This blog takes its name from a series of essays written in 1720 by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, whose later work was serialized in The London Journal, and then later still in book form, as Cato’s Letters. Through The Independent Whig and Cato’s Letters these two men were foremost among a group of writers which, more than any other, shaped the mind of the American Revolutionary generation. They synthesized disparate ideas from multiple sources and formed them into a coherent whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.(1)
Recent advances in social science research are offering us a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the human mind and how we construct our moral systems. This understanding sheds new light on how and why each of us arrives at our own particular political world view.
It is time for a new synthesis.
It is the intent of this blog to continue in the spirit of Trenchard and Gordon by shining that new light onto some of our old ideas about conservatism and liberalism in the hope of synthesizing ideas from multiple sources to form a fresh interpretation of both.
In so doing, this blog will challenge many ideas about politics that are currently taken for granted by liberals and by conservatives. Statements that might start with “Everybody knows that…” will be treated with suspicion. This blog will argue that much of today’s “conventional wisdom” about liberalism and conservatism – wisdom that often serves as the presupposition behind many of our political arguments on both sides – is in fact unwise.
This blog will develop a series of ideas that, taken together, attempt to replace that unwise conventional wisdom with an understanding of liberalism and conservatism, and liberals and conservatives, that is more congruous with what we now know about the workings of the human mind and the behaviors that result.
(1) See chapter 2 of The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn. Here’s an excerpt:
“The colonists identified themselves with…seventeenth-century heroes of liberty; but they felt closer to the early eighteenth-century wirters who modified and enlarged this earlier body of work, fused it into a whole with other, contemporary strains of thought, and, above all, applied it to the problems of eighteenth-century English politics. … More than any other single group of writers they shaped the mind of the American Revolutionary generation.
To the colonists the most import of these publicists and intellectual middlemen were those spokesmen for extreme libertarianism, John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Tomas Gordon (d. 1750).” p. 35
“[Trenchard and Gordon] joined forces to produce, first, the weekly Independent Whig to attack High Church pretensions and, more generally, the establishment of religion, fifty-three papers of which were published in book form in 1721; and Cato’s Letters, a searing indictment of eighteenth century English politics and society written in response to the South Sea Bubble crisis, which appeared first serially in The London Journal and then, beginning in 1720, in book form. Incorporating in their colorful, slashing, superbly readable pages the major themes of the “left” opposition under Walpole, these libertarian tracts, emerging first in the form of denunciations of standing armies in the reign of William III, left an indelible imprint on the “country” mind everywhere in the English-speaking world. In America, where they were republished entire or in part again and again, “quoted in every colonial newspaper from Boston to Savannah,” and referred to repeatedly in the pamphlet literature, the writings of Trenchard and Gordon ranked with the treatises of Locke as the most authoritative statement of the nature of political liberty and above Locke as an exposition of the social sources of the threats it faced.” (p. 36)
NOTE: The “About” section of this blog will be occasionally updated as this blog develops and matures. The original version of this section can be found in This Post.
Respectfully, you really, really need to read carefully “Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origins of Freedom” by Paul H. Rubin and particularly the chapters on the evolution and function of Envy. Keeping the elephant and its rider in mind I will say that Envy is the core moral intuition of the Left; as Jealousy is of the Right. The war of Left vs Right is just the war of Envy vs Jealousy. These are the Elephants, the ideologies are just the rationalization supplied by its Riders.
First, I’m a Progressive. Second, I applaud the intellectual effort put down on paper here. I expect that we’re going to disagree on numerous policy positions. But everyone will agree that this collection of ideas is at least good reading and informative.