Self-determination as the unifying factor in Kling’s ‘Three Languages of Politics?’

Arnold Kling observes in his book, The Three Languages of Politics, that liberals see things in terms of oppressors and the oppressed, conservatives see things in terms of civilization versus barbarism and libertarians see things in terms of freedom versus coercion.

He says this is why people from these three camps usually talk past each other because they think on these different value axes.

I agree.

But, I’ve often wondered why?

I think it may be how much folks believe they are responsible for their outcomes.

If you believe outside forces determine outcomes, you see the oppressed and oppressors and political power is the check on the oppressors.

You might think successful folks are lucky or or a product of a rigged system, while those who have not have succeeded are held back by the system and oppressors.

If you believe you are the major factor in your outcome, as in the choices you make, then you tend to see political power as a tool to provide a free and civilized world where you can make choices that make the most sense to you, as long as those choices don’t infringe on others, and realize the outcomes of your decisions, good or bad.

So, maybe one way for folks from Kling’s three different political languages to engage more productively is to discuss the extent to which they believe in self-determinism.

I can imagine those discussions will be heated. But, if that’s the heart of the disagreement, that might be where it needs to start.


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