Grounds for a theory
Without intending to, our four professors give a pretty good answer to this question. In laying out what characteristics they think define their opposite numbers (conservatives) the professors are actually are laying out, in photo-negative, their own self conceptions. Apparently this has been a major activity amongst left academics for five decades. By compiling this activity the professors in effect compile decades of self dissection by illiberal “liberals.”
The results support a compelling theory of illiberal “liberalism.” Starting at the bare psychological level, “liberals” (illiberals, if you want to get rid of the quotes) build a world view based on squeamish reluctance to pass moral judgment, (what can be called non-judgmentalism or moral relativism). Of course we already know that political “liberals” are often squeamish about moral judgment. What the good professors do is lay it out for us, from premises to implications.
This provides a framework for understanding the real conflict in America today. On one side, conservatives embrace of a body of moral understanding that yields principles and judgments. On the other side is “liberal” antipathy to judgment and principle. If there is a “liberal” principle, this is it: to try to turn moral skepticism into a principle.
Certainly there are exceptions, and these will be discussed, but our four professors make a strong case. Not only does their meta-analysis of a number of earlier surveys indicate that liberals do indeed abhor principle in principle, but their so-called “liberal” positions demonstrate utter cluelessness about the substance of principled moral understanding. Rejection of principle turns, not surprisingly, into unprincipled thought and behavior, supporting what is presumed to be right via demagogic manipulation, unconcerned with reason, evidence or truth.
Examining this clash between principle and un-principle is a worthwhile exercise. In addition to demolishing a slanderous line of left-academic research, it also goes directly to the heart of the terrible political divides that rend America and the world today: not just conservatism vs. illiberal “liberalism,” but also Christian vs. secular morality and even the West vs. our Islamist enemy. Everything comes down to principle vs. rejection of principle, trust in truth vs. demagogic manipulation of lies. All must either learn to trust in truth, or be defeated by it.
Illiberals and non-judgmentalism
Sulloway is right. The theory is utterly revealing, not about conservatism, but about the liberty hating “liberalism” that he and his comrades subscribe to and see as opposed to conservatism. Look closely at the list of psychological traits that, in the history of illiberal thought, are taken to define conservatism: against ambiguity, against uncertainty, in favor of closure. What this parade of bogeymen actually charges is that conservatives come to conclusions! They resolve uncertainty and ambiguity and achieve closure, and we all know how that happens. Resolution comes from compiling understanding, so as to arrive at applicable moral and practical principles.
Anathema! The professors, and the body of “liberal” theorizing that they summarize, in effect declare their own abhorrence at these building blocks of principle: they embrace ambiguity, they embrace uncertainty, they resist closure. At least they are consistent. This abjuring of judgment is also their underlying theoretical presumption: that positions are arrived at via psychological tic rather than by following reason and evidence and developing understanding.
No wonder these researchers have no clue what any conservative or even liberal principles might be. They don’t themselves have ANY principles, or even understand what a principle is, or how one might be arrived at. That is what their embrace of ambiguity and uncertainty and non-closure means. They are unable or unwilling to move forward in their understanding of right and sense. For five decades, “liberals” have actually been calling themselves stupid. They have been bragging about not being able to resolve anything. Just imagine how complex their minds must be, holding all evidence in a state of perpetual incomprehension. These guys must be real studs, to be able figure out nothing at all and still get jobs at top universities.
Of course no one can actually be non-judgmental, or a moral relativist, but it is perfectly possible to be unprincipled in one’s judgments, and this is what moral skepticism leads to.
If “liberals” embrace non-judgmentalism, it could explain their illiberalism. Those who are squeamish about moral implications cannot share in the moral understanding on which this nation was founded. In particular, they cannot grasp how liberty works or what makes it important. Liberty is what allows people to make progress in the discovery and pursuit of value. It enables the development of moral principle and empowers people to act on their moral progress. If one denies the possibility of moral principle and moral progress, liberty becomes much less important.
We certainly see this with our four deaf mice. Ronald Reagan=Adolph Hitler, and no bell rings. Liberty has no presence in their minds, just as we should expect when liberty is grounded, not in a theory of right, but in a denial that there is any such thing as right. When there is no comprehension of the moral underpinnings of liberty, “liberalism” can even segue into its opposite. Any other concern, having an actual presence in the illiberal mind, will trump liberty.
This theory of illiberal “liberalism” as non-judgmentalism is plausible as an account of academic illiberalism because, as Jost et al. show, left-academicians have been systematically declaring themselves to be pro-uncertainty, pro-ambiguity and anti-closure for many years. They have declared their moral skepticism so we know that the theory fits them. The question is whether non-judgmentalism accounts for “liberalism” more broadly. This seems plausible, given that non-judgmentalism is something of a secular religion amongst those who call themselves “liberal” in America.
Sources of non-judgmentalism
One major source of non-judgmentalism is our system of socialized primary and secondary education, which cannot help but teach moral relativism to children. It is not for government to tell the people how to think straight morally, and any attempt to do so elicits angry protests from those parents who reject whatever particular moral lesson the schools might teach. As a result, the schools by default end up teaching that there is no right and wrong, only difference. They end up teaching non-judgmentalism, or moral relativism.
At the college and university level, moral philosophers may reject moral skepticism and moral relativism, but they are vastly outnumbered by the forces of political correctness, which most certainly do embrace non-judgmentalism. Academia is waging a war on the very concept of merit, which is charged to be inherently racist, sexist, classist, etecetera. Our various victim-studies departments all teach that there is no moral truth, only power, which these departments wield ruthlessly to keep out any who would follow or teach sense and reason. Entire departments of literature and sociology have been taken over by leftist majorities that deny that there is any such thing as sense and reason, only socially constructed ideology, designed to manipulate people into submitting to oppression, which in turn justifies the leftists own demagogic manipulation of ideology. Numerous law schools indulge an ideology that there is no truth, only your own world view, which is just as valid as anyone else’s (and a proper grounds for suit) whether it bears any relation to evidence in the world or not.
From kindergarten to professorship, rejection of moral judgment dominates our educational system. Thus it makes sense that illiberal “liberals” would be the educated urban elites, together with those minority populations that have been taught to see liberty as oppression, and have been bribed into believing it with promises of redress for supposed victim status. On this rough check, the theory works. Non-judgmentalism has broad sources and broad influence that coincide pretty much with the location of illiberal “liberalism” in American society.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Researchers expose the psychology of the illiberal “liberal” mind