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September 03, 2014

Are Progressives the Real Authoritarians?

A few months ago, Charles Murray wrote about the 1920s progressive movement's open admiration for authoritarian regimes.

[P]hilosophically, the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century had roots in German philosophy ( Hegel and Nietzsche were big favorites) and German public administration ( Woodrow Wilson's open reverence for Bismarck was typical among progressives). To simplify, progressive intellectuals were passionate advocates of rule by disinterested experts led by a strong unifying leader. They were in favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective. They thought that individualism and the Constitution were both outmoded.

That's not a description that Woodrow Wilson or the other leading progressive intellectuals would have argued with. They openly said it themselves.

It is that core philosophy extolling the urge to mold society that still animates progressives today--a mind-set that produces the shutdown of debate and growing intolerance that we are witnessing in today's America. Such thinking on the left also is behind the rationales for indulging President Obama in his anti-Constitutional use of executive power. If you want substantiation for what I'm saying, read Jonah Goldberg's 2008 book "Liberal Fascism," an erudite and closely argued exposition of American progressivism and its subsequent effects on liberalism. The title is all too accurate.

Today, Megan McArdle writes about this as well.

In the ultra-liberal enclave I grew up in, the liberals were at least as fiercely tribal as any small-town Republican, though to be sure, the targets were different. Many of them knew no more about the nuts and bolts of evolution and other hot-button issues than your average creationist; they believed it on authority. And when it threatened to conflict with some sacred value, such as their beliefs about gender differences, many found evolutionary principles as easy to ignore as those creationists did. It is clearly true that liberals profess a moral code that excludes concerns about loyalty, honor, purity and obedience -- but over the millennia, man has professed many ideals that are mostly honored in the breach.

She is herself animated to write about this by Jeremy Frimer's study, which he writes about at the HuffPo. Frimer is a psychologist, and, it seems, a fairly dogmatic progressive, but not so dogmatic to avoid interesting questions, or to refuse to conduct research that might not reinforce his personal bigotries.

Frimer was struck by progressives' resort to group-think bullying and a longing to live their lives by Received Dogma -- the same sort of thing he'd always thought about "Bible-thumping" conservatives, only with different shibboleths and holy books.

He conducted a study to explore this.

Together with my collaborators Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, we asked both red and blue Americans to share their views about obeying liberal authorities (e.g., "obey an environmentalist"). In an article that we recent published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we found that liberals were now the ones calling for obedience. And when the authorities were viewed as ideologically neutral (e.g., office manager), liberals and conservatives agreed. Only when people perceived the authority to be conservative (e.g., religious authority) did conservatives show a positive bias.

If the two sides equally support obedience to their own authorities, how had I come to believe that conservatives are the ones that favor obedience to authority? We wondered if the asymmetry lay not in attitudes toward obedience, but in the nature of authority. Perhaps authorities tend to be conservative, and people know it.

His idea that conservatives are perceived as more longing for authority because the "authority" people usually have in mind when they think about this are institutions thought to be "conservative" -- chiefly, the police, the military, the church.

But Frimer finds that when you broaden the concept of "authority" to include all the various dogma-generating, loyalty-enforcing institutions of ideation and control, progressives are just as slavish to Received Wisdom as the stereotypical conservative is.

Rather than thinking of liberals and conservatives as being fundamentally different psychological breeds, I now think of them as competing teams. Liberal versus conservative is like Yankee fans versus Red Socks fans. Each has its own flag to which it pledges allegiance. And each side has its own authorities to which it demands obedience.

You should probably read his whole piece. I haven't included why he was prompted to conduct this study; it involves a bicycling tour of Cuba.

I think most of this is explained well enough by the concept of "altruistic punishment," an evolved human behavior of rule and code enforcement within a tribe, as described in the very short (probably still free to borrow) book Trial by Fury by Douglas Preston.

Thanks to @rdbrewer4.


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posted by Ace at 11:43 AM

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