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How Classical Liberalism Can Heal the Bonds of American Affection

As I write these words—on April 18, 2018—Starbucks has just announced it would temporarily close more than 8,000 cafés so that 175,000 employees may undergo sensitivity training for the “implicit racism” that, apparently, everyone in the company unconsciously harbors. This follows an incident in Philadelphia, in which a Starbucks store manager called the police on two African-American men who wanted to use the bathroom despite not being paying customers.

Setting aside the contentious issue of whether it is possible even to reliably detect and correct such a nebulous concept as unconscious bias (of which I, and others, have expressed skepticism), how is it that the hidden motives of an entire corporate collective can be inferred from the actions of a single employee? Traditional bigotry operates by mapping a stereotype of a collective onto an individual. Within Starbucks, the process has been inverted, with the vector of prejudice emanating from the one to the many.

Stories such as this now clutter our news feeds daily. The details change from one controversy to the next, but they all reflect the larger trend by which our society is self-factionalizing into groups tagged by skin color, gender, and sexual preference—a process that has, in turn, encouraged the creation of increasingly militant political and ideological movements rooted in personal identity.

The process is at play on both sides of the political spectrum. The social-justice left now casually portrays whiteness (and sometimes maleness) itself as a sort of moral disease. The alt-right embraces nativism and vilifies immigrants. Both sides insist that we are in the midst of a Manichean culture war, and imagine that they are fighting against implacable extremists. Language matters, and good-faith debate and compromise become impossible once one side has painted the other as inveterate bigots or criminals. Who would want to reason with a racist, or dialogue with a demagogue?

Of course, politics has been polarizing since the earliest days of the American republic. (The fourth Presidential contest between incumbent John Adams of the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans was so bitter and contentious that it became known as the “Revolution of 1800.”) But through the layering of social media on top of cable news and talk radio, modern communication methods now allow each side to propagandize their base and vilify enemies at every waking moment of Americans’ lives.

Such polarization can be seen in surveys that show the political center shrinking over the past two decades, with the left and right growing ever further apart. A 2014 Pew poll of over 10,000 Americans, for example, found that the percentage of Republicans holding “mostly or consistently conservative positions” had grown from 31% to 53% over the previous two decades, while Democrats holding “mostly or consistently liberal positions” shifted from 30% to 56%.

Source: PEW Research Center, 2014 Political Polarization in the American Public

The share of Republicans who view Democrats unfavorably went up from 17% to 43% between 1994 and 2014, while the share of Democrats who feel similarly about Republicans went from 16% percent to 38%.

Numerous pundits, politicians, and social scientists have offered ideas for addressing America’s growing political polarization—from changes to campaign-spending laws to the regulation of social media. But my own view is that the answer always has been with us, in the form of precepts shrouded in the mists of the 18th century Rights Revolution. This is when the core principles of classical liberalism took shape through the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Paine, and Jeremy Bentham, among others—which in turn laid the groundwork for both conservatism and liberalism’s modern-day variant.

The term “classical liberalism” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes in a way that mangles the term’s true meaning (“liberalism” today represents something different from its 18th century meaning). So in my 2015 book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity to Truth, Justice, and Freedom, I tried to systematically enumerate what I believe are the core elements of a classically liberal society:

  • a democracy in which the franchise extends to all adults;
  • rule of law, including a constitution that is subject to change only under extraordinary political circumstances and well-defined judicial procedures; a legislature whose laws are applied equally to all citizens; and a system of courts that serves all litigants impartially;
  • protection of civil rights and civil liberties;
  • a potent police and military to ensure the safety of citizens;
  • property rights, and the freedom to trade with others at home and abroad;
  • a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system;
  • freedom of internal movement;
  • freedom of speech, the press, and association;
  • mass education, accessible to all, of a type that encourages critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and the dissemination of knowledge.

And to this, I would add one more element—which though alien to classical liberalism in its original form, has become an integral part of all modern democracies that engenders societal stability, trust, and inter-group solidarity:

  • adequate public spending to help the needy—including the homeless, mentally ill, physically handicapped, unemployed, aged, and very young—through the provision of such needs as shelter, child care, food, energy, education, job training, and medical care.

This last point is one I would not have included in my more libertarian youth, but now embrace in my classically liberal maturity, having studied the empirical data collected during my lifetime. Although the left and right disagree about social spending (too little or too much), the fact is that today the strongest and fastest growing economies in the world allocate anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their GDP to social expenditures. A 2015 study on global human development between 1870 and 2007, conducted by the economist Leandro Prados de la Escosura, reported a positive correlation between the percentage of GDP that an OECD nation allocated to social spending and its score on a composite measure of prosperity, health, and education. Germany, for instance, has created the strongest economy in the EU on the basis of a social-welfare system that provides citizens with cradle-to-grave security. (My wife Jennifer is from Köln, Germany, and she is constantly amazed at what the United States fails to provide those in need—starting with universal health care.) This shows us that it is not only morally virtuous to help those who cannot help themselves, it pays economic dividends, as well.

We also have empirical evidence showing us that, for all the tribalized division between America’s left and right, both sides share a surprisingly large number of basic moral values. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt, for example, collected data from hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and distilled five foundations of morality common to all of us:

  1. Care, underlying such virtues as kindness, gentleness, and nurturance;
  2. Fairness, associated with such ideals as justice, rights and autonomy;
  3. Loyalty, including patriotism and a tendency toward self-sacrifice;
  4. Respect for authority; and
  5. Purity/sanctity, which manifests in the effort to live a more elevated or noble way.

According to received political wisdom, conservatives care primarily for #3, #4, and #5, while liberals are more concerned with #1 and #2. And the survey data does bear out this trend to some degree. But the statistical differences are more minor than we’ve been conditioned to expect. Both liberals and conservatives value all five moral foundations, even while varying in their degree of assigned priority.

The one hard kernel of dogma that tends to separate liberals and conservatives today, and which reflects a clear deviation from the ideals of classical liberalism, is the prevailing emphasis on the group over the individual. Under the banner of identity politics, liberals tend to categorize individuals as members of an oppressed or oppressing group, using race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other crude categories as a moral proxy. Meanwhile, under the banner of faith and flag, many conservatives sort people into collectivities according to religion and national origin. The resulting Us vs. Them tribalism leads to such illiberal policies as speech censorship on the left and economic nationalism on the right. The racial politics of the Alt-Right is the moral mirror image of identity politics of the Alt-Left.

Classical liberalism provides an escape from this dyad, because it identifies individuals, not groups, as the locus of rights. It is individuals, not groups, who perceive, emote, respond, love, feel, suffer—and vote.

We are a social species, so we enjoy and even need the company of others, including in the form of groups defined by blood, friendship and faith. And we are a political species, so we revel in sorting ourselves into like-minded ideological tribes. But such instincts should not serve to negate the status of the individual as the primary moral agent, the inheritor of legal rights, the baseline actor in democracy, and the ultimate subject under our laws.

History shows that it is when individuals are treated primarily as units of a larger group that abuses of freedom are more likely to occur—sometimes in a way that leads to dictatorship or even bloodshed. It is when people are judged not by the content of their character but by the color of their skin—or by their gender chromosomal constitution, or by whom they prefer to share a bed with, or by what accent they speak with, or by their political or religious affiliation—that liberty fails, and mobs form.

Contemporary etching depicting the Hepp-Hepp Riot against Jews in Frankfurt. This was one of the many anti-Semitic riots that took place in Germany in 1819.

If the massive divide between America’s left and right is ever to be narrowed, it will be through something resembling an implicit grand bargain, according to which both sides rediscover the common roots of their respective creeds in classical liberalism. For progressives, this would mean putting aside the fixation on assigning moral value on the basis of political group identity—race, gender, or sexual orientation. For conservatives, this would mean coming to terms with the common humanity we share with those in other nations, along with an acceptance of the modern pluralistic welfare state.

Though America is not literally at war with itself, it is still worth revisiting some of the words Abraham Lincoln used in his first inaugural address, at a time when he was hoping (in vain) to hold his country together:

Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

By helping to bring out the better angels of each political faction, the rediscovered spirit of classical liberalism may allow constituencies on both left and right to enter a grand bargain that emphasizes the many values they do share in common. They will never agree on everything, of course. Left and right will continue to fight, as always. But at least the gulf between them might be narrowed sufficiently to repair the bonds of affection.

 

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Believing Brain, The Moral Arc, and other titles. His latest book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.  

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Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. His latest book is “Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia,” published January 9, 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.

71 Comments

  1. Chester Draws says

    Another rule to live by is that laws don’t change people.

    We can’t fix the left-right rift — or any other issue that lies in people’s hearts, such as racism — by changing the law. All we do is hide it.

    Liberty is not improved by more laws.

    • Evan says

      Except for more social spending, it’s not my impression he was advocating for more laws. Those are only those laws which were shown to improve things for everyone in the rest of the developed Western world. I’m not going to argue the United States needs to become a socialist welfare state, as the best empirical data points to the Nordic countries going so far in recent years the state is hurting the economy, even despite these countries’ free markets in natural resources and material wealth. But the United States seems too far in the other direction of being so proud in not taking care of its poor that giving them a leg up would change society so even the rich become richer.

      What I think Shermer is advocating before that is more a cultural as opposed to legal change in politics.

      • ga gamba says

        But the United States seems too far in the other direction of being so proud in not taking care of its poor that giving them a leg up would change society so even the rich become richer.

        I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and conclude you don’t really mean what you wrote. Federal, state, and local government spending on welfare programmes amount to approx. $1.15 trillion in FY18m which includes expenditures of about $688 billion for Medicaid, $104b for nutritional assistance, $88.5b for housing, $67.3b for unemployment, $148.3b in disability benefits, etc. Of course the poor also benefit from infrastructure such as roads and sewerage as well as expenditures on schools; total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2013–14 amounted to $634 billion, or $12,509 per public school student enrolled, which is higher than the OECD average of about $10,500 per student. This ignores all the money donated to charities that finds its way to the poor – yes, the doesn’t come from the government, yet food in the belly is food in the belly. In 2017 that was $390b, but not all of it went to the poor. The Washington Post reported in 2012 about one-third of charitable giving goes to the poor, so let’s use that figure and conclude about $130b goes to them.

        You could argue that spending isn’t enough, or programmes are inefficient, ineffective, or even downright wasteful, but you haven’t. Just a statement about pride and roughly $2 trillion in public and private social spending ignored. Perhaps Americans have an idea that people, including the poor, ought to contribute as much as possible to their own welfare. I know… dangerous and baffling.

        The best way out of poverty is full-time employment in sectors with good prospects, yet from what I keep reading many Americans seem to have given up on the idea that well-paid industrial work ought to exist in the US. And the segments of the economy that are thriving, such as IT, have somehow become the enemies of the people. This ignores Germany is an industrial and export juggernaut. Sure Porsches are a lucrative earner, but Germany is also a superpower in pencils. Perhaps this Germany exists on a planet where China doesn’t.

        It’s interesting to find the wealthiest city in South Korea is Ulsan. Ever heard of it? It’s the Hyundai company town, and per capita income is 24 per cent higher than the national average. Ulsan was the second richest city in East Asia after Tokyo with a per capita income of US $44,500 in 2010; and in 2015 it was reported Ulsan had a GDP per capita of $63,817, making the world’s seventh wealthiest economy if ranked – higher than Germany, US, UK, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Singapore. etc. It is mostly the financial- and petro-powered states such as Switzerland, Norway, and Luxembourg that are wealthier.

        Germany and Korea are filled with engineers who create and innovate items to be manufactured. The US educates many engineers too, yet a lot of them are foreigners who return home. Perhaps the US ought implement some of the industrial policies found in Germany and Korea rather than focus on Sweden’s social system.

        • JA says

          Big numbers. But it’s a big economy. You surely know that the numbers are only relevant if started relative to something pertinent. Wikipedia has a list of countries ordered by their size of welfare spending relative to GDP. The US is 21st.

        • The author opines societies are spending 20-30% on welfare.

          You suggest $1.15 Trillion of government money is enough. The estimate I’ve seen is “In FY 2018, total US government spending, federal, state, and local, is “guesstimated” to be $7.13 trillion.” That works out to be about 16% — which the author suggests is low.

        • “The best way out of poverty is full-time employment ” yeah, well, while true on the face of it, there is another layer lower down that really props up full employment across the spectrum. Family. Not having child after child out of wedlock… Not abandoning the mother of your children to be cared for by the state… Not having fatherless boys and young men run rampant in gangs committing crimes… Not encouraging young ladies to follow in their mothers footsteps by promising this benefit and that benefit…

          All that public (poverty) spending Schermer champions would be unneeded if this culture supported families in word and deed. Instead it glorifies and rewards the number one poverty creator – single-motherhood. It does this by denigrating maleness, men and fatherhood constantly in popular culture and in the liberal bastions of academia and entertainment (including and especially commercial advertising). Men are not innocent – not by any means – but they hear what they hear and see what they see and figure they are not wanted or needed.

          I happen to agree with Schermer on much of what he posits – I like to think of myself as a classical liberal too. I am being pushed further and further right not because I am changing all that much but because morals and reason are no longer (apparently) self-evident.

    • Daniel says

      The statement that laws don’t change people is good, except it doesn’t acknowledge an important limitation: laws don’t perceptibly change people for the better. History would seem to indicate that they can sure change people for the worse. Romanian orphanages are an example that springs to mind. The Romanian leader insisted on ladies having lots of babies, and then the kids were warehoused in horrifying institutions.

      Regarding liberty is not improved by more laws, what about laws regulating restrictions to liberty?

    • Andrew_W says

      “Another rule to live by is that laws don’t change people.”

      Pretty much agree, laws aren’t usually changed until the change becomes more popular (or nearly so) with the voters and the politicians then by changing the laws are just following the popular sentiment, but once the law is change you often get a rapid diminishment of the recalcitrant opposition to the change.

  2. Tom Starchild says

    I can relate, generally, to your view; but drawing a parallel between the”racial politics of the”alt-riight” and the “identity politics of the alt-left” is, in my judgement, actually a false equivalency. There is a distinct, moral difference between them having to do with their strategic relation to violence. Aloha!

    • Bill says

      First, while the “alt-right” as it is labeled now may be anti-ALL-immigrant due to the white supremacist cohort, the Right is not anti-immigrant, only anti-illegal alien. That is why many legal resident immigrant hispanics are also “anti-immigrant” as the Orwellian term has evolved to reflect illegal invaders.

      Now, for those claiming “oh, the Right is anti-immigrant because of racism” — here’s a hint. No. I’m on the Right politically. Want to know why i’m anti-illegal-immigrant? Because by being here illegally, they are de facto slaves. They are taken advantage of by everyone. The Left uses them as a puppet with which to stir up resentment and their voter base in their effort to ascent to power. Corporations/employers take advantage of them with sub-par wages and “under the table” tax avoidance. Landlords take advantage of them with poor living conditions because “who are they going to call? INS?” H1Bs, while legal, also experience the poor-wage servitude with threats of yanking their H1B and shipping them home if they don’t work long hours or if they dare report an issue (good luck with anti-retribution laws, you’re back in your home country not here).

      This is distinctly different than immigrants who have followed the prescribed, legal process who cannot be treated in such a fashion because they are legal.

      • asdf says

        So are you pro-open borders? That would make all illegals legal and they would no longer be exploited.

        The question immediately after “I’m against illegal immigration” is “what should the legal immigration regime be.”

        • Bill says

          Open borders is a strawman, it is a way of “pretending borders exist” while acting as if they do not. NO country is open borders, even the ones the Left tries to champion. So no, i’m not open borders. In the many years before borders, the open borders period, there was widespread warfare because those open borders provided opportunity for those needing expansion to do so an absorb the territory of their neighbors.

          Open-borders proponents, I assume they’re ok with the Israeli settlements the BDS folks are against? 😉

          • Daniel says

            Bill, that’s a good comparison — open borders to Israeli settlements. Love it.

            In response to asdf’s question about what legal immigration should be, there are lots of valid, fair ways to do immigration. Many of these ways are ones that both sides could agree on, once they remove their hatchets from each other’s skulls. Of course, any option that is decided upon will depend on procedures, rules and laws. At some point laws need to be followed. If half the country won’t follow the law, it doesn’t matter how perfect the system is.

          • asdf says

            Daniel,

            I’m not sure there is a common ground both sides will accept. One side believes in open borders as a philosophical ideal. It will accept legal border restrictions as a political expedient (see any Bill Clinton speech from the 1990s), but when you accept something only as some evil unprincipled exception you passed into law for political reasons you tend not to enforce that law very well, so its as if it was never signed. That was basically the situation in America for the last few decades. Nobody ever passed a law saying it was OK to accept tens of millions of Latinos, and no political party explicitly endorsed it, but it happened and its clear which side benefited.

        • Daniel says

          Unfortunately you may be right. A good chunk of today’s Left won’t accept any immigration structure. One hopes that there are enough moderates for a common ground to be possible, but that seems less likely with the increase in animosity.

          What is behind the Left’s animosity, do you think? As someone who leans Right, I would describe the Right’s animosity as a response to failed policies (catastrophic, in the Middle East) and as a visceral reaction to the ugliness of identity politics. But the Left’s animosity seems so irrational.

          • Aux says

            @asdf Do a significant number of people want open borders? I don’t believe that, but if you have some evidence it would be constructive.

          • asdf says

            It’s certainly a default position amongst most elites and their professional hangers on, and they drive policy. It happens to be that they personally benefit from it (socially, politically, and economically in the short run). A person doesn’t have to state “I believe in open borders.” It mostly comes off as emoting (if you don’t want more immigration, aren’t you some kind of heartless bigot) rather then a policy brief. If you don’t state some concrete limiting principle to that emoting (and they never do) then its effectively the same as advocating open borders.

            I think its a natural outgrowth of the idea that “all men are created equal.” If they are, then all human beings are ultimately fungible in the long run. So whatever short term problems that immigration causes, it will all work out on a long enough timeline. And if it will all work out on a long enough timeline, then how can you deny the immediate suffering those in the third world experience and the immediate gain that they will enjoy if they immigrate.

            The only way to logically break that line of logic is if you state that people are not created equal. They won’t assimilate in the long run, at least not in the “assimilate into middle class net taxpayers who behave American” sense. Latino immigration won’t be a repeat of Irish immigration. In Europe Muslim immigration won’t be a repeat of Polish immigration. Etc.

  3. Andrew_W says

    You mention Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations, but mention only 5 of them, failing to mention the Liberty/oppression foundation, which is the one most important to the Libertarian moral matrix.

    From this omission and your skepticism towards unconscious bias the evidence is that you haven’t read Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind. If you have read it you would know that Haidt places huge confidence in the existence of unconscious bias, in fact the whole book, from the title through to the effects of the moral foundations is built on the existence of unconscious bias.

    If you have read the book I’ll have to attribute your reluctance to accept unconscious bias as being a product of your own unconscious bias.

    Personally I have considerable confidence in the Implicit Association Test, and so does Haidt.

    The arguments you offer in your ‘Are We All Racists Deep Inside?’ article I don’t see as valid arguments against unconscious bias. Interestingly, but not surprisingly: “Results from this website consistently show that members of stigmatized groups (e.g., Black people, gay people, older people) tend to have more positive implicit attitudes toward their groups than do people who are not in the group, but that there is still a moderate preference for the more socially valued group.”
    https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/faqs.html#faq10
    The inference I get from this is that the bias exists throughout the whole of US society (though not uniformly in every individual) and even many black people have bought into it.

    Jordan Peterson, likes to refer to instinctive traits that we share with lobsters, even though the evolutionary line was split hundreds of millions of years ago. Another evolutionary trait our ancestors of hundreds of millions of years ago developed is to use their senses to identify objects and creatures in the world around them, and their brains developed to instinctively categorize those creatures and objects into groups – and then work on the assumption that things that our ancestors senses determined had similar obvious characteristics would also have similar behavioral characteristics, thus today gazelles instinctively assume all lions eat gazelles.

    On the matter of race we certainly don’t instinctively assign any particular characteristics to people of any given race, but we do still apply that instinct to categorize things in the world around us based on what our senses and past experience and knowledge tells us about those things, and in the case of other humans we cannot help but to assign negative or positive behavioral stereotypes to different races if we are brought up in an environment in which different races are presented to us (deliberately or not) as having significantly different behavioral characteristics.

    • Truevo says

      https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306452216302871

      This is an italian study that suggests the presence of automatic unconscious racial bias that can however be overcome and rationalized by the (almost politically correct) activity of the prefrontal cortex.

      The experiment was relatively simple: 25 white participants (12 males and 13 females) lay down inside an MRI machine and watched short 12-second videos in which some Caucasian or African actors were framed, initially half bust. Later, the framing approached the hands, which were touched with a needle (actually fake) and a rubber, which on the contrary is not associated with the idea of ​​painful contact. Thanks to fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), scientists could see higher or lower level of activation of various areas of the brain.

      The actors filmed in the videos were black and white, male and female, five for each category and 20 in total. The participants had a small keyboard and they had to judge, pressing the keys, how intense the pain felt by people spiked by the needle or touched by the gum.

      As in previous studies, researchers have found signs of an instinctive empathic predisposition towards members of their own ethnic group: that is, an automatic activation of brain areas (the so-called pain matrix) that are activated when we perceive pain in the first person and awaken even when we feel a strong empathy for a person who suffers. This effect, which is greater during the observation of white actors, is called by DEAR effect researchers (Differential Empathic Activation for Race).

      The Italian researchers, however, have taken another step forward, showing that when the participants have to judge how much pain the actor has experienced comes into play a process capable of counterbalancing the instinctive response. The balancing process occurs at the prefrontal cortex level, that is, those brain areas that are typically associated with the voluntary control of behavior.

      The activity of the prefrontal cortex, moreover, was associated with an interesting pattern of behavioral response: the participants judged the pain experienced by whites and blacks of equal intensity (politically correct answer) but used, proportionately, a much longer time to estimate the pain of black people.

      The cost of expressing a “politically correct answer” is about 100 milliseconds out of 800, a time frame considered by experts to be enormous in terms of mental timekeeping. Delays of this magnitude in the responses are detected, for example, when two tasks must be performed simultaneously, rather than separately. Between males and females, on the other hand, no differences were found: there is no gender effect in these responses (so there does not seem to be an implicit sexist bias… checkmate against feminists?).

      In any case, the problem is less obvious than expected: it is true that there is an automatic racist bias (at least at the empathic level) but this immediate bias is then attenuated/controlled/rationalized, in a certain measurable period of time, by the activity of the prefrontal cortex that forces us to give “politically correct” answers.

      • Andrew_W says

        “In any case, the problem is less obvious than expected: it is true that there is an automatic racist bias (at least at the empathic level) but this immediate bias is then attenuated/controlled/rationalized, in a certain measurable period of time, by the activity of the prefrontal cortex that forces us to give “politically correct” answers”

        When we know that we are in a situation in which others are likely to judge our ethics we usually give “politically correct” answers. But when we know the likelihood of us facing such judgment is low we’re far more likely to stick with our “intuition” or “unconscious bias” – which is often the case in the real world where the details of why are not so closely scrutinized. (also something covered in Haidt’s book).

        Before everyone accuses me of attributing racial demographic differences to white racism, while I’m sure it’s a factor, I think a more significant factor is that black people in the US are impeded more by how they see wider societies perception of them.

        “Cooley´s concept of the looking glass self, states that a person’s self grows out of a person´s social interactions with others. The view of ourselves comes from the contemplation of personal qualities and impressions of how others perceive us. Actually, how we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we believe others see us.”

        http://www.popularsocialscience.com/2013/05/27/the-looking-glass-self-how-our-self-image-is-shaped-by-society/

        My hypothesis is that: Black people in the US see themselves and their children as more likely to be good at sport, music, acting but not so good at cognitive skills when compared to white people, so (on average) they put less effort in and less effort into encouraging their kids to succeed scholastically. They are brought up with far lower expectations of academic success – it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

        If we look at blacks who do succeed scholastically in the US a disproportionate number of them and/or their parents were raised outside of the US, in societies that they did not see as branding them as academic losers.

        • Archy says

          Systemic racial prejudice may also be a factor for different outcomes, but it fails to explain the difference of an entire standard deviation between the average common IQ and the average IQ of black people. We are talking about 15 points, it’s a big difference, and it continues to exist despite the Flynn effect making the average IQ of the entire population grow.

          We are talking about a problem that is due to many factors. To believe that it is influenced by a single factor is nonsensical and certainly that answer does not solve the problem. Especially knowing that 50-80% of the IQ is inheritable. It would serve a greater openness to every possible multifactorial explanation.

          • Ronald says

            “Between males and females, on the other hand, no differences were found: there is no gender effect in these responses (so there does not seem to be an implicit sexist bias… checkmate against feminists?)”

            Definitely, it’s checkmate against feminists. If the time to rationalize for any sexist bias is zero, it’s because there is no such thing as sexist bias, at least on an emotional and empathic level. Even brain-based screening shows no differences in immediate reactions to the sight of men or women who suffer. And that is very consistent with what I would expect: I (a man) experience the same suffering if I see either a man or a woman suffer (perhaps I would likely be more emotionally affected to see a woman suffer than a man). This is a hard blow for the pseudo-feminists who believe that “irrational and/or unconscious sexism” is rooted in our society.

          • Andrew_W says

            That 50-80% figure is just a made up number that relates to studies conducted within the same general environment, if you were to take identical twins born in 1980, separate them at birth, rear one in a middle class contemporary American home, the other in a 1920’s middle class American home and then test their IQ’s as young adults the Flynn effect says there would be a 30 point raw IQ difference between them, then the researchers might then conclude that IQ is only 10% inheritable.

            If we could take identical white twins, give one black features and then rear them in homes in contemporary America we’d get some real information on how perception associated with race affect IQ development, but that experiment hasn’t been done.

      • Susan says

        Truevo, was the experiment also conducted with participants (the ones getting the MRI’s, not the actors) from other ethnic goups?

        • Truevo says

          No, it was not done (in Italy I think it’s difficult because there is not the same ethnic variability that there is, for example, in the United States) but it seems reasonable to expect similar results from other ethnic groups.

  4. brian jackson says

    Dr. Schermer raises an interesting point about the psychology behind the pathological nature of polarized extreme ideologies. In the case of the US I would hazard to offer a layman’s diagnosis of National Dissociative Identity Disorder based on the following definition cut and pasted from Psychology Today.
    “Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual. Some people describe this as an experience of possession. The person also experiences memory loss that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
    Signs and symptoms of DID include losses of time, memory lapses, blackouts, often being accused of lying, finding what seem to be strange items among one’s possessions, having apparent strangers recognize them as someone else, feeling unreal, and feeling like more than one person.”

  5. asdf says

    The social safety net works in Scandinavia and Germany because its people are homogenous. They mostly have high IQs, mostly have high conscientiousness, and mostly follow the rules. It’s closer to “social insurance” then welfare. The idea is that people are basically expected to pay in what they get out over the lifetime (not welfare, more like consumption smoothing) unless something statistically unfortunate like getting disabled happens (the insurance part). This works so long as the premiums (high economic productivity which can be taxed) is enough to cover the expenditures.

    However, if a large enough part of your population is low IQ, low conscientiousness, and try to cheat the system then it all falls apart. Poor countries aren’t poor because they have low social expenditure. They have low social expenditure because they are too poor to afford it.

    We can see this in parts of Sweden or Germany that have diversified. In areas that have become majority low IQ we see a collapse in economic productivity and government budgets that can only be filled by subsidy from the rest of the country (in the US see Baltimore or Detroit). This can only continue until the productive sector is so outnumbered by the unproductive sector that the productive sector collapses. You could say that we would cut back social expenditure to “what we can afford”, but in the cases where the unproductive outnumber the productive they used their plurality of votes to basically run budgets into the ground with no foresight or planning for the consequences of the future. Baltimore and Detroit basically looted whatever they could for short term desires.

    A victorious tribe can choose to show mercy to a defeated tribe. Even to assimilate them into their society if there is enough common ground. A non-tribe can’t resist conquest by a determined tribe.

    Classical liberalism is universal disarmament by the first world when you are faced with those whose only means of securing first world status is to have the state give it to them combined with a population ultimately too high for that state to support.

    • Arthur Dent says

      “The social safety net works in Scandinavia and Germany because its people are homogenous.”

      This is a key factor, and almost always overlooked. Particularly on the Left, people tend to assume that because they (and their peers) are educated, reasonable, and nonviolent, that all people everywhere must be the same.

      Swedes and Germans are finding out that this was a fatal miscalculation.

    • brian jackson says

      The social safety net works in Scandinavia and Germany because its people are “homogenous” If I’m reading the delicate subtext of your comment correctly I would suggest replacing “homogenous” with the less archaic word “homogenized” It has equally subtle connotations, as in “I prefer homogenized vanilla milkshakes”.
      http://skepdic.com/iqrace.html

  6. Arthur Dent says

    “Classical liberalism provides an escape from this dyad, because it identifies individuals, not groups, as the locus of rights. ”

    A beautiful sentiment, but impractical.

    No individual, no matter how strong, is a match for the power of a group. The option to return to individualism went out the window in the 1960s when the Left discovered they could band together and mau-mau individuals into kneeling before them.

    Group against individual is always a walkover. Group vs group is the current standard, and for better or worse I don’t see that changing.

  7. Bill says

    Perhaps you intended “alt-right” denigrating immigrants when you wrote that but the typical argument assigns anti-immigrant to the Right which is not true. For example, the common theme is Trump is anti-immigrant! which is a flagrant falsehood. Being anti-illegal-alien is not anti-immigrant unless you want to assert that immigrants (who followed the legal process) are anti-immigrant (which many are against the illegals)

    • asdf says

      So are you pro-open borders?

      The question immediately after “I’m against illegal immigration” is “what should the legal immigration regime be.”

      This always seemed like a dodge. If you think immigration should be looser then illegal immigrants are simply disobeying an unjust law. Why do you care about the illegal part all that much if at the end of the day you still want those people to immigrate. Either its a stealth way of being against current immigration rates without sounding racist/un-empathetic, or its a distinction nobody really cares about because if you had your way the illegals would be legal anyway.

      • Bill says

        If by open borders you mean “everybody hop on in!” the absolutely not. If you mean open borders meaning “if you follow the prescribed process to become a legal immigrant” then I am. I’m not sure you’d find too many on the Right who aren’t in agreement than LEGAL immigration through visas and applications is perfectly fine. It’s the come across, say the magic words you’ve been coached to say, stay here — those illegals should be treated the same as they are in many countries around the world — imprisoned for breaking the law, then deported. Hell, in some countries if they catch you sneaking across the border you’re shot.

        • asdf says

          But if “the prescribed process to become a legal immigrant” amounts to “show up” then legality and open borders are basically the same thing.

          How many Visas should be issued? To whom? Based on what criteria?

          If you give away unlimited visas to anyone who wants with no criteria then you have LEGAL open borders.

          • Bill says

            Yes and no. If you are just giving Visas to anyone who asks, and that is your law, then yes you have open borders but you are also retaining control because you can then change the law to NOT grant visas to whomever asks but by some other criteria that you legislate. The open borders crowd takes the explicit stance that governments (the People in the case of the US) should not have a say in how visas are awarded because there should be no visas. While that is well and good in Utopia, it is not on planet Earth and runs counter to the socialism those same groups preach.

            Even the Scandinavian countries have started to tighten their immigration policy, as has Canada, due to the inability of their socialist programs to handle the influx of people without the influx of tax-base. Canada, for example, has just asked the US to better enforce it’s own immigration policies/visa policies because Nigerians are simply getting a tourist visa into the US and then crossing into Canada and pulling the “it’s coming right for us!” (Southpark) cry for asylum en masse.

      • Frank Tisdale says

        “Open borders” is a facile bit of nonsense.

        There is quite literally no country on earth which has ever existed which maintained utterly unregulated borders, nor invited any/all comers without precondition.

        Even the boom-times of US immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century, the US maintained official-policy which provided powers to restrict people based on past criminal history, on medical unfitness, or (what was deemed) anti-American political activity.

        And contra the fever dreams of those insisting the US is currently being afflicted by a rash of racist-policy, US still grants citizenship to nearly a million immigrants a year, and hasn’t significantly altered its standards between the Bush, Obama, or Trump admins. We have a system which is enormously complex, but hardly draconian or too-difficult for people to manage.

        Anyone can certainly propose “looser” or “more-restrictive” immigration policy – and i’ve long myself supported a far more simplified and less-bureaucratic approach (what is typically called the “wide door/tall fence” approach), which, if it resulted in fewer OR more immigrants *would be fine by me either way*, as long as it ended the incentives for undocumented migrants to evade official recognition.

        But simply suggesting we should end all enforcement of border controls, or unilaterally grant the equivilence of citizenship to tens of millions of undocumented people w/o any process, is an absurd posture which serves no purpose other than virtue signaling to fellow moral-preeners, and to then accuse all who disagree of being closet crypto-racists.

  8. KD says

    If you look at politics across the globe, from Malaysia, to India and Sri Lanka, to Nigeria and Rwanda, to Trinidad, you find in multi-ethnic democracies that political allegiances break down on ethnic lines. Second, given that the number of desired political offices is finite and demand exceeds supply, you see politics based on ethnic spoils: you get your people in power, and you fill all the choice spoils with people who look like you.

    One way to look at ethnicity is as a club. You cooperate with each other against “them”, and if you seize power, you share the resources with only your club–but extract them by taxation and bribes from the body of the public at large. It looks like parasitism, but ethnic ruling elites generally claim that they are such competent managers that the body politic are getting a real deal. It also provokes resentment, hostility, and sometimes violence from rival ethnic groups.

    Anyways, all multi-ethnic societies are riven by intense, sometimes violent, battles for power between rival ethnic groups. Some societies manage to work out stable “ethnic bargains”–like Lebanon–but that sort of thing is only possible so long as the demographics are stable–like Lebanon when Christians couldn’t keep up demographically with the Muslims.

    In short, America is headed for a big mess, and bromides against collectivism isn’t going to stop it. From a game theory perspective, ethnocentric strategies generally are more successful than humanitarian strategies (helping all) or individualist strategies (every man for himself).

    I think ethnocentric strategies evoke ethical objections, as they resemble parasitism, unless you can drum up some sense of superiority of your group, either in terms of talent or “historic victimhood”. Likewise, fighting wars in hand to hand combat with melee weapons is more honorable than using IED’s and sniper bullets. But what happens in the real world is not what is most honorable or ethical, only what is most effective. . . which is why there is no future for classical liberalism anymore than there is for platoons armed with battle axes.

    • Bill says

      A smaller version of what you describe can be seen in lunchrooms and playgrounds worldwide. People associate with those like them. It is merely the definition of “like them” — what traits are used, which dictate the outcome. In some areas it’s ethnicity. In others it may be politics, or favorite sport, or religion. Ethnic simply appears most common due to the vagueness of that definition. The same “ethnicity” could be national origin, which then includes political leaning and religion and even sport. Look at the case of Yugoslavia where the “ethnic” segregation and warfare coincided with religion as well. In the US, it’s why you see voting blocks in areas where there is not a lot of neighbor churn like big city or rural vs areas with high churn like the suburbs which appear “more purple” than the others.

      • KD says

        I would submit that it depends on genetic difference. If you have two highly differentiated populations, its breaks on “ancestry”. If you have two similar populations, it breaks on “religion” or “language”. If you don’t have that, then you see breaks on “class” lines.

        But its important to distinguish between interests (such as being in the labor movement vs. anti-) and modern “identity” categories, which are more-or-less inherited or perceived to be inherited. Interests can change, identities are much less fluid–making the politics a lot more nasty.

    • dirk says

      This is what Hitler said too, and I think he was right there (as he was in more things, such as pensions and the rights of labourers and soldiers, although not in all subjects, because what he said about racism, Lebensraum and antisemitism was criminal and destructive of course).

      • KD says

        Hitler bastardized Gumplowicz’s sociology.

    • This problem arises only when a too-big, too-powerful government is in a position to use its powers of taxation and spending to transfer wealth from losers to winners. The obvious solution is greater decentralization – deprive the central government of some of its wealth and power and transfer it to local governments and the private sector.

      This points to the problem with Shermer’s big departure from classicial liberalism. A government that is big enough to engage in massive wealth transfers will always use that power to promote the interests of the governing faction and its supporters. This is not a minor exception to classicial liberalism; it is the fatal defect that always leads to the destruction of classical liberalism in the modern welfare state.

      In today’s world, we certainly need all the collective actions that were provided by Big Government in the 20th century. But in the age of Wikipedia and GoFundMe, there is no longer any reason for the central government to be the main provider of health, education, and welfare benefits. Private collective action on a massive scale happens every day now – and it will continue to grow if government doesn’t try to restore its monopoly.

  9. Julie Gould says

    Sceptic believes nullifying the right to free exercise of religion would unify the country. Call me sceptical.

    No one noticed that’s the true intent of the piece? Stealthily omit a single freedom and rage against tribalist believers. C’mon.

  10. Pingback: Can 18th century liberalism save 21st century democracy? | Rikon Reads

  11. AC Harper says

    I consider myself a Classic Liberal although there is no single party that could be said to be ‘pure’ Classic Liberal (the UK).

    The strength of Classic Liberalism (for instance protection of civil rights and civil liberties) is also it’s weakness. It has no ready defence against religiously motivated, racially motivated, or politically motivated extremists. The social and other media are not enthused by ‘nice and respectable’ they are fired up by newsworthy shouty and angry types. Perhaps it is *inevitable* that we must experience regular outbreaks of ‘nastiness’ before we are ready to be ‘nice’ for a while? How sad.

  12. Paolo says

    If I may be brief, an important point of confusion in this otherwise praiseworthy article, is that the identity politics of the alt-right (i.e. far right) are pitted against those of the far left. A big part of the issue is that it is now the mainstream left that plays hardcore identity polics, not the far left. I have to mention that I have been on the left all my adult life, so this is particularly excruciating to me.

  13. Darren, nottingham says

    … and classical liberal economics – through geofiscal reform – gives both left and right what they want.

  14. Victoria says

    The fundamental disconnect in this essay, and thus his “classical liberalism” overall, can be illustrated by the way Shermer can passionately defend the welfare state, but simultaneously attack one of its integral components, namely a protected labor market – i.e. “economic nationalism.”

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for Shermer to detail how the Western welfare state is both scalable and sustainable (ecologically and economically) with regard to the 8 billion brethren of our “common humanity.”

    Shermer conspicuously has nothing to say on the clear role of civic nationalism in actual historical liberal philosophy (and that rubric includes “conservative” thinkers like John Adams), nor does he engage the critical subject of legal and illegal migration, except of course to attack the supposed intolerance of the right.

    That’s despite the fact that the only reason he can claim “economic nationalism” is a phenomenon of the “right” at present without provoking derisive laughter is because of massive political reorganization in the West caused by rapid demographic changes.

    Further, using moral denunciation and appeals to emotion as a cover to obscure one’s inability to counter-argue from first principles is just a tiresome and ubiquitous tactic of the contemporary neo-Marxist left.

    Globalist visions of humanity assume that humans are, if not completely fungible, at the very least effectively the same in average abilities and psychological characteristics. If behavioral genetics at the level of populations shows this to not be scientifically accurate, then it poses a fundamental challenge to the largely unchallenged article of faith of a “common humanity” that underpins Shermer’s worldview.

    • Bill says

      The same groups that convert economic nationalism into Nazi, as they did with Steve Bannon’s comments, are the ones also decrying “evil Walmart” chasing out all the local shops by selling cheap Chinese goods. Buy American! Oh, wait, that’s economic nationalism!

    • Darren, Nottingham says

      You don’t need a welfare state with classical liberalism. cf Henry George.

    • Economic nationalism is little more than a new name for the old, discredited theory of mercantilism. Mercantilism has sometimes been successful as a political theory, but it always fails in the long run when applied to a real world economy.

      Also, “globalism” – i.e., international free trade – does not in any way depend on the fungibility of human beings. On the contrary, economic theory demonstrates that the benefits of trade derive from comparative advantage, which is defined by the differences between the two entities engaged in trade. If the two parties were identical, there would be no possible benefit to be gained from trade.

  15. P. K. Adithya says

    This is a worthy proposal to bridge America’s left-right divide, but I don’t think it goes far enough. As previous commenters have pointed out, any grand bargain must contain an agreement on how immigration policy ought to be run, and classical liberalism offers very few answers on that front.

    White Americans (who make up the majority of the right) are gripped by the fear of losing their demographic majority to a wave of Hispanic immigration. That was the number one factor contributing to the rise of Trump, and it will drive right-wing politics for the foreseeable future. Trump was seen as the candidate most willing to enforce immigration laws and slow down the demographic transformation of the country. It will not be surprising if the next Republican candidate is even more candid about preserving America’s historic white majority. Conservative intellectuals, after some feeble protests, will duly fall in line and focus on criticizing the left.

    Currently, the left’s response to any mention of white identity is to try to shut it down with expressions of shock and horror. But this cannot continue forever. At some point, the two sides have to talk and work things out (the alternative being civil war, which has to be avoided at all costs).

    The most realistic grand bargain strikes me as a recognition by the left that they have to defend borders and avoid identity politics, while still promoting merit-based immigration. Attack the extreme and loony elements on the right (of which there are plenty) while not going head-to-head on the question of white identity in America. There are plenty of issues to focus on – the opioid crisis, reforming education so that the poor aren’t frozen out, etc..

    Unfortunately, I have no reason to believe that Democrats and liberal thinkers will actually adopt such a course-correction.

    • KD says

      You write:

      “The most realistic grand bargain strikes me as a recognition by the left that they have to defend borders and avoid identity politics, while still promoting merit-based immigration.”

      If it all depends on the Left basically adopting “Trumpism”, I won’t hold my breath–unless they get their clocks cleaned in the next 3 or 4 election cycles.

      • P. K. Adithya says

        Trumpism comes with a lot of other baggage, such as ranting about the elites and the media, respect for Vladimir Putin, and threatening to tear up international agreements. No reason why you can’t have a political faction that rejects these while embracing the few parts of Trumpism that appeal to voters. But yes, I don’t believe that Democrats will actually go in that direction. We have to give it all we can, though.

        • Bill says

          Be careful there, Kanye. When you made that point this past week in the press it was whitesplained to you that you may not under ANY circumstances applaud even the slightest aspect of Trumpism or face the backlash experienced by Chance and Shania!

  16. Darren, Nottingham says

    “the core principles of classical liberalism took shape through the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Paine, and Jeremy Bentham, among others”
    Why upon why do so many – ie all – of today’s self proclaimed classical liberals always fail to mention Henry George? He outsold all of the others put together. His direct influence on politics was phenomenal – until he was memory-holed for being too right.

  17. I want to thank you, Michael, for this:

    “According to received political wisdom, conservatives care primarily for #3, #4, and #5, while liberals are more concerned with #1 and #2. And the survey data does bear out this trend to some degree. But the statistical differences are more minor than we’ve been conditioned to expect. Both liberals and conservatives value all five moral foundations, even while varying in their degree of assigned priority.”

    Even Jonathan Haidt himself frequently mischaracterizes liberals as “only” caring about 1 and 2, rather than “placing emphasis” on 1 and 2.

    However, I want to point out something that I see written repeatedly, that is, I think, an over-simplification:

    “The one hard kernel of dogma that tends to separate liberals and conservatives today, and which reflects a clear deviation from the ideals of classical liberalism, is the prevailing emphasis on the group over the individual. Under the banner of identity politics, liberals tend to categorize individuals as members of an oppressed or oppressing group, using race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other crude categories as a moral proxy.”

    I believe this to be incorrect. Liberals do not “tend to categorize individuals as members of an oppressed or oppressing group”, liberals have noticed that those in power, particularly established and traditional power (i.e. that supported by the right) have tended to oppress people on the basis of “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other crude categories”, i.e. difference, “as a moral proxy”. (Note that “being in power” is NOT the same as “oppressing”, it is possible to be in power and not be oppressive). Work on Authoritarianism finds that highly authoritarian people (those that reflexively defer to established and traditional power) are likely to be equal-opportunity bigots in that that are bigoted against everyone not like them (Altemeyer, 2006) – that is where the Us and Them dynamic comes from, it doesn’t come from the liberals noticing that this is what is happening and pointing it out. Or if it does come from that, it comes from the embarrassment and then anger of those being called out for their bigotry. Does that mean we should not notice the systemic problems in society? Especially when some people are emotionally attached to – and given to violently defend – the system that perpetuates those problems?

    “Meanwhile, under the banner of faith and flag, many conservatives sort people into collectivities according to religion and national origin.”

    Quite, and both religion and national origin (in some cases) require people to notice those that are of differing “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other crude categories as a moral proxy.” This is most obvious with White Evangelical Christianity in the US, and with those that voted for Brexit:
    1) only one religion voted overwhelmingly for Brexit – Anglicans – all other religions were roughly evenly split, or overwhelmingly for remain, but no other religion is essentially English.
    2) Additionally Brexiteers were more likely to refer to themselves as English rather than British.
    3) People of white British descent were more likely to vote Brexit.
    If you, as an individual, make no distinction between your religion, nationality, and ethnicity, when you think about your identity, then anyone that claims that same identity but is missing one of those key attributes, then you are going to feel threatened (this is also why so many “true patriot” WASPs in the US are hysterically claiming a white genocide, when what is happening is that patriotic Americans are increasingly not WASPs). This is why people that previously called themselves British are now calling themselves English (and why many Scots, after the failed devolution referendum, started to think of themselves as either British, or both Scottish and English).

    “The resulting Us vs. Them tribalism leads to such illiberal policies as speech censorship on the left and economic nationalism on the right. The racial politics of the Alt-Right is the moral mirror image of identity politics of the Alt-Left.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGTDhutW_us

    As the above video points out, censorship, when deployed in support of the speech of those oppressed by the majority, is somewhat appropriate. If someone defending not just the rights of white people in a majority white country, but their supremacy, and when in a country where the vast majority of those in power are white, and they are shouted down, deplatformed (or in the case of Richard Spencer, punched), it is significantly less problematic than when a minority individual is censored. Let’s not forget that post facto smears and slurs, and trolling of all kinds, are forms of censorship.

    When a person’s speech is designed to reinforce the silencing nature of being in the minority, as white supremacist speech absolutely is, and when it is designed to play on the misdirected anger of a crowd that might act upon that speech, enflame their passions, and point out a target (albeit without explicitly directing individuals towards violence), it is reasonable to place more restrictions on when and where that speech is appropriate. In the case of a university, given that contributory negligence is a thing, it makes sense to limit instances where hate speech may place the target of that hate in close proximity to the (possibly) receptive audience of that speech. Not because the minority is a snowflake, but because a large number of embittered individuals who have had their emotions cynically toyed with should not be in the same place as the supplied target of that bitterness, unless it’s a fair fight… and if you have to think about it in terms of making sure the physical altercation is fair, you’ve already figured out why the talk shouldn’t take place.

    Given that, in the case of minorities, it is seldom the case that they are in the majority, by definition, there is a reason that the suppression of one type of speech is engaged with more frequently than the other way around. This doesn’t stop the individual, insistent on engaging in hate speech, making videos and giving talks and all of those other things (Stormfront is still up and running, isn’t it?). Just as sending a letter to the editor doesn’t guarantee your screed will get published, you can still post a blog. Indeed, I’m sure most on the left would support most forms of self-expression, but there is a time and a place… and it’s weird having to tell those on the right that this is the case, because they’re constantly pointing out instances of inappropriate speech. Just look at the absurd claims of offence over Michelle Wolf’s comedy roast – and notice that she was punching up, to people in power, rather than down, to immigrants, minorities, or homosexual and transgendered individuals (all of whom have been targets for some members of the house majorities, and people on Republican tickets in various states).

    To illustrate the point more forcefully, notice that, if those individuals who gravitate to white supremacist, nationalist, and ethnostate groups were to congregate and do talks, and write blogs and manifestos around their dissatisfactions (low income, few prospects, ignored by the political establishment), rather than assembling around being against those who they blame for their status (notably not the politicians), they would not be censored or deplatformed. In fact, they would find themselves in a group that includes large numbers of minority individuals who are, likewise, on low incomes and with few realistic prospects. Of course, if they were to do that, they would suddenly find themselves on the same side as many liberals, and that would never do.

    • KD says

      Just like the Jews were all fighting to sneak into Nazi Germany to sample her “milk and honey”, so today Africans are fighting to sneak into America, land of the “Oppressive White Supremacist Power Structure”.

      Oh wait, oppressed people usually flee their oppressors. . .

      And how can the Censors of America not be a privileged political class, like they were in Rome, exercising political power against the groups they censor? How can someone who is actually oppressed benefit from censorship? Did Nazi censorship help the Jews and the Communists in the Third Reich? Did Bolshevik censorship in the Soviet Union help the fascists? No, power to oppress is always vested in the censor. [If for the sake of argument, we concede that censorship is good, it remains that censorship is always a tool of a dominant elite against perceived threats to its power, e.g. political enemies.]

      Is logical consistency and cogency too much to ask? How far can emotivism and denunciation of heretics get you? Why not just become a Christian Fundamentalist? At least as a group they have less suicide attempts, take less psychiatric medications, abuse less substances. . . and you don’t have to waste money on blue hair dye.

      • KD says

        If America were actually the proto-fascist white supremacist cesspool the Left pretends that it is, then immigrants and ethnic minorities would be doing their utmost to leave, not come.

        They would support white nationalism so they could form their own ethnostates, not try to remain a part of a multiracial society. There is an existential contradiction between what the Left describes as “the way things are” and the way that Leftists behave–they resemble philosophical idealists crossing a busy street.

        This is because “the way things are” as Leftists have it is self-serving BS, and only through political correctness can they prevent their ideas from being exposed to rational scrutiny. This is why they attack the motives and integrity of their opponents–they act in bad faith, so they presume the same of their opponents.

        • “No, power to oppress is always vested in the censor.”

          Quite. So when a university censors a particular speaker, it is the university’s use of power. I am firmly against many instances of deplatforming and other such shenanigans, but it is all to easy to tar all instances with the same brush.

          “Is logical consistency and cogency too much to ask? How far can emotivism and denunciation of heretics get you? Why not just become a Christian Fundamentalist? At least as a group they have less suicide attempts, take less psychiatric medications, abuse less substances. . . and you don’t have to waste money on blue hair dye.”

          I get the impression that you didn’t understand my points, you’re certainly extending my points beyond the extent to which I was making them, and then dying that strawman’s hair blue.

          “If America were actually the proto-fascist white supremacist cesspool the Left pretends that it is, then immigrants and ethnic minorities would be doing their utmost to leave, not come.”

          At no point did I say that America was a proto-fascist state, but it does have proto-fascists in it, and they are certainly more out in the open, now, than they were than when they were the object of ridicule in The Blues Brothers, for example.

          “They would support white nationalism so they could form their own ethnostates, not try to remain a part of a multiracial society. There is an existential contradiction between what the Left describes as “the way things are” and the way that Leftists behave–they resemble philosophical idealists crossing a busy street.”

          Are you saying that this hasn’t been happening?
          http://time.com/5168677/donald-trump-hate-groups-splc/

          “This is because “the way things are” as Leftists have it is self-serving BS, and only through political correctness can they prevent their ideas from being exposed to rational scrutiny.”

          That’s a nice case of projection you have there. You’ve already made a much larger claim about “how things are” than I did. So you’re serving up a steaming pile of BS, yourself, in order to even make your point. So your argument falls at the first “rational scrutiny” hurdle.

          “This is why they attack the motives and integrity of their opponents–they act in bad faith, so they presume the same of their opponents.”

          Let’s expose the GOP to scrutiny around the fact that the majority were against Trump, but have rallied behind him, because he won, rather than showing any backbone. As such, the behaviour that Trump has managed to normalise, and that the press has let slide as “the new normal”, is an embarrassment, to the office of President. Attacking the integrity of the GOP is completely appropriate at such times. Indeed, genuine conservatives should be fleeing the party in droves – that is notably not happening.

    • Victoria says

      I’m always fascinated by how neo-Marxists like you cling to the label of “liberal” when engaged in public debate. Your rationalization of censorship is just Marcuse’s Repressive Tolerance — it sure isn’t John Stuart Mills.

      In the same vein, your utterly venomous characterization of the “right,” stands in sharp contrast to your sanctimony remarks about bigotry. Were you more self-aware, you might feel some “embarrassment” at some of the claims you make.

      In general a “who-whom” power dynamic seems to define your worldview. Is there a reason you don’t want to acknowledge your political roots?

      Your ignorance of the United States is manifest in that you still speak of “WASPs” — a religious division that is fifty years past it being an actual social factor in America. For example, Trump won white Catholics something like 60-40 versus Clinton.

      • “I’m always fascinated by how neo-Marxists like you cling to the label of “liberal” when engaged in public debate.”

        Always great to start by labelling someone (incorrectly), and then (incorrectly) claiming that they have called themselves something that you are correcting. At no point did I say I was a liberal. I spoke about liberals in the third person, and as a movement, not in the individual sense, and certainly not in labelling myself.

        Whilst you are right that I fit under the term “liberal”, that is only the case in the broadest sense of the term, I don’t particularly identify with it, and my politics is a mixture of liberal, conservative, and progressive ideas (I’m against Affirmative Action, but for racially integrated education; I’m for small government, but via the devolution of some central powers; I think cap and trade was a terrible idea, etc., etc.).

        “Your rationalization of censorship is just Marcuse’s Repressive Tolerance — it sure isn’t John Stuart Mills.”

        You are incorrect. Minority views frequently become majority views over time, whether directly aided, or not (see everything from heliocentrism to Christianity to gay rights). However, I specifically stated that the issue of censorship and de-platforming were only appropriate in cases where there was a reasonable expectation of violence – from either side – and where there was a minority that could reasonably expect to be injured. In the vast majority of cases voices should be heard. All voices. Even repugnant ones.

        “In the same vein, your utterly venomous characterization of the “right,” stands in sharp contrast to your sanctimony remarks about bigotry. Were you more self-aware, you might feel some “embarrassment” at some of the claims you make.”

        Show me where there is any venom. The only time I explicitly mentioned “the right” it was to say that they have a preference for “established and traditional power” – this is definitional of the right, so if that’s a problem for you, you may want to rethink your political orientation, and your own self-awareness.

        After that I reported on research that has been done on authoritarians, those that don’t just have a preference for, but “reflexively defer” to “established and traditional power”, i.e. the far right. If you take that to mean everyone on the right, which is not what I said, at any time, the problem is yours, not mine.

        My comments about bigotry were about authoritarians (and it was the one claim I specifically included a citation for, for this very eventuality), so you can call it sanctimonious if you want… but it is also accurate.

        “In general a “who-whom” power dynamic seems to define your worldview. Is there a reason you don’t want to acknowledge your political roots?”

        Is there a reason you assume you know what my political roots are, from a single post, albeit a longish one?

        Surely everyone knows by now that the written word is absent tone, so there is a good chance that through idiomatic/idiosyncratic word usage there’s room for misinterpretation. You’re certainly reading a lot into what I wrote that simply isn’t there. Or, as you’ve demonstrated with your claiming to know my politics, you’re projecting a whole pile of assumptions onto me (which is what you are – incorrectly – claiming I did to “the right”).

        “Your ignorance of the United States is manifest in that you still speak of “WASPs” — a religious division that is fifty years past it being an actual social factor in America. For example, Trump won white Catholics something like 60-40 versus Clinton.”

        I won’t stoop to your level, and call you ignorant, but whilst the term WASP is old fashioned, it is quite accurate with respect to White Evangelical Protestants (WEPs), many of whom do retain their Anglo-Saxon (and straight up Saxon) surnames. WEPs are 25% of the US population, and 75-80% of them voted for Trump. This means that they are around 50% of his base, and that’s before you factor in the Mainline Protestants (a further 15% of the US population), many of whom would also fall under the term WASP (which is pithier than saying Anglo-Saxon AND Irish AND Saxon AND other Germans).

        Religious breakdown of US population in 2016:
        http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/14/if-the-u-s-had-100-people-charting-americans-religious-affiliations/

        Religious breakdown of US vote in 2016:
        https://religioninpublic.blog/2017/03/10/the-2016-religious-vote-for-more-groups-than-you-thought-possible/

        In other words, WASPs absolutely are “an actual social factor in America”. The fact that white Catholics were ALSO turned on to Trump (probably by virtue of his being the GOP nominee) does not negate the fact, and certainly underestimates the import, of the WASP vote. In fact, only about 49.2% of Catholics (21% of the US population) voted for Trump, more than 50% of Mainline Protestants did, and more than 70% of Evangelicals did.

        If you really want to quibble over the term WASP, then swap it out for (mainly Evangelical) Protestants of English/Irish/German heritage, all my other points stand.

      • I decided to test your theory about Mill explicitly (I only really needed the first 11 pages):

        “…the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest. This conduct consists, first, in not injuring the interests of one another; or rather certain interests which, either by express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered as rights; and secondly, in each person’s bearing his share (to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices incurred for defending the society or its members from injury and molestation. These conditions society is justified in enforcing, at all costs to those who endeavour to withhold fulfilment.”

        This seems to tally rather well with what I said:
        “… if those individuals who gravitate to white supremacist, nationalist, and ethnostate groups were to congregate and do talks, and write blogs and manifestos around their dissatisfactions (low income, few prospects, ignored by the political establishment), rather than assembling around being against those who they blame for their status (notably not the politicians), they would not be censored or deplatformed…”

        Note that I am not speaking against this…
        “All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.”

        …but for where it falls foul of the prior quoted admonition.

        “Though doing no wrong to any one, a person may so act as to compel us to judge him, and feel to him, as a fool, or as a being of an inferior order: and since this judgment and feeling are a fact which he would prefer to avoid, it is doing him a service to warn him of it beforehand, as of any other disagreeable consequence to which he exposes himself.”

        The above seems like a fairly explicit support of (at least) cautioning an individual from exposing themselves (or others) to risk based on the communication of their ideas. Indeed, Mills goes on to say…
        “It would be well, indeed, if this good office were much more freely rendered than the common notions of politeness at present permit, and if one person could honestly point out to another that he thinks him in fault, without being considered unmannerly or presuming.”

        …and…

        “We have a right, and it may be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his example or conversation likely to have a pernicious effect on those with whom he associates. We may give others a preference over him in optional good offices, except those which tend to his improvement.”

        …and…

        “What I contend for is, that the inconveniences which are strictly inseparable from the unfavourable judgment of others, are the only ones to which a person should ever be subjected for that portion of his conduct and character which concerns his own good, but which does not affect the interests of others in their relations with him. Acts injurious to others require a totally different treatment. Encroachment on their rights; infliction on them of any loss or damage not justified by his own rights; falsehood or duplicity in dealing with them; unfair or ungenerous use of advantages over them; even selfish abstinence from defending them against injury—these are fit objects of moral reprobation, and, in grave cases, of moral retribution and punishment. And not only these acts, but the dispositions which lead to them, are properly immoral, and fit subjects of disapprobation which may rise to abhorrence. Cruelty of disposition; malice and ill-nature; that most anti-social and odious of all passions, envy; dissimulation and insincerity; irascibility on insufficient cause, and resentment disproportioned to the provocation; the love of domineering over others; the desire to engross more than one’s share of advantages (the πλεονεξἱα [Greek: pleonexia] of the Greeks); the pride which derives gratification from the abasement of others; the egotism which thinks self and its concerns more important than everything else, and decides all doubtful questions in its own favour;—these are moral vices, and constitute a bad and odious moral character: unlike the self-regarding faults previously mentioned, which are not properly immoralities, and to whatever pitch they may be carried, do not constitute wickedness. They may be proofs of any amount of folly, or want of personal dignity and self-respect; but they are only a subject of moral reprobation when they involve a breach of duty to others, for whose sake the individual is bound to have care for himself.”

        Which pretty much explicitly extols the virtue of de-platforming trolls and those who speak to provoke outrage rather than to open dialogue to opposing views, i.e. the likes of Milo.

        “The distinction between the loss of consideration which a person may rightly incur by defect of prudence or of personal dignity, and the reprobation which is due to him for an offence against the rights of others, is not a merely nominal distinction. It makes a vast difference both in our feelings and in our conduct towards him, whether he displeases us in things in which we think we have a right to control him, or in things in which we know that we have not. If he displeases us, we may express our distaste, and we may stand aloof from a person as well as from a thing that displeases us; but we shall not therefore feel called on to make his life uncomfortable. We shall reflect that he already bears, or will bear, the whole penalty of his error; if he spoils his life by mismanagement, we shall not, for that reason, desire to spoil it still further: instead of wishing to punish him, we shall rather endeavour to alleviate his punishment, by showing him how he may avoid or cure the evils his conduct tends to bring upon him. He may be to us an object of pity, perhaps of dislike, but not of anger or resentment; we shall not treat him like an enemy of society: the worst we shall think ourselves justified in doing is leaving him to himself, if we do not interfere benevolently by showing interest or concern for him. It is far otherwise if he has infringed the rules necessary for the protection of his fellow-creatures, individually or collectively. The evil consequences of his acts do not then fall on himself, but on others; and society, as the protector of all its members, must retaliate on him; must inflict pain on him for the express purpose of punishment, and must take care that it be sufficiently severe. In the one case, he is an offender at our bar, and we are called on not only to sit in judgment on him, but, in one shape or another, to execute our own sentence: in the other case, it is not our part to inflict any suffering on him, except what may incidentally follow from our using the same liberty in the regulation of our own affairs, which we allow to him in his.”

        Yeah, I’d suggest you either haven’t read Mill as closely as you’d like to make out, or, in your rush to castigate me, you didn’t actually properly read what I wrote.

        “Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example; and ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead.”

        All excerpts from:
        https://www.gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm#Page_140

  18. Pingback: Who Are The Classic Liberals? – Riley Tenor

  19. ADM64 says

    The welfare state Mr. Shermer appends to classical liberalism is in fact wholly incompatible with it and is, in fact, the principle cause of our political problems. This is because, psychologically and culturally, classical liberalism relies on individuals being self-reliant, or at least to recognize that however much they might need help, they can’t demand it. In other words, they can’t view others as a means to their own ends. Recognizing that we all sometimes need help, classical liberalism evolved voluntary means of assisting one another, together with families, building societies and the like. The result was that people could get along and had to behave in ways that would make others help them, when asked even if they knew sich help could be refused.

    The moment we politicized welfare and made it a “right” we created a means to break all of those ties and institutions, and simultaneously provided people with a moral club to beat others into providing support. Furthermore, as the welfare state’s guarantee of minimums amounts to a guarantee agains the inherent risks and responsibilities of life, and taken logically holds out the option of an automatic existence, it is fundamentally irrational. Thus, it commits us to a course of action that cannot work and cannot be made to work. The result is an ever more frenzied fight for other people’s property, and the degradation of our politics. The Founders knew this. They had the example of the ancient democracies (which is why classical liberals defended inalienable individual rights protected in a republic, and not democracy) as a guide. Our history these last 80 years prove this to a tee.

    Classical liberalism could again be our salvation. The author is right about that. He is dead wrong about welfare. People cannot be free if they do not accept fully responsibility for their own lives.

    • “People cannot be free if they do not accept fully responsibility for their own lives.”

      In an age of multi-national corporations that avoid tax and bully governments into subsidies and (further) tax breaks, how do you propose that people “accept fully responsibility for their own lives” but by voting in governments that reverse this trend by taking off the top and re-inserting at the bottom (which is necessary in any man-made circulatory system, anyway)?

    • “The result was that people could get along and had to behave in ways that would make others help them, when asked even if they knew sich help could be refused.”

      ^But you can’t “make” people DO anything.^

      How do you propose that the 99% present themselves to the 1%? That would be a full time job for the 1%, as that ratio makes clear. That and the fact that a good proportion of the top 1% spend a lot of their money making sure, either directly or indirectly, that they don’t come into contact with at least the bottom 50%.

      “The moment we politicized welfare and made it a “right” we created a means to break all of those ties and institutions, and simultaneously provided people with a moral club to beat others into providing support.”

      Then maybe we shouldn’t have created a society that actively makes it more difficult for people to get by. Maybe the issue is the politicization of money, and the fiat currency. Actually, no, if it was a “right” the GOP wouldn’t have the ability to defund aspects of it.

      The minimum wage in the majority of cases does not recognise the dignity of the individual, and when employment is “at will” it forces people to “behave in ways that would make others help them”. Such behaviour would be giving deference to someone that does, in fact, not deserve it. Respect is earned, not bought. And, yes, that does go in both directions, but just as there is not an ennobled poor, there is no aspect of money that makes one more worthy of respect.

      It seems to me that you believe the club should be given to those that already have it, i.e. money and power, rather than those who don’t. It’s the Matthew Effect all over again.

      “Furthermore, as the welfare state’s guarantee of minimums amounts to a guarantee agains the inherent risks and responsibilities of life, and taken logically holds out the option of an automatic existence, it is fundamentally irrational.”

      ^Yes, because economics has always been rational.^

      If a problem is systemic – as poverty is – then it is evidence of a failure of government, and should not be at the whim of the wealthy to help those negatively impacted by it (see the ratio problem mentioned earlier), it is necessary to solve the problem, and that requires basic minimums for nutrition and education (at least).

      “Thus, it commits us to a course of action that cannot work and cannot be made to work. The result is an ever more frenzied fight for other people’s property, and the degradation of our politics.”

      As opposed to the corporatisation of our politics? With multi-billions in subsidies for highly profitable corporate citizens, coming from the working class’s taxes? That kind of degradation? Let’s not forget the various government-funded bubbles that occurred long before social welfare was anything but charitable giving.

      “The Founders knew this. They had the example of the ancient democracies (which is why classical liberals defended inalienable individual rights protected in a republic, and not democracy) as a guide. Our history these last 80 years prove this to a tee.”

      You need only look at the last 40 years. Since Jerry Falwell set the wheels in motion to make the GOP synonymous with the so-called moral majority, and thus brought religion forcefully into politics, the US has been on a slow but accelerating descent. The Founders also knew that this mixing of religion and politics was inappropriate.

      “Classical liberalism could again be our salvation. The author is right about that. He is dead wrong about welfare. People cannot be free if they do not accept fully responsibility for their own lives.”

      People cannot accept full responsibility for their own lives, in the way you mean that phrase, if they are reliant on employment at will and have to, as is often the case, work at least one job AND collect food stamps and other forms of welfare. In fact, the vast majority of welfare recipients are in work, which means they are taking full responsibility for their lives, to the limit of what they can, in the circumstances they are in. And a great many people who are against welfare are unaware that they are beneficiaries of it themselves.

      People cannot be free if they do not have the nutrition and education required to develop the best that they can, neurologically and educationally. Poverty is known to depress IQ by almost one full standard deviation; the effects of poverty can be seen in brain structure. This naturally has the knock-on effect of impacting not just education, but inherent educability. And this issue is present at birth, for the children of under-nourished mothers, meaning that the failure to deal with poverty leads to more, and more entrenched, poverty, and as such your ideals are self-defeating, at best, or laissez faire eugenics at worst.

      In sum, it is you that is dead wrong.

      Classical liberalism is a nice ideal, but it needs updating to take into account what we now know about developmental psychology and behavioural economics, at a minimum.

  20. The one thing that needs some qualification/elaboration here is the reference to property rights. Without doubt, there has to be a well-defined set of rules governing who exercises control over resources. But this doesn’t have to take the traditional form of private property as prevails in capitalism. It can instead be a system whereby each person has an equal right to access and participate in social production by joining the commonly owned enterprise of their choosing, not subject to anyone’s veto, and thereupon sharing equally or proportionally in both rights of remuneration and voting on collective decisions — and, with this, acquiring an equal interest in making the enterprise productive and thereby profitable to them as an individual. You can read more about this idea on my blog, called Gonwanaland, in the post titled “Making the Right to a Job More Than a Slogan.”

    One advantage of this arrangement is that, by guaranteeing well-paid employment for everyone by their individual choice, it minimizes the need for any kind of centralized public bureaucracy.,

  21. Anon says

    Classical Liberalism will need a clearer definition what appends this article. The comment of ADM 64 would be far better definition.

    There are important points in this early comment that should not be overlooked by any who desire to promote the resuscitation of classical l liberalism.

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