On the Republican Convention, translated for liberals by Tyler Cowen and Cass Sunstein

21 Jul

Tyler Cowen:

The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger.” Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?

Cass Sunstein:

Many Democrats do not merely disagree with the Republican Party platform and with the speakers at this week’s convention. They may even struggle to understand what they are reading and hearing.

That’s a problem for Republican politicians, who hope to connect with Democratic voters, but even more for Democrats, who hope to keep the presidency and to capture the Senate. The reason is that Republicans are appealing to deep and honorable strands in American political culture, which Democrats ignore at their peril.

The best explanation comes from New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, who has produced some of the most illuminating recent work on political psychology. Haidt’s central finding is that across many cultures, human beings have embraced five distinct moral foundations: fairness, avoidance of harm, respect for authority, purity (as opposed to disgust), and loyalty. Contemporary U. S. conservatives embrace all five; liberals emphasize the first two, but care much less about the last three.

Haidt has compiled massive evidence to support these conclusions. Conservatives and liberals agree that it’s wrong to break a promise; that’s unfair. They also concur that it’s wrong to assault someone; that’s harmful. But conservatives feel far more outrage when people have acted disrespectfully toward their superiors, engaged in what they view as a disgusting act or breached a duty of loyalty. Liberals don’t like any of those things either, but to them, avoiding unfairness and harm is much more important.

The 2016 Republican Party platform and convention may well be placing a greater emphasis on authority, purity, and loyalty than at any time since the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon underlined the need to respect authority, making “law and order” a defining Republican theme. (Ronald Reagan once starred in a movie with that title.) Increasingly, Donald Trump is echoing that theme.

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