Researchers expose the psychology of the illiberal “liberal” mind

Copyright Ó 2003, by Alec Rawls

We have all heard by now of the group of professors from Stanford, Berkeley and Maryland who published a slanderous left-wing theory of the conservative mind in the latest issue of Psychological Bulletin.[1] Reminder: Ronald Reagan and Adolph Hitler are lumped together as exemplars of the “conservative,” personality type, in contrast to what the authors call the “liberal” type.[2] These charlatans have already been castigated by the conservative press for dressing up blatant anti-conservative bigotry in pseudo-academic clothes (at taxpayer expense no less).[3] What has been overlooked is what a clear picture their research offers of the illiberal “liberal” mind.

Ronald Reagan is a champion of liberty who spent his life trying to get America to stand up as a champion of liberty in the world, in accordance with our nation’s founding ideals. Adolf Hitler was a totalitarian who spent his life trying to get Germany to impose totalitarianism on the world, in accordance with a concocted fantasy of racial superiority. What kind of “liberal” can’t distinguish between the twentieth century’s greatest champion of liberty and the twentieth century’s greatest enemy of liberty?

This, of course, has always been the great irony about “liberals”: that they are illiberal, constantly favoring relations of force over relations of agreement, government over liberty. Parents should not be free to choose their children’s education. The citizenry should be disarmed. Anyone who believes that government should treat members of different racial groups equally is a racist.

While conservatives see economic liberty, based on relations of mutual agreement, as presumptively good (since voluntariness proves that all parties gain), our illiberal “liberals” somehow see economic liberty as presumptively bad, only becoming a force for good to the extent that its power is siphoned off or channeled by force/government. How can this parade of “liberal” contempt for liberty be accounted for?


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.


Thinking backwards

The title of the lefty theory of conservatism, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition” (by professors John Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie Kruglanski and Frank Sulloway), gives the game away. What does “motivated social cognition” mean? It means that, in setting out to construct a theory of political conservatism, our cadre of decidedly non-conservative academics start with the thesis that conservatives are unprincipled. We are presumed to be motivated by psychological traits that directly dispose us to embrace certain conclusions. Silly us, believing that we proceed on the basis of practical and moral understanding, developed by following reason and evidence. The four professors know better. Conservatives have psychological itches that their conservative political positions scratch.

Don’t think that this in itself is meant to be a slander. The professors believe that everyone for the most part thinks backwards in this way. Instead of following reason and evidence, all are predisposed towards those conclusions that fulfill their “psychological needs.” All are presumed to start with their preferred conclusions instead of arriving at conclusions by following reason and evidence.

Things briefly look hopeful when the professors make a distinction between “directional motives,” motives that “reflect the desire to reach a specific conclusion,” and “nondirectional motives.”[4] But the “nondirectional” style of thought also turns out to constitute backwards thinking. Instead of aiming to arrive at a particular conclusion, non-directional thinking aims to arrive at a particular psychological state, such as “closure.” In contrast, a person who is thinking frontwards, following reason and evidence, arrives at closure, not because he wants to, but if and only if reason and evidence allow a particular conclusion to be drawn.


Reason and evidence

Jost et al. do obliquely consider the possibility that people may follow reason and evidence, but they discount it heavily. Their summary position is that evidence has “a rationalizing or legitimizing role in the construction and preservation of ideological belief systems” in the sense of “providing support for prior beliefs.” [5] That is, evidence is presumed to be drawn on primarily to facilitate backwards thinking. At the same time, reason is dismissed as “cold cognition,” while “[i]deology is perhaps the quintessential example of hot cognition…”[6] No need to consider reason on such an obviously knee-jerk matter as how to run the country!

Of course this is a grotesque misunderstanding of moral reason. Natural science might be “cold” in the sense of being dispassionate (or the opposite of “hot”), but moral reason and moral science follow evidence of value. Here the object of reason is passion, tying the two together. The only question is whether the passions will prompt violations of reason or not. This is the distinction between reasonableness and demagoguery. By embracing “hot” but not “cold” cognition, Jost et al. are in effect assuming demagoguery. People don’t follow reason and evidence to the development of principled understanding, they just embrace whatever conclusions scratch their psychological itches and think backwards from there.

Applied to conservatives, the assumption that people are driven by psychological needs rather than principled understanding is unwarranted. As a statement that illiberal “liberals” make about themselves, however, it is important. First, it has an obvious explanatory power. If there is no process of understanding at work, one can begin to see how liberty haters might be able think of themselves as liberal. Second, as will be seen, the presumption that people are not principled squares with what our researchers reveal about themselves through their list of conservative psychological traits. They, and the other left-academics they draw on, show themselves to be squeamish about the whole idea of principles.

A deaf theory of music

While Jost et al. heavily discount the possibility of a principled conservatism, they do leave open the abstract possibility. Just because conservative belief systems arise in part from psychological needs “does not mean that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled.”[7] The problem is, Jost et al. admit to no inkling of what the true, rational or principled elements of conservatism might be, and on this they can certainly be believed.[8]

Imagine a group of deaf people working very hard to come up with a theory of musical aesthetics while admitting that they have never heard any music. They measure piano legs. They analyze social interactions at karaoke bars. They do an intensive study of rap lyrics. They try really hard and after much study trumpet to the world that the mystery of music may finally be solved! Didn’t Monty Python already do that?

The patent absurdity of a deaf theory of music would be a barrier if our four deaf mice were thinking frontwards, arriving at conclusions instead of starting with conclusions, but they live in the world of “motivated social cognition,” and their own social motivation is to express their bigotry towards their opposites. Thus it is not surprising that the study’s compilation of conservative psychological itches clearly intends to make conservatives sound like small-minded, mean-spirited clods. On the list of supposed conservative psychological traits are:

fear and aggression  [weak and bad],

dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity  [dumb and dumber],

need for cognitive closure  [simple-mindedness],

uncertainty avoidance  [fear and simple-mindedness],

and terror management  [from either side it seems, since Hitler, Stalin and President Bush are all classified as conservative].[9]

Berkeley co-conspirator number one, Jack Glaser, explicitly denies that the charges of dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance and need for cognitive closure are meant to brand conservatives as “simple minded,” so let’s not misunderstand him. “Simple-minded” is such a simple-minded term. Glaser prefers to say that conservatives are “less integratively complex.”[10] I wonder how many times this guy got his underwear pulled over his head. He still can’t figure out that he deserves it.

The conservative ideological positions that are imagined to scratch these conservative itches are:

“return to an idealized past”   [whether it be America’s genuine love of liberty or fascism’s mythic totalitarian racism],

“resistance to change”  [even though Reagan changed the world],

and a tolerance for inequality   [which, finally, is a correct observation, since as James Madison noted in Federalist 10, liberty unavoidably creates inequality, from which it immediately follows that love of liberty requires toleration of inequality].[11]

The four deaf mice are quite pleased with their theory of music. They didn’t do any original research (“meta-analysis” means “rehash”), but for the first time a wide scope of lefty data collection and theorizing about conservatives has been synthesized, with patterns drawn from “88 samples, 12 countries, 22, 818 cases.”[12]  ( i.e. They did a glorified literature review, with 1.2 million dollars (!) from the National Institute of Mental Health.[13]) Berkeley co-conspirator number two, Frank Sulloway, touts the theory as “an elegant and unifying explanation.”[14]

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.


Empirical evidence

Suppose you agree with the statement: “I’d rather know bad news than stay in a state of uncertainty”? Does that making you “closed minded”? According to one survey cited as empirical evidence by Jost et al., the open-minded choice is to bury your head in the sand.[15] Right off the bat, it is obvious that psychological measures concocted by pointy headed leftists are going to mostly be nonsense.

This example is not merely absurd. It points out a fundamental problem with this type of empirical research. What is measured by this survey question? Does it measure a “psychological need,” as the authors assume, or adherence to principle, which the authors are discounting? As it turns out, a preference for informed choice is a clear matter of principle. It is, in fact, the most fundamental conservative principle. The valuing of information about where value lies and how to pursue it implies the conservation, husbanding and following, of that information.

In general, psychological survey questions will tend to coincide at many points with matters of principle, invalidating the inference that it is psychological traits that are being measured. Thus even if the leftists did not get the concept of closed-mindedness backwards, their inferences would still not be valid. If a person chooses informed choice, it does not imply that he has no urge to bury his head. He may instead be following principle, forcing himself to confront reality, in spite of a psychological itch to avoid it.


Full reverse

The four blind mice avoid the difficulty of distinguishing survey answers that reflect principle from survey answers that reflect psychological itch by being oblivious to it. Having no idea what an actual principle might be, they remain blissfully unaware when a survey question happens to track with a matter of principle. But what do you suppose would happen if someone were to stick principle in their faces?

For a breathtaking example of backwards thinking, witness how Jost et al. respond when a pair of interlocutors raise the possibility that conservatives may prefer simple solutions, not because they are simple minded, but because conservative understanding leads to simple solutions, such as limited government.

Instead of acknowledging that such a correlation would blow their stupid empirical claims out of the water, they just pretend their theory would actually be reinforced: “[I]nsofar as smaller [government] is simpler, this is consistent with our account.”[16]  In other words, they will just continue to assume that conservatives embrace simple solutions because they are simple minded, thank you very much.

This is what rejection of judgment/closure will do for you. The key is never to think straight. Always think backwards, looking for how best to arrive at the conclusions you want to arrive at, without ever being aware that there is an alternative process of thinking frontwards that you are violating. Then you can dissemble with a clear conscience. You can lie, without even knowing it, about the basic logic of your own study! That is impressive.


Empirical evidence for “liberal” non-judgmentalism

What about the flip side of our lefty professors’ empirical results, where the finding of a conservative embrace of closure implies a “liberal” rejection of closure? Given the weakness of the Jost et al.’s empirical  design, not a lot of weight can be given to these results. To the extent that there is any validity to the study’s empirical evidence of a conservative tendency to embrace closure, the same evidence supports the proposition that “liberals” reject closure/judgment, but in both cases, the study’s empirical results must be considered pretty worthless.[17]

The self-revelatory importance of the study, however, remains intact. For fifty years the illiberals have been declaring non-judgmentalism to be their highest ideal. This explains why, in the end, they cannot be non-judgmental about conservatives. One thing that illiberal “liberals” feel they have the grounds to judge is judgmentalism itself, and conservatives do not shy from judgment.[18]


Non-judgmentalism is a philosophical orphan

Amongst moral philosophers, who think seriously about these things, non-judgmentalism has few takers. Only one lone moral philosopher ever tried to offer as his defense of liberty that there is no such thing as right and wrong, hence no grounds to impose on anyone else in the name of right. That was dear old Isaiah Berlin in his swan song, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, God rest his soul.[19] If there is a right answer, Berlin warned, a way for us all to live together that is better than others, then “surely no price is too heavy to pay for it; no amount of oppression, cruelty repression, coercion will be too high.”[20] Better, then, to deny that there can be a right answer.

Doofus. The right answer is liberty. Liberty is the way to live together. Liberty is the great engine of progress in the discovery of truth and value, leading to a better future for all and no, this understanding of right does not lead to oppression, cruelty, repression and coercion. Liberty is the opposite of these things. At the same time, Berlin’s peculiar defense of liberty fails. If there is no such thing as right, then nothing can be condemned as wrong. Liberty finds no protection here. Moral skepticism is a nihilistic dead end. Non-judgmentalism is moral brain-death.

Of course there have been other philosophers besides Berlin who were skeptical about moral judgment. Some philosophers have trouble convincing themselves that the world around is real. But of those who actually do constructive moral philosophy, virtually all base their defense of liberty on the understanding that there is better and worse in the world and that we need liberty in order to make progress in discovering where value lies and how to pursue it. There is no school of philosophy that defends liberty through moral skepticism.[21]


Why illiberalism?

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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.


Demonstrated lack of principle

Most telling for the theory that illiberal “liberals” are moral skeptics is the failure of illiberals, both in academia and in society at large, to have any grasp of conservative principles. Conservative principles are first principles. Don’t forget what you already know. Conserve reason and evidence and the understandings that reason and evidence support. To not grasp conservative principles is to not have principles, just as would result from the embrace of non-judgmentalism.

What is it that we already know? To conserve understanding in the land of liberty is comprehend and embrace liberty, and this is indeed the essence of American conservatism. On issue after issue—gun rights, school choice, limited government, freedom of contract—American conservatives have been fighting an often losing battle for our nation’s heritage of liberty, defending liberty against the relentless assaults of illiberal “liberals” who think liberty is the problem and government is the answer. In this, the illiberals are demonstrably wrong. The demonstrations of their error, together with the positive proofs of the efficacies of liberty, form the great backbone of conservative American principle and ideology, encompassing a deep and wide synthesis of history and reason.

From an earlier generation of this synthesis, learned and wise, this nation was born, projecting a brilliant insight into the world: through the embrace of liberty, conservation and progress can both be optimized. Traditional wisdom and forms can thrive in the private sphere, as can innovations. A paradigmatic example is school choice. Before education was socialized, parents could pass on their wisdom about how to think straight morally and practically by choosing who to entrust with their children’s education. In this way liberty would allow rivers of tradition to flow. That particular network of rivers has been dried up by the government take-over of education. Every child is now taught non-judgmentalism. Another river of tradition that has been terribly reduced is the understanding of liberty itself. Half the nation has lost it.


Equality and economic liberty

On their list of scratches, Jost et al. focus primarily on equality. In their analysis, neither “liberals” nor “conservatives” are imagined to get much scratch out of liberty, which simply does not register on the good professors’ radar screen. Rather, “conservatives” are seen to be tolerant of inequality, “liberals” not.

What? You think it is equality that scratches an itch for simpleminded answers? You have the wrong idea. You can’t expect the “liberal” theory of conservatism to make sense. Jost et al. are explaining their ilk to us, and what they are explaining is that they don’t make sense, or even accept the concept. Sense is closure. They don’t go there. Rather, intolerance for equality scratches their own itch, which is to have a demagogic grounds on which to seek power. If you have less (and the bottom 60% always have less than the top 40%) “liberals” will champion your claims to victimhood and for redress. As an extra benefit, they get to sound high minded in the process. To the demagogic mind, it is a win-win temptation. Of course they cannot pass it up, and easily fool even themselves. As J.R. Ewing put it: “Once you abandon integrity, the rest is easy.” Once you find the moral delicacy to be squeamish about principle, you can be as sincere a demagogue as you like.

Economic liberty creates inequality so intolerance for inequality creates the mindset that economic liberty is presumptively bad. In the world view of Jost et al., any justification of economic liberty is a theodicy, justifying the presence of evil in the world.  They suggest, for instance, that liberals, after suffering under Communism “might opt to support change toward what is considered in the west to be a conservative, inegalitarian position (free-market capitalism) and to sympathetically consider the possibility that such a position is preferable to the failed status quo.” [26] Liberty is allowed, in this example, to possibly be the lesser of two evils.

If liberty, because it leads to inequality, is inherently evil, it follows as a corollary that the power of economic liberty (capitalism) must be siphoned off and controlled by government if it is to become a force for good. Thus we get the illiberal “third way” politics that characterize European democratic socialism and the Democrat party in America. Their hostility to economic liberty comes directly from their intolerance for inequality.

All this is enabled by their initial failure to follow reason and evidence to a principled understanding of the value of liberty. Where Madison starts with an understanding of the value of liberty and from there comes to tolerate the inequality that liberty necessarily creates, illiberals start with an intolerance for inequality and from there immediately hate liberty.


Concern for equality, or relative welfare, is envy

The ideal for which the illiberals sacrifice liberty, their fixation on equality, or relative welfare, is itself immoral. Concern for relative welfare is envy, which moral theorists have always classified as an anti-social sentiment, not to be given any weight in moral calculations.[27] This may be ironic, but it is not coincidental. “Liberals” are, in the present theory, unprincipled. They embrace what scratches their itches, and their greatest itch—probably the greatest itch of most unprincipled people—is self-elevation. To those who seek the most elevated view of themselves, to be a champion of the “downtrodden” is the ultimate daydream: not just power, but glory as well. The problem is, concern for relative welfare is evil. Those who champion it are morally criminal.

In a moral accounting of distributional considerations, three things are to be weighed: efficiency, moral desert and the answering of claims of need (charity). None of these three moral concerns involve equality. Efficiency and moral desert are both answered by reward for productivity. Economic liberty, or capitalism, rewards productivity only imperfectly, but more perfectly than any other possible scheme. People are free to find where they can be most productive, and get the most reward for it, leading to maximal success on this front. Government here can usefully establish the conditions of contract and competition that allow markets to work, but that is all. Improvements in markets, and the pioneering of new markets, expands the delivery of both value and reward. Compromising markets can only diminish this achievement.

What free markets cannot do by themselves is answer claims of need, which may result either from imperfect reward for productivity or from failures to be productive. Economic liberty, by empowering individuals, goes a long way towards empowering private charity, but where private charity fails to answer claims of need, there can still be a call for public charity. This is not an oxymoron. If each of us individually has obligations to charity then we have obligations. But charity is not concerned with equality. Charitable concern—based on considerations of need—is most clearly about absolute rather than relative welfare.

Because illiberals reject judgment, they comprehend none of this, and instead embrace a clear evil—envy—as their moral touchstone.


Do “liberals” think that people are inherently good?

Many conservative writers—Dennis Prager, George Will, Henry Regnery, Thomas Sowell —have suggested that the oddity that makes for a political “liberal” is a presumption of human perfectibility, or at least that no one is inherently bad.[28] From this premise it follows that, if we are attacked, it must be because we did something to deserve it. Doing business with others instead of conquering them is not enough. We are supposed to somehow not exploit them, according to a Marxist theory under which all mutually agreed upon cooperation is held to be exploitation.

That is not a bad picture of the illiberal mind. The instinct to appease the attacker is palpable, and that must be a part of picture. Assuming that no-one is inherently bad also fits with the method of backwards thinking, where instead of following reason and evidence, one selectively attends to reason and evidence that support one’s presumptions. Unpleasant truths are simply ignored. We just have to be careful not to identify this avoidance of reality with a presumption by the illiberals that people are inherently good.

Any such presumption would be inconsistent with “liberal” contempt for liberty. If people are inherently good, that implies moral agency, but if there is moral agency then liberty immediately takes priority over all else because liberty empowers moral agency. It empowers the discovery and pursuit of value in the world, which is the manna on which all morality feeds and grows. It is inconsistent to believe in the goodness of others and still be illiberal. This inconsistency also plagues any assumption of human perfectibility. If humans can be perfected, there is an assumption of better and worse, and an implication of at least emergent moral agency, which again puts a premium on liberty.

If illiberal “liberals” presume anything about human goodness it would seem to be that people (or at least white people) are bad. This leads to the conclusion that people cannot be allowed liberty, because liberty will empower their moral nature, which is bad. Let people hire who they want and the presumption is that they will be racist. Never mind that the elaborate network of Jim Crow laws proved the opposite: that without laws to contain it, integration proceeds apace, and can only be kept in check by relentless suppression.

Plenty of “liberals” are indeed anti-white racists, but the simplest explanation (especially given how many of these people are white) is moral skepticism. The starting point is not any assumption of goodness or badness or perfectibility. All of those are premised on the existence of a structure of moral principle, which is so contrary to “liberal” ideas. On the other hand, moral skepticism provides a perfectly adequate explanation for liberty hating.

In the absence of moral agency, the liberty that would empower it becomes irrelevant. All that is left—the only idol to worship—is equality, with all its mesmerizing demagogic power. People, not valuable in themselves, become fodder for achieving equality, which by its own base nature turns to bitterness and resentment, seeking eventually, inevitably, to steal what properly belongs to others, be it the sweat of another man’s brow or the liberty of mankind. Anti-white racism is just a manifestation of demagogic embrace of envy.


Principle vs. rejection of principle

The political war in America today between “conservatives” and “liberals” is not a war between competing principles. It is a war between those who embrace principle and those who abjure it; between those who think frontwards, following reason and evidence, and those who think backwards, making ad hominem and other demagogic attacks on whatever threatens their pre-conceived conclusions. Ann Coulter’s books Slander and Treason are only two of many in recent years that have documented the relentless lying, demagoguery and unreason of “liberal” politics, media, and academia.[29]

The four deaf mice fit this model perfectly. Their depiction of conservatism is exclusively ad homenim. Only psychological tics are considered. No attempt to consider conservative principle enters in. The word “liberty” appears only once in their 37 page paper, as a value of “the ideological left”![30] If Jost et al. had looked into principle and found conservatives to be unprincipled, that would be another matter. Instead of being presumption, it would be science, as the theory of illiberalism as non-judgmentalism is science, based as it is on evidence of “liberal” rejection of principle, both by self-revelation and by demonstrated blindness to principle. The real story is principle vs. rejection of principle, but because Jost et al. themselves reject principle, they end up getting the story completely wrong, depicting the conservative/principled side as exclusively unprincipled. Consider an example.


Tolerance for inequality

How do Jost et al. account for proletarians who vote Republican when, according to these professors’ “liberal” thinking, proletarians, having less, should see themselves as victimized by conservative tolerance for inequality? They give a Stockholm-syndrome type answer: proletarians identify with their oppressors in order to feel less oppressed. You know: its not so bad if you are doing it to yourself.[31] This is the contempt that these professors have for people who are infinitely their moral superiors. People who work with their hands may have less, but they grasp that liberty is the great engine of value in the world and that because liberty creates inequality, all are morally called upon to tolerate that inequality, and even welcome it as a sign of the value that others have produced.

This is the sense in which we are all created equal: we all have the capacity for moral judgment. In particular, we all have the capacity to respect reward for value, and approve rather than have spite for the success of others. Moral equality also implies culpability for those who choose spite, preferring that all should have less rather than some should have more, placing equality over liberty, as Jost et al. do. Yet these professors are so ignorant of their own country’s founding ideals that they even suggest that “American conservatives may support a free market economy… because it… results in inequality.”[32] It is quite disgusting to see the moral cretins of academia slander the great goodness of people whose principles they decline to even be curious about.


Equal rights vs. extent of rights

The one area where equality is a legitimate moral concern is equal rights, but those issues which illiberals like to cast in terms of equal rights are actually matters of the proper extent of rights. For instance, Professor Glaser offers the extension of anti-discrimination law to cover sexual orientation as an example of  “liberal” intolerance for inequality.[33] A staple of “liberal” argument on this issue is to deny that such extensions create special rights for homosexuals, since they also protect heterosexuals from discrimination. This is correct, but not to the point. The real issue with such laws is whether anyone has a moral right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. Creating a legal protection against discrimination means curtailing everyone’s freedom of contract. Quite generally, such restrictions fail a moral analysis, doing more harm than good on every front, including to the supposed beneficiaries. They are not natural rights. They violate actual rights, as grounded in values and understanding. Consider the case of laws banning race discrimination.

Liberty offers its own answer to the problems of race. Under pure freedom of contract, competitors have economic incentive to value all merit. If one employer, out of some kind of bigotry, leaves merit on the table, others will pick it up. Race just gets absorbed into the economy the same way that weight and looks and strength and brains do. Every individual fits some places and not others. Some potential business partners will care about race, or weight, or ability to speak the language, and some won’t. All will care about merit, and most will look at people as individuals in order to find it.

In general, individual information, being more specific than group based expectations, will trump group information. Thus under liberty, institutions will develop to bring forth this more valuable individual information. If the object is promote merit, liberty is in this respect ideal. All are better off when all are free to engage whatever mutually advantageous relations are available, so long as none are forced into relations they do not agree to.


The costs of force

Force also has a solution to offer to the problems of race. Instead of letting liberty judge merit, it is possible to subject hiring and firing and promotion decisions to government oversight through a system of employment discrimination law. Because such laws curtail liberty, the inevitable effect will be a pull back from the use of individual information that liberty pioneers. Employers, having to be cautious, have no choice but to put more emphasis on up-front information. They are no longer able to cheaply glean individual information by giving lots of people chances and seeing who works out. At the same time, the heavy financial costs of tort liability will cause employers to hire fewer people overall. Individual merit takes a backseat and all are worse off.

Most damaging, anti-discrimination laws perpetuate the group based expectations that make for meaningful inequality. Under affirmative action, there remains a rational grounds to expect that any “disadvantaged minority” will be less qualified than others of a similar station. Under liberty, positions would in expectation reflect merit, regardless of race. Force destroys that optimal result. Instead of race becoming irrelevant, it is turned into a permanent stain. In sum, liberty’s answer to the problems of race is manifestly superior to the answer provided by force. As a result, curtailment of liberty is not warranted. There is no natural right not to be discriminated against.

It is not surprising that Jost et al. can’t distinguish a question of equal rights from a question of the extent of natural rights. The distinction requires principled understanding, which they spurn. Neither is it surprising that their prescriptions only wreak havoc, even on what they claim to care about. Their “intolerance for inequality,” and the positions they base on it, are not conclusions, arrived at by following sense and reason. Rather, the illiberal mind is a web of uncomprehended presumption, held together by thinking backwards, where each part adjusts for ideological effectiveness: an angry claim of victimization here, some pretend reasoning there. Such backwards thinking creates a disconnect from reality, so that the actual implications of one’s position are out of sight, out of mind. People who abjure judgment and closure and principle know not what they do. They are just bigots, and illiberal “liberals” are just anti-conservative bigots.


Change vs. progress

Tolerance for inequality is one of the two substantive traits that, according to Jost et al., define conservatism. The other is resistance to change. The deaf people’s theory of music does no better here. Without having a clue about the nature of conservative principle, our professors’ attempted analyses are simply absurd. Reagan is labeled a reactionary conservative who resists change for wanting to go back to our nation’s founding ideals. No note is made that those founding ideals are principles of liberty, which is the most dynamic agent of change in the history of the world. Liberty is progress with conservation. It is change, without going backwards. Yet Jost et al. consider Reagan to be anti-change for wanting to re-embrace the great engine of productive change. Was a deafer theory of music ever writ?

Instead of looking into the substantive relationship between conservative principles and the forces of change, Jost et al. look at change in a totally superficial manner. They get into idiotic discussions of old versus young ideologies in order to establish a benchmark for what constitutes change.[34] Under their scheme, one could utterly reject change by rejecting liberty and the principles of limited government that protect liberty, yet so long as this has been the ruling ideology since, say, the 1930’s, still be properly classified as conservative. Sorry illiberals, but you are NOT conservative. The idea of trying to define attitudes towards change, without any regard for the content of the positions embraced, is pure deaf mouse.

As for who is optimistic and who can deal with uncertainty, just look at the issue of global warming. Conservatives understand and trust in the dynamism of technological advance under liberty. There is no reason to panic. We will have photo-voltaic and battery technology breakthroughs any decade now and the age of petroleum combustion will be over. If we have to, we can switch to nuclear tomorrow. Stop running around like a chicken with your head cut off. In contrast, the “liberal” answer is to shut down the economy, as Koyoto would have done. This is just what we can expect from people who spurn judgment. If you are so allergic to sense and reason that you can’t even understand liberty, you are going to have idiotic ideas.


Motivated lefty cognition

Those dastardly conservatives, not using the excuse of environmental panic to abandon capitalism, as concern for envy says we should do. Those dastardly conservatives, refusing to extend government oversight of merit to the hiring and promotion of homosexuals and cross-dressers whoever else is next on the list.

These issues aren’t actually very hard to figure out. It is not hard to figure out that extending government oversight of merit takes the job of judging merit away from liberty, creating a host of costs that need to be accounted, but why should the illiberal “liberals” figure it out? Comprehension would strip them of an opportunity to stand as the champions of recrimination and redress for ever more people. It would run counter to the goal of their “motivated social cognition,” which is to extend their politics of envy and resentment to a voting majority. They don’t think straight and they don’t want to think straight. After all, everyone knows that thinking straight is “anal compulsive.” How did Jost et al. manage to miss that traditional anti-conservative slander? It fits so perfectly with their theory, and with what their theory reveals about themselves.


Principled liberalism

It would be a mistake to cast all illiberals as unprincipled. Legal theorist Ronald Dworkin, for instance, has tried to make a principled argument for giving equality priority over liberty by arguing that liberty rights actually derive from (and hence defer to) a more basic “right to equality.”[35] The effort fails miserably, but at least it is not a species of non-judgmentalism. It does not reject principle in principle.

Another principled thinker who lands at least partly in the illiberal “liberal” camp is John Rawls.  “A competitive price system gives no consideration to needs,” Rawls observes, “and therefore cannot be the sole device of distribution.”[36] Conservatives embrace obligations to charity, so taking into account needs is not inconsistent with conservative values. Unfortunately, the scheme of justice that Rawls offers to remedy this deficiency of a pure market system favors the least well off regardless of whether claims of need are at stake.[37]

Rawls may be presuming that claims of need are always at stake. This is suggested by the fact that the argument he gives for his “difference principle” is in terms of not wanting to jeopardize “a satisfactory minimum.”[38] Thus Rawls’ basic reasoning could perhaps be squared with conservative understanding on this point. At other points, however, Rawls’ theory is deeply un-conservative.

In particular, he asserts that when people earn money by making contributions that others are willing to pay them for, they can never be said to morally deserve any of that reward.[39] This allows distributional schemes to be deliberated on as if nothing belongs to anybody, and this is unquestionably what allows for the unqualified equalitarian nature of his distributional principle. But as with Dworkin’s attempt to start with a “right to equality,” Rawls’ annihilation of desert cannot stand up to scrutiny.

People may not deserve their talents, but their efforts to apply their talents productively is clearly a function of moral agency, discovering and pursuing value in the world. There may be no way to “discount for the [better endowed’s] greater fortune,” but neither is there a way to discount (or separate out) the role of moral agency.[40] The fact that the two are entangled does not mean that desert can be discounted! With that obvious mistake corrected, Rawls would become a lot less equalitarian. As it is, he must be classified as a principled illiberal “liberal.”

At the same time, conservatives should not give up on him. For one, his annihilation of desert easy to correct. [41] Secondly, it is hard to call Rawls illiberal when his first principle of justice calls for liberty to take absolute priority over all distributional considerations.[42] Taken seriously, this would overrule his equalitarian tendencies. Not even claims of need would be given any weight against liberty, never mind concern for equality per se. This too cannot stand up to scrutiny, but it should serve notice that Rawls cannot be so easily pigeonholed.


Unprincipled principled-liberalism

Then there are the illiberal “liberal” thinkers who make efforts to appear principled, but are actually skeptical of the possibility of moral principle. An example here is Cass Sunnstein who, in his book Free Markets and Social Justice, justifies sweeping government powers on the grounds that people’s preferences and values and ideas are not products of moral agency but are socially constructed by their environments. This is seen to create a role for government to step in and manipulate people’s values in more constructive directions.[43]

The idea that force can do a better job than liberty at discovering right and sense and value is exactly opposite of the classic argument made for liberty by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.[44] It is also perverts the concept of a republic, where the people are to be the master and government the servant, not vice versa (hence the particular irony of Sunnstein continuing this theme in his equally obtuse, Princeton, 2001).

In effect, Sunnstein takes Rawls’ implicit denial of moral agency to its logical conclusion. By assuming a substitute for moral agency (social constructionism), Sunnstein renders himself oblivious to the very concept of moral principle, never mind the specific moral principles that moral agency leads to, such as the priority of liberty (embraced because it empowers moral agency). Of course, this obliviousness to moral principle does not stop Sunnstein from wanting to impose his own moral judgments on everyone via government indoctrination, but this is exactly what we should expect from people who reject principle. If there is no such thing as thinking straight morally, why worry about consistency?


Trust in truth

The capacity to think backwards is a native faculty of intelligence. All hear its siren song. The founding conservative principle and achievement (to the extent that conservatism is achieved) is to learn to trust in truth, conserving what can be understood about right and sense and proceeding upon it. This requires a powerful moral resistance to temptation. Consider an example where conservatives face a temptation to think backwards: the deduction asserted above, that if we each have an obligation to charity then we have an obligation to charity.

If this deduction is accepted (and it is not as simple as it looks) it would seem to justify a welfare state, where the government sets out to answer claims of need. But conservatives know that a welfare state is a mistake. Socialized charity violates every conservative principle. First, charity isn’t charity anymore if it is not voluntary. It is theft, violating the priority of liberty by confiscating the fruits of one’s liberty. Second, socialized charity is dysfunctional.

Private charity comes with strings attached: behave consistent with the moral demands of your benefactor or go without. But within the boundaries of non-criminal behavior, it is not for government cannot tell the citizenry what right and wrong are. Any such attempt violates the fundamental principle of republicanism: that the people are master and government the slave. Government aid cannot morally come with the same kinds of strings attached as can impose private charity. Consequently, socialized charity necessarily degenerates into dysfunction and dependency.

If conservatives think backwards, they will spurn a deduction that seems to justify what they otherwise know to be mistaken. Only by thinking forwards can the conundrum be resolved. The actual solution is quite simple. The obligation to render aid does not imply any obligation to transfer ownership. Just bill the aid to the account of the recipient, to be paid back (with market interest) over the rest of the recipients life, according to a schedule of ability to pay. With no transfer of ownership, there is no theft, and no violation of the priority of liberty. Dysfunction is also minimized.


Billing aid to account

For those who can actually be helped to get a leg up on life, such a system will leave full incentives intact for recipients not to take any more aid than they actually need, since they will be paying it back. This minimizes dependency effects. For those who do fall into dependency, aid can reduce to minimal aid in kind. At this point, billing aid to account will keep the books straight about who owes whom, minimizing dysfunction. No aid recipient will get the idea that society owes him instead of vice versa.

Most importantly, government charity will become relatively less attractive than private charity, which will come with moral strings attached, but typically is not billed to the recipient’s account. Not only will aid recipients move towards private charity, but funding should move towards private charity as well. As socialized charity becomes more efficient and less expensive, the “I gave at the office” syndrome should diminish and private charity should increase. Over time, most charity will again become private charity, with socialized charity serving only as a minimal backstop for those who cannot locate and adapt to the more attractive private charity.

This solution is never arrived at unless one thinks frontwards and looks for how a collective obligation to charity can be squared with the priority of liberty. Once that puzzle is engaged the answer is almost trivially easy. You don’t give aid away, you loan it. The only hard part is to trust in truth, so that the issue is engaged instead of dodged. Don’t hide from anything you can understand. Go forward with it. Solve the puzzles that truth presents. That is where the answers lie.


Illiberals and race

Illiberal “liberals” don’t do this. They don’t go forward with reason and evidence. They refuse to trust in truth. An example is the “liberal” slander that it is racist to think that intelligence or criminality or any other human tendency is in any way affected by one’s genetic inheritance. As Steven Pinker documents in his book  The Blank Slate, academic psychology and social sciences became dominated in the last decades of the last century by a presumption that all human cognitive differences are “socially constructed,” not based on any evidence, but simply because such a view is uncongenial to racist ideas.[45]

If there are no innate differences between individuals, then race becomes irrelevant. Thus anyone who rejects the “blank slate” assumption is seen by the illiberals as willfully rejecting an opportunity to render racism logically impossible, making him a willful racist. It is a perfect example of partial reason, picking and choosing which reason and evidence to pay attention to. Illogic (ignoring contrary reason and evidence) is embraced for what is seen to be a logical reason (that racism is rendered logically impossible). What is lost in this descent into irrationality is, not coincidentally, the real answer to problems of race.

The problem of race is how, in the face of different average tendencies between the different races, to achieve a society in which people are treated as individuals. Illiberals cannot even recognize that this is the issue. Their backwards thinking has already prompted them to spurn consideration of individual differences because these differences raise the prospect of racial differences. Where frontwards thinking seeks how to bring out individual information (maximally achieved by liberty) clueless illiberals charge off on a crusade for group rights, embracing literal racism in the name of anti-racism and using it to attack liberty, the actual answer to problems of race. Illiberals are certainly complex, just as they proclaim. Train wrecks always are.



 In addition to being the fundamental principle of conservatism and the first principle of moral reason, trust in truth is also a, perhaps the, fundamental principle of Christianity. Asked by Pontius Pilate to account for himself, Jesus answered: “I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”[46] When Pilate asked what truth is, Jesus did not answer, but we can, because we know what truth is. Truth is two things. It is first of all a method. Truth is what honesty reveals. When you hide from nothing, when you account all reason and evidence, what do you honestly have grounds to assert? Second, truth is the content that this method reveals.

If Jesus was the son of God in some way that the rest of us are not, he presumably had grounds to assert more about the content of truth than we mere mortals do. The concept of truth, however, is fully available to mere mortal minds, and we do not even need the example of Jesus to know that we too should be witnesses for truth, instead of selective truth heeders, picking and choosing what bits of reason and evidence seem to support our presumptions about what is right or in our interest.

The simple fact is that only the truth matters. All else is fantasy and error and smash-up. To "not go there" in deference to political correctness is to sacrifice observation of truth to one's presumptions about what is right. But divorced from truth, one's presumptions about right cannot possibly be right. The only purposes that can actually be served by thinking backwards and spurning inconvenient truths are demagogic purposes, trying to turn error to expedient advantage. People who indulge these methods are not only immoral in their methods but are guaranteed to be wrong in their conclusions.


The Islamist enemy

Illiberal “liberals” are not the only ones who embrace demagogic power while hating truth and liberty. The other great culture of lies that is abroad in the world today is the Arab/Muslim Islamist movement that the United States and its allies are now at war with. In both cases our first job is simply to defeat these enemies, at the ballot box here in America and on the battlefield worldwide. But there is also a battle for hearts and minds to be won, and here the dual secular/religious nature of conservative principle may be of great value.

The principle of trust in truth, following reason and evidence, thinking frontwards instead of backwards, is both a religious and a secular imperative. As such, it ought to be embraced by all as a domestic common ground for secular and religious Americans. At the same time, Jesus is accepted by Islam as a true prophet of Islam, every bit as much as Mohammed. Trust in truth is our common religious heritage. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the embodiment of evil—Satan—is the deceiver. This religious heritage squares with everyone’s innate capacity to think straight morally. Every person who owns a spark of moral reason understands that only the truth matters and that answers can only be found by following, rather than eschewing, inconvenient truths. All else is demagoguery, pure destructive warfare, contrary to the commonweal.

Universal application of a trust-in-truth standard would purge the two great cultures of lies: illiberal “liberalism” in the secular sphere and Islamism in the religious sphere. At the same time, it can provide the rest of us with a means to resist our own original human weakness, our temptation to spurn inconvenient reason and evidence in favor of demagogic manipulation. Whether Jesus was the prophesized Son of Man or not, he gave his life to try to steer us past this original sin of failure to trust in truth. Every secular and religious person must, to the extent that he is moral, heed that leadership.



While it is a mistake to cast all illiberal “liberals” as unprincipled (never mind as demagogues) the trend in education, from k-12 and up through graduate school and the professoriate, is clearly towards the rejection of principle. Politically correct “multi-culturalism” is squarely based on rejection of the possibility of moral judgment and this seems to have created the general thrust of illiberal “liberal” moral thinking at large. Certainly this is what Jost et al. reveal about themselves and the fifty years of predecessors who have inadvertently, in trying to characterize conservatism, offered a picture of their own contrasting “liberalism.”

The picture they give us is stark. The “integrative complexity” of the “liberal” mind turns out to mean: “can’t think their way out of a paper bag.” Everything remains unresolved and unresolvable. Illiberals never achieve the increments of simplifying understanding that constitute moral and practical progress. They reject all that nasty certainty and closure that reason and evidence so often lead to. Much better to embrace ambiguity, and the demagogueries that so easily thrive in the absence of understanding.

A person can never count enough of those brown paper molecules. Got to keep measuring piano legs and going deaf into Karaoke bars until the whole world becomes an impossibly baffling paper bag where all anyone can possibly do is be non-judgmental, in contrast to those awful judgmental types.

The fact that “liberals” champion envy and resentment over liberty may not seem to fit with this picture of non-judgmentalism, until one remembers that non-judgmentalism is just rejection of principle, making it perfectly consistent for non-judgmentalism to walk hand in hand with unprincipled judgment. We owe the four deaf mice a debt of gratitude for giving us such a fine account of illiberal moral incompetence.


Alec Rawls is a columnist for the Stanford Review. He is currently writing a book on republicanism. Contact or visit


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[1]   John Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie Kruglanski, Frank Sulloway, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” Psychological Bulletin, 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, pp. 339-375.  Jost has a PDF of the article on his website at

[2]   John Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie Kruglanski, Frank Sulloway, “Exceptions That Prove the Rule—Using a Theory of Motivated Social Cognition to Account of Ideological Incongruities and Political Anomalies: Reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003),” Psychological Bulletin, 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, pp. 383-393. Hitler and Reagan are lumped together at pp. 386-87.  This paper is an adjunct to the authors’ main paper, cited in footnote 1 above. It is available at

[3]   Paul Walfield wrote a critique, “Not even liberal professors are that dumb,” available at Ann Coulter made fun of the professors in her article “Closure on nuance,” available at Byron York reports on taxpayer funding of the paper in “The ‘Conservatives Are Crazy’ Study: Paid For by Taxpayers,” available on National Review Online at

[4]   “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” op. cit., p. 340-41.

[5]   Ibid. p. 341.

[6]   Ibid.  Their dismissal of reason and evidence is not the authors’ only close call with the possibility of actually thinking frontwards. They also acknowledge that one ideological view can be objectively superior in the sense of leading to better policies out in the world, and they almost say that people can embrace conservative views for this reason. “Motives to…prevent negative outcomes, might lead one adopt views that are socially or economically conservative…” (p.341.)  But this is not what they choose to look at. Instead, they simply note that: “it does not follow from our motivated social-cognitive analysis that politically conservative beliefs (or any other beliefs) are false simply because they are motivated by epistemic, existential and ideological concerns.” (Ibid.) That is, they don’t completely deny the possibility of thinking frontwards, but are themselves only going to look at thinking backwards.

     Another place where the authors could have embraced thinking frontwards is in their inclusion of the theory of “lay epistemics,” which broadly could mean following reason and evidence, only the theory is not used that way at all. Rather, people’s information processing is assumed under this theory to be directed toward satisfying psychological needs, like the need for closure (p. 347-8). Thus it just becomes another form of thinking backwards.

[7]   Ibid. p. 340.  The authors’ admission of the possibility of a principled conservatism, or a principled anything, is highly circumscribed. Reasoning, it is warned, does not occur in a motivational vacuum. i.e. The authors expect that reasoning is always backwards, making the case for favored conclusions, instead of forwards, following reason and evidence. As the authors summarize, they take into account “socio-political theories of ideology as individual and collective rationalizations.” Ibid. To the extent that the authors are willing to admit that principle might exist, they seem to be unwilling to admit that people can act on it. In this way, their position on principle mirrors their position on thinking frontwards, discussed in footnote 2 above. They admit both might exist, but they exclude both from their analysis.

     At a couple of points the authors try to insist that they are leaving open the possibility of principled cognition, most clearly in the conclusion of their main paper, at p. 369. Even here though, they make clear that they consider psychological needs to be the driving force and reasons to be rationalizations. Thus they are not really admitting any possibility of thinking frontwards, following reason and evidence.

[8]   “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition” contains no suggestions of possible conservative principles. In their adjunct paper, “Exceptions That Prove the Rule,” Jost et al. answer critics who suggest concern for liberty as a conservative principle. Their response is to scoff, listing “several ironies” to such a view (at p. 391).

[9]   This abbreviated list of supposed conservative psychological traits is taken from a Berkeley press release describing the research and containing some quotes from the authors. The full paper adds several other lesser candidates (at p. 344-345, et seq.). The press release is available on the UC Berkeley web-site at :

    Stalin is classified as conservative in the author’s main paper, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” at p. 343. Hitler and Reagan are lumped together as conservative in the adjunct paper, at pp. 386-87. Bush is classified as a conservative in the main paper at p. 353.

[10]   From the Berkeley press release, op cit. In the authors’ main paper, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” lack of “integrative complexity” is one of the dimensions that supposedly characterize conservatives (op cit. pp. 353-56).

[11]   For these scratches, see “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” pp. 342-43. The scratch of harkening to an idealized past is stated in the adjunct paper, where Hitler and Reagan are lumped together, at pp 386-87.

    As for the founding fathers’ views on inequality, Madison wrote  “From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property,” (a reference to the protection of liberty), “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results.” Federalist 10, PP 6.

[12]    “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” p. 339. The authors describe their meta-analysis, or synthesis of previous studies, on page 352.

[13]   Byron York, “The ‘Conservatives Are Crazy’ Study: Paid For by Taxpayers,” op cit.

[14]   From the Berkeley press release, op cit.

[15]   “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” op cit. p. 348.

[16]   “Exceptions that Prove the Rule,” op cit. p. 391. In their main paper, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” Jost et al. discuss empirical measures of “integrative complexity” (at pp. 353-56). Here they note that the greatest complexity is found in “moderate socialists (p. 354). Conservative/libertarian scholar Richard Epstein, with his Simple Rules For a Complex World (Harvard 1998), would presumably rank low on this complexity scale.

[17]   If the theory proposed here is correct, and illiberal “liberals” really do shy away from principle, then “liberal” survey answers should have a lesser tendency than conservative answers to reflect principle rather than psychological needs. In that case, the finding that “liberals” tend to reject closure would be more indicative of a psychological tic than the finding that conservatives embrace closure. This result, however, cannot be used as evidence for the theory that liberals reject principle because it depends on the assumption that liberals reject principle. All we can say is that, in general, the lefty surveys offer only a very unreliable test for the presence of any particular psychological trait, but it may offer some evidence. It could be that conservatives are more prone to rationality and hence the embrace of judgment/closure, but solid evidence for such a proposition would take a different kind of empirical study.

[18]   Jost et al. claim to be non-judgmental even about conservatism. "We never argued that it is intrinsically good to be tolerant of uncertainty or ambiguity, low on the need for cognitive closure, or even high in cognitive complexity." (“Exceptions that Prove the Rule,” op cit. p. 391-92.) Of course they are being sincere in a technical sense. Their study only strives to apply the tar and the feathers. It does not say whether tar and feathers are good or not.

[19]   Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Vintage, New York. See for instance, p. 47.

[20]   Ibid.

[21]   This question is surveyed by Will Kymlicka in his book Liberalism, Community and Culture, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991. See pages 9-10 and 17-18.

[22]   Diane Ravtich’s book Left Back (Simon and Schuster, 2000) documents the original form of non-judgmentalism in the public schools in the progressivist ideology of  “child centered learning,” purging substance in deference to an undirected style. Her latest book, The Language Police (Knopf, 2003) documents the rise of non-judgmentalism through censorship.

[23]   See for instance, Dinesh D’Souza, Illiberal Education, Free Press, 1991, especially chapter 6, “The Last Shall be First.”

[24]   Much has been documented on this subject. In addition to D’Souza, ibid., see Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals, Ivan R. Dee, 1990; The Diversity Myth, David Sacks and Peter Thiel, Independent Institute, 1995; The Shadow University, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silvergate, Harper, 1998. Jost et al. themselves embrace the theory of social construction of ideology (main paper, p. 369, adjunct paper, p. 386).

[25]   See Beyond all Reason: the Radical Assault on Truth in American Law, by Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry, Oxford, 1997.

[26]   “Exceptions that Prove the Rule,” p. 385.

[27]   See for instance, John Rawls, Theory of Justice, Harvard, 1971, p. 143.

[28]   Most recently, Dennis Prager expounded this hypothesis in positive fashion in his August 12, 2003 article, “What makes a liberal?” Prager’s answer: “the naive belief that people are basically good.”


     Henry Regnery’s classic article “The age of liberalism,” states the case in terms of a presumption of human perfectibility. (See

     Thomas Sowell contrasts “the vision of the anointed” with the tragic vision of conservatives in his book, The Vision of the Anointed, (Basic Books, 1995). Sowell also focuses more on “liberal” presumptions about the perfectibility of mankind than on liberal presumptions about the inherent goodness of mankind.

     George Will’s tragic vision is cited by Jost et al. (at their p. 362), quoting Will’s baseball book Bunts (Scribner, 1998 , p. 21).  Of course they get him wrong. When Will expresses the supposedly pessimistic view that change is not always progress, he may pretend he is describing a conservative character trait, but he is actually describing conservative understanding.

[29]   The anti-gun activists and "researchers" are relentless liars, citing only each others ten-times debunked advocacy statistics (Gary Kleck and Don Kates, The Great American Gun Debate, Pacific Research Institute, 1997). The mainstream news media are dishonest about guns (John Lott, The Bias Against Guns, Regnery, 2003). The environmental movement preaches a mountain of lies (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, Princeton, 1996; Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cambridge, 2001). If a feminist says it, it’s a lie (Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism, Simon and Schuster, 1994; Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, Berkeley Books, 1993).  The mainstream media (led by the New York Times) constantly lie about racial victimization (William McGowan, Coloring the News, Encounter, 2001; John Perazzo, The Myths that Divide Us, World Studies Books, 1999) and they constantly lie about conservatism and conservatives (Ann Coulter, Slander, Crown, 2002; Treason, Crown Forum, 2003). This list of topics and books documenting “liberal” demagoguery could be expanded considerably.

[30]   “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” op cit. p. 347. Liberty is also taken up in the adjunct paper, where Jost et al. answer some critics who mention their failure to consider the liberal substance conservative principles. Their response (at p. 391) is to deny that conservative embrace of liberty has anything to do with principle, as if they would have a clue, never having deigned to investigate or comprehend the first thing about conservative principle.

[31]   “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” op cit, p. 350-51 (in the subsection titled “System Justification Theory”).

[32]   From the adjunct article by Jost et al., “Exceptions That Prove the Rule,” op cit., p. 387.

[33]   See the Berkeley press release, op cit. Glaser’s remarks are reported: “As for conservatives' penchant for accepting inequality, he said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities such as gays and lesbians, compared to conservatives' opposing position.”

[34]   “Exceptions That Prove the Rule,” op cit., pp. 385-386.

[35]   Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard, 1978.  Dworkin argues that “conventional rights are derivative, not from a more abstract general right to liberty as such, but from the right to equality itself.” (At p. xiii.)

[36]   John Rawls, Theory of Justice, op cit., p. 276.

[37]   Rawls’ second principle of justice, his “difference principle,” requires that: “Social and economic inequalities be arranged so that they are … to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged.” (Ibid. p. 83.)  No account is taken of whether claims of need are at stake.  

[38]   Ibid., p. 156.

[39]   See footnote after next.

[40]   Ibid. p. 312.

[41]   Arguably, the reason that Rawls insists on the annihilation of desert is because this is his mechanism for arriving at this “original position” of choice behind a “veil of ignorance” about one’s place in society. By stripping away “those aspects of the social world that seem arbitrary from a moral point of view,” (p. 15) ignorance about one’s place in society is achieved. But if the veil of ignorance is to place people in circumstances of “fairness,” where they cannot slant their deliberations to fit their particular circumstances, they must be ignorant of all of their particular circumstances, which means that everything about their situation must be held to be morally undeserved. On this scheme, the only world in which Rawls’ theory can even be constructed is a world in which no one deserves anything! As soon as anyone deserves anything the theory’s central construct, the veil of ignorance, disappears!

     Readers of Rawls will note, however, that this method of arriving at the “original position” is entirely redundant. The fundamental justification for the veil of ignorance is that it achieves “fairness.” Fairness is what requires that all the particulars of a person’s position be withheld from him while he deliberates on principles of justice (so that he can’t tilt the rules in his favor). There is no reason to also justify the veil of ignorance via the stripping away of morally irrelevant information. Thus the assumption of zero moral desert can be abandoned without upsetting the theory at all. Allowing moral desert just changes the facts that people in the original position deliberate on. They now have to take into account that reward for contribution will typically be in large measure deserved, and this will limit the flexibility with which they can pick distributional schemes. Intruding on desert would require a good reason, such as the need to answer claims of need, bringing the theory more into line with conservative principles.

    If the reason that Rawls denied the existence of all moral desert is because he thought he had to deny it in order to arrive at his veil of ignorance, then he might welcome correction of this mistake. For our purposes, such approval would be irrelevant. Rawls is not an oracle or a villain, just a good man whose mistakes need to be corrected.

[42]   Ibid. pp. 60-61.

[43]   Oxford, 1997. Sunnstein’s term for social constructionism is “endogenous preferences,” meaning that preferences are “adaptive to a wide range of factors—including the context in which the preference is expressed, the existing legal rules, social norms, past consumption choices, and culture in general.” (At p. 14.)  That “preferences” might evolve as a person, in following evidence of value, makes progress in discovering where value lies and how to pursue it, is not considered. Rather, it is assumed that “behavior is pervasively a function of social norms.” (At p.34.) This presumption of social constructionism “casts doubt,” in Sunnstein’s mind, “on the notion that a democratic government ought to respect private desires and beliefs in all or almost all contexts.” (At p. 14.)  Sunnstein takes this doubt and runs with it.

[44]   Sunnstein’s places faith in force rather than liberty partly on the grounds that, under liberty, people act on what they “want,” while in controlling the government, “what they want must be supported by reasons.” (At p. 20.) But government by reason—or deliberative democracy—is not to be presumed. It must be achieved. The founders hoped that representative government itself would go some way towards this, as the electorate would choose to be represented by the best amongst them. (See Federalist 10.) But the great engine of moral progress in society, which is the ultimate foundation of deliberative democracy, is liberty.

     Sunnstein notes John Stuart Mill’s belief that the quality of a government is largely to be measured by its effect on the character of the citizenry (p.20), but he fails to note Mill’s contention that the progress of the character of the citizenry is primarily a function of their liberty. To use the ideal of deliberative democracy as an excuse for unplugging liberty, which is the fount of individual moral progress, which is the only possible foundation for deliberative democracy, is grotesque. Sunnstein may be the most illiberal “liberal” alive.

[45]   The Blank Slate (Viking 2002). See for instance, Pinker’s p. 202. More generally, denial of innate difference in favor of the “blank slate” is the theme of the first two parts of Pinker’s book. Part III presents the alternate understanding that is available if one is not afraid to engage it.

     Ironically, while Pinker’s entire book is an exercise in rejecting backwards thinking in favor of forwards thinking, he himself is conflicted on the possibility of thinking frontwards. He is so determined to depict the mind as a pre-programmed thinking machine that he has trouble coming to grips with the possibility that this machine attains a capacity for self direction. This is manifest, for instance, in his contempt for the idea of free will, identifying it with “the ghost in the machine,” which he sees as a version of “the blank slate.” (Page 74.)  But this is a non-sequitur. That the mind is a machine does not imply that it is not a machine that makes choices based on conscious resolution. In a similar vein, Pinker disses the idea that people are moved by “understanding.” (Page 40).

     This is an important point because it goes to the question of moral agency. When we think backwards, we usually know that we are willfully spurning conflicting reason and evidence. True, this can happen at a subconscious or barely conscious level, but anyone who thinks backwards with any regularity will be making these choices quite consciously, non unlike a pathological liar. We make a choice whether to trust in truth or not and this is the most determinative moral choice that people make.

     As his book progresses, Pinker comes around to entertain the possibility of moral agency, first via an evolutionary unselfish-for-selfish-reasons argument. (In many cases “it is better for both parties to act unselfishly than for both to act selfishly,” page 192.) This is an important point, but it misses the deeper evolutionary argument: that open ended faculties of intelligence will see many things to value in the world outside oneself and, having the capacity to think straight, will understand that these discoveries of value should be conserved and accounted wherever they are enough at stake to be worth accounting. This morality may impose a reproductive cost, but the cost of getting rid of it may be far higher still. To get rid of the consequences of thinking straight morally it would be necessary to get rid of either the capacity or the proclivity to think straight in general. Given that most people do think straight about what they are familiar with, and are moral in their common dealings, the evidence would seem to be that the capacity to think straight, both practically and morally, has indeed been selected for (meaning that, on average, the benefits of thinking straight outweigh the costs in terms of fitness).  Thinking straight has not been selected for exclusively. We see a lot of backwards thinking too. In perspective, this is the great neglected area of theory about the evolution of altruism: the implications of thinking straight, conditional on the fact of moral reason. Pinker is not alone in his failure to grasp this subject. Evolutionary psychology as a whole has missed it.

    But even if Pinker’s view of moral agency remains pinched, he does come around on the question of the human capacity for understanding, specifically juxtaposing it to moral relativist presumptions (page 197 et seq). Thus Pinker seems to have learned as he wrote. On what he does not understand, Pinker is a little bit of an anti-conservative bigot, but just for the mildly demagogic purpose of presenting himself as superior to both left and right. On the whole, his book is as reasonable as it is important.

[46]   John, 18:37.


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