By Arnold Kling
Daniel B. Klein takes a shot at something I have tried to do, namely, sort out the dispositions of progressives, conservatives, and libertarians.
The configuration presupposed by social-justice leftists and social democrats generally is that all resources in society are ultimately owned by society, the state, the people, the polity
For progressives, there is a “we” that the state represents and speaks for. If, as Klein argues, “Man is a meaning seeking animal,” then progressives find meaning in the state.
Klein explains conservatism as follows:
If we have a contract with the spirit-lord, and that contract says we are not to snort cocaine, then our snorting of cocaine violates commutative justice, for it violates the contract. When the government prohibits the snorting of cocaine, it is enforcing that contract, not violating our liberty–just as laws against fraud are not a violation of our liberty.
The role of the state, in the conservative view, is to enforce norms and laws that have a prior origin. For religious conservatives, that origin is divine. In theory, a secular conservative could find the roots of those norms in tradition, or cultural evolution.
On the issue of respect for tradition, in a to-be-published essay called “Clever sillies: Why high IQ people tend to be deficient in common sense,” Bruce Charlton argues that high Openness, which means lack of respect for tradition, tends to be correlated with high IQ. This makes intellectuals, including libertarians and progressives, prone to over-estimate the value of their ideas and to under-estimate the wisdom embedded in tradition.
an increasing level of IQ brings with it an increased tendency to use general intelligence in problem-solving; i.e. to over-ride those instinctive and spontaneous forms of evolved behaviour which could be termed common sense.
…When problems are analyzed using common sense ‘instincts’ the evaluative process would be expected to lead to the same answers in all normal humans, and these answers are likely to be stable over time. But when higher IQ people ignore or over-ride common sense, they generate a variety of uncommon ideas. Since these ideas are only feebly-, or wholly un-, supported by emotions; they are held more weakly than common sense ideas, and so are more likely to change over time.
…Because evolved ‘common sense’ usually produces the right answers in the social domain, yet the most intelligent people have personalities which over-use abstract analysis in the social domain, this implies that the most intelligent people are predisposed to have silly ideas and to behave maladaptively when it comes to solving social problems.
The way I would put this is that tradition is usually the best guide. Clever innovations can improve on tradition, but they do so with much less frequency than intellectuals implicitly believe. Think of a new idea for social policy as if it were a new business–the chances are that it will fail. Yet the intellectual is disposed toward trying to implement this new idea. Unfortunately, when the state is the vehicle for implementing the idea, the failure is not isolated, as it is with a failed business start-up. Instead, it is a failure that is widespread and long-lasting.