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Stop conflating ideology with government.

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.


4 thoughts on “Stop conflating ideology with government.

  1. Also stop conflating capitalism with ideology.

    That’s been a remarkably successful Marxist trope, but wrong because capitalism does not emerge from idealism, but from a practical toolkit that enables leveraging trade to create wealth.

    Most of these tools were invented by Renaissance Italians, building on techniques invented much further back (Sumerians, Phoenicians, Jews), and mostly systematized by the Venetian and Dutch Republics, from which the capitalist toolkit spread to England and its colonies. The toolkit includes: letters of credit, interest, banking, double-entry bookkeeping, shareholder companies and stock exchanges, and many newer technologies that have been added in the intervening centuries.

    Because these are abstract tools, it is easy to conflate them with ideas, but unlike all the -isms, these are not the product of intellectual attempts to impose human order upon human evolution, but rather emergent products of evolutionary experiment themselves, like all techne going back to toolmaking, the taming of fire and the domestication of animals and plants.

    It is not a coincidence that the form of government most closely associated with capitalism is republicanism in various forms; from the tight mercantilist control of the Venetians, where the Company is the State; to the looser hybrid of the Dutch Republic, annealed through the Protestant Reformation and the war with Spain; to the hybrid form of English constitutional parliamentary monarchy (bloodlessly taken over by a Dutch noble, who brought the toolkit with his administration), and from there to the most successful capitalist experiment in the history of the world, the federated democratic republic of the United States.


    Posted by Myrt | March 29, 2017, 12:01 pm


  1. Pingback: Nine Challenges to Moral Foundations Theory | The Independent Whig - September 17, 2019

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