In a recent post, Heartiste wrote on a topic I’ve been struggling with myself. The gist of the argument, which has come up amid the Charles Murray debates, is that some types of people are better equipped to handle freedom than other types of people. As per Murray’s thesis, similar types of people tend to be drawn together, and Murray’s point was that people are fracturing along cognitive lines more than any other factor. As Heartiste points out, this has political implications for the Big 3 Ideologies:
What libertarian, conservative OR liberal could read and accept the above premise and not feel at least some elemental — some PRIMAL — part of his worldview shatter into a million pieces. Libertarians: laissez faire means the cementing of intractable human hereditary differences into antagonistic classes and milieus. Conservatives: freedom and prosperity mean a slackening of external behavioral motivators and the erosion of commonality and shared values and the means with which to argue for them. Liberals: nonjudgmental individualism means a collapse of social capital and a surrender of any moral or aesthetic authority.
In a piece at The Wall Street Journal (h/t Ulysses), James Taranto grapples with liberals’ attacks upon social conservatives which culminated in an article by Paul Krugman in which the Nobel Prize winner criticized conservatives for voting against their economic interests to support conservative social causes. Krugman essentially trotted out the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” argument to which Taranto responded that perhaps poorer people or Middle Americans – given their greater tendency to have kids – lean more socially conservative because they recognize the importance of family values and limitations on sexuality, drugs, and other forms of licentiousness. That they don’t always succeed in tamping down those behaviors isn’t the same as at least understanding the importance of such beliefs. Taranto writes:
In other words, less affluent Americans are socially conservative because they bear the brunt of the social policies and cultural attitudes that prevail among affluent liberal elites. You can see why it would be difficult for Krugman and Alter, who doubtless pride themselves on their compassion and moral rectitude, to acknowledge or even consider this explanation. They need to be obtuse as a psychological defense.
That [the 1960s progressivism] was an understandable thing for them [liberals like Paul Krugman and Jonathan Alter] to believe given the times and what one assumes were their predispositions. But while feminism and the sexual revolution have been great for high-status men like Krugman and Alter (full disclosure: and this columnist), and for those women who place a high value on professional careers, things have not worked out so well for those who are less privileged.
Cue Katie Roiphe. Her position, you’ll recall, is that we shouldn’t judge women without means (economic or cognitive) for having children out of wedlock because upper middle class women like herself can handle being single mothers. In a bit of irony, it is OK for cultural norms which involve sexual freedom and other licentious behaviors to diffuse from on high, but it is not OK to bundle any of the intra-elite judgment which keeps all of those people striving towards better risk-reward analyses. That was another of Murray’s points: the better-off need to preach what they practice. Taranto continues:
If liberal baby boomers stubbornly refuse to see the damage that their idea of “progress” has wrought, what about future generations, for whom the sexual revolution was an inheritance, not a choice, and therefore perhaps not an essential component of personal identity, even among those on the left?
At best, the sexual revolution carried with it a certain idealistic hope. But for who? Who drank the sweet wine of hope, and who was left behind to clean out the Port-a-Potty?
I’ll admit that all of this is difficult for a libertarian like myself to handle. But at the same time, on no principle at all can I move to take away freedoms from the people who seem less able to handle them. The best way – and the way which the libertarian Murray espouses – is to bring back the Old Shame. This bridges the libertarian perspective with the conservative perspective. Self-policing rather than dictatorship is the key. The only problem with that is that the local distributors of judgment – the “patriarchs”: teachers, fathers, cops – are not around to lend their natural authority to the cause. They’ve been smoked out – either demonized or freed themselves. Pandora’s Box has been opened.