Patterico's Pontifications

6/4/2013

Kling on The Three Languages of Politics, or, How to Talk to Progressives

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:02 am



As I have said, I am a fan of the Russ Roberts podcast Econ Talk. His latest guest was Arnold Kling, who advances an interesting theory about the way that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians approach the world. Kling’s theory is designed to help us all understand one another, and make it harder to demonize one another and easier to communicate.

I’m not positive a blog is the best place to bring this up, as blogs tend to be exercises in tribalism, but I find Kling’s hypothesis both interesting and so full of common sense it seems obvious. Kling says that, basically, the three groups look at issues along different axes:

  • Progressives look at issues along an axis of oppressed vs. oppressors
  • Conservatives look at issues along an axis of civilization vs. barbarism
  • Libertarians look at issues along an axis of freedom vs. (government) coercion

The idea is that it is easier to understand how a person from one of those groups looks at an issue if you better understand what axis they jump to.

Kling gives as an example the Boston Marathon bombings. He notes that the Weekly Standard had a piece titled “Civilization and Barbarism.” A perfect example of the conservative world view.

Progressives sought a way to view the bombings in the prism of a struggle between oppressed and oppressors, the most famous example of which was David Sirota’s piece Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.

Libertarians became concerned about the lockdown of an entire city by the police department.

Similarly, with immigration reform, you have progressives who see illegal immigrants as an oppressed group who would benefit from reform (but also see low-income Americans as an oppressed group that might be hurt); conservatives who are upset about laws being broken; and libertarians who don’t believe in “artificial” borders limiting freedom.

If you understand these axes, then when you are arguing immigration reform to a progressive, you won’t bother arguing that we need to enforce our laws. You’ll concentrate on how reform will take jobs away from poor citizens.

Regardless of where you come from politically, Kling’s paradigm is interesting and worth a look. Kling has a new Amazon single that looks at these different “languages” of politics. I have bought it and encourarage readers to check it out.


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