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The increasingly ubiquitous and bitter partisanship in America recently seems very odd to me, partially because I really don’t understand the basic, central difference between leftists and conservatives. In the Civil War, Democrats and Republicans had obvious and important things they disagreed on, such as slavery and human rights. Things seem nearly as hostile now – surely we’re not arguing about trans-sexual bathrooms or something – there must be a big topic somewhere, that I’m missing. I discussed this in the Land of Confusion podcast with Don and David a few weeks ago, and I’ve linked to that portion of the conversation below – it runs for about six minutes. I hope you’ll listen to it to get my point, but I’ll try to summarize here.
Leftists tend to believe in strong, centralized power structures. Democrats are the party of big government. I know that Republican politicians don’t always do a great job opposing the Democrats on this point, but I think a large majority of Republican voters view their ideal government as much smaller and much more constrained than Democrat voters do. President Obama said that government is the word we use to describe the things we all do together. Leftists profess to believe in cooperative efforts within communities, and view conservatives as radical individualists who believe in an “every man for himself” society, and say that Republicans lack empathy for others. I know these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes – but just for the sake of argument, follow along with me here.
What I find interesting about all this is that leftist societies, which ostensibly are based on cooperative effort and collectivism, tend to be violent, tribal societies that eventually tear themselves apart. While other societies, which are based on respect for individual thought and individual rights, tend to be more peaceful and community-based. Part of this, of course, is the Marxist tendency to coordinate groups of lower- and middle-class people, who use their superior numbers to take what they want from the wealthy few. But I think there’s more to it than that.
Societies that respect individual thought and individual rights are by nature more tolerant. If you want to continue to be permitted to do as you please, you are obligated to allow your neighbor to do as he pleases, or else your rights won’t last long, either. And if you have sufficient self-respect to actually take your views seriously, then you tend to respect the views of others, even if you disagree.
Whereas if you’re in a more collectivist society, then your identity is less dependent on your individual thoughts, and more dependent on your membership in a group. By remaining loyal to your group, you gain power. But only at the cost of conceding some of your rights as an individual. If you are ok with that, then you are less likely to respect the rights of individuals with whom you disagree.
There are some criticisms of conservatives that I can understand. But when a leftist criticizes a conservative for being intolerant, I just don’t understand that. A conservative is, by nature, more tolerant. He simply has to be, if he wants his rights to be tolerated as well. I would even argue that if someone really cares what someone else thinks, and seeks to control their behavior, that their intolerance defines them as a leftist. I’m sure there must be exceptions to that rule, but none leap to mind.
The baker from Colorado (Jack Phillips) has become famous for declining to bake cakes for trans-sexual transitions, or other things that conflict with his Christian faith. But when he declines such jobs, he very politely gives the prospective customer a list of other bakers in his town who would be happy to help them with their request.
The baker is not telling them what to do with their life – he simply declines to participate. That, to me, is the definition of a conservative. I admire him for standing for his beliefs, while allowing others to do the same.
And he is going to lose. They will keep going after him until they destroy him. Because they are Democrats, and they are by nature intolerant. And that’s it.
So societies based on respect for individualism are paradoxically more peaceful and community-minded, while collectivist societies tend to tear themselves apart.
In fact, I’m not even sure that it’s paradoxical. That’s just the way it is.
If you’re so inclined, listen to my effort to explain this – it’s about 6 minutes long, and I have the video below cued up to that point in the conversation.
I’d be interested to hear your perspective on this idea.