It’s Time to Retire the Political Spectrum

American culture is dominated by the idea that politics is a contest between two philosophies that occupy opposite sides of a unidimensional spectrum. People can be placed on either the “left” side (with “liberals” or “progressives” leaning that direction), or the “right” side (with “conservatives” leaning that direction). This paradigm rules in the media, scholarship, punditry, informal conversation, social networking, and virtually every other site of political discourse.

Here’s the problem: it’s completely wrong.

Humans create models to simplify and impose order on experience, but the models are only valuable if they improve, rather than distort, understanding of reality. Some theories—such as the germ theory of disease—are valuable and accurate, while others—such as the ‘four humors’ theory of disease—are harmful and inaccurate.

The political spectrum is one of the inaccurate and harmful models. Just as the four humors theory led doctors to bleed their patients to death in previous centuries, the political spectrum is bleeding our republic to death today in three ways.

1. Confusion

The political spectrum creates confusion. It tells us, for example, that both fascist Adolf Hitler and libertarian Milton Friedman are on the “far right,” yet Hitler advocated nationalism, socialism, militarism, authoritarianism, and anti-Semitism, while Milton Friedman advocated internationalism, capitalism, pacifism, civil liberties, and was himself a Jew.

George W. Bush’s big-government, militarist philosophy is considered “right wing” as is Rand Paul’s small-government, anti-militarist philosophy. We say that liberals believe in free speech and conservatives believe in free markets, yet moving to the “extreme left” means clamping down on free speech (as with Stalin or Mao) and moving to the “extreme right” means clamping down on free markets (as with National Socialism).

In short, the political spectrum teaches us that opposites are the same and the same are opposites. This is absurd.

Some try to save the spectrum by bending it into a circle, saying that if we go too far to the right or left we wind up in the same place—totalitarianism. But we are still left with the vexing question: what do we mean by “right” or “left” (or, for that matter, the new “up” and “down” the circle has introduced)? This modification of the spectrum only tells us that totalitarians are the same, but we don’t need a meaningless circle to know this.

The reality is that the two sides of the spectrum are largely mixes of incoherent, unrelated, and constantly shifting positions lumped together by the accident of history. What does being aggressive in military have to do with free markets?1 What does opposing abortion have to do with favoring the Iraq War or capital punishment? What does belief in “getting tough on crime” have to do with opposing gay marriage? And what does favoring tax cuts have to do with expanding military spending?

Defenders of the political spectrum may acknowledge this variation, but will claim that, underneath all the difference, there is an “essence”—some core idea, assumption, philosophy, or disposition—that ties all people of each side together.2 They might say, for instance, that all those on the right (conservatives) want to conserve and all those on the left (progressives) want change.

But when we consider the actual views of those called conservatives and progressives, we find that this doesn’t hold. Saying conservatives want to conserve only begs the question, “conserve what?” Both progressives and conservatives want to change tax rates, abortion laws, immigration policy, gun laws, and safety net spending—they only differ in which way they want to change them.

Some modify these definitions a bit, saying all those on the right are “backward-looking” while those of the left are “forward-looking,” yet Yuval Levin, Brink Lindsey, and others have shown that both left-wing and right-wing policies are backward-looking and marked by nostalgia, depending on the issue.3 The most prominent leftist economist in America, Paul Krugman, constantly pines for the more equal and regulated economy of the 1950s while leftist icons Karl Marx and Jean Jacques Rousseau were wistful for a primitive time before property introduced corruption. Claiming that someone is “forward looking” also assumes we know the future. We don’t. If we did, our track record of prediction as a species wouldn’t be so poor.

Of course, most people don’t use these definitions, but invent their own. If you pose the question, “What is a conservative [or progressive]?” to a hundred people, you will likely get a hundred answers. And most of these answers will tell us more about the person answering the question than about the ideology itself. A progressive might say, “Progressives care about the poor while conservatives care about the rich”; a conservative might say, “Conservatives love America while progressives hate America.” Neither of these definitions describes actual progressives or conservatives, but only reveal the prejudices of the person answering. The vast majority of people on both the Left and Right are patriotic and concerned about the disadvantaged. It clarifies nothing to say otherwise.

Some maintain that conservatives believe in limited government while progressives believe in expanding government, but this simply isn’t true. Those called conservatives today generally want more government when it comes to military spending, promoting morality, punishing crime, and enforcing immigration law, while those called progressives today want less government involvement when it comes to reproductive choices, domestic surveillance, and the military.4 And if ‘right-wing’ means less government, what are we to do with fascists like Mussolini who declared, “Everything in the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state”?

Others claim that the right wing is defined by foreign policy “hawkishness” while the left wing is defined by foreign policy “dovishness.” But those on the American Left were far more hawkish than those on the Right until the 1960s.5 The view that ‘right-wing’ is synonymous with hawkishness is a fairly recent development and looks to be changing again with the growing influence of “America First” sentiments in the Republican Party.

Every proposed essence for right or left is easily falsified, leading to the conclusion that ideologies are evolving social constructs.6 Yet those who cling to the spectrum make their theories of right-left immune from falsification through creative ex-post storytelling. The test of truth is not storytelling, but prediction; those clinging to the political spectrum make no predictions, but they do tell plenty of stories.7 With enough creativity anyone can turn the random noise of politics into signals of coherent ideologies.

For example, it is impossible to falsify the claim, “the Republican party moved to ‘the right’ under George W. Bush” because we can simply redefine “the right” to make it fit whatever Bush happened to be doing. Who foresaw in the 1990s that invading a foreign country to spread democracy and doubling federal government spending would be considered “conservative” in the next decade? Who in the 1850s foresaw that advocacy for the welfare state would soon be considered “liberal”? It is only in hindsight that we can unite limited-government “liberals” like Locke, Jefferson, Mill, and Godkin and expansive-government “liberals” like Croly, FDR, LBJ, and Obama. Clearly, the left-right model of politics, confuses far more than it clarifies.

2. Hostility

The obvious question to all of this is: “If the political spectrum is largely meaningless and causes so much confusion, why does nearly everyone buy into it?” Part of the answer is laziness. Putting people into one of two ideological boxes is far easier than understanding their unique point of view. Reducing politics to a simple contest between right and left is far easier than reasoning through hundreds of issues. Humans generally prefer simplicity to truth and would rather sign up for a “side” than do the hard work of thinking.

But even more powerful than laziness is tribalism. Social psychologists have found that humans have an intrinsic need to belong to groups in order to gain a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging. Ideologies fill this need.8

Most people assume that, when it comes to politics, we begin with some core commitment to a principle (e.g., “change,” “liberty,” “compassion,” “preservation,” “patriotism”), adopt political positions based on this commitment, and then identify with the ideology that encompasses all of these positions, but recent social psychology tells us this is exactly backward. Humans generally identify with an ideological tribe first and only adopt and justify the views of that tribe afterward.9 In Jonathan Haidt’s words, “Often our beliefs are post hoc constructions designed to justify what we’ve just done, or to support the groups we belong to.”10

This leads us to the second major problem with the political spectrum: it creates hostility. By telling us that there are two (and only two) sides in politics, it inherently pits a heroic, enlightened side against a villainous, foolish side. We don’t need to understand those who disagree with us, we only need to destroy them. They are “others” we can demean, belittle, and feel superior to. Anti-Semites needed the Jews as scapegoats for the world’s problems and ideologues today need political “opposites” for the same reason. Just as racism leads people to judge and hate based on skin color, “ideologism” leads people to judge and hate based on political labels. Ideologism has become a new form of acceptable bigotry, but can be as ugly as racism, sexism, imperialism, or any other “ism.” Unfortunately, it is pervasive, damaging, and getting worse.11

Ideologism also creates guilt by (assumed) association. By labeling someone “left” or “right,” we can make them guilty of crimes they didn’t commit and ascribe to them beliefs they don’t hold. Senator Joseph McCarthy, for instance, was a master ideologist who labeled any opponent of his agenda “left-wing” thereby making them guilty of the crimes of Communists everywhere. Many of today’s “conservatives” are no better, arguing that all “progressives” are guilty of eugenics because certain “progressives” of the past advocated eugenics.12 Yet the progressives themselves are not above this tactic, often smearing conservatives as “racists” since those with the label “conservative” in the past advocated slavery and opposed Civil Rights. Come out against the Iraq War and you are akin to Stalin; come out against the ACA and you are akin to Bull Connor. We can’t have reasoned political debates when we consider those “on the other side” guilty of humanity’s greatest sins. Far better to stop thinking in terms of “sides” at all.

Ideologism is an especially pernicious form of bigotry because the indeterminacy of political labels means that we can apply the terms “right” or “left” to nearly anyone for any reason. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, millions of people were beaten, imprisoned, humiliated, and killed for being “rightists,” even though nobody really knew what a “rightist” was. The epithet was so vague that it was used against even the most committed Communists. Religious zealotry in 1690s Salem meant that dozens were falsely accused of being witches and ideological zealotry today means that millions are falsely accused of being “commies” and “fascists.”

It’s a cliché that understanding is superior to hatred in human affairs, and yet how many of us work to understand others when it comes to ideology? With the exception of those who gain fame and fortune by stoking the flames of political anger (e.g., Ann Coulter, Kieth Olbermann, Sean Hannity, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, etc.), most of us would like to see more civility in our public discourse. The political spectrum makes this difficult.

3. Dogmatism

Finally, and most tragically, the political spectrum closes our minds. Philip Tetlock, James Suriowecki, and others have shown that those who think ideologically are less capable of solving problems, thinking creatively, and making predictions than those who don’t. Ideologues often declare, “Truth has a [left or right]-wing bias,” but this statement is both arrogant and false. Ideologues are demonstrably less guided by evidence and less able to see reality than those who think outside the left-right boxes. Foxes (eclectic thinkers) outperform hedgehogs (monistic thinkers) when it comes to cognitive tasks, but the spectrum turns us into hedgehogs.13

It shouldn’t be hard to see why ideological thinking makes us foolish: it creates a mental prison. The political spectrum tells us that there are two (and only two) ways to approach politics and that one side is right on everything and the other is wrong on everything. Finding truth then becomes a simple matter of declaring for the “correct side” rather than engaging in the hard work of critical thought.

When practicing science, we understand that we must alter our paradigms to fit new evidence, but ideology makes us alter new evidence to fit our paradigms. Many argue that we should allow free speech and consider alternative viewpoints because “we might be wrong.” Actually, we should consider alternative viewpoints because we are certainly wrong and the only way to be less wrong is to have our views challenged. Ideological thinking stifles this open-mindedness that would help eliminate errors in our thinking. The point of politics should be the improvement of society, but political tribalism puts the quest for victory above the quest for truth. It leads us to assert our ideological dogmas with more force, hatred, and vehemence, which only retrenches us in our errors.

Instead of declaring for sides, Americans should address specific problems and debate a wide range of approaches to those problems without encumbering them with ideological labels. We should be listening rather than labelling, practicing humility rather than arrogance, and seeing complexity rather than duality. As long as we remain stuck in the political binary, the solutions to our most urgent political problems will remain out of reach.

On immigration, for instance, ideologues are working themselves into a frenzy over whether we should have more or less immigration. But they are probably asking the wrong question. The debate over “how much?” might profitably be turned into a debate over “what kind?” By admitting more skilled immigrants to America, we could gain many of the advantages of immigration (higher economic growth, diversity, providing opportunity) while minimizing many of the disadvantages (burden on the public sector, growing poverty and inequality). This solution is currently ignored because political discourse is trapped in the left-right view of “more vs. less” immigration.

Similarly, we are unable to reduce the national debt because the left-right spectrum presents us with two bad fiscal alternatives: increasing spending (left) or cutting taxes (right). Compromising between the two sides of the spectrum only leads to the “tax-cuts-in-exchange-for-increased-spending” policies that have produced record budget deficits in this century. We will continue to be limited in our ability to find solutions to public problems so as long as we imprison ourselves in the categories of left and right.14

Conclusion

It wasn’t easy for doctors to give up the four humors theory of medicine and it’s not easy for us to give up the binary spectrum theory of politics. But discard the spectrum we must. If we really want to be on the “right side of history,” we should be in the forefront of letting go of this misleading paradigm. It will likely be ridiculed by our descendants for the same reasons we currently ridicule astrology and phrenology.

Philip Tetlock once said, “Partisans across the opinion spectrum are vulnerable to occasional bouts of ideologically induced insanity.”15 It’s time to stop the insanity. The vast majority of Americans agree on the basics of wanting a safe, prosperous, and peaceful country. Starting from these points of commonality, instead of from the divisions created by the left-right binary, might do wonders in getting fruitful action taken on today’s social problems and letting our political discourse heal.

 

Endnotes

[1] In fact, Bruce Porter saw that war is the single greatest catalyst for the expansion of state power and that conservatism, as it had evolved to be both anti-state and pro-war by the late 20th century, was self-defeating. Porter, War and the Rise of the State (NY: Free Press, 1994).

[2] Jason Weeden and Rob Kurzban call this the General Orientations Model. Weeden and Kurzban, “Do People Naturally Cluster into Liberals and Conservatives?” Evolutionary Psychological Science, March 2016, Vol 2, pp. 47-57.

[3] See Levin’s The Fractured Republic (NY: Basic Books, 2016) and Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance (NY: HarperCollins, 2007).

[4] As a percentage of GDP, Federal Government spending went from 21% to 18% under Bill Clinton, and from 18% to 25% under George W. Bush, but which of the two was considered “conservative”?

[5] Conservative isolationists, remember, were the harshest critics of FDR’s “interventionist” policies in the 1930s.

[6] In The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014) and “Do People Naturally Cluster into Liberals and Conservatives?” Kurzban and Weeden wisely propose a Domain-specific Model of politics to replace the binary, simplistic, and false General Orientations Model.

[7] For instance, the proposition that says the right, at its essence, believes in conserving, would predict that environmental conservation would be associated with the right. It’s not and this view is thereby falsified.

[8] Because political parties are necessary, some tribalism is endemic to democracy, but belonging to a party without thinking there is a philosophy behind the party’s policies would do wonders to reduce that tribalism.

[9] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011).

[10] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (NY: Pantheon, 2012), 290.

[11] See Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood, “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization” American Journal of Political Science, Volume 59, July 2015, 690–707.

[12] George Will, “Eugenics Was a Progressive Cause,” Washington Post, March 9, 2017. Also see Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[13] James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (NY: Doubleday, 2004); and Philip E. Tetlock, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (NY: Crown, 2015).

[14] If a sociologist told you that everyone can be divided into one of two categories: dumb, good looking, athletic “jocks” and smart, ugly, un-athletic, “nerds,” you would counter that such a categorization schema is both false and harmful. The world isn’t that simple. There are many characteristics not given in this binary, there is infinite variation within those characteristics, and there are many who fit neither side. The political spectrum creates these same problems and worse.

[15] Stewart Brand, The SALT Summaries (Long Now Press, 2011), 128.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2017/05/03/time-retire-political-spectrum/
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“When it comes to politics, we often perceive our own beliefs as fair and socially beneficial, while seeing opposing views as merely self-serving. But in fact most political views are governed by self-interest, even if we usually don’t realize it.”

Of course. To do otherwise would be contrary to the required self interest required to evolve. It is only if you have no background in the the biosocial sciences most relevant to understanding society that you would believe otherwise. The political sciences offer no coverage or understanding of human nature and the behaviors of Homo Sapiens.

Most universities and colleges have departments that teach social behavior: ethology, evolutionary psychology, biological anthropology, behavioral endocrinology, and brain science. All these fields of study illuminate facets of human nature, especially those universal to the species. Evolutionary theory is part of the tool kit of behavioral biology, useful for generating hypotheses about ultimate causes. Those who really care about the issue and facts might want to explore coursework in one of these institutions and make themselves more intellectually aware of just what a dilemma the USA now finds itself.

This might seem simple, as if ethnic identity can be reduced to counting genes. That is not how the human (Homo Sapien) mind works. Suffice it that descent is what defines and motivates kinship systems. Members of an ethnic group believe that they share common ancestors, as well as sharing culture. This perceived kinship, expressed in metaphors such as “shared blood”, explains why ethnic motivation can be so strong. Knowledge of genetics might now, in principle, substitute for folklore but has not been necessary for thousands of years. By and large, beliefs about ancestry are accurate, so that folkloric beliefs about ethnicity generally correspond to genetic identity. This contradicts the sociological theory that ethnicity and race are socially constructed with no role for biology. – Frank Salter “On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration

A look at the historical record shows that conflict between different groups has been common throughout human history. Tribalism is the default mode of human political organization. The world’s largest land empire, that of the Mongols, was a tribal organization. But tribalism is hard to abandon, again suggesting that an evolutionary change may be required. Cooperative defense by tribal peoples is universal and ancient and it is bound to have boosted the genetic fitness of those who acted to further the interests of their group. Under such circumstances it would be odd indeed if natural selection did not mold the human mind to be predisposed to ethnocentrism. People organize politically around some aspects of shared identity. Humans are designed to be tribal. We are wired to organize ourselves socially into in-groups (our own group) and out-groups (others’ groups), and to organize ourselves cognitively so that our reasoning processes and even our sensory perceptions support in-group solidarity.

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Although this is an astute and insightful article, I think the author’s diagnosis of the problem is more convincing than his proposed solution:

Despite its obvious appeal, this approach seems idealistic and unrealistic. Generalizations and labels are unavoidable. Perhaps the problem lies in the simplistic, binary nature of the ideological spectrum, not the idea of ideological identifiers itself. That said, we should remember that any label we attach to ourselves or others is approximate and imperfect. Moreover, when criticizing a position it’s better to criticize that particular position (and the people who hold it) instead of overgeneralizing and attributing it to “the left” or “the right.”

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Ethnic motivation can be strong but perhaps that’s largely contingent on personality type. The degree of trait openness an individual possesses often determines how attached they are to these & other beliefs.
In terms of modern populations without cultural restrictions personality types would certainly contribute to differing views that inevitably play out in large polarising political & moral divisions like left & right tribes. Maybe that can’t be changed but I do believe we can work towards more acceptable compromise & improved cohesion with more rational discourse that isn’t so inciteful & polarising for starters. Humans after all do have other weapons in their biological tool kit to manage the pitfalls of tribalism that have hardly been utilised to their full potential.

“The degree of trait openness an individual possesses often determines how attached they are to these & other beliefs.”

“Personality type” does not determine what is genetically present. What is genetically present will always dominate the decisions Homo Sapiens make on a daily basis.

Homo Sapiens are distinguished by our ability to believe in fictions. The cognitive revolutions starts with the first set of hypothetical stories we allow ourselves to believe in whether they are true or not. The real importance is that the family, kin, friends, and community share those beliefs. Our fictions allow us to cooperate. They gives us the imaginary order that is necessary for societies to act together.

People have an interest in their ethnic group in exactly the same way that parents have a genetic interest in raising their children: In raising their children, parents ensure that their unique genes are passed on to the next generation. But in defending ethnic interests, people are doing the same thing — ensuring that the genetic uniqueness of their ethnic group is passed into the next generation. When parents of a particular ethnicity succeed in rearing their children, their ethnic group also succeeds because the genetic uniqueness of their ethnic group is perpetuated as part of their child’s genetic inheritance. But when an ethnic group succeeds in defending its interests, individual members of the ethnic group also succeed because the genetic uniqueness that they share with other members of the ethnic group is passed on. This is the case even for people who don’t have children: A person succeeds genetically when his ethnic group as a whole prospers.

A look at the historical record shows that conflict between different groups has been common throughout human history. Tribalism is the default mode of human political organization. The world’s largest land empire, that of the Mongols, was a tribal organization. But tribalism is hard to abandon, if even possible, again suggesting that an evolutionary change may be required. Cooperative defense by tribal peoples is universal and ancient and it is bound to have boosted the genetic fitness of those who acted to further the interests of their group. Under such circumstances it would be odd indeed if natural selection did not mold the human mind to be predisposed to ethnocentrism. People organize politically around some aspects of shared identity. Humans are designed to be tribal. We are wired to organize ourselves socially into in-groups (our own group) and out-groups (others’ groups), and to organize ourselves cognitively so that our reasoning processes and even our sensory perceptions support in-group solidarity. This fact has been demonstrated by many published and scientifically reviewed studies of man.

From their earliest years, children wish to be part of a group, to obey its rules and to punish violators. People have an instinctive morality, a readiness to make any sacrifice in defense of their family or group. These and other social behaviors seem to be inherent and therefore genetically based, even though the relevant genes are still being identified.

A vast amount of empirical data that span multiple disciplines—from behavior and population genetics to psychometrics to ongoing advances in biomedical research—corroborate the reality of race differences: a century of global data and analysis of IQ scores; bio-medical improvements in tracking the susceptibility to certain diseases as well as reactions to drug treat­ments**; the use of DNA analysis** and forensic methods to identify criminal suspects; comparative health and violent crime statistics; demographic correlates of stable and safe communities vs. unstable and violent areas; rates of marital stability and domestic violence; prevalence of juvenile delinquency; the persistence of differences in outlook based upon public opinion surveys; personal as well as comparative national income levels (GDP), poverty, and educa­tional attainment levels; and rates of HIV infection. The full range of empirical evidence that researchers have compiled in terms of racial differences—in patterns of human character traits, such as intelligence and personality assessments, and the latest advances in forensic DNA analysis and biomedical research—leaves little doubt that race is a biological reality.

For more on this subject, visit a college or university close to you. Most universities and colleges have departments that teach social behavior: ethology, evolutionary psychology, biological anthropology, behavioral endocrinology, and brain science. All these fields of study illuminate facets of human nature, especially those universal to the species. Evolutionary science is part of the tool kit of behavioral biology, useful for generating hypotheses about ultimate causes. Those who really care about the issue and facts might want to explore coursework in one of these institutions and make themselves more intellectually aware of just what a dilemma the USA now finds itself.

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And maybe research too:

“Whether or not our basic patterns of thoughts and feelings, our personality, are related to politics is a long-standing question in political psychology.”

Having a baccalaureate degree in Science and a MBA in Organization Behavior, I don’t believe in “Political Psychology”. " basic value orientations, moral principles, or personality traits, that shape people’s political preferences" are quickly over ridden by biology and will always fail to adequately predict the ultimate Homo Sapien behavior when push comes to shove.

Diversity and Conflict

National Bureau of Economic Research NBER Working Paper No. 21079
Issued in April 2015, Revised in September 2019

This research advances the hypothesis and establishes empirically that interpersonal population diversity, rather than fractionalization or polarization across ethnic groups, has been pivotal to the emergence, prevalence, recurrence, and severity of intra-societal conflicts. Exploiting an exogenous source of variations in population diversity across nations and ethnic groups, as determined predominantly during the exodus of humans from Africa tens of thousands of years ago, the study demonstrates that population diversity, and its impact on the degree of diversity within ethnic groups, has contributed significantly to the risk and intensity of historical and contemporary civil conflicts. The findings reflect the contribution of population diversity to the non-cohesivnesss of society, as reflected partly in the prevalence of mistrust, the divergence in preferences for public goods and re-distributive policies, and the degree of fractionalization and polarization across ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups.

What is the logical endpoint of this line of reasoning? What is your personal view on this, taken to its conclusion?

Obviously biology plays a large role. But in society we have laws that constrain some of that biology, especially against some of its more base impulses. So it seems that each society helps to mold itself, based on the constraints it imposes on itself. And it depends on how you define “cohesiveness”, and how much you value said “cohesiveness” against other societal characteristics…because I imagine certain theocratic societies can be considered quite cohesive but i wouldn’t necessarily consider that a good thing.

“What is the logical endpoint of this line of reasoning? What is your personal view on this, taken to its conclusion?”

I thought that the “logical endpoint” would be obvious? A multicultural/multi-racial/diverse democratic society is one that is inherently prone to conflict, not harmony.

Throughout human history nearly 90% or more of all wars have been ethnic or religious conflicts. Kevin Phillips, in his studies of the various civil wars, from the English Civil War to the American, was correct when he says that ethnicity and religion were the biggest determinants of which side you were on. Phillips explains how religious, ethnic, geographic, and class-based identities affect the loyalties and identities of different groups. For most of its history, the U.S. was a European-derived nation with a small “minority” population. As recently as the 1970 US Census, the USA was 84% Caucasian, 11% black, and just 4% Hispanic. It is only recently that the USA and Europe is getting an actual sense of what it means to be a multicultural democracy and it seems clear that the harsh reality doesn’t meet the idealized and Utopian theory for many Americans.

And the “logical endpoint” is well covered in the literature and as a scientist and student of genetics and organization behavior I agree with the logical conclusion that multiethnic and culturally diverse (multicultural) democracies, like the USA, consist of peoples of different religions, languages, cultures, races, and nationalities. One of these groups dominates the others by naked military and police power. Nations, on the other hand, are dominated by one group that makes up a strong majority of the population. Finally and most important, nations are inherently stable while multicultural democracies are always inherently unstable. Nations are naturally stable because a majority of the people mutually recognize each other as co-nationals. Multi-ethnic/multicultural democracies like the current USA never achieve true internal stability. They survive only by military and police suppression and break up the minute the dominant group loses the power to shackle the society together. To understand the future, study the past. Throughout world history, all multi-ethnic democracies have broken up, and almost always in cataclysmic violence. Therefore, the question is not if the multi-ethnic America will shatter, but when and under what circumstances.

Just as the United States is more divided racially and culturally and politically than it has ever been since the last Civil War, the pattern we are now following is not unique. It happened in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. It happened in the Ottoman Empire, where Kemal Ataturk purposefully dismantled their multiracial state and downsized it into Turkey, following WWI. Multiracial societies are by definition unstable. Homogeneous states (nations), where people share a common race, ethnicity, language, culture, and religion, by definition, are more stable.

And if you’re depending on “laws” that “constrain some of that biology”, I suggest you woefully misunderstand the serious nature of our current society in the multicultural and multi-ethnic USA.

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Yes, it was obvious to that extent. I was merely wondering if you took it to any further, more distasteful, but no less obvious endpoints.

As a scientist, I gather the information and then I honor the information. If anyone does that themselves they quickly discover that there is no turning around from the biological destiny that has been decided for and by the people in the USA. The false reasoning that “this must not be true therefore it is not true” is a good way to get run over.

What we really require is someone or some system that will allow the US to continue to “Balkanize” in an effective and organized manner and try to avoid a second US Civil War. In the long term balkanizing will help but there is still the problem that people will continue to be unsupportive to taxation and other means that support people unlike themselves. That’s what is going on now as expressed by the deadlock in Congress and the unwillingness to pass legislation that assists projects and people that many Americans don’t want to support. That trend will accelerate according to history.

The Ottoman Empire lasted seven centuries, as the conqueror/successor of the Eastern Roman Empire which lasted ten or twelve, depending on when one dates the decisive split, while the Austro-Hungarian was the Eastern continuity and reorganization of the old Hapsburg order which endured for five, until finished off by Prussia.

I’m not sure what yardstick for longevity you’re using, but by historical standards for human polities those are what one would call “good runs”.

The current order of nation-states is the novel thing in human affairs, ascendant in the trifling two hundred and change years since the French revolution. A combination of multiethnic Imperia and nations divided amongst independent City-States and Princedoms represented the historical norm for the vast majority of recorded history.

And not to be pedantic, but not one of your examples were even notional Republics. You probably want to include at least one actual multi-ethnic democracy in your examples of multi-ethnic democracies.

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You write “You probably want to include at least one actual multi-ethnic democracy in your examples of multi-ethnic democracies.”

Before I begin I want to say that in the past I have found too many participants in Quillette tend to seek out topics that engage other readers in useless yet intellectually stimulating conversation, usually as an excuse to avoid taking constructive action in their life. This question borders on those times in the past when I was asked to engage other readers in useless yet intellectually stimulating conversation and I find it annoying.

Forging on I want to point out that the current USA IS “an actual multi-ethnic democracy”. And I am also saying that it is clear that the only way to maintain a society that is multi-ethnic and multicultural is with a totalitarian government. At this point nobody would view the USA as a totalitarian government but it is moving that way particularly with the policies being proposed by the current Administration. But In order to make this new social multicultural fiction work, a society needs to use the power of law and the administrative state to force the new social reality on that society. And it is precisely in that action that the competition for power and privilege becomes a source not of liberation, but of coercion and the very definition of a totalitarian society and government.

“James Madison’s Federalist #10 presents us with a number of novel theses. In this respect, the main thrust of his essay, which stresses not only the workability but desirability of an extensive republic, is noteworthy. At the time Madison wrote, the traditional and widely accepted teaching held that a republican government—a government based upon the democratic principles of majority rule and political equality but one in which elected representatives would meet to conduct the business of the whole community—would be short-lived and marked by turbulence unless it operated upon a relatively small and homogeneous population within a relatively confined territorial expanse.” Source: Essay in Carey’s In Defense of the Constitution Is it not clear that the current society in the USA does not meet the requirement of operating upon a relatively small and homogeneous population within a relatively confined territorial expanse .”?

The history of the franchise reflects a clear conception of the United States as a nation ruled by and for Whites. Every state that entered the Union between 1819 and the Civil War denied Blacks the vote. In 1855, Blacks could vote only in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island, which together accounted for only four percent of the nation’s Black population. The federal government prohibited free Blacks from voting in the territories it controlled.

Several states that were established before the Civil War hoped to avoid race problems by remaining all White. The people of the Oregon Territory, for example, voted not to permit slavery, but voted in even greater numbers not to permit Blacks in the state at all. In language that survived until 2002, Oregon’s 1857 constitution provided that “[n]o free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate.”

Where was there ever a confederacy of republics united as these states were…or, in which the people were so drawn together by religion, blood, language, manners, and customs?

The specific grievances and actual motivations of America’s patriots and heroes are eventually overwhelmed by their own simplistic slogans. The relationship is especially complicated because ideas are driven by identity.

“Democracies have been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” – James Madison in Federalist Paper #10

At bottom line, is the fact that the “founding fathers” had no idea – and no intention – that the USA would eventually look demographically/ethnically like it does now.

Ernest Renan, the 19th century French philosopher, correctly wrote that the main characteristic of a nation was: “The willingness of the citizens to live together”. Implicit in the idea of a functioning nation is that a social contract exists with two important elements: a) solidarity among the citizens, and b) a state to help organize the defense of life, freedom and property." The USA of 2021 does not remotely meet the requirements of Mr. Renan. And of course it isn’t a functioning nation either; it’s a non-functioning multicultural and multi-ethnic democracy that is currently circling the drain.

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The author is mistaken when he suggests the “political spectrum” needs to be retired. He errors because he believes this spectrum only applies to politics when in fact, our liberal/conservative duality is an aspect that shapes every facet of the human psyche.

In a book titled Our Human Herds, a new theory of moral understanding is introduced that proposes that all human moral outlook is guided by one of two fundamental social outlooks, the outlook of safety & plenty or the outlook of danger & scarcity. These two instinctive and inherent moral viewpoints are commonly referred to as our liberal or conservative persuasions. Our two social attitudes evolved within us to help guide a communal herding creature (humans) to acting rightly when facing one of two basic environmental conditions that would always be facing us: either there is enough for all, or their isn’t.

In times of plenty, our moral fallback position is “When there is enough for all, all should have enough.” And we assume a more “liberal” social outlook. Cooperation is our watchword.

When there is not enough for everyone, or when the group is in danger, we must prioritize who gets what, and even who is to be saved and who must be sacrificed. Under these conditions, we rely on a merit-based system and believe that those who do more should get more, and that some may have to die so that others may live. Competition is our watchword.

This dichotomy of moral understanding leads, in its political manifestation, to what we understand as our liberal and conservative political views. In our liberal outlook, where we imagine that there is enough for all, we struggle to ensure no one has less than they need. In this outlook of plenty, we imagine that most social problems are caused by an improper distribution of plentiful resources. Consequently, our “liberal” outlook of plenty focuses on wealth redistribution and the idea of equity. In times of ease and plenty we also invite change because there is little risk. We focus on the young and the new.

Our other moral view, the outlook of danger or scarcity, our psyche warns us that there may not be enough for all and that our culture and resources need to be protected from too many strange new ways, too many foreigners, or too generous a welfare state. When there is danger about, we fall back to the understanding that the beliefs and practices that got us all here should be carried forward as wise and proven. Customs are valued, and we grasp that our ancestors were not all fools. We focus on the traditional and proven.

Our Dual Morality naturally leads to the conflicts we see all around:

Liberal: Criminals need reform, everyone is valuable
Conservative: Criminals need punishment, some need to sacrifice for others

Holiday celebrations:

Liberal: One big party of revelry, today is what matters
Conservative: Lets remember and honor the past that this holiday commemorates

Even when running kindergarten foot races:

Liberal: Everyone deserves a participation trophy
Conservative: The winner distinguished themselves from the others

By focusing only on the political, the author guarantees he must miss the bigger picture. That our liberal and conservative moral outlooks are with us everywhere and at all times. Internally, they help us sort through every social situation and solve every cultural conflict. Our left/right dichotomy remains at war within each of us every day. And we go back and forth within our own minds when deciding which moral pattern to apply to every circumstance in our life. More can be found at www.ourhumanherds.com