A liberal reads conservative books

A guy named Carl T. Bogus (he’s for real) speaks:

One striking difference is that the iconic conservative works are about ideology. By contrast, the most influential liberal books of the era are about policy issues. Those works are Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Other America by Michael Harrington (1962), The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965), which helped launch the environmental, anti-poverty, feminist, and consumer movements, respectively. Some prominent liberal books of the time were about ideology — such as The Vital Center by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1949) and The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958) — but these are exceptions to the rule.

…Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t. There are, of course, taxonomies of conservative schools of thought. People on the right classify themselves as libertarians, neoconservatives, social conservatives, traditional conservatives, and the like, and spill oceans of ink defining, debating, and further subdividing these schools of thought. There is no parallel taxonomy on the left.

True or false?  The full article is here, interesting throughout.  Hat tip goes to www.bookforum.com.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.


Charles Murray's Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 was a highly influential conservative book about policy.

Milton and Rose Friedman's Free to Choose has a very strong policy component.

Edward Banfield's The Unheavenly City has a fairly strong policy component as well.

That was back when conservatives were underdogs and necessarily pragmatic and wise, not moronic ideologues hell bent on winning cultural wars on TV and online.

This is bizarre. Am I in a world with two moons here? The distinction is bogus. Name a policy sphere that is apolitical. Name a political issue that lacks ideological contest.

Policy = politics = ideology. And vice versa in most cases. I thank Weber for the insight.

"Monetary History of the United States" by Friedman and Anna Schwartz was probably the most influential book written since WWII, Ignoring it and picking "Free to Choose" as an example is almost proof of conservative's preference for ideology.

Joan, I'd agree with you sort of. But I've heard Liberal Keynesians citing (selectively) the Monetary History with a kind of poke in the eye hand gesture. You have to admit also that the other book has a more catchy title and is more readable. If ideology is about anything it's getting your message over to the masses. Which is why why Talcott Parsons said ideology = propaganda and nothing wrong with that.

"taxonomies of conservative schools of thought": I know just what he means. The American People's Liberation Front. The People's Front for the Liberation of America. Yup, you don't get that sort of thing on the left.

But isn't the humor in those groups that their ideology seems indistinguishable, despite their disdain for each other and different emphases in policy?

I see nothing funny about the Judean People's Front.

Everyone wants to be in the front. Where is division of labor? What about "Americans for Liberation People's Rear"?

I thought Plato's Club tried that in the 1970's but eventually got shut down.

That's in San Francisco.

Don't you mean the People's Front of Judea?

No! The JPF hates them. And the People's Popular Front of Judea too!

Maybe they didn't have dissimilar policies but the Marxists, Stalinists, and Trotsky-ites certainly believed they had very different policies. Do most liberals really care about the differences between libertarians, neocons, and groups they see as part of the right?

Not only do they not care about them, they don't even know about them.

Every left winger I have talked to thinks that neocon means far right winger.

I think they both mean I'm stuck talking to a mouth-breathing idiot.


What is a 'neo-con'? Aren't they former Democrats that left the party when the left became an anti-military party. Or is it a general term for former Democrats or radical leftists that have espoused some flavor of conservative ideas. I mean, Bob Dylan certainly isn't a neo-con, though he seems to be a libertarian now. Are Neo-cons the big government conservatives that seem to have taken over the Republican Party at the Federal level?

I think of neo-cons as primarily concerned with a big military and aggressive foreign policy. Other, issues seem to be more weathervane driven in their case to me.

I think a better statement might be that liberals have less use for orthodoxy. Which makes sense in a small 'l' liberal vs. small 'c' conservative world. Someone who is small 'c' conservative is going to be by definition opposed to change. Thus more likely to create an ideological silo to hole up in. That said, libertarians are extremely small 'l' liberal.

Do you distinguish small 'c' conservatives by definition opposed to change from traditionalists? If not, I think this sort would argue that the time-tested existence of a tradition is argument enough to retain it. So of the groups on the right, this group tends to regard themselves as having the least use for ideology.

Maybe...but I do know this, liberals typically get angry when someone doesn't agree with them.

Because conservatives are open-minded? Geez.

Because liberals care more? (Come on, feed the troll. I dare you.)

Seriously - cite a source apart from your own observation. One observation point is a seriously skewed sample.

Are you arguing that liberals don't get angry? Good luck with that.

Goddammit, this is no place for opinions!

A worthless thread

I cite Mark M, whose comment betrays anger.

Are you really gonna go round and round in a sort of "u mad" discussion? If so, what's the condition that signals a complete argument?

Worth it!

u mad, bro?

You leave it hangin', someone's gonna take a swing

The conservative agenda (with the possible exception of neoconservatives) is to roll back big government. Conservatives want to repeal policies. That makes them less interested in constructing new ones.

This is obvious.

So what immigration policies do conservatives want to repeal? How about homeland security? I could go on, but yours is rather simplistic obviously wrong statement.

The newer policy of not enforcing immigration policies. Sometimes the simplistic answers are the correct ones.

The immigration policy that we had from the revolution through the Civil War (none) isn't good enough?


Before the Civil War immigration was sharply limited by transatlantic shipping costs. Hence the existence of indentured servitude. Eventually, advancing technology made it possible for unskilled workers to immigrate on a large scale. Public clamor for immigration restriction rose rapidly in response. Finally, the shock of WWI brought tight controls (1917, 1921, 1924) that lasted until 1965.

Perhaps not surprisingly it was the Golden Age of American life.


America must certainly had an immigration policy before the Civil War. The importation of slaves was banned in 1808 and the penalty for violating the law was death.

The Northern states demanded and got a ban on slave importation. They opposed slavery of course. However, they also rejected the kind of society slavery created.

Similar concerns have motivated immigration reformers (restrictionists) ever since. Notably, the Know Nothing party wasn't just concerned about immigration. It was America's first mass anti-slavery party.

This sounds more like libertarians to me. In my experience, the generic Republican (who doesn't take politics seriously enough to label himself some specific variant.) is just against new demovratic goverment programs. Threaten their SS or Medicare though and they get mad. This would argue they are more just traditionalist. However, since a George Bush can make a huge new prescription drug plan with nary a grumble. I would have to say most republicans are just tribalists.

Yeah, conservatives hate big government: they hate huge military spending, they hate wars, they hate immigration prohibition, they hate interfering with marriage, they hate laws that govern people's sex lives, they hate laws that govern women's bodies .... etc.


You're confusing ideologies. There are three: liberals (fiscal conservatives, libertarians); conservatives (social conservatives), and egalitarians (progressives, socialists, bleeding heart Democrats).

Liberals (libertarians) believe in individual property rights, reason and logic. Therefore they like consistency and theory (in the sense of models of behavior). They are weak on compassion (from a theoretical sense) and collective action (but there is no developed theory of collective action).

There is no conservative theory worth a damn, but it's the most fertile area for academic development. Conservatives are concerned with agency, standards, and increasing returns to social scale (and thus specialization and hierarchy). Because standards are both absolute and arbitrary (eg, your religion or sports team), they are not amenable to reason, and hence conservatives will tend to avoid reason-based discussions. There is no reasoning with the fans of some teams.

Egalitarians are focused on equalizing marginal utilities of wealth and income, but put it to the analytical test, and their theory is quite vulnerable. (For example, which is more important: an egalitarian society or a wealthy society? Instinctively, most egalitarians will choose the former--thus being poor is an acceptable outcome, which it's really not to most people.) In addition, egalitarianism refutes property rights, which makes it, at its root, indistinguishable from theft. This troubles egalitarians because it's fundamentally anti-social, and they don't like to really talk about this aspect of their theoretical underpinnings. You can really go to a dinner party in Princeton and say, "Nice house. Too bad the government hasn't taken it from you yet."

So it makes some sense that classical liberals prefer theory, and egalitarians prefer policy (in which the theoretical underpinnings are less explicit). But I'm not sure the observation is more than anecdotal.

Sorry. You can't go to a dinner party and say that in Princeton.

There is no conservative theory worth a damn

Uh, ever read Edmund Burke. James Burnham and Jim Kalb are pretty good too. And a liberal who has ironically done much to bolster conservative theory would be Jonathan Haidt.

You're more right about conservative practice though, where it is mostly about non-rational adherence to God, country and family.

Man who was...

Can't seem to reply below your comment, so I'll reply above it.

When I mean "theory" I mean quantitative theory of the sorts macro-economists do. Greek letters, that sort of thing.

I think Haidt's on the right track, but he's not an economist, as I recall. He hasn't identified, I think, all the factors I note here. So when I use phrases like "increasing economies of scale", "hierarchy" and "allocation", I have in mind some notion of mathematical equations which express these concepts.

When I say that the liberal is the principal and the agent is the conservative in principal-agent theory, that's a very strong statement. (It might even be right!) When I talk about corporate culture as being the means by which effort, reward and risk are allocated in a hierarchy exhibiting increasing social returns to scale, I am thinking about something pretty specific and expressed in the language of economists. (Thus, ideology in this concept is primarily attitudes about effort, reward and risk. Note the similarity to the objective function of the firm, with risk treated as an explcit variable. Thus, we're talking about one objective function with three variables set in different orders, which creates in effect three different ideologies. And this then sets up the whole Three Ideology Model, which is the basis for thinking about the missing step in principal-agent problems in governance, which then leads you to align the incentives with a unified objective function.)

So what I'm proposing is a whole class of analysis around very specific and stylized notions of conservatism. Nobody's done that to the best of my knowledge. But once you do it, you don't have only an exposition of a particular ideology, you have a tool kit for addressing a range of issues.

I'm no political theorist, but I appreciate your classification's disregard of popular terms like 'Liberal' and 'Conservative.'

In my own experience, liberals like myself (who are often called Conservatives by egalitarians and conservatives) hold ideology above policy because we recognize that policy is always mutable in the hands of the prevailing regime. Conservatives and Egalitarians are awful fond of passing laws, but seem to lose interest after their passage, and seldom even wonder whether the policies they have enacted have had any substantial effect on the problems they were meant to solve. To Conservatives and Egalitarians, of course, the solution is simply to pass another law, enact another policy.

"In addition, egalitarianism refutes property rights, which makes it, at its root, indistinguishable from theft."

Property rights are social and legal constructs and enforcement of them may be indistinguishable from theft. Take a look, for example, at what William Mulholland did to the people who used to live near Owens Lake.

Oh man. I love libertarians 'we only use logic and facts; liberals are nice but incoherent' as if neoclassical economics (which libertarianism is built on) does not contradict itself (hint: it well and truly does. Ceterus Parabus is impossible in an interlinked economy).

'(but there is no developed theory of collective action)'

Have you ever heard of marxism?

'Egalitarians are focused on equalizing marginal utilities of wealth and income, but put it to the analytical test, and their theory is quite vulnerable. (For example, which is more important: an egalitarian society or a wealthy society? Instinctively, most egalitarians will choose the former–thus being poor is an acceptable outcome, which it’s really not to most people.)'

You are implicitly assuming that there is a trade off between equality and wealth. History actually suggests high marginal tax rates can be good for growth, and in any case they haven't proven to be disastrous. You also fail to note that what matters to many is relative wealth.

Libertarians: I would strongly recommend a book called 'The Skeptical Economist' by Jonathan Aldred. It's very good, particularly for those who think progressivism has no coherent underpinnings.

Yes - Libertarians (and probably others) would hate all of that!

dbeach -

I'm not sure that's exactly what I mean by classical liberalism. But Chinatown's a great movie. With LA Confidential, two of my favorites.

Turner -

I have heard of marxism. Indeed, my views were developed during the post-communist years in Hungary, when I had ample opportunity to learn about the marxist legacy. In fact, I was left to reconcile why so much of what I had learned in business and economics didn't appear to hold in Hungary. That's where I developed my own framework of analysis, some of which I allude to above.

The marxist view of collective action is, I suppose, built on the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in the end is just dysfunctional dictatorship. That's not what I was referring to. I mean that property rights of the individual ultimately depend on their collective defense by law enforcement and the judiciary. Libertarians, and indeed classical liberals, do not have a developed view of this function. That's what I meant.

Do high taxes deliver growth? Not at a 100% rate. Beyond a certain point, high taxes are corrosive to both the economy and the culture (see the many posts on Italy!). And the tolerance for higher taxes is exhausted well before you get to equalized wealth and income. But you do highlight my point, noting that "what matters is relative wealth." For an egalitarian, it does. Thus, lowering inequality, even at the cost of lowering the overall standard of living, is an acceptable trade-off. But for most people, it's really not. There are no boat people floating from Miami to Cuba so they can get in on Cuban egalitarianism.

'Beyond a certain point, high taxes are corrosive to both the economy and the culture (see the many posts on Italy!)'

You seem to think this is so obvious that it does not need qualifying. Of course, yes, 100% taxes would not work, but various Social Democratic states do very well. Check through the Angry Bear blog where Mike Kimel has done a lot of work on marginal tax rates - he's calculated the optimal tax rate for growth to be around 65%. He's also, amusingly, calculated the laffer curve to be upside down, empirically.

'what matters is relative wealth.” For an egalitarian, it does.'

No, it matters to *humans* (as opposed to homo economicus) for two reasons:

- Positional goods. No matter how wealthy a society is as a whole, the value of some goods (education is the best example) is dependent on others.

- Rivalry. Libertarians dismiss this as 'envy', but they are stupid to do so. Ordinary humans frame their wealth relative to everyone else, and as such inequality really does matter to the health of a society.

'The marxist view of collective action is, I suppose, built on the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in the end is just dysfunctional dictatorship.'

Well that's a bit glib. You said their were no theories of collective action but Marxism - for the most part - takes the class as its unit of analysis, and has many theories of collective action. It extends to more than the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Of course, I am still assuming that 100% of the wealthy's income is 'earned', which is obviously not true at the moment.

'There are no boat people floating from Miami to Cuba so they can get in on Cuban egalitarianism.'

Hey, nobody is suggesting Stalinist dictatorship.

If I understand their point of view, Liberals/Progressives believe that a) there should be few limits on governmental power (at least when it comes to the economic matters/property rights) and b) human nature is highly malleable. These are not ideological?

Actually, the person interviewed agrees that liberals have an ideology. The next few sentences that Tyler didn't excerpt:

But on this conservatives are more realistic. Ideology is inevitable; we all have an ideology, whether we are aware of it or not.

I think what he's saying is that modern liberals are less likely to examine their own underlying ideology, and are more likely to all agree on the general ideology but disagree with each other about the right policy. (Say, infrastructure vs. the environment.)

The far Left groups are, I think, more interested in ideology. But the broad mass of liberals tend to be less interested in ideology and think that their ideology is pragmatism. But certainly groups on the Right can come to similar policy views despite different ideological grounding. There's a dislike among libertarians between the libertarians who are libertarians because they believe its more efficient and those who are because of freedom, damn efficiencies.

Among the parties mentioned, and it pains me to say this, libertarians are the group most true to a (logically and morally) *consistent* ideology.

While liberals don't have as many self-identified and -named factions, they have wedge issues just as as conservatives do - many of which are rife with logical or moral inconsistencies (e.g. the preservation of life, what constitutes personal freedoms, etc.).

Put another way: even though they say they do, conservatives don't want government out of the way any more than liberals; they just seek very different interventions.

I'm not entirely certain that consistency is the most cardinal value in ideology. What's more important is that you get a good series of samples of what your preferred society looks like, so that at least where there is contradiction, you have some good starting points for figuring out what a suitable policy response is.

I disagree. If your policy prescriptions are inconsistent, it's pretty difficult to defend them.

Hypocrisy, lack of a true moral compass, and all that.

I think you can find inconsistency in any system of beliefs. It's better to actually figure out what you are after, and rank your priorities, than go digging for contradictions.

(as a side note, hypocrisy is the only postmodern sin specifically because it requires no moral effort to discover.)

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
------Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

The qualifier is "foolish." It depends. No person or group of persons, except the "religious," know enough to say they have a complete theory. One makes their theory as consistant and wise as their limits allow them, always knowing adjustments must be made. Libertarians, which I don't quite count myself in with, are highly concerned with consistancy. So much so as to make the others look like a joke.

Oh, yes, there are sub-ideologies here as well.

I don't know. The Paranoid Style in American Politcs is pretty ideological.

This is an easy question to answer empirically without getting into the opinion game of who is more or less open minded.

Assuming a website "links to" the sites it thinks its readers should read, or do read, you have a picture at least of what the website believes are good information sources to feed those hungry minds who visit its site. You can also search for reasearch by some folks at MIT on linking patterns of websites, and also traffic patterns between websites and their readers, and traffic patterns by readers. What they showed was 1) clustering of links to similar sites on the same ideological divide of an issue and 2) traffic flowing based on initial positions--thick lines of traffic by readers to those sites on the same divide.

I don't have the paper. The woman who presented it to the graduate department of marketing where I have been an adjunct cited other studies than her own, so I assume you can find those as well if you are interested in doing research on this subject.

This is an easy question to answer empirically without getting into the opinion game of who is more or less open minded.

I'm sorry, I don't see how that fully answers the question. The question isn't really about being open minded; it's about whether the sources used are more ideological and first principles based, or about policy.

I suppose you could use the highly cited site and then classify them as ideological or policy. Is that what you meant? I think that there would still be a fair amount of opinion in that, because it would be more difficult to classify sites than books.

John, This is an empirical question. You look at what websites link to other websites or what websites they recommend. This is the preference set of the website and what its author thinks is worth monitoring. Second, you look at the reader, and apparently there are data on where a person goes after viewing a site and what other sites they visit. Finally, you create a network map for each set of data, and, low and behold, confirmation bias leaps out at you. There is a lot of literature on this subject. Just google "mit social network analysis of website linking" .

The post isn't about confirmation bias, is it?

This post is very much a piece on confirmation bias, or lack thereof: "A Liberal Who Reads Conservative Books" It's just citing the work that's out there by other people that look at how people limit search to those they agree with. This talk about whether someone is or is not more ideological is just something that's going to create a lot of talk with no evidence. Whether liberals read conservative books, whether one group is less ideological than another, etc. But, the evidence is that neither group searches to obtain information--not liberals or conservatives. I gave you a way to search for yourself using google key words for you to form an opinion on whether this is valid work or not.

Fascinating, though off topic. And probably wrong. Induction gone wild, just like the man said.

Not off topic at all. It's just that you don't like the results because they do not conform to a view that can label one group one way or another. Both groups have the same problem.
A debate over one side is ideological v. another side being fact oriented, and whether each reads the others material, is partially addressed by looking at website linking, and readership patterns. If ideology, for example, is what drives you, you will link to ideology, and not other sites which contain more information by definition of containing another point of view. If you keep your set of information small, you are not searching for information that completes your set of information, nor are you searching for anything that challenges your ideology.

You seem confused. The question is ideology vs. policy, not ideology vs. "information."

Cliff, When you say "The question is ideology vs. policy, not ideology vs. “information.”, ask yourself this simple question: How is ideology formed in your mind? Do you use information to form your ideology? What you are saying is that information search is irrelevant to the formation of ideology and/or the change or maleability of ideology.

In your case, maybe it is.

Andrew', maybe you and John are missing the middle term of my argument. Blogs and websites are the equivalent of books, or at least they are a place where people search for information. The patterns reveal that people limit their searches to sites that conform to their view. If they were seeking information, their search would be broader. A narrow search signals ideology confirmation bias.

Bill, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Andrew, Perhaps this comment from John Thacker below will give you an idea of what I am talking about in terms of information search and ideology. Per John: "Actually, if you go so far as read the linked article, you’ll see from the next two sentences that he thinks that the Right is more honest, because everyone has an ideology. So he’s actually a liberal saying that the other side is more honest in examining their assumptions."

Bill, you are the guy who is always up in here with some paper. You get that right?

Andrew, I can reprhase it a different way: is a liberal more likely to read conservative blogs than a conservative reading liberal blogs. This research would suggest that they each stay in their own camp.

Right. IOW, the idea of many "liberals" thinking that they are not ideological and "conservatives" are is wrong. "Conservatives" tending to recognize *both* as ideological is a more correct view.

I don't have a link or a name either. In fact, the article I vaguely recall reading may have been about an entirely different paper. I do remember thinking at the time that it seemed to rely on a somewhat circular argument. Various sites were classified on a left-right scale by who visited them, not by content analysis or reputation. Let us say that liberals started at Balloon Juice and followed links to the NYT, WSJ, and NRO. Let us also say that conservatives started at Red State and followed links to Limbaugh, Beck, and NRO. It seemed that NRO would then get scored as centrist and WSJ and NYT as left.

gVOR08, That's really not my point: it is that people (both left and right) stay within their ideology for their search, and do not search outside of their ideology for information. With this post, all Tyler is getting is statements by people saying: I am more open minded, etc. and the other person isn't, which really doesn't tell you anything unless you actually look at search patterns for information, which tells you alot, objectively. Look at some of the comments: liberals say conservatives are blind ideologues and they are objective; conservatives say liberals are bigger ideologues; others say one ideology is arrayed around specific topics and interests, and therefore less ideological (in which case you would probably also find evidence of limited search--does the environmentalist read on blogs written by denialist of global warming, etc.

So, search patterns are relevant, indicate confirmation bias, signal what group you are in and who is the "other group" you are not in; search patterns may also indicate why some people are more willing to change positions or are not as intense as others on certain issues, but simply curious, but, damn few are.

But all of this seems consistent with the possibility that confirmation bias leads liberals to preeminently search for support for favored policies, while conservatives search for ideological support.

The question isn't about who stays in what camp but about what they do in each camp.

Or both. The idea from this posting--that being liberal causes you to read conservative books--is not born out by internet reading habits. Liberals do not seek out conservative sites, for the most part, and vice versa. What's bad about the post is that it takes one instance of a liberal looking at conservative material and extends it out to all liberals. When you look at the data of search, a consistent patter emerges: people limit search to those they agree with.

well, I guess it's clear from this post where bill went wrong in his reading.

Or that Careless continues his harassment and doesn't read or understand what is posted.

There are 175 comments in this thread, and one person who didn't get the point of the post. And it's not the first time you've done this, Bill.

"The idea from this posting–that being liberal causes you to read conservative books–is not born out by internet reading habits."

Swing and a miss.

read it again:
"Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t."

I think the last sentence rings truer if you substitute "liberals" for "the left". Friends of mine who spent more time at protests than I did used to tell me how the Spartacists would show up and rabidly denounce other groups because of some wording issue about how they phrased their commitments to Marxism.

Otherwise I think it's right. What's the liberal analogue of the essays you sometimes run into that try to explain how liberalism is a deviation from the key tenets of Western civilization that come from Ancient Greece by way of Christianity but never mention any policies?

Actually, I'll answer my rhetorical question. This is the analogue: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/10/sign_the_social_contract.html. Mentions of the social contract are a little micro-trend, and a really bad one at that. But note that this is a film-critic trying to parlay his popularity into a role as a political commentator.

Left's motto has always been pas d'ennemis a gauche, pas d'amis a droit. What's to wonder at?

I would have to say no. I see a divide in liberals (environmentalists and unions have very different agendas - look at keystone xl). The difference between liberals and conservatives is what they trust government to do (blind faith in government exists in both camps - just different aspects). The difference between both those and the more enlightened libertarians are libertarians look at results and don't trust government with anything.

This is just another liberal looking to say the other side is oh so political, but we are not.

This is just another liberal looking to say the other side is oh so political, but we are not.

Actually, if you go so far as read the linked article, you'll see from the next two sentences that he thinks that the Right is more honest, because everyone has an ideology. So he's actually a liberal saying that the other side is more honest in examining their assumptions.

Unsurprising, since this interview was posted on National Review, that it would have at least some praise for the Right.

Depends how you read everyone on the right has an ideology. I read it the left doesn't (not political), the right does (more political). I don't see how you arrive your conclusion. I see it as saying the right views everything throw an ideological lens and adheres to it, but the left, well, they muddle their way to "truth" because they don't have big appetites for ideology. I stand by my statement.

Environmentalists and unions are liberal subgroups organized around specific policy concerns, rather than ideology. I think this actually supports the articles point.

Also, I agree with John Thacker--read the article. It is actually a fair, almost admiring analysis of conservatism by a liberal.

neocons have the same policy concerns as libertarians? come on.

I do not understand.

neocons and libertarians are conservative subgroups organized around specific policy concerns, rather than ideology.

Can you articulate a coherent ideology that would unite the 2?

Don't think so.

Many of the books on conservative "ideology" Prof. Bogus (I now have the name for the to-be-much-ridiculed representative of academic sophistry in my coming-of-age novel) mentions contain policy suggestions, particularly those by economists, while all of the books of liberal "policy" are mostly thinly veiled ideological assaults. Both sides use both ideology and policy, and to paraphrase Robin Hanson, the policy isn't about policy, anyway.

First of all you need to distinguish between conservatism/traditionalism and right liberalism/libertarianism. The two are often very different, though there has been a kind of fusionism of the two ideological positions in the English speaking world.

Conservatism/traditionalism is less technocratic than either left or right liberalism and up until the twentieth century it has been more instinctive than intellectual. This has resulted in it getting absolutely obliterated in public debate. So, the great project of conservative/traditionalist intellectualism has been to define what conservatism actually is. Hence, the focus on constructing an ideology.

As a couple commenters have hinted at before, a lot of right liberal/libertarian works (Hayek/Murray/Friedman) have a lot more policy prescription in them.

Ha ha, what a great example of the "taxonomies of conservative schools of thought" that he mentioned.

He mentioned Friedman's "Freedom and Capitalism," but I'm not really sure he read it (which would explain why he doesn't know the correct title). He doesn't mention it in the next paragraph when he discusses the other books which he considers the canon of conservatism. But if he did read it, it's strange that he wouldn't call it an influential work about policy issues.

Although to be fair, some of the reforms he suggested that were carried out could be considered left wing stances such as abolishing the draft.

I think it's pretty obvious that he didn't really read Capitalism and Freedom. Not only did he get the title wrong, he seems not to have noticed that Friedman's contention that most of the racial discrimination then existing was the intended result of various government policies. This completely puts the lie to the canard that libertarians like Friedman were somehow insufficiently anti-racist. The chapter on school vouchers clearly shows a greater concern for equal opportunity than modern liberalism does.

I would go even further than that. I've read many of the books mentioned, and while they were all pretty good, Friedman is clearly much smarter than the rest. I just don't see how anyone who has actually read this stuff can disagree.

If we limit ourselves to the time period of the books listed in the post, then Bogus is probably right. But I think that has more to do with the relative policy and electoral successes of the "liberals" vs. "conservatives" from FDR until at least Reagan (and perhaps further). Many (if not the vast majority) of the key tenets of the "liberal" policy platform were implemented over a 40+ year period of liberal-moderate hegemony in Washington.

So, possibly liberals wrote about policy because they had a more realistic chance of getting those policies implemented, while conservatives wrote about ideology because they had a less realistic chance of getting any specific policy prescription implemented (with obvious exceptions like the anti-abortion movement or the push to teach creationism in public schools).

I would wonder if the period of "conservative" hegemony (say post-Civil War until 1931) witnessed a reverse situation, with "conservatives" writing more about policy, and "liberals" writing more about ideology (with some exceptions like the silver standard and factory/labor conditions, etc...).

I think this is exactly right. Outsider movements tend to focus on ideology. Insider movements focus on policy.

The interesting things today is that conservatives are basically insiders who insist that they are outsiders. In some circles, at least, they spend a lot of time and resources convincing themselves they are victims, which then prevents them from making any real policy contributions. Many years ago, I read a great piece by R. Laurence Moore that made essentially this argument with regard to conservatism and evangelical Christians in American politics.

Nonsense, conservatives have made massive policy contributions that have been adopted.
Here are a few of the many, many examples:

1) Ending the draft
2) The rise in home schools
3) The rise in charter schools
4) negative income taxes as a type of welfare that didn't discourage work

Well, I'll grant it's an imperfect simplification. But hardly nonsense. Insofar as conservatives have made policy contributions, how many of these have been made by relative "insiders"? How often do firebrand populist types (outsiders) in either party offer constructive policy suggestions?

And how does the rise in home schools count as a policy suggestion? This strikes me as more of an "I'm taking my ball and going home" response. In fact, large swathes of the home schooling community strike me as a perfect example of the kinds of reaction to be expected from outsiders focusing on their own "victim" status. Lets keep our kids out of the evil, scary world.

2-4 on your list are largely movements of the last couple of decades, and really outside of what I was talking about. The last 30 or so years have seen neither "conservative" or "liberal" hegemony in any real sense, or for any length of time. There has been no consensus at all over the last several decades, and therefore I would predict a greater evenness in the ideology vs. policy emphasis for both sides. The past generation has been about partisanship for partisanship's sake.

Also, this post, and my response, was not addressing policy achievements per se, but the relative weight of policy vs. ideology in books by "liberal" vs. "conservative" authors. Look at any bookstore's political shelves, and you can see that neither side is really doing much in the way of serious policy books any more. Ideology sells.

Thirdly, #1 on your list, while finally executed by a Republican president, under the cover of a bipartisan committee led (and influenced) by Milton Friedman, it would disingenuous to say this was done as a result of "conservative" policy books. Ending the draft was near the center of the radical left agenda for almost two decades before Nixon killed it. Additionally, many conservatives will admit that Nixon, in domestic policy, was one of the more "liberal" Presidents in U.S. history.

Rawls is about ideology.

"True or false?" Could be true in the sense that all logrollers are potential allies.

Perhaps this is not as interesting as it seems at first glance. The word “ideology” arose out of the French Revolution and reached full meaning with Marx. In more modern times it has been vulgarized to mean something like “philosophy” or “worldview”, which suggests that the true ideologies (e.g. Marxism) are similar to other strongly held opinions, such as classical liberalism. In fact true ideology refers to a distinct and meaningfully different view of mankind.

The foundational belief of the ideologist is that interactions between people are exploitive, even if they appear to be voluntary. This sometimes shows up in expansive definitions of externalities, adopted so that third parties can be held up as victims of ubiquitous exploitation, but more often it is reflected in the idea that what appear to be voluntary transactions between people are actually manifestations of a power relationship in which one party exploits the other and in which very few interactions can be said to be truly “voluntary”.

So feminist ideologues hold that nearly all interactions between men and women reflect the exploitation of women in a patriarchy, racial ideologues believe that what appears to be voluntary cooperation between races are really just exploitation by whites of “people of color”, Marxists believe that nearly all “free” decisions are manifestations of the exploitation of the proletariat, etc.

Critically, the truth of these viewpoints is not amenable to rational exploration. Rationality itself is often identified as a tool of oppression! The truth of the ideologist’s viewpoint is perceptual and more akin to an epiphany than a scientific endeavor – it is dependent on “consciousness raising”, not on reason. Once you have been relieved of your “false consciousness” you will simply see the truth, no extra work required.

So the absence of effort on the left to rationally justify their foundational positions would be superfluous if not impossible. The truth simply is available to all willing to see, and the goal of life is liberation, which Bogus interprets as policy.

"…Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t."
True or false?

You had to ask?

True. The left (communists excepted) doesn't have an ideology. Rather progressives are for "progress", which is defined arbitrarily. This is why the left is frequently so incoherent, for example railing against corporate welfare or corporations more generally while simultaneously backing government assistance for various "green" projects in the energy and transportation industries. Or why elements of the left can be very cosmopolitan and disdainful of nationalism while simultaneously railing against free trade and the outsourcing of jobs to foreign workers. Back in the 1970s many leading leftists such as Ted Kennedy and Ralph Nader led the way on deregulation, now the left is implaccably opposed to the concept. One never really knows where the left will lurch to next.

Libertarians on the other hand have a clear ideology and ideological goals: the expansion of liberty. When it comes to specific policy, one simply has to apply this ideological template/lens to arrive at a solution. Thus, across the board the libertarian solution for any public policy problem is less government and greater liberty. On drug policy the manifestation of this is simple: end the drug war. For something like tax policy, meanwhile, it means adopting an approach that involves the least government interference as possible (eg lowest rates as money=freedom and fewest deductions/exemptions/carve-outs so that government isn't discriminating or handing out favors to certain constituencies). When you've got your ideology down pat, policy becomes much easier. Absent an ideological north star, policy has to be decided on a case by case basis.

When you’ve got your ideology down pat, policy becomes much easier. Absent an ideological north star, policy has to be decided on a case by case basis.

What you mean is, slogans help liberatarians avoid the difficulty of actually thinking. Ideology substitutes for thought.

There is no virtue in letting one vague and ill-defined idea lead you to your conclusions about all sorts of policy issues. Not thinking about issues on a pragmatic basis is foolish.

Today's left, in the US anyway, seems to have hardly any ideology at all. It's mostly a collection of interest groups that get, and want to keep getting, favors from the government: unions, trial lawyers, finance, big corporations, environmentalists. These supposed "policy" discussions just end up being stories about why so and so should get more of our money.

You mean like the the defense/security sector, large corporations, farm subsidies - things like that?

I just reread your comment and you mentioned the clamoring for government favors by big corporations and finance as an agenda item for the LEFT?

Now that's an interesting take.

See also, GM, Goldman Sachs, Solyndra, et al. Try to keep up.

Goldman Sachs? Are you for real?

Which party is far more associated with pandering to big business?

0 for 1.

Which party has pushed the concept of personhood for corporations?

Yes, Goldman Sachs is more closely associated with the dems than with the reps.
Their donations tend to be skewed towards dems and they tend to take jobs as dem politicians and dem policy makers.

"Which party has pushed the concept of personhood for corporations?"

Neither. Personhood for corporations has been with us since, oh, the 1700s. That's why they're called corporations - you know, like bodies.

Goldman has tended to support Democrats.

Although Wall St is seen as the achetypal corporate bad guys, you have to remember the other demographic factors in play. Wall St people are the wealthy, urban elite, which tends to be liberal.

You can't simply say "Jewish"?

No, Flattus Maximus, because Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.

You're kidding me, right?

No and no. Wealthy people are more likely to vote Republican than poorer people: this has been confirmed by just about every exit poll that has ever been done and also holds across countries when looking at left-wing/right-wing voting patterns. Big-city people are more likely to be Democrats -- especially if they are unmarried, Jewish (and most American Jews are not Orthodox), or non-white. But many "Wall St people" live in the New Jersey or Connecticut suburbs and exurbs and commute to work everyday so you can't draw any conclusions about their political leanings just because they work in Manhattan. Bill O'Reilly works in Manhattan also.

Finally, if "Wall St people" are all a bunch of leftists, who is reading those op-eds that get printed every morning in the Wall Street Journal? Andrew Gelman's research shows that wealthy people in the Northeast are more likely to embrace a kind of center-right libertarianism rather than religious or social conservatism. That makes them somewhat prone to be swing voters when the Republicans start pushing too hard on culture war issues like gay marriage and creationism but otherwise, these are people who aren't going to complain when politicians cut their taxes or rail against welfare recipients (a la Newt Gingrich).

I should also point out that Goldman is an exception, which is why people who want to push the "Wall St. supports Democrats" meme always refer to it. The "Heavy Hitters" table at OpenSecrets.org shows that other major investment banks like UBS AG, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, and commercial banks and lenders like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Bank of America are pretty balanced overall and some are just as Republican-leaning in their contributions as Goldman is Democratic-leaning (60% of contributions went to Democrats compared to 39% to Republicans -- comparable to Merrill Lynch's 61% Republican contribution or UBS's 58%).

And let's not forget the previous CEO of Goldman was Hank Paulson who served as George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary and former Goldman managing partner Gus Levy was well-known Rockefeller Republican (literally, he and Nelson Rockefeller were friends).

Human nature is good, malleable, perfectible and of infinite potential. Therefore, if there is something out of balance - crime, poverty, inequality, racism, etc - something has gone terribly wrong and there are therefore simple solutions to set things back to the normal, happy Rousseauian state of nature. How does one implement solutions if people aren't doing it on their own? Government. Policy. So goes one theory.

Most conservative ideology is simply critique of socialism, pacifism, and other welfare liberal policies.

Are we considering only the intellectual class or more mass-market? hard to see anyone as influential at the retail level as Michael Moore, and to me he is very ideological (since most of his specifics are bogus).

Michael Moore? Are you serious?

At the retail level there are many conservative fools more influential than Moore. Limbaugh? Coulter? Hannity? Other radio or Fox people?

You want to compare audiences?

I don't have to. I am not disputing conservatives like ideology. I am disputing liberals don't. "I'm not ideological I just look at the facts" is self-deception -- all around.

The left is primarily about "takings coalitions", minority factions such as unions, racial grievance groups, feminists, and lawyers, all doing their darndest to be as parasitic as possible under the umbrella term "social justice", which always means "give more money to me and my group".

Social justice, give me and my group mo money, is what most actualized leftists ideologies are about.

Fail. Try again, and this time look harder in the mirror.

In tacit agreement with many posters above, I would put Mr. Bogus' point rather differently: American Conservatives and Liberals are not explicitly ideological, they are implicitly so. Coalitions of takers, as mentioned above. The oppressed minority of classical liberals and the threatened species of socialists try to frame coherent world views. Coherence would damn American Conservative and Liberals to extinction.

Your statement is a good example of why people should address their own group's failings, rather than attempting to portray the motivations of those they disagree with. Makes for much more informative conversations, rather than boorish comments that don't have much to do with reality.

Unless you are just trolling, that is. In which case, your portrayal of the motivations of leftists is spot on (for generating lots of heat and no light).

MR's recent posts have been especially interesting.

I enjoyed the entire article..it even had a cool premise. The most interesting part in my opinion was Carl's answer to whether reading these conservative works had changed him from a liberal to a conservative: "A. As Isaiah Berlin pointed out, what separates us at the most fundamental level may be our different conceptions of liberty. Conservatives value above all else what Berlin called the negative vision of liberty, namely, freedom from coercion. Liberals are more willing to balance that against the positive vision of liberty — that is, having a reasonable opportunity to realize one’s potential. The negative vision focuses conservatives on restricting the government’s ability to interfere in people’s lives. The positive vision leads liberals to believe that government has a role in guaranteeing baseline minimums in education, medical care, and healthy communities. Most of us probably accept both visions to some extent, but how we balance the two may be built into our DNA...." As with most balancing acts, I would argue that if we are honest with ourselves none of us fit neatly in ideological bins. Of course, we need some basic compass to keep moving forward.


"Conservatives value above all else what Berlin called the negative vision of liberty, namely, freedom from coercion. Liberals are more willing to balance that against the positive vision of liberty — that is, having a reasonable opportunity to realize one’s potential."

I agree with this. The thing is, the conservative vision of liberty is clear cut and well-defined. The problem with the goal of ensuring person A has "a reasonable opportunity to realize one's potential" is that you are placing an obligation somewhere else in order to make that happen. Liberals like to hand-wave and put this responsibility on "society" while conservatives see that, at bottom, "society" is made up of individuals upon whom these obligations fall. It seems clear to me that the liberal definition of liberty is immediately messy and vague as a result.

"The thing is, the conservative vision of liberty is clear cut and well-defined."

Like a woman's liberty to choose whether or not she will bring a fetus to term? That kind of clear cut and well-defined freedom?

The hypocrisy and inability to self-examine in these comments is daunting.

I love when a comment is self-validating, like yours.

"Reproductive rights" are problematic because the is nothing like consensus around the "personhood" of the unborn, which makes this argument a completely different rabbit hole and a particularly bad example. "Rights issues" around children and the mentally incompetent are similar rabbit holes.

Among a group of responsible adults, the conservative idea of liberty is crystal clear.

I don't think this is a damning argument for liberals, many of whom find the conservative definition too narrow and unsatisfying. I understand that, even if I disagree. All I'm saying is when you try to move to a "positive" definition of liberty things get muddled immediately, you face issues of balancing and competing interests, one person's right becomse another person's obligation, and the result, for good or ill, is hard to describe as principled.

In my opinion, the least assailable conservative position is being pro-life. Its very clear cut. Human life begins at conception; taking a human life is wrong; therefore abortion is wrong. Individual liberty for the mother is not part of the equation; to the pro-life crowd, killing a fetus is the same as infanticide.

I'm pro-choice, but am constantly baffled by the inability of many pro-choice people to understand and sympathiize with the pro-life view. Its a perfectly reasonable, highly defensible viewpoint.

I do understand it and I do sympathize with that argument.

My argument is that the whole nebulous "we support life and liberty" statement is ridiculous, especially from a group that is hell-bent on waging a largely victimless drug war and that favors capital punishment.

I think to argue it you have to go to the root of WHY taking a human life is wrong and what makes something a human life. I mean, you could say that sperm are human life and therefore masturbation is genocide. Or that contraception is the same as abortion. I do think that if you favor abortion rights, you should logically consider infanticide less morally reprehensible than ordinary murder. Otherwise, there is going to be some arbitrary cut-off.

Not just that, but I've had trouble getting left wingers to even acknowledge that it was an opinion that someone could take. This is because they were relativists and if someone could actually believe that life begins at conception, then they are correct (for them). They didn't want to have to believe that so they refused to believe that this was a real position, and that really the conservatives just wanted to control women's vaginas for their own nefarious reasons.

I believe both of those things - that someone could actually believe that life begins at conception and that conservatives (mostly religious conservatives) just wanted to control women’s vaginas for their own nefarious reasons.

Anyway, I'd like to understand the rationale behind the pro-capital punishment stance if life is so precious.

There are two liberties here. The liberty of the mother and the liberty (literally, the life) of the fetus. Egalitarians and liberals (libertarians) will tend to favor the mother. Egalitarians due to the prioritization of women's rights; liberals because women have better articulated individual property rights (eg, questions over when life starts) Conservatives will tend to favor the fetus, as in a social organization the strong have an obligation to protect the weak. This is an example of collective action (note my comments above).

"Liberals are more willing to balance that against the positive vision of liberty — that is, having a reasonable opportunity to realize one’s potential. "

Meaning, being able to themselves use coercion on others.
Yes, leftists are bad people.

I think the comments after my last comment....several about conservatives and a few about liberals...underscore just how much gray area there is in reality. People who share a label may disagree vehemently on the specifics of how that ideology should be put into practice. I have my personal views on policy which sample from both ideologies and that is why I am happy to live in a democracy where there is some process...no matter how broken it may seem for sorting out our differences. It still strikes me as sad that we can't agree to disagree more about issues.

"There is no parallel taxonomy on the left."

In my experience, lefties /love/ to create in-groups and out-groups (especially based on ideological purity).

Classifying libertarians as "a type of conservative" is an act of leftist propaganda, as far as I'm concerned. Leftists know that libertarianism blows a gaping hole in their entire set of ideologies *and* policies. Their only ability to respond to libertarian criticism is to engage in the ad hominem lie that libertarians are "conservative extremists."

This has never been true. Libertarianism has a number of inherent flaws that do not require propaganda to expose. I'm probably stupid for listing them because I will create a shitstorm, but I feel I should substantiate my claims:

- Complete negation of positive rights, instead defining liberty only as 'negative liberty'.

- Effectively basing your ideological premise on perfectly rational economic man. Thaler and Sunstein highlighted the bizarre policy prescriptions this leads to in the real world, though they didn't seem to realise the extent to which they had exposed libertarianism.

- Use of the terms 'free market' and even 'market', which are effectively meaningless; framing everything as governments versus markets, etc.

- The 2008 crisis. No it was not caused by the government, please don't make me cry by saying it was.

There are, of course, more, and we could debate these for a while, but I will try to avoid it to maintain my sanity.

My overall point, though ,is that leftists *do* have substantial objections to libertarianism, and accusing them of having nothing and simply throwing out ad homs is disingenuous.

If "market" is meaningless, good luck trying to explain what caused the 2008 crisis instead of government.


Can I live in your simplistic world?

I'm afraid there's no room in it. Rent control.

Are you seriously saying massive corporations were not the sole cause of the financial crisis?

You misread me, Turner.

My objection is not that the left can credibly object to libertarianism. They can.

The problem is when leftists engage in the ad hominem of classifying libertarians as rightists. They're not.

Object to libertarianism to your heart's content, and many of your feelings will be valid - even if I disagree. But make sure you are actually talking about libertarianism, not just "extreme rightism."

Fair play but you did say 'their only ability to respond' was ad homs.

Positive rights are an obvious logical absurdity. If you're lost in the woods, who is violating your "rights?"

Of course the 2008 crisis was created by gov't, even Obama's Treasury has talked about the moral hazard. Blaming "corporations" is like blaming the sun for the collapse of Solyndra.

What a load of bs.

At fault for the meltdown: large companies like Countrywide which were pumping out no-doc/liar loans in exorbitant and onerous amounts to people wholly unqualified to pay those loans; the banks for packaging, and then simultaneously selling and shorting those packaged toxic loans; the intentional obfuscation across the board by said mortgage lenders and banks as to what exactly they were doing; the ratings agencies which didn't take the time to analyze what they were rating; AIG, which bought a lot of the packaged junk (admittedly they are a quasi-governmental corporation); and at the very low end on the blame scale, the government for pushing forward the home-ownership agenda. You can thank G.W. Bush and Alan Greenspan for that.

You can blame those who took out the loans as well. I happen to think that a significant percentage of those loans were made to people who were essentially hoodwinked.

'Positive rights are an obvious logical absurdity.'

Obvious. Move over centuries of philosophy and political debate, TallDave is incredulous!

'If you’re lost in the woods, who is violating your “rights?”'

You've just managed to demolish your own position. Nobody is violating your 'negative' rights but you do not have any positive ones. This demonstrates the importance of positive rights.

Complete negation of positive rights, instead defining liberty only as ‘negative liberty’.

In most places you'll get away with that nonsense.

I'm left-leaning and while I wouldn't say that libertarians are "a type of conservative," I think it's fair to say that libertarians more often vote for conservative candidates and as a whole lean more toward the conservative left-right spectrum of politics (what counts as left-right in the US anyway, but that's a completely different discussion).

I find that alignment odd since I don't see conservatives - today's conservatives, anyway - any more interested in reducing government than today's liberals. I think it's that there is a greater appetite on the part of libertarians to have taxes funneled to (implied productive) industry rather than to (implied lazy) citizenry.

The other major element is the liberty issue, where liberals are seen as promoting a nanny state and impeding personal freedoms, though again I find this odd since liberals are far more likely to want things like religion out of the government and an end to the drug war. I imagine those stances don't counterbalance things like trans-fat/smoking bans, the EPA, the FDA, etc. in the mind of the libertarian.

My response to libertarianism is that it is ideological in the extreme and that any policy recommendations (such that they are, most are wildly overarching and short on details) are suited not for the real world but for some utopian fantasy.

Just one example: the half-baked policy prescription that we eradicate the FDA, the rationale being that big pharma will be properly incentivized not to manufacture malignant drugs since consumers will have recourse through tort cases. That's just a patently ridiculous construct, especially from a group whose stated purpose is to reduce the size of government. Is the judicial branch somehow not part of "the government"?

A lot of things seem ridiculous when you have not experienced a world where they are the norm. What would you say if there were no FDA and things were going fine? Would you maybe say it would be ridiculous to have an FDA interfering with the development of new drugs? The question is ultimately empirical- does the FDA save more lives than it takes by slowing and reducing the development of new drugs?

"A lot of things seem ridiculous when you have not experienced a world where they are the norm. What would you say if there were no FDA and things were going fine?"

While your thought exercise is lovely, your mythical world doesn't exist.

If the latest financial crisis wasn't enough proof that, when left to their own devices, large corporations will cheat, steal, and defraud for financial profit, I really don't know what to tell you. There is a long historical precedent for this kind of behavior.

I, and I'm sure most Americans, don't want to live in a world where the consumer is thrown to the wolves to figure out which medicines are effective, which are ineffective, and which are downright harmful. Doctors won't know these answers either - who will have the time and resources to test and verify those things?

Put it this way: would you be willing to expose your children to unknown, possibly untested drugs?

If you choose to characterize all libertarian policy options as "The Elimination of ___________" then I might agree with you.

But that would be stupid. Any reduction in tax rates, or the size or scope of government, is a libertarian policy option.

Well, they vote that way.

Currently and in the USA. Not always historically and in all countries.

Most libertarians currently see the left as more dangerous than the right so currently most vote right. Doesn't mean they like it.

Reason spent 2008 campaigning against Bush.

Only because the left is worse on every single aspect, including trying to shove morality down people's throats.

Nice job with the trolling attempts. Still giving you 4/10 though. Keep working on it!

This is just another iteration of the "I'm, you're, he's" game, as in:

"I'm principled, you're stubborn, he's pig-headed"
"I'm passionate, you're high-strung, she's a drama queen"
"I have actual policies, you just have an ideology"

It's name-calling in lieu of an actual argument.

It's nice, though, that "ideology" is a pejorative term nowadays even in the eyes of the left. Once upon a time, clutching their copies of Mao's little red book, they were ideological and proud.

I think that the difference is that many of the disagreements within the right are about goals, but the differences within the left are about priorities. This is, in part, because much of the left's goals are about spending money and they recognise that there is only so much money, so they have to choose which of their goals to spend on. The other factor is that much of their goals require legislative time, and again, that is a limited resource.

Take, for example, environmentalism and feminism. They are wholly compatible, but every hour the Senate spends debating an environmental regulation is one it doesn't spend debating a stronger equal pay law, or changes to rape laws that improve the conviction rate.

Since when is the left is good at recognizing "that there is only so much money" to spend? They are hardly known for their budget-balancing enthusiasm.

And why do you assume that the conviction rate needs to be "improved" (ie, increased)? Cases like the Duke lacrosse hoax, DSK, and (probably) Julian Assange should give you pause.

Paul Krugman: Are you following this discussion?

sorry if someone made this point already but leftist/socialist groups are always full of hilarious bitchy infighting based on the sharpening of in-group ideological differentiations. in china this is called 上纲上线, a prominent phenomenon of the cultural revolution. orwell made the same observation about the english left of his time.

Solzhenitsyn made a similar point about the rivalries and in-fighting among different shades of socialists in the USSR of the 1920s.

As did Hayek.

Hayek's said that it was because they were fighting over a pool of power, not actually over ideology.

Conservatives value above all else what Berlin called the negative vision of liberty, namely, freedom from coercion. Liberals are more willing to balance that against the positive vision of liberty — that is, having a reasonable opportunity to realize one’s potential.

This is interesting mostly because of what it says about Bogus. Only libertarians believe in freedom from coercion generally, it is not a general conservative value -- conservatives tend to believe in freedom from economic coercion by gov't, but not social.

Amusingly, social coercion by the gov't has its roots in the old Progressive movement that spawned Prohibition, among other things.

Yes, the left believes in freedom to coerce others. This makes them immoral people.

THey call it "positive liberty." I am positively gonna take your stuff.

There is no parallel taxonomy on the left.

I call bullshit on this one. There are at least two schools of liberalism out there, the liberal pragmatists (people like Larry Summers, Cass Sunstein, Paul Krugman in some of his moods), and the more unreconstructed leftists: socialists, environmentalists, feminists, racial activists. You might call them the technocrats versus mysticisists.

The "mysticists" certainly exist but the point is that it is the pragmatists who have the influence in mainstream politics. And sometimes they don't even have that -- Paul Krugman is certainly to the left of the current Democratic Party on economic policy.

But the interesting thing about the pragmatists you mention is that they are all Ivy League professors. In other words, they are the focus of much conservative ideological scorn and have been since at least 1951 when William F. Buckley wrote "God and Man at Yale."

Rawls? Walzer? McIntyre? Reinhold Neibuhr?

it is hard to view this as anything more than a prejudice in what we count as a significant book. it may be due to either the left having more success in academia, or to the Cold War. conservatives for 50. years preferred to present themselves as ideological opponents of communism while the American left for the same period worked hard to present itself in public as pragmatic, loyal, and lacking even a hint of ideological socialism.

As others have pointed out, if this has any truth to it (not sure that it does) it would be quite recent and limited to America.

Certainly those on the left have studied ideological and theoretical issues long and hard in the past - and still today - with Marxism being among the forefront. In America today many on the left distance themselves from that theoretical foundation, sometimes leaving them floating with little but policy and sometimes neoclassical or Keynesian leftist thought (e.g., Stiglitz or Krugman). Libertarians (and to a lesser extent "conservatives") drench themselves more proudly and fully in their thought (e.g., Austrian economists or founding fathers, etc).

Doesn't Bogus' claim more or less follow from the cherished conservative belief in the insularity of liberals? If the only people you ever talk to are other liberals, naturally you're going to come to view the ideological questions as settled and lose interest in them.

That said, it's hard to believe that half-century-old books on policy could continue to hold much interest for non-historians without a generous mixture of ideology.

This is true, and easily explained. One can't be a liberal without being, implicitly or explicitly, a consequentialist regarding government. There is almost no emphasis on process concerns; government power is just another means to an end. Therefore, the only relevant questions are which means (policies) achieve the ends sought.

"Conservatives" (I use quotations because as stated, there are many varieties) are usually based in one or another type of deontological natural law tradition. Means matter, not just ends (if ends even matter at all). This is the tradition in which the country was founded; British empiricism and natural law embodied in Locke mixed with heavy process concerns (Federalism) produced the US Constitution. So the question becomes not only which policies ought we to pursue, but, more fundamentally, which policies are available to us in a just society.

Conservatives who follow Hayek libertarians who follow Mises (politically, not just economically) are actually closer in thought to liberals than are conservatives who base their thought in Nozick or Locke. They argue policy, but just have nearly across-the-board positions against using government or law to make active policy. Essentially, they're in a room full of liberals arguing "All of your ideas are wrong. We shouldn't do any of that. Stick to protecting private property, that is the best policy."

So it is natural that there would be such a distinction. Of course conservatives are more oriented toward ideology. The points they argue are foregone conclusions to liberals. Which is one reason I think we ought to be aware of the detriment suffered to the national debate when liberals hurl the word "ideologue" as a pejorative. It would be the equivalent of conservatives calling all liberal arguments they didn't like "totalitarian." There is a fundamental divide in the national political conversation that usually ends in both sides talking past one another. It is finally present in this election, in the question of the nature and purpose of government. Which is why attempts to shift the conversation back to safer grounds will really result in the cessation of the question altogether.

It's purely anecdotal, but the accusation seems to be accurate. I don't encounter many liberal voices seeking define themselves as more liberal than the next, or tarring their fellow liberal as too conservative.

Yes, because the Democratic party is a rent seeking coalition. i.e.: vote for my payoff and I'll vote for your payoff.

This is a not-so-well-veiled political point. He's essentially saying iberals care more about being empirical, rooting there policy views on evidence. Conservatives seek consistency; they try to derive their views on policy deductively from axiomatic first principles. I think there's a more than a grain of truth here but I don't think his original point is as accurate. I must say, though, that the ideas of Milton Friedman, one of the biggest conservative policy-oriented authors, has arguably had a bigger influence on the left than the right.

'I must say, though, that the ideas of Milton Friedman, one of the biggest conservative policy-oriented authors, has arguably had a bigger influence on the left than the right.'

Sounds like an interesting hypothesis - could you elaborate?

There is only one word, on average, that conservatives like to use to describe ANY liberal: Marxist.

You support universal health care, but also denounce things like the Patriot Act, increasing taxes on small business, and decreasing taxes on wealthy: Doesn't matter, you're still a Marxist who wants nothing but handouts from the government.

You do realize that its the dems that are increasing taxes n small businesses? They call it wanting to increase taxes on the 1%. But the 1% is mostly made up of small businesses that file income taxes like individuals.

They have a choice how to file, and any profit left in the business is taxed at corporate rates, It is only the profits they use for personal consumption that are taxed at the personal income tax rate.

Utter nonsense. Do you even know what a Subchapter S corporation is, and why most small businesses file that way?

Because the differentiation of various styles of socialism is about as interesting and informative as describing the different colors, shapes, sizes, and consistencies of excrement.

Socialism is a sufficient condition for totalitarianism, and any minute theoretical distinction only defines which set of animals will be more equal than the others, or which cult hero's picture will be emblazoned on every wall.

The fundamental aspects of capitalism are private property rights and free markets. Our government was instituted with a duty to protect these institutions, and was given very LIMITED powers to regulate them. The more you wish to change the dynamics of either, the more you depart from the duty of protection and devolve into state control. Control and ownership of the means of production or the wealth generated from it is the definition of socialism, and it is patently un-American.

Not a big fan of policies, so I'll say "true."

How about Jane Jacobs? The Death and Life of Great American Cities is certainly one the most powerful and influential anti-planner / anti-statist works you can point to and it's very much about policy issues.

I wouldn't really call it 'right wing', though. She's just saying planners are doing it wrong rather than calling for an end to planning.

This thread could be cited in the post about the quirky things in the US.

Because in the rest of the world it is exactly the opposite - it is the left that is obsessed with theory and it is divided in several sub-chappels - "third way" socialists, "old left" socialists, greens, orthodox communists, maoists, hoxhaists, trostkyists, council communists, autonomous, anarchists, etc. while is the right who claims to be "practical man who don't care much about ideology" (the work of authors like Burke is largely, exactly, against the "abstract theoreticians") and with very fluid lines between liberals, christian-democrats, conservatives and nationalists (who often coexist in the same parties).

Perhaps the root of the diffeence is that your "liberals" are, in reality, centrists, not left-wingers in the way that there are in the rest of the world. And being centrists, naturally don't care much about big theories.

Put in another way - the reason because there is not a much complex left-wing taxonomy in US is because all other currents outside "american liberalism" are totally marginal.

Marxism, feminism, environmentalism.

Btw, The One-Dimensional Man (Herbert Marcuse) can be considered a book about ideology, or it is in a different league?

In a world of unlimited power of government, ideology coalesces into "movements" to focus political energy toward particular interest groups. Once we have decided to divide the pie, the argument becomes who gets a slice and how big a slice they get. Witness how politics operates in cities dominated by liberals.

In a world of limited government power, there is little need for "movements." Politics is reduced to the maintenance of fundamental principles and ideals, and political energy is focused on resisting change. "Movements" only arise when a particular right is threatened, such as the right to bear arms. One could say there have been quiet counter-movements against feminism, affirmative action, indifference to crime, income redistribution, and welfare which have been quite successful despite no national organizations to pursue them.

As far as corporate special interests go, they are far surpassed by the power of Big Labor.

'As far as corporate special interests go, they are far surpassed by the power of Big Labor.'

How can you say this? Where have you been for the past few decades?

So Left Libertarians = Liberals = Progressives = Anarchists = Marxists = Social Liberals with Neoclassical Economic beliefs = The anti-imperialist pro-Third World protectionism and nationalism left = all the clades of Cultural Marxists? To name just a spatter.

I think it's pretty safe to say that there is no fundamental left unity.

"Perhaps the root of the diffeence is that your “liberals” are, in reality, centrists, not left-wingers in the way that there are in the rest of the world. And being centrists, naturally don’t care much about big theories."

Excellently put Miguel.

So in the end, what is ideology?

Is it a "consideration", for example, when Bernanke states that there should be certain "equity considerations" in policy? Is it thus some kind of constraint?

Is it something held by the delusional, but not by the rational?

Is it a kind of veneer used to prevent appropriate policy making?

Or is it the objective function itself? Is it the very ends and goals of politics? It would seem so. We call parties things like "progressives", "conservatives" and "liberals". So it would appear that ideology is the primary goal of politics. It's what policy is intended to achieve. If you're on the left, you want policy to achieve equality, protect the weak, and you're willing to sacrifice individual liberty, traditional family ties, and the economy to get there. If you're a liberal or conservative, it's just the opposite. Count the number of comments on this post. How important do you think ideology is?

And if you believe ideology is the objective function, that values trump analysis, then you inhabit a different world from the one they taught you in economics courses.

I can't comment there because I'm banned at EconLog, but Arnold Kling's comment was embarrassing to me as a rightie. I doubt he actually read the books Bogus cited, because he certainly didn't cite any specific ones. He just has a generalization he'd like to apply to his political opponents. News flash, Kling: the two "systems" are found among all political ideologies.

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