Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who is More Virtuous: Liberals or Conservatives?

Now this is interesting! There are a number of studies out that correlate personality (or you might say, "character") traits with political ideoleology. There is a study correlating correlating being a liberal with being "open minded" and being a conservative with being, well, closed. Now there are some studies correlating being "conservative" with positive traits: More exactly, according to Eugene Volokh, people who are against income redistribution (making the poor richer and the rich less so) tend to be less angry, less vengeful, less unhappy, and more generous than people who are in favor of it. There is a new book by Albert C. Brooks, Who Really Cares, that reports similar findings. (You can see a review presenting more of Brooks' findings here.)

I have two comments:

First, the latter sort of finding is exactly what Nietzsche would have predicted. Egalitarianism and revenge are products of the very same existential stance: excessive moralizing, the insistence on re-editing reality based on one's views of how it "ought" to be. Further, he claimed that true generosity is a result, not of a sense that one shares the underdog's neediness, but on the contrary of a sense of overfull vitality and prosperity. The generous person would be the one that does not need the nasty defenses of the moralizer.

Second, these two sets of findings are logically consistent with one another. It could be true that anti-redistributionists are more happy, less vengeful, less angry, more generous, and less open-minded. It could be true that pro-redistributionists are less happy, more vengeful, more angry, less generous, and more open-minded.

Why not?

Volokh does report one result that surprised me. Being pro-redistributionist is positively, not negatively, correlated with racist attitudes. I suppose that surprises me because the redistributionists I know are all highly educated academics, who are members of a small sub-culture that is militantly anti-racist. If you go out there into the real world, where pro-redistributionists are not members of this tiny group, you might find very different associations between ideas.

Once again, I can't resist pointing out that this is just the sort of thing that Nietzsche would have predicted, at least if you define racism as involving bitter, rancorous thoughts about the racial Other. The mechanism that explains revenge could explain this too. In fact, that is how Nietzche explained the "ism" that, tragically, was coming to dominate German public discourse in his time: namely, anti-semitism. In fact, he strongly associated anti-semitism with egalitarianism. I assume it was indeed so associated in the writings of anti-semitic socialists of Nietzsche's day such as Eugen Duehring, Karl Marx, and Nietzsche's brother-in-law Bernhard Foerster.

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