I know my subject line may seem counterintuitive. Let me explain.
Liberal and conservative, first and foremost, are psychological profiles. We can test for them objectively through methods like Haidt’s moral foundations questionnaires.
Moral intuitions follow from those profiles.
Full blown moral visions a la Sowell follow from the intuitions.
Desired social structures and tenets follow from the visions.
This is all in, and from, the realm of psychology. With me so far?
Good, because here comes the plot twist.
The social structures and tenets that constitute good government can be, and actually have been, determined empirically, dare I say objectively, external to the realm of psychology and/or morality, based on mountains of evidence, resulting from thousands of years of “experiments” throughout human history with probably hundreds of different government structures and tenet sets.
The tenets that have been empirically proven, as surely and as clearly as any social science finding ever can be, to provide the highest standard of living to the greatest number of people, are process-based conceptions of negative liberty, equality, justice, and fairness. The structures that have been similarly proven are the limitation of government power, the separation of powers that do exist, the basis of that separation being government function rather that class or type of person, and the setting in opposition to one another of those powers. Government power is both the protector and the enemy of liberty. It is a necessary evil which must be limited.
The question of morality – what it is, where it comes from, and why – is in the realm of psychology.
The question of government structure and tenets that do the most for the most is in the realm of empirical evidence.
Not only CAN we answer which government system and tenet set is best – objectively, based on empirical evidence, without resorting to psychology or morality – we already have.
I know what you’re thinking. These things are inseparable. What constitutes “good” is a moral judgement. And you’re right, to a degree.
But look at it this way.
Transpose Haidt’s “Three Stories About Capitalism” idea to “Three Stories About Government.” Use the same intellectual process and approach. Use the same sources of data (i.e., human history). You’ll come to the same conclusion I just stated about which government tenets and structures are best. The more one knows about human nature the easier it is to grasp this.
Many of today’s problems of partisan divisiveness are caused by the fact that we conflate these two separate realms. We think and act as if they are one and the same. We tie the “church” of our moral identity to the “state” of our political identity so tightly that the line between them disappears and they become a single entity.
We like to THINK we separated church from state, but today’s state of affairs proves we’ve done no such thing. All we’ve really done is change the labels of our religions. We’ve traded in the labels of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, etc. for the new labels of liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc. These are the new faiths of the same old religious wars. A rose by any name…you get the idea. Human nature hasn’t changed, nor is it likely to.
We need to separate church and state in the following sense.
We need to study and understand each in its rightful realm, and stop conflating them as if they are the same realm.
We need to see and understand the “church” of morality from within its rightful realm of psychology.
We need to see and understand the “state” of government from within its rightful realm of the empirical, objective evidence of human history.