Liberalism vs. conservativatism as yin vs. yang

August 17, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

Jonathan Haidt stepped back from his liberal leanings to see that that many aspects of traditional teachings of conservatism make sense. In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt carefully notes that in recognizing some of the good aspects of conservativism, he is in no way embracing the modern American Republican Party, which declared it as a sacred quest “to sacrifice all of the good things government can do to preserve low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.” (See footnote 36). See also, Bill Moyer’s recent interview with Haidt.

With the above as the context, at Freakonomics, Haidt explains is change from a “liberal” to a “centrist”

Q. You say you used to be a liberal but are now a centrist. Why the change? Vincent.

A. I have the personality traits, occupation, social network and lifestyle of a liberal. It was over-determined that I would be a liberal. But in 2005 I changed my research direction. I had previously studied how morality varied across nations. After a second Democratic challenger lost to George W. Bush, in part because they failed to make compelling moral arguments, I began to study left and right in the USA as though they were different cultures. Which they are. I tried to apply a cultural psychology framework to the research, meaning that I tried to understand each side from inside. I tried to get a feel for what each side held sacred, and for what values and virtues they were trying to implement in their political and economic programs. At first I disliked watching Fox News and reading National Review. But within a year, I began to see that the conservative vision of morality, history, and economics was just as coherent as the alternative liberal vision.

Once I lost my feelings of repulsion and anger toward conservatism I discovered a whole world of ideas I had never encountered. Once I lost my feelings of repulsion and anger toward conservatism. I discovered a whole world of ideas I had never encountered. Some of them struck me as quite good, e.g., the value of institutions and traditions for creating moral order; the principle of federalism (which failed spectacularly on civil rights, but is valuable in most other cases); and the glorification of earned success while being critical of efforts to achieve equality of outcomes without attention to merit. I now hold the view that left and right are like Yin and Yang. As John Stuart Mill put it in 1859: “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.”


Category: Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    After writing this post, I should make it clear that I don’t believe we need two external iced adversarial parties. Rather, we need better-educated and self-critical politicians and voters, such that they will carry on these dialogues internally- in their own minds. What we need more than yin-yang adversarial political parties are well-informed self critical voters.

  2. Tige Gibson says:

    It seems to me that people are oblivious to the fact that Hitler and the Nazi party offered many good ideas and that those ideas are what allowed Germany to rise to dominate Europe. I do not take a centrist position because of the success of Hitler. The word “liberal” has been denigrated by decades of right-wing talk radio. That word still has a classical meaning to allow us to rise above the absolute authority of kings and priests and the wealthy. To be a conservative likewise still has the converse meaning, to conserve the authority of blood, faith, and money over the mind of man.

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