Inspecting the Liberal/Conservative Divide

There is a long piece I’ve excerpted from blog neighbor Jewish Atheist. I think he misunderstands that the words he rejects mean different things to the conservatives than they apparently do to the liberal. Because of the length of the excerpt, I’m going to put it all below the dreaded fold … and probably even break things up with the even dread bullet list.

The structure of this is italicized blockquote, then my response (if there is one).

Maybe I’m just a hopeless liberal atheist, but Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity appear to be legitimate moral values while Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity are just a bunch of nonsense. Ingroup/Loyalty is good in some circumstances, but is probably also at the root of most evil that goes on in the world.

Obviously I’m going to write more on this below, as JA goes in further depth on them, but the first two need more attention. In part this division and stating that the “logic” and meta-ethical debate regarding the Deontology/Consequential philosophical divide as an argument long past being signed sealed and delivered to the Consequentialist is a little overstating the case. In discussions in the past (with Mr Schraub) I’ve touched on why hierarchy is not necessarily connected with value.

What good is Authority/Respect? Is “I was only following orders” really a moral justification? Following authority is moral when the authority figure commands moral action and immoral otherwise.

As an American, do you respect and give authority to the Constitution (and Declaration), i.e., you submit (willingly) to the authority of the founders via their writings. The notion of a civilized anarchy is nonsense and I suspect JA is not thinking that it isn’t.

The US Marines and Armed services in general teach that both that orders are to be obeyed without removing moral implications from the soldier. You must obey every legal order. You therefore must (quickly and instinctively) parse and process every order to decide if it is legal. “I was only following orders.” is not a defense or alibi in the US military legal code.

JA is exactly right when he writes: “Following authority is moral when the authority figure commands moral action and immoral otherwise.” But that doesn’t mean authority is not an important thing. The difference is the 70s disaffected left thinks that there is no such thing as a moral authority. The conservative disagrees.

Do I even need to point out how dangerous Ingroup/Loyalty is? It’s nice to watch out for your siblings and countrymen, but there’s nothing moral about, e.g., going to war for your side when your side is in the wrong.

This one is a little easier (and kind of like shooting ducks in a barrel). Fire is dangerous. However, that isn’t to say it is bad. It is actually good.

Without loyalty to group there is no polis. There can be no society of men. No social order or organized existence. It’s not just “nice” to watch out for your family and countrymen. Alastair MacIntyre wrote Dependent Rational Animals (the title there describes the status of all men). Loyalty to your “group” to your family, parish, company, and country is just an acknowledgment of your linkage to them via shared web of dependence and responsibility. I fail to understand how one might even deny that.

As for Purity/Sanctity, how is that a moral issue? Oh, she had premarital sex, therefore she’s immoral? She’s on her period, so it’s immoral for her husband to touch her?

I’m not going to comment on this too much, because it betrays a gulf in understanding. There is the joke that the god the Atheist doesn’t believe in isn’t any god the theist (or I) believe in either. Suffice it to say that it seems the holiness that JA doesn’t believe in isn’t the Holiness I seek or believe in.

Obviously, this is an over-generalization, but this confirms my intuition about the American culture wars. One side cares more about people; the other about abstractions like Authority, Loyalty, and Purity. In my book, any time you support a policy that leads to more deaths, more harm, or more unfairness for some intangible reason, you’re probably doing the wrong thing.

Marx/Lenin/Stalin/Mao built a little Utopian experiment which played out in the 20th century. It based its rational on Harm/Care and Fairness/Equality. It strove for scientific and tangible (for example economic) metrics for these. It rejected Purity/Sanctity and lead to just a few more deaths, harm, and ultimately unfairness than anything that came before.

This divide is quite clear even within religion. Conservative religious groups worry about following rules (authority) and being holy (purity) while the liberal ones focus on charity (care) and social justice (fairness.)

Of course this doesn’t match up with actual data, recall that study on liberal/conservative religious belief correlated to charitable giving. It’s my experience (a small sample set admittedly) that the liberal religious are more willing to rely on the government to supply charity and conservative on personal giving.

Perhaps the liberal ties social justice (fairness) as more important because he’s more apt to connect hierarchy to a presumption of value, so it bothers him more.

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6 comments

  1. Methinks mine wasn’t a very good post. I’m currently engaged in debate there with a number of generally fair-minded people. Nobody, so far, has taken my side. That can’t be a good sign. 🙂

    Suffice it to say that it seems the holiness that JA doesn’t believe in isn’t the Holiness I seek or believe in.

    It’s not like I’m just on the outside looking in. I was born and raised an Orthodox Jew. I studied many of their texts. The notion of purity is vastly important and indeed the examples I gave came straight out of Orthodox Judaism. Men are not allowed to (literally) touch their wives during their period and for the week (!) following it’s end. After the period, the woman must go to a ritual bath and “cleanse” herself. Couples who do not obey these laws are viewed as seriously immoral.

    Maybe that doesn’t apply to your religion. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to some or most.

    Marx/Lenin/Stalin/Mao built a little Utopian experiment which played out in the 20th century. It based its rational on Harm/Care and Fairness/Equality. It strove for scientific and tangible (for example economic) metrics for these. It rejected Purity/Sanctity and lead to just a few more deaths, harm, and ultimately unfairness than anything that came before.

    Bad results don’t prove bad motives. The reason communism is bad is because it doesn’t work, not because “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is an immoral foundation for a society. That’s pretty much the foundation of most healthy families I know.

    Of course this doesn’t match up with actual data, recall that study on liberal/conservative religious belief correlated to charitable giving. It’s my experience (a small sample set admittedly) that the liberal religious are more willing to rely on the government to supply charity and conservative on personal giving.

    Conservatives give more, yes, possibly because they belong to religious groups which require them to give more. However, that’s only true because the economic policies liberals advocate which would result in more benefit to the poor than the right’s feel-good but inefficient and insufficient model of voluntary charitable given. So complain about the methods, but if liberals had their way, the poor would be better off than if the conservatives do.

    Which party is fighting universal health care coverage??

    Perhaps the liberal ties social justice (fairness) as more important because he’s more apt to connect hierarchy to a presumption of value, so it bothers him more.

    Or maybe it’s because in practice, some of the greatest evils of our society (slavery, segregation) have been predicated on unfairnes.

  2. Mark says:

    JA,
    On holiness, I think the problem is that you present the Orthodox Jewish perspective on Holiness as universal for Conservatives. I offer a counter-example at the very least.

    Regarding Marx. Bad results prove those motives are not sufficient perhaps. Consider also the French revolution (which apparently served as a model for Lenin). What successful society do you point to that holds the first two elements you respect in high regard and the other three in disdain?

    On giving, I disagree. I’m not sure how universal pony ownership, err, health care is the answer to poverty and for “the poor”. I’ve yet to see a left/leaning proposal about health care address notions of rationing (setting aside arguing why ability to pay is not “fair”).

    I’m going to disagree that slavery and segregation are either the “greatest evils of our society” or that the source of that evil is unfairness.

    As far as I know public discourse on the poor and providing hospices and so on for the same began in the Eastern Roman Empire in the Church in about the 5th century. I don’t know of earlier instances. Those homilies preaching narratives describing the plight and stories of the poor were from people who had a healthy regard for Authority and Holiness.

  3. On holiness, I think the problem is that you present the Orthodox Jewish perspective on Holiness as universal for Conservatives. I offer a counter-example at the very least.

    Sure, Orthodox Judaism is probably at one extreme on that issue, but it’s not qualitatively unique. Why else is pornography spoken of as “dirty,” “smutty,” etc.? It’s a question of purity. You don’t see conservatives calling violent imagery “dirty” or “smutty.”

    Regarding Marx. Bad results prove those motives are not sufficient perhaps. Consider also the French revolution (which apparently served as a model for Lenin). What successful society do you point to that holds the first two elements you respect in high regard and the other three in disdain?

    Whether the motives are sufficient (they clearly aren’t) is a separate discussion. I’m just wondering at the difference in motives.

    On giving, I disagree. I’m not sure how universal pony ownership, err, health care is the answer to poverty and for “the poor”. I’ve yet to see a left/leaning proposal about health care address notions of rationing (setting aside arguing why ability to pay is not “fair”).

    What don’t you understand. If the conservatives get their way, millions of children will not have adequate health care. If the liberals get their way, they will. Argue about fairness or fiscal irresponsibility or whatever, but those are the basic facts.

    I’m going to disagree that slavery and segregation are either the “greatest evils of our society” or that the source of that evil is unfairness.

    Really?? And I didn’t say they were the greatest evils, I said they were some of the greatest evils.

    As far as I know public discourse on the poor and providing hospices and so on for the same began in the Eastern Roman Empire in the Church in about the 5th century. I don’t know of earlier instances. Those homilies preaching narratives describing the plight and stories of the poor were from people who had a healthy regard for Authority and Holiness.

    The Jesus of the Gospels was clearly a social liberal by my criteria. He focused much more on caring and fairness than on purity, authority, or loyalty. So it makes sense that the early church did as well.

    Really it’s mostly in America that the Christians are the more socially conservative, isn’t it? How did that happen?

  4. Mark says:

    JA,
    I suspect calling pornography dirty does not etymologically have origins in anything that has a causal connection with the modern conservative/liberal divide.

    On health care … what you don’t understand is that if liberals get their way millions of children won’t get adequate health care and it will cost trillions. If conservatives get their way perhaps they won’t either, but at least the economy (and our liberty) won’t necessarily victims as well.

    As for Jesus and the Gospels with regards to your Authority/Purity/Caring/Fairness/Inclusiveness divide … he aimed at casting out the temple. However, the early church in the first century had inclusiveness, authority, and liturgical notions of holiness in abundance … and I’d argue they got it from Christ. You argue for a difference in F&C vs AP&I which I don’t see in the early church, that’s all. And 5 centuries is a long time to wait to establish narratives of the poor as a direct consequence of Jesus teaching. A lot of theological water went under the bridge between those times.

    On the last, Christians being the more socially conservative. I really don’t know if that’s true or not. Christian communities outside America include those in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. I’d be surprised if outside of Western Europe the conservative/liberal divide wasn’t basically random.

  5. Mark:

    I suspect calling pornography dirty does not etymologically have origins in anything that has a causal connection with the modern conservative/liberal divide.

    Surely you agree it’s origins are with notions of purity, though?

    On health care … what you don’t understand is that if liberals get their way millions of children won’t get adequate health care and it will cost trillions. If conservatives get their way perhaps they won’t either, but at least the economy (and our liberty) won’t necessarily victims as well.

    I see no reason to believe that the millions of children wouldn’t get adequate health care under Clinton’s or Obama’s plan. And there’s no “perhaps” about what will happen if conservatives get their way.

    And rolling back the Bush tax cuts (which is how they plan to pay for it, along with streamlining the system and maybe some kind of tort reform) is hardly going to sink the economy.

    As for Jesus and the Gospels with regards to your Authority/Purity/Caring/Fairness/Inclusiveness divide … he aimed at casting out the temple.

    I was thinking of his explicit rejection of the notion of kashrut (“kosherness” in English?), his Sermon on the Mount, his hanging out with prostitutes and lepers, etc. As for the early Church, I’ll admit near-complete ignorance.

    On the last, Christians being the more socially conservative. I really don’t know if that’s true or not. Christian communities outside America include those in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. I’d be surprised if outside of Western Europe the conservative/liberal divide wasn’t basically random.

    I can’t think of another country where Christians are fiscally conservative. (Reminds me of that cartoon about how American Christians worship “supply-side Jesus.”) Socially, it’s probably a mixed bag.

  6. Mark says:

    JA,
    On the connections to purity, I’m just not sure it’s relevant. That is it is only relevant when today’s connection is to purity or Holiness.

    On the Clinton/Obama health plan, you call me the person of faith, heh. There’s no perhaps about what will happen if economic growth stops either.

    I can’t think of another country where Christians are fiscally conservative

    Well, I don’t claim to know the divisions between fiscal conservatives and very well outside this country or how they line up in such demographics in those countries. Do you? I think it’s likely a mixed bag all around, but we’re both just guessing blind I think.