and left.

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Accepting the results of elections

Putting country before self as the President (not being massively corrupt)

Valuing character

It is in fact mostly Trump, but I think it's more than tone.

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The biggest "uh....what?" reaction I had to this article is when Matt said "[...] more paternalistic lifestyle regulations on things like food and booze and automobile safety, all of which would be left-coded ideas.". That to me completely codes as a right wing idea, and it was one that I was thinking didn't fit well on Matt's hierarchy vs. equality definition of the left/right scale. But my intuition makes it fit much better on what you've described here.

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I don’t think paternalism is inherently right or left wing. It involves getting something by trading away liberty, and both right and left place at least some value on liberty. The question is whether what you get is worth the cost.

If you’re doing paternalism to try to protect someone’s immortal soul, that’s probably going to get support on the right.

If you’re doing paternalism to try to protect someone’s physical health, that’s probably going to get support on the left.

Matt likes the latter kind, so he sees this as an area of agreement between him and the left.

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All hail the nanny state!

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I love CS Lewis, but he said a lot of silly things and this is one of them. *Of course* we should want our leaders to make good policy, morally speaking. And one man’s moral policy is another man’s moral busy-bodying.

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A good point in practice, but it DOES relies for its power on the assumption that the busybodies are in fact mistaken about what improves the lives of their victims.

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Not true: it relies on the belief that individuals should not be compelled to fulfill the moral preferences of others.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

Yeah but virtually no one actually believes that position as stated except for the most doctrinaire of "taxation is theft" ancaps and libertarians. "People shouldn't die for lack of healthcare or nutrition even if they lack the means individually" is a moral preference.

I'm not saying it's a position one can't take, but I am saying that I'm *extremely* skeptical that C.S. Lewis would have taken it.

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My comment was regrettably imprecise, and if you consider it out of context, I agree it was too broad to describe many people. But "a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims" concerns a specific kind of moral preference: "making better people" rather than "feeding the hungry."

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I simultaneously get what you're saying and feel bad about insisting on a distinction that can reasonably be viewed as pedantic, but also assume that we would agree that this may be an example where the spectrum-like nature of consequentialist utility combined with both innate human selfishness and people's capacity to want things that are bad for them admits of little in the way of self-evident lines that cleanly divide Bentham / Mill style individual freedom from putative moralist busybodying once we admit the existence of a large class of essentially benevolent paternalism.

I grant that this might be an instance in which "I know it when I see it" belt and suspenders practice may well prove more tractable than angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin theory.

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Partial credit. That is an element.

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I think you've overstated things here. After all, almost every law compels someone to fulfill the moral preferences of others. The question is whether such preferences are reasonable in and of themselves or are reasonably limited in scope.

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I agree that I overstated things, so I don't mean to push back too hard. However, I am not willing to grant that most laws necessarily engage moral concerns, and my objection to Thomas' comment is grounded in the idea that, too often, people treat matters of competing interests as moral questions.

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No, it assumes that being a busybody is wrong because there is no universal metric for 'right', and thus interfering with other people is prima facia questionable, even before you get to see results.

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I feel like there's an Onion headline in here somewhere: "C.S. Lewis, famous 20th Century Christian apologist, invoked to justify moral relativism."

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I think that a lot of Christian thinkers were serious about reserving judgement for God, and that personal wisdom and a personal relationship with God were reasons to accept differences between people.

Still funny though.

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I think the the way it fails to apply to this issue is that both parties are in fact busybodies in different ways. The left wants you to drink less sugary soda. The right wants you to not have an abortion and go to jail for doing drugs. The question really is to what degree any set of busybodies is willing to more seriously breach people's inherent right to choice and fundamental freedoms. I would rather have a soda tax than have my reproductive rights messed with. Apparently some people feel differently. I think it is worth noting that CS Lewis was specifically referencing social conservatism given the context of his quote.

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The sum of the comments is much better than the prompt. :)

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They aren’t though, if we’re talking about the religious conservative busybodies. Not about the core mistake of the importance of religion and God. They have some secondary points correct, like the importance of strong families, etc, but in the case of religious conservatives it comes from a flawed premise. And a lot of the resulting beliefs are straight up wrong, too.

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I don't think it's quite fair to say it's incoherent, it is coherent, it just rests a lot on what a millennial guy who grew up listening to Nirvana counts as "chill." This makes it not incoherent but *arbitrary*, because that's aesthetic judgement rather than a metaphysical theory of rights or theological content.

Here's a paragraph from his first essay in this series:

"But the structural weakness of right politics is that hierarchy is exclusionary. It’s one thing to defend religion, but whose religion? If you go too far with secular leftism, you can alienate all kinds of people. But if you’re chill, you can have religious minority groups inside your big tent coalition. We’re not taking prayer out of school because we’re trying to defame God and brainwash your children into secularism, we’re just trying to be fair to members of religious minority groups!"

If that's his main metric for when secular leftism is being reasonable or not, he's going to have no choice but to seek out the insufficiently chill and unfair in political disputes and put make position simply in opposition to that. I think Yglesias is illustrating the limits of a sort of Rawlsian pragmatism he has fashioned here. It's not because he's a good or bad person, but because if you set you metric at "chill", obviously any person's emotional state of who is acting chill and fair fluctuates on a regular basis. Nobody is truly stoic all of the time.

This in turn hurts his assessment of foreign policy. The left is acting too empathetic towards ally hypocrisy, the right is acting too selfish towards material gain from keeping business as usual with large countries like Russia or China. I think this is pretty unhelpful. The left in America is not upset about hypocrisy, but the existence of an American foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.

In their view, this is a deeply corrupt bargain that causes all kinds of suffering for no reason. This is entirely consistent with what some intellectuals on the left thought about the overthrow of the Shah (they celebrated and predicted a new social democracy could form), the legacy of a GOP president leading the Iraq war with some Dem hawks (which Obama wielded against McCain and Trump wielded against Clinton), and now Biden's relations with Saudi Arabia (totally inconsistent) and approach to the Houthis (the most literally inconsistent of these things, as in literally in taking them off and on the terrorist list at their whim.) But we must caveat that the Democratic party is overall less ideological, which is why they operate foreign policy more at the whims of interest groups in the party (that means balancing progressives and old school liberal Zionists right now by pretending the only disagreement is with the current leader of Israel) just as they do in trying to organize countless domestic policy priorities.

The left is not always a helpful guide to it as the right is in the GOP. But that's what they believe, and it's much more helpful to sketch out than call it caring too much and not having a realist attitude. One thing Yglesias counted on to drive sales of his last book is that left-liberal passion for increasing immigration would be front and center in a clash with Trump during the 2020 election. His bet did not pay off at all, so far as I can tell. There's no paperback edition. The topic was studiously ignored by both parties for tactical reasons, not that it has stopped Biden from pursuing big policy changes after getting elected. But if you take Yglesias's bet on left empathy, you would have taken his bet on his book sales. His theory misread the situation. I'm not sure why he has stuck with it since.

The right/GOP, by contrast, is driven in IR by being averse to truly massive statist expansion (via defense spending), for the same reason under Eisenhower the GOP cut defense from Truman's heights and ignored all the military policy intellectuals that demanded more conventional military spending and conscription. Even Reagan's (overall small uptick) build-up had a lot more to do with military R&D than conventional men in uniforms or even conscription (which Nixon announced in '68 he would end and wisely did.) This does not just come from middle class and mid-sized business aversion to tax raises for European defense, though there is that. It comes from a deeper anti-statist tradition starting with Hoover, which today we see is married to an Asia-first wing that is arguably as old as the party itself. How does Yglesias explain this worldview of American primacy in East Asia existing for so long in the GOP despite the brief dormant state after Nixon? He doesn't bother. It's just selfishness in his view. But there's a remarkable continuity in a 150-year-old party that he has nothing to say about.

Just as the left is insufficiently driven by empathy for analysis, the right is insufficiently driven by selfishness for analysis. But if you take Yglesias' metric of good policy, you're not going to be able to resist pigeonholing both. That's a problem for policy analysis.

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Elite conservatives (there are many) don’t choose to occupy high-status, low-pay jobs like academia and media. They work as CEOs, attorneys, doctors, etc. This has major downstream effects on the nature of political discourse.

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That’s true too

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Isn't there an old saying along the lines that the C average graduates go on to found successful businesses while the A students end up stuck in academia for life?

A lot of wealth can be made from behaviour that looks increasingly irrational and unenticing the more educated one is. High risk behaviour is innately irrational, and yet its corollary is high reward.

Enterpreneurialism is by nature a high-risk endeavour for those who aren't already so rich that risking large amounts of money could jeopardize their livelilhoods.

Selfish, narcissistic behavour is also innately irrational, but it often confers benefits.

Selfishness and business sense disproportionately draw people with moderate intelligence, whereas the academic elite gravitate towards abstract intellectual pursuits.

People who get "smart" in the sense of broadening their minds as much as possible tend to see the risks and downsides of cutthroat business doing, and grow avoidant of it. Whereas people who get "smart" in the sense of honing their ability to "work the system" — capitalism, that is — tend to grow resentful of those who eschew the system.

So the C-averages and the A-averages diverge significantly in their mindsets.

One sees the other as "stupid" for not recognizing the faults within the system; the other sees the first as "foolish" for not getting on board.

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Most of the C-average graduates go on to have more average careers, whereas most of the A-average students go on to have above-average ones, I think. This almost smells like a "bill gates didn't go to college" sort of thing, where people tend to look at the most extreme outlier(s) of a group and convincing themselves that everyone (or even most people) in that group have any chance of achieving that.

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It's not so much "Bill Gates didn't go to college" but rather "PhDs in philosophy don't want to start an aluminum siding business" or "MAs in history find the idea of jockeying for a corner office as a life goal repellent."

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Good news/bad news with a little more grade inflation, there won't be C students any more.

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I work in Big Law, as does my spouse. While Big Law is not the only elite legal career possible, it is certainly the highest paying and most aligned with big businesses. If any attorney career is a natural fit for conservatives, it would be Big Law.

In firm after firm, in offices across the country what I have seen is that Trumpism is incredibly rare. There are some conservatives, but very much in the moderate "I don't care if you're gay/trans/Muslim so long as you don't steal from me or raise my taxes" camp. If you broke down ideology by percentage represented by the 2020 primary candidates, you would get something like Biden > Bloomberg > Warren > Sanders > Weld > Libertarian Party > Trump.

Which is not to say that no one voted for Trump, but simply put Biden voters outnumbered Trump voters by a large margin, and those Trump voters were heavily Romney Republicans who held their nose for low taxes. I would be shocked to learn of anywhere in elite legal circles where Trumpism was common.

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Totally. I don't think too many people with brains vote for Trump except with the deepest possible cynicism. Law is also an interesting space because it benefits a lot from vague and complex rules and regulations. The incentives of large law firms are not necessarily those of small business owners, for example. Big law does pretty well with big government.

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There is a stark divide between large and small business leaders when it comes to Trump. Executives at big companies are hardly ever MAGA; they’re usually conservatives who kinda tolerate Trump or are maybe mildly anti-anti-Trump at most. I’ve met some very Trumpy small business owners, though.

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May 2·edited May 2

Big law mostly makes its money from (1) mergers and acquisitions and (2) commercial litigation, neither of which have much to do with vague and complex rules and regulations. American commercial law is reasonably straightforward (with some exceptions like tax and antitrust), it's the facts, the logistics, and the judgment that are messy.

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Hard disagree that "Muslims are fine but taxes are bad" is a moderate viewpoint.

That's classic conservatism!

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30Author

Under our current ideological spectrum, that's roughly where I'd place it.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I guess this comes down to whether you believe that there are "true" underpinnings of conservatism/liberalism, or if they are just "whatever the main political party in the US on the left or right believes nowadays"

I subscribe to #1, which might make me a pedant or just means I was a poli sci major.

The true underpinnings of conservatism are the hierarchy impulses Matt has discussed, as well as a desire for a smaller government in regards to social welfare. Maybe 1 or 2 other main points.

Conservatism sometimes is dismissive of other racial, religious, and ethnic groups, but this isn't a necessary element of conservatism.

Someone who has a big philosophical commitment to the #1 goal of the conservative movement in the US in my lifetime (keep taxes low especially on the rich) is not a moderate to me

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I work as lobbyist in Europe for an American company and most of my lobbyist American colleagues are small R Republicans. Very smart, couple degrees, some great policy ideas. But they wouldnt be caught dead working for the government or for Republican party and there is only so much you can do from the outside

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In many ways the conservative movement’s tendency to double down and purge dissidents for heresy has resulted in an intellectual vacuum. The GOP doesn’t even attempt to launder their ideas with policy justifications now, it just asserts things and just moves to the next script. Contrarian nihilism has destroyed it. It is just so lazy.

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I feel like that's an Iron Law of Institutions thing moreso than a strictly conservative thing

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

The distinctive feature of US conservativism is how extreme it is. Every cycle the big idea is a (multi-)trillion dollar tax cut, and tax increases are never allowed under any circumstance. It's just not a logically consistent approach to governance. The UK and Australian conservative parties win a lot more elections, but at least historically without this zealotry.

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Our liberals tend to be more extreme than in Europe as well. America is just great at producing passionate lunatics, we are very entrepreneurial that way.

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Only when it comes to identity politics

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The primary system makes it hard for leaders to enforce moderation to win elections

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Do the Australian conservatives win more often than the GOP? I don't think that's true

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The liberal party in Aus is considered the default party of government.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

They've held the premiership ~64% of the time since WW2. My stylised fact is that Reps are at 50%. And Reps have won the Presidential popular vote only once since 1988, Aussie (and UK) conservatives don't have some of the systemic luxuries Reps do.

BTW in case you are not aware, the Aussie conservatives are somewhat confusingly called either the Liberals or the Coalition.

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The tax cut thing goes back to Reagan (who was considered extreme prior to 1980). Trump didn’t really add or change anything in that respect.

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This a recent Trump-related development.

I hope it dies with him, but I don't think it will. Whatever he's unlocked led to enough realignment that it is probably durable.

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It’s been happening for years. I remember the GWB’s “you are either with us or against us” and talk radio (I used to listen to Michael Savage.)

RINO existed well before Trump. Trumpism just pushed the party to purge anyone with scruples.

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I agree with your overall point, but Bush was referring to nations, not Republican party dissidents:

> Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

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Also, RINOs aren't being purged for insufficient ideological conservatism, they're being purged for insufficient loyalty to one guy.

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See Deadpan's point below.

And I'd argue that under GWB and prior GOP presidents, it happened no more frequently than it did on the other side of the aisle.

There is some baseline level of self-policing that is necessary to have any coherent party/organization at all.

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And yet they couldn’t even purge Trump.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I wonder whether this article is really about the strengths of the left *in general* or if it's just about some things that happen to be true about the current American left.

1. What I think Matt gets right is that an aversion to hierarchy is really central to left-wing thought, whereas right-wingers are comfortable with it (and even appreciate it). To me, though, aversion to hierarchy is basically the defining priority of the left, way above cosmopolitanism and care for others. This is why some radical leftist slogans demonstrate no care for others whatsoever (or care only for select groups): "eat the rich," "defund the police," "burn Tel Aviv to the ground," etc. Remember, the Communists (the greatest leftists of all) were really remarkable in their ability to commit mass murder!

2. Is it actually true that left-wing values lead to a more analytical, empirical approach to problem-solving than right-wing values? Is it true across different societies and time periods? I don't see how this follows from Matt's characterization of the left. In Argentina, for instance, I strongly suspect that if you polled the intellectual elite, they'd be more right-wing than the poor, rural Peronist voters.

3. As for the idea that selfishness is a central feature that sets the right apart from the left, it's not obvious that this is the case. For example, there's some evidence that conservatives are more charitable than liberals:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34429211/#:~:text=Our%20meta%2Danalysis%20results%20suggest,giving%20varies%20under%20different%20scenarios.

Again, I suspect that aversion to hierarchy is really the main feature, which may lead to a bigger social safety net but also might lead to a mass execution of the aristocrats.

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I am not sure the Gaza stuff can be explained by aversion to hierarchy. There's plenty of Lefties, right now, who basically believe that the Jews should be expelled from Palestine because Israel is a colonial project. That's not an aversion to hierarchy- that's replacing one hierarchy with another. And I think the roots of that are in traditional anti-Semitism, which has both Left and Right roots.

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How is that not aversion to hierarchy? It’s not saying that Palestinians should be taking on colonial projects outside Palestine. It’s saying they are more deserving of this particular land, but it’s very explicitly not putting them in charge of other land.

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Name a Muslim majority country that isn’t more hierarchical than Israel in its form of government? Maybe Turkey? If you squint? And I’d expect the Palestinians to end up on the extremely hierarchical governments end among Muslim majority countries given how its political leaders have operated.

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I didn't think the claim was that we could expect a highly hierarchical government to come about in a de-colonized Palestine. (That seems likely to me.) I thought the claim was that the demand for de-colonization was itself a hierarchical demand, by supposedly elevating Palestinians over Israelis in a hierarchy. But I don't think the demand is itself hierarchical. The demand comes from people who see Israel as a settler-colonial state that has been wrongfully evicting people from their land, and who see their demand as a demand for equal rights. Just as one might see the demand for a group of protestors to stop occupying a building as a demand for the building to be restored to public use with all freely and equally using it, opposing the wrongful elevation of a new use over others.

(I don't think the framing of political debates in terms of hierarchy always leads to a helpful or univocal interpretation of the debates, though I do think it helps understand the interpretations given by left-identifying and right-identifying participants in the debate.)

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It's putting them in charge and saying the Jews will do what they say. That's definitely hierarchy.

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Interesting. Perhaps I need a better word than "anti-hierarchy": you're right that leftists are often eager to overthrow hierarchies and then immediately install totalitarian regimes. But when Israel was the underdog against the Arabs, wasn't the left broadly pro-Israel?

(And yeah, some left anti-Semitism probably contributes to the current left's image of Israel as the ultimate colonial, white supremacist state. I typically find that bringing up anti-Semitism gets me bogged down in useless arguments, though.)

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

I hesitate to bring this up as potentially inflammatory, but a litmus test might be that lesbian couple deliberately seeking to conceive using Deaf donor sperm to have a Deaf child back in 2002 https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/magazine/2002/03/31/a-world-of-their-own/abba2bbf-af01-4b55-912c-85aa46e98c6b/.

The counter-hierarchian view is clearly in favor of maximal individual reproductive freedom, but the resultant outcome seems both counter-egalitarian and seflish on the assumption that it’s better not to have people not merely circumstantially but congenitally less endowed than others and that it’s cruel to knowingly inflict disability on a child. Thus: which gets privileged when the two impulses (counter-hierarchy vs. egalitarianism) are in conflict?

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