By Raymond Freeman
Conservative presidential candidate Ted Cruz hates intelligent people. In a debate, he attacked the “philosopher-kings” at the Federal Reserve. Sharper Focus has already covered the Fed, so here’s a briefing on political philosophy.
Thomas Hobbes described conservative thinking in 1651 in Leviathan. Life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” because mankind was essentially selfish. Evil people would take away one’s property. Restraints had to be placed on people to prevent anarchy, so a strong ruler was necessary. Parliament, full of those evil people, had to be controlled by the Church and the divinely appointed king.
The English rebelled against this obvious nonsense in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a bloodless coup. They deposed the conservative King James II and installed a liberal monarchy and Parliament. This led to John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government in 1689.
Locke reasoned that conflict was not man’s natural state if the rule of law was enforced by constitutional government. This would safeguard private property. Man could “preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men.” Bad governments should be removed, not tolerated. He believed that unchecked governments, heartless corporations and corruption-prone religions produced undesirable results. So individual happiness could only come from restraints on government, corporations and the Church, not on people.
People, however, could grant powers to government to improve the common good. Individuals cannot build a sea wall, but they can pay taxes for government to build one and save their homes from destruction. That is the liberal theory of the state. Locke’s thinking was adopted by the Founding Fathers in the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Hence, the preamble to the Constitution is pure liberal thinking.
Liberals are open-minded, rational, and want the greatest good for the greatest number. Government’s purpose is to enable individuals to prosper with education, infrastructure, law, order and security. Government should stay out of private lives.
Conservatives are self-centered, small-minded, insecure, judgmental and need authority figures. They see the world as full of moochers who take their property away. Government’s purpose is therefore to reward rich people as morally virtuous at the expense of poor people. It should interfere with private lives to punish poor people, blacks, Latinos, gays and women, all obviously immoral (irony alert).
Locke’s writing ushered in the Age of Reason based on Classical thinking. This looks logically at facts and results. Another school of thought came in around 100 years later. These were Romantic thinkers. They had an entirely different view of the world. They were concerned with appearances, emotions and feelings. We see both styles in the literature, music and architecture of each period, and in the popular philosophy book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.
Philosophers in Britain once fought each other! The Classical thinkers rode motorcycles and could fix them on the road (yup, done that). These were “Rockers.” The Romantic thinkers were the “Mods.” They rode scooters. They cared little about technicalities, only about what was “cool.” The two groups despised each other. One public holiday, Mods rode to a seaside resort and found Rockers there. Mass fighting followed. Granted, these were not tweedy professors, but one sees how their philosophies came into conflict.
So there we have the four essential modes of thought: conservative, liberal, classical, romantic. Conservatives and Mods are alike, concerned with emotions, style and appearances. “Swagger” is vital. Liberals and Rockers are alike, concerned with facts and logic. “Brains” are vital. Liberals accept new facts readily to broaden their worldview. Conservatives reject new facts if they contradict their worldview.
Getting conservatives to reject facts is ridiculously easy. The human brain is wired back to front. The primitive part, fight or flight, operates first. This is fine for survival, but it’s an on/off switch. It can stop useful information reaching the frontal cortex, where rational thinking is done.
Right-wing propaganda exploits this back-to-front architecture. That’s why it’s based on fear. Fear shuts down rational thinking. Hence, conservatives fill Americans’ heads with fear and lies (e.g., Obamacare “death panels;” Iraq’s WMDs; Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen”) expressly intended to stop rational thinking.
Welcome to the Age of Stupidity.
Rational thinking doesn’t matter to conservatives, only feel-good mythology and tough-guy swagger. That’s how Donald Trump became top dog. And that’s how the GOP’s propaganda manipulates dirt-poor rednecks into voting against their economic interests. Many books have been written on this paradox. In Cracking the Code, Thom Hartmann shows how feel-good stories may defeat rational thinking.
Fortunately, four important voter groups see through these tactics. Blacks, Latinos, gays and women will vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in America’s Glorious Revolution of 2016. Their philosophy will save us from the coronation of King Donald and trump the obvious nonsense we get from Cruz.