Robin Hanson posted a discussion of the differences between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians in which he considers not just their disagreements on issues, but their differences in who they respect.
I have to admit I’ve never really had a clear understanding of what “libertarian” means; perhaps because they have never been in power, it’s more difficult to pin down a particular set of attitudes and positions for them.
But what I wanted to talk about here are Hanson’s descriptions of conservatives and liberals, which seem to me to illustrate the difficulties of trying to understand, even sympathetically, views much different from one’s own.
1. Hanson writes:
choose how their money is spent, rather than being forced to accept
collective choices. Conservatives support low taxes so that those who
have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor
and earn full respect for it.
Again, I can’t comment on the “libertarian” part of this, but the “conservative” bit seems like a caricature. Do people really support low taxes so that people with a lot of money can show off? I don’t think that showing off is anything like a basic conservative value, beyond the idea that people should feel free to show off if they want to. I think a more accurate statement would be, “Conservatives support low taxes because they think the market is more effective than the government at producing prosperity,” or “Conservatives support low taxes because they don’t think it’s right for half of your paycheck to be taken away by politicians, which then gives these politicians power as they decide how much of this money to give back to you in the form of government programs.” Even this doesn’t take into account the diversity of views that conservatives have on the issue, but I think it’s a start.
2. Hanson writes:
have whatever consenting relations they want. Liberals support gay
marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as
straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.
Again, I can’t comment on the “libertarian” part, but for the part about liberals: I assume that Hanson really believes that’s what they think, but I don’t buy it. Liberals support gay marriage because they are impressed by gay activists? I think a more accurate statement would be, “Liberals support gay marriage because they don’t think it’s fair that straight people can marry and gays can’t,” or “Liberals support gay marriage because some gay people want to marry and they don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to.”
Gay marriage is an interesting issue in another way, in that a few years ago, most liberals didn’t support gay marriage. Much of people’s attitudes is determined by what’s on the table, by what’s considered a legitimate policy position. Two hundred years ago, it was considered reasonable in many circles to support slavery, and 50 years ago, it was considered reasonable in many circles to support communism.
Anyway, my real point here is not the details of conservative and liberal views on these issues, but just the difficulty that an outsider such as Hansen can have with them, even when trying to portray them in an understanding and sympathetic light. Not a reflection on him in particular, so much as a general difficulty in understanding others’ attitudes.