The Great Books of Liberalism and Conservatism
By Arnold Kling
Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t. There are, of course, taxonomies of conservative schools of thought. People on the right classify themselves as libertarians, neoconservatives, social conservatives, traditional conservatives, and the like, and spill oceans of ink defining, debating, and further subdividing these schools of thought. There is no parallel taxonomy on the left. Maybe, in part, it is because a central tenet of liberalism is that ideology should be eschewed in favor of the supposedly enlightened, pragmatic approach of making ad hoc judgments about issues.
I am going to make tendentious claim here. That is, I think that conservatism requires more effort in using what Daniel Kahneman calls “System 2,” the deliberative, logical brain. Liberalism relies more on System 1, which deploys intuition, emotion, and heuristics. Among the most prominent heuristics is “We care about the less fortunate. Conservatives don’t.” Liberals tend to play that one as if it were their trump card.
Are there conservatives who rely on intuition, emotion, and heuristics rather than logic? Absolutely. Do liberals use logic? Sure. If you think in terms of statistical distributions, liberals and conservatives overlap considerably in the extent to which they use reason vs. emotion.
But at the highest levels of discourse, as found in the books that Professor Bogus identified as iconic for each side, I do think that the pattern holds. The conservative books are concerned with a chain of reasoning. The liberal books are expressions of outrage. In that sense, I think that they appeal more to System 1 than to System 2.