Liberals, conservatives and libertarians

This week’s EconTalk podcast is very timely. It features guest Arnold Kling discussing his three languages of politics. It’s timely because it ties in with the discussion we’ve been having here about noise grenades and rudeness people display to those with opposing political views.

Kling observes that unproductive political discourse may be caused by people in different political camps thinking along different good/evil axes, which causes them to essentially speak different languages.

For liberals the good end of the axis is helping the oppressed, while the oppressors are on the evil end. If you’re not helping the oppressed, then you are an oppressor and evil.

For conservatives, civilization is good, barbarism is evil. If you are eroding the traditional structures and values of society, you’re not good.

For libertarians, freedom is good, coercion is evil. If you must force someone to behave how you’d like, eventually the force will be abused.

A simplified view of the issue of illegal immigration illustrates how to use these three axes.

  • Liberals see illegal immigrants as the oppressed, and people who don’t want illegal immigrants as the oppressors.
  • Libertarians see no reason to force people out of the U.S. or keep them out by force. The more the merrier.

So, liberals and libertarians support the same side in this issue, but for different reasons.

  • Conservatives think illegal immigration violates the rule of law, which risks civilization.

It’s difficult for anybody with one of the three worldviews to even so much as come to understand the others’ positions.

I also doubt that many liberals understand the libertarian view, even though they essentially agree with the end result.

Of course, there are more nuances to this issue. For example, I know conservatives who distinguish between illegal immigrants coming here for the goodies of the welfare state and those seeking opportunity. I know liberals who are concerned that loose border controls may let in criminals. But, I think the three axes does a good job of representing the prevailing views on the issue.

Kling also admits that this isn’t lock tight and doesn’t answer why people think this way — it’s just an observation that may help us come to understand those we disagree with. He also has a Kindle Short on the topic available for $1.99. I am currently reading it and enjoying it.

I recommend listening to the podcast. It’s a great discussion. Kling and Roberts share some interesting personal stories and also comment on Paul Krugman.

Also, as an oversight I had not added Kling’s blog, askblog, to my links in the right margin. His blog subtitle is taking the most charitable view of those who disagree. If more people would adopt that stance, we’d be better off!

Similar to Kling, I’ve been on all at least two of axes in my life and on some issues, will find myself on more than one. More on that to come.

Update: I finished reading Kling’s Kindle Short and I do recommend it. It’s well worth the $1.99.

5 thoughts on “Liberals, conservatives and libertarians

    • ha…probably the same as a libertarian, taken to the extreme. I think many libertarians accept a minimal, clearly defined role of government. Something like my homeowners association (it takes care of the pool and common areas). Anarchists probably see that (with some merit) as having the potential to get out of control. We certainly have had our share of busy bodies on the HOA.

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