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Why Does Liberalism Exist?

I’m reading Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, by Daniel Hannan.

There’s a discussion in it that goes to one of my long standing questions: Why are there liberals and conservatives? Or, more specifically, what evolutionary process(es) created those two particular wirings of the human brain?

The discussion resonates with my idea that lib v. con boils down roughly to reason vs. experience. A selection from the discussion is farther below. I don’t know that the dots between it and my longstanding question connect, but it surely is one of those things that make me go “Hmmm…..”

Here’s my rationale:

If moral foundations are evolved psychological mechanisms then presumably their existences helped The Social Animal that is the human being to survive and to thrive in the ultra-social communities it created for the mutual benefit of all members. Moral foundations are naturally selected threat detection and avoidance modules.

The existence of moralities/ideologies that employ all the foundations – that is, conservative moralities –  follows from this.

What does not follow is the existence of moralities/ideologies that consciously eschew half of the naturally-selected threat detectors that make cooperative society, and thus human survival, possible?   

In other words, why or how would (or could) evolution create the liberal wiring?

One theory of mine is the natural progression from Gemeinschaft to Geselleschaft that human societies seem to follow.

Here’s another theory: The Argumentative Theory.

Could liberalism have evolved because the “features,” that are built-in to reason resulted in humans favoring reason above all else, to the point that even morality/ideology can result from the bias (discussed in many references including here, in this article, and in many other places listed here) known as reason-based choice?

Reason-based ideologies evolved on the European continent. The experience-based ideology upon which America is based evolved in the Galapagos-like cultural isolation of the island of Great Britain.  If evolution is fast, as discussed here and here, could the evolutions of these ideas have caused the reason/experience split, and thus liberalism and conservatism themselves?

Here’s the passage, bold emphasis added (interestingly, and possibly related, it also touches on moral dumbfounding*):

Almost a third of the human race now lives, wholly or partly, under a common-law system.  Along with the English language, the common law is the main unifier of the Anglosphere. It applies in most former British territories-though not in Quebec nor yet, curiously enough, in Scotland.  It is used, too, in Israel.  A variant of it, which grew up alongside its English counsin from common ancestry, can be found in Scandinavia.

What distinguishes the common law [of England] from the Roman law that predominates in Continental Europe and its colonial offshoots? Chiefly this. The Continental legal model is deductive. A law is written down from first principles, and then those principles are applied to a particular case. Common law, to the astonishment of those raised in the Roman or Napoleonic systems, does the reverse. It builds up, case by case, with each decision serving as the starting point for the next dispute. It applies a doctrine known to lawyers as stare decises: previous judgments should stand unaltered, serving as precedent. Common law is thus empirical rather than conceptual.

It is therefore sometimes known as “judge-made law,” but, as the philosopher Roger Scruton, who himself trained as a barrister, points out, “the common law is no more made by the judge than the moral law is made by the causist.” It is more useful to think of the law being discovered in stages. Just as a good man is not necessarily a skilled philosopher, so the common law recognizes that doint the right thing is not necessarily the same as explaining the principles that make it right. We often know what is the correct way to behave without being able to put our reasons into words. The same is true of legal disputes. An individual case might have an obviously just remedy, one that conforms to everyone’s idea of fairness, and yet whose resolution doesn’t translate neatly into a general principle. The pragmatic nature of the Anglosphere peoples, their dislike of purely theoretical reasoning, was built from the first into the way they made – or, rather, discovered – their laws. The law didn’t realize an abstract principle; rather, the principle was pieced together instages from actual rulings.


* As Jonathan Haidt describes in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, moral dumbfounding is when a person is “rendered speechless by their inability to explain verbally what they knew intuitively.” (page 29)

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Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations

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An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations


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