In his recent lecture at Duke, Jonathan Haidt suggests that a university can pursue Truth, or it can pursue Social Justice, but it can’t pursue both because they’re mutually exclusive. The implications for the world in general, and politics in particular, are obvious.
If we choose truth, and if we follow the logical thread to its end, we inevitably and inescapably end up on the side of Process-based, negative liberty, equality, justice, and fairness (i.e., rule of law) and AGAINST outcome-based, positive liberty, equality, justice, and fairness (i.e., rule by man). We end up on the side of the constrained vision, and against the unconstrained vision.
The thing is, we already made that choice, in an event called the American Founding, and in documents called the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist Papers. Collectively, these, in turn, represent what was merely the next evolutionary step in the ideas, principles, and values that emerged from the British Enlightenment and centuries of British history before that. They are the embodiment, the operationalization, of the constrained vision.
Here’s Haidt, from The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:
“To learn about political psychology, I decided to teach a graduate seminar on the topic in the spring of 2005. Knowing that I’d be teaching this new class, I was on the lookout for good readings. So when I was visiting friends in New York a month after the Kerry defeat, I went to a used-book store to browse its political science section. As I scanned the shelves, one book jumped out at me-a thick brown book with one word on its spine: Conservatism. It was a volume of readings edited by the historian Jerry Muller. I started reading Muller’s introduction while standing in the aisle, but by the third page I had to sit down on the floor. I didn’t realize it until years later, but Muller’s essay was my second turning point.
Muller began by distinguishing conservatism from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the view that there exists a “transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.”34 Christians who look to the Bible as a guide for legislation, like Muslims who want to live under sharia, are examples of orthodoxy. They want their society to match an externally ordained moral order, so they advocate change, sometimes radical change. This can put them at odds with true conservatives, who see radical change as dangerous.
Muller next distinguished conservatism from the counterEnlightenment. It is true that most resistance to the Enlightenment can be said to have been conservative, by definition (i.e., clerics and aristocrats were trying to conserve the old order). But modern conservatism, Muller asserts, finds its origins within the main currents of Enlightenment thinking, when men such as David Hume and Edmund Burke tried to develop a reasoned, pragmatic, and essentially utilitarian critique of the Enlightenment project. Here’s the line that quite literally floored me:
What makes social and political arguments conservative as opposed to orthodox is that the critique of liberal or progressive arguments takes place on the enlightened grounds of the search for human happiness based on the use of reason.35
As a lifelong liberal, I had assumed that conservatism = orthodoxy = religion = faith = rejection of science. It followed, therefore, that as an atheist and a scientist, I was obligated to be a liberal. But Muller asserted that modern conservatism is really about creating the best possible society, the one that brings about the greatest happiness given local circumstances. Could it be? Was there a kind of conservatism that could compete against liberalism in the court of social science? Might conservatives have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy society?
I kept reading. Muller went through a series of claims about human nature and institutions, which he said are the core beliefs of conservatism. Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed (yes, I thought; see Glaucon, Tetlock, and Ariely in chapter 4). Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it’s dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience (yes; see Hume in chapter 2 and Baron-Cohen on systemizing in chapter 6). Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective. We then expose ourselves to increased anomie and social disorder (yes; see Durkheim in chapters 8 and 11).
Based on my own research, I had no choice but to agree with these conservative claims. As I continued to read the writings of conservative intellectuals, from Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century through Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Sowell in the twentieth, I began to see that they had attained a crucial insight into the sociology of morality that I had never encountered before. They understood the importance of what I’ll call moral capital.”
And here’s Forefare Davis’ succinct summary of Haidt’s work, from Black Lives Matter, Donald Trump, and the Perils of Unexamined Political Rage :
The irony is that it has taken a century for sociologists like Haidt, et al, to only begin to understand what the Founders already knew and applied so well in their statecraft. The Founders were haunted by the long history of brittle Republics of the past as chronicled by the likes of Livy and Tacitus. Indeed, if you were to read Haidt’s text then venture to read Madison’s Federalist 10 you would realize there is very little that Haidt learned in his extensive sociological studies that the Founders didn’t already divine from their deep reading of history. Man is by nature tribal and factitious. Republics must therefore be so constituted with this feature in mind. The Founders solution was two-fold, a Republic structured with redundancies that required constant checks and accountability between multiple centers of political power, and a system of education that sought to form citizens who were citizenship-minded. The tragedy is that during the last century, our experts have succeeded in virtually leveling any remnant of that system designed to override our most factitious instincts.”
The problem is that reality, Truth, is either inconvenient or invisible to the idealism of the unconstrained vision, with its Platonic cognitive style and its fixation on “care” at the expense of everything else. The left simply can’t, or won’t, accept the empiricism of the Aristotelian cognitive style and the balance among “all the tools in the toolbox” of moral foundations (from Haidt’s 2008 TED Talk) that make the Rubicon of shared intent, cooperation, and civilization itself, possible.
The left’s rejection of reality and truth brings us to the situation that exists today, described succinctly by R. R. Reno in his review of “The Righteous Mind,” in First Things, titled “Our One-eyed Friends:”
“Thus the profound problem we face. Liberalism is blind in one eye yet it insists on the superiority of its vision and its supreme right to rule. It cannot see half the things a governing philosophy must see, and claims that those who see both halves are thereby unqualified to govern.”
And the reason for THAT, is the moral and intellectual hegemony the left enjoys over the controls of Western Culture: Education, Entertainment, and Media.
Haidt admits to NEVER HAVING BEEN EXPOSED TO CONSERVATIVE THINKING UNTIL HIS FORTIES!! And even then ONLY BECAUSE HE ACTIVELY SOUGHT IT.
HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE!!??? It’s possible, some might even suggest intentional, through the liberal hegemonic control over the levers, dials, and switches of Western culture (i.e., Academia, Entertainment, and Media).
But fortunately, to our mutual benefit, Haidt is a scientist in the true sense of the word. He (for the most part) follows the evidence wherever it leads EVEN IF IT LEADS TO SENSIBILITIES OTHER THAN HIS OWN. He is a breath of fresh air in the closed, oppressive, room of liberal hegemony over Western Culture. He is, in his own inimitable, ingratiating (in a good way) way, pointing out that the emperor of liberalism (as it currently exists) has no clothes.
Make no mistake about my position. My position is that the human animal has a very poor understanding of itself, and much, most? all? political debate, discussion, argumentation, partisanship, anger, and some even violence, rest in assumptions, presumptions, “facts,” “conventional wisdom,” and even sacred values, that “everybody knows” are true, but in fact are NOT true. My wish, my dream is for the education system to DO ITS JOB; to bust the mythology that so much of Western Culture is based on, and to replace it with a more accurate, complete, fair, and honest grasp of human nature than it currently has.
There will always be, in one fashion or another, liberals and conservatives. Nature, evolution, has ensured it by wiring our brains in those two ways. But wouldn’t it be nice if our arguments rested on truth, rather than on myths like they currently do?
Moralities, differ in the degree to which they employ the moral foundations and either the Platonic or the Aristotelian cognitive styles, but those, in turn, present us with a choice; a fork in the intellectual and moral road at which we must decide. Will we follow the path that’s “constrained” by reality and truth, which leads to actual justice, or will we follow the path “unconstrained” by reality or truth, which leads to social justice, which in the end is not really justice at all?