Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last Hope for the Left

David Goodhart, the editor of the respectable center-left British magazine Prospect, is transfixed by a new book. It is hard for secular liberal baby boomers to understand other points of view, he says. One group of American cultural psychologists calls the typical western Labour party member

.. WEIRD—they are from a sub-culture that is Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. They are, as we have seen, universalists, suspicious of strong national loyalties. They also tend to be individualists committed to autonomy and self-realisation. Balancing that they are usually deeply concerned with social justice and unfairness and also suspicious of appeals to religion or to human nature to justify any departure from equal treatment—differences between men and women, for example, are regarded as cultural not biologic.

This is not a natural way for most people to think, even if it is almost univeral in parts of elite western culture. This helps explain why center-left parties are in such trouble in Europe and elsewhere, Goodhart says, when, according to their narrative, capitalism has disastrously failed, economies have degenerated into crisis and the time should be ripe for a shift to the left.

Instead, Labour party leader Ed Miliband is almost irrelevant.

Ed Miliband’s difficulty is not so much that he is weird but that he is WEIRD. Yet help is at hand in the shape of a truly seminal book—out of that remarkable Amerian popular-science-meets-political-speculation stable—called The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

We've come across Haidt before on this blog, because his ideas are genuinely fascinating. He is at root a liberal. But he is interested in how others think, Says Goodhart:

Like Steven Pinker, Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better ...
The thinking behind The Righteous Mind may be the last hope for European liberalism.


I'll get to reading his new book soon.


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