The Primary Liberal vs. Conservative Disconnect


For a long time the main disconnect between Liberals and Conservatives was considered to be how much they embrace change and tolerate inequity. Those still seem like decent measurements, but new research by Nick Kerry suggests that the clearer distinction is the belief that the world is fundamentally hierarchical.

What I like about this definition is that it elegantly encapsulates the previous definition. Basically, if you believe that’s how the world works, and that it’s largely inalterable, you’ll be less willing to spend money trying to change it.

Another way to frame this is around the question of human pliability. How much can people change, vs. how much are they locked in by genetics and early environment? The more you believe people basically are what they are, the more it seems you’d lean conservative in this model. And the more you believe people are malleable and can become anything—if the conditions were just better—the more you’d lean liberal.

Perhaps this is why people become more conservative over time. Maybe it’s because in their 30s and 40s they notices that most the people they knew growing up roughly shook out according to their individual genetic talents. It’s overly simple to be sure, but I think this might be a stunningly powerful predictor for what makes someone conservative or liberal.

I think the major exception to this is when someone had oppressive trauma that limited their achieving their potential, which is then somehow removed.

What’s so personally interesting for me is how much I’ve always been in the change camp. Like, radically. And also very left. So perhaps my slow move towards the center-left over the years hasn’t just been from age, or from the nasty politics of the last decade. Maybe it came from all the reading I’ve done in the last 15 years about how people are mostly the way they are, and how there are rarely major movements in capabilities or character over time.

So in this model, the more you believe people’s personalities and capabilities are locked in, the more you believe in natural hierarchies. And the more you believe in natural hierarchies, the more conservative you become.