• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Who's in charge?

It's always surprising to see people blindsided by the obvious:

To get to the bottom of this, I set out to test whether liberals favor obedience to authority just like conservatives do. Past psychology studies had found that conservatives have the more favorable attitudes toward statements such as, "If I were a soldier and disagreed with my commanding officer's orders, I would obey anyway because that is my duty." Did conservatives have a good feeling about this statement because they think that people ought to obey (in general), or because they support the military and its agenda? I suspected it was the latter.

Together with my collaborators Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, we asked both red and blue Americans to share their views about obeying liberal authorities (e.g., "obey an environmentalist"). In an article that we recent published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we found that liberals were now the ones calling for obedience. And when the authorities were viewed as ideologically neutral (e.g., office manager), liberals and conservatives agreed. Only when people perceived the authority to be conservative (e.g., religious authority) did conservatives show a positive bias.

If the two sides equally support obedience to their own authorities, how had I come to believe that conservatives are the ones that favor obedience to authority?

The overall argument is that both liberals and conservatives favor obedience to authority, when that authority is on their side of the political fence. Just to be ornery, though, I'd argue that liberals are the true authoritarians. The liberal deal is that once we find out what is right, we have to not only make peiople see that it's right, but make them do it, with the force of law. That's about as authoritarian as it gets.

(Via Megan McArdle, who notes, "In the ultra-liberal enclave I grew up in, the liberals were at least as fiercely tribal as any small-town Republican, though to be sure, the targets were different."

Lots of good stuff on the subject here, including:

[P]hilosophically, the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century had roots in German philosophy ( Hegel and Nietzsche were big favorites) and German public administration ( Woodrow Wilson’s open reverence for Bismarck was typical among progressives). To simplify, progressive intellectuals were passionate advocates of rule by disinterested experts led by a strong unifying leader. They were in favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective. They thought that individualism and the Constitution were both outmoded.

That’s not a description that Woodrow Wilson or the other leading progressive intellectuals would have argued with. They openly said it themselves.

It is that core philosophy extolling the urge to mold society that still animates progressives today–a mind-set that produces the shutdown of debate and growing intolerance that we are witnessing in today’s America.