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sixes_and_sevens comments on Open thread, July 29-August 4, 2013 - Less Wrong

3 Post author: David_Gerard 29 July 2013 10:26PM

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Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 30 July 2013 12:20:58PM 5 points [-]

Warning: politics, etc., etc.

What do conservative political traditions squabble over?

My upbringing and social circles are moderately left-wing. There's a well-observed failure mode in these circles, not entirely dissimilar to what's discussed in Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate, where participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.

In recent years I have become fairly sceptical of intrinsic differences between political groups, which leads me to my opening question: what do conservative political traditions squabble over? I find it hard to imagine what form this sort of self-sabotaging moral posturing might take. Can anyone who grew up on the other side of the fence offer any insight?

Comment author: palladias 30 July 2013 04:51:21PM 13 points [-]

We used to nutshell it as Trads vs Libertarians in college. Here are the relevant strawmen each group has of the other. (Hey, you asked what the fights look like!)

Trads see libertarians as: Just as prone to utopian thinking as those wretched liberals, or else shamelessly callous. Either they really do believe that people will just be naturally good without laws or institutions (what piffle!) or they just don't care about the casualties and trust that they themselves will rise to the top of their brutal, anarchic meritocracy. Not to mention that some of them could be more accurately described as libertines and just want an excuse for license.

Libertarians see trads as: Hidebound stick in the muds. They'd rather have people following arbitrary rules than thinking critically. They despise modernity, but don't actually have a positive vision of what they want instead (they're prone to ruefully shaking their heads and saying "Everything went downhill after the 1950s, or the American Revolution, or the Fall of Man"). By proposing ridiculous schemes (a surprising number have monarchist sympthies!) and washing their hands of governance in a show of 'epistemological modesty' and 'subsidiarity' they wriggle out of putting principles into practice.

Comment author: Randy_M 30 July 2013 04:00:40PM *  2 points [-]

(entirely based on recent USA politics) My instinct is the say conservatives do less jockying for status and have more subtantive disagreements with each other (not without vitriol, of course). I thik this is true, but likely not as much as it seems to me.

One main conservative divide is over how much to use the state to influence the country towards traditional insitutions versus staying with a libertarian framework. Social conservatives vs fiscal conservatives. Generally the first group still wants to work within the democratic process, and see left groups as wanting to appeal to judges to find novel interpretations of exisiting laws. (ie, conservatives amending the state consititution to define marriage vs liberals finding exisiting non-dscrimination amendments to apply more broadly they were likely intended).

Social conservatives will want ordered, controled immigration vs open, almost unregulated immigration of fiscal conservatives (probably justice vs pragmatism), though both will affirm legal immigrants and both will likely want to reduce direct incentives for immigrants (ie, welfare).

A mirror of this in foreign policy is libertarian isolationism vs hawkish/neo-con interventionism, the latter falling out of favor lately, as anger fades and war weariness sets in (or more charitably, people learn lessons and modify their theories).

There are other divisions that I don't think fall along the same lines. Another broad category is how radically to enact change. There is a bit of fundamental tension in a "conservative" philosophy in that at some point after losing a battle there is almost an obligation to conserve the victories of your opponents while fighting their next expansion. (By analogy, picture two nations fighting over borders where A wants to annex the B, but B has an ideological goal to keep the borders set in place by each most recent treaty. Hence, i suspect, the rise of internet Reactionaries who want to do more than draw new lines in the sand).

For example, all conservatives are going to be in favor of free markets, but some may differ on the needed level of intervention by regulators or quasi-governmental groups like the Fed, where those in favor of less are viewed as more conservative but may be called "out of the mainstream" or such. There are some who self-identify as conservatives and argue for expanded state-business cooperation/interference, such as GW Bush proposing TARP.

Another division, perhaps more petty, is over how much to compromise and work with liberals/Democrats vs standing on, and losing with, principles. Some argue that if Republicans articulate a conservative vision and do not sell out people will embrace that; some argue that people probably won't, but then we should let them get what they want by electing Democrats and not having policies that [conservatives view] are inevitable failures be painted with a bipartisan brush so as to be an object lesson, others that politics is messy, we have to compromise to get the best policies that we can while working together with the otherside. Optimism vs pessimism vs pragmatism.

Despite being overly long, I don't know if this answers your question or says anything non-obvious, as you seem to be asking for more petty disputes. I think that those tend to be a magification of a difference along some of the axis mentioned above into not just a quantitative difference but an unbridgeable qualitative one. But there are fundamental disagreements such that one can't say "I'm more conservative than you because I want more x than you" and expect it to hold sway and earn status points across the ideology. Well, maybe lower taxes.

Comment author: Lumifer 30 July 2013 08:44:05PM *  5 points [-]

The left-to-right political axis is a very poor tool for looking at political goal/values/theories/opinions/etc.

First, to even talk about it you need to specify at least the locality. "Left" (or, say, "liberal") in the US means something different from what "left" (or "liberal") means in Europe. I'd wager it means something different yet in China, Russia, India...

Second, one dimension is clearly inadequate for political analysis. For example consider a very important (IMHO) concept in politics: statism. Is the American left statist? Well, kinda. They are statist economically but not culturally. Is the American right statist? Well, kinda. They are statist morally but not economically. I'm, of course, speaking in crude generalizations here.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2013 10:47:18AM *  0 points [-]

First, to even talk about it you need to specify at least the locality. "Left" (or, say, "liberal") in the US means something different from what "left" (or "liberal") means in Europe.

“Left” and “liberal” in the US and “left” in Europe mean more-or-less similar things, whereas “liberal” in Europe often means something else entirely. (I once made a longer comment about that somewhere, I'll link to it when I find it. EDIT: here it is.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 July 2013 12:51:27PM *  2 points [-]

Obama is considered left in the US.

From a German perspective he's a lot more right than Angela Merkel who Germany's right wing chancelor.

Angela Merkel wouldn't put the government employee who exposed torture into prison while not charging anyone who tortured with crimes.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2013 01:19:20PM *  0 points [-]

I meant in a relative sense, not in an absolute one: AFAIK, Obama is more “left” than his competition (other mainstream American politicians), and Merkel is less “left” than her competition (other mainstream German politicians), where “left” in both cases refers to the south-westwards direction (direction, not region) on the Political Compass. AFAIK “liberal” in the US also generally refers to that direction, whereas ISTM that in Europe it often refers to the eastward direction.

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 July 2013 02:06:48PM 0 points [-]

Yes. in a relative sense I think left and right mean the same things.

Liberal is Europe refers to southwards on the compass. UK liberals wanted that the UK gets rid of nuclear weapons because they considered them too expensive.

In Europe we also tend to speak about neoliberalism. That basically means the Washington consensus policies and all the policies for which corporate money pays. That means things like free trade agreements like NAFTA, putting children year ealier into school so that they are sooner available to join the workforce, taking political power away from states and cities, PPP, reducing taxes and the social safety net.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2013 05:33:08PM 1 point [-]

In Europe we also tend to speak about neoliberalism.

Yes, I guess that one was the meaning I was familiar with. (The Italian Liberal Party is in a centre-right coalition.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2013 04:50:17AM -1 points [-]

From a German perspective he's a lot more right than Angela Merkel who Germany's right wing chancelor.

Angela Merkel wouldn't put the government employee who exposed torture into prison while not charging anyone who tortured with crimes.

That depends on the issue in question.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 August 2013 03:30:15PM 0 points [-]

Could you give an example where Obama pushes a left policy that's more left than Merkel's position on the same issue?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 07 August 2013 05:36:14AM *  1 point [-]

It depends when in time you compare them. Merkel did come out against a federal minimum wage at one point (during the election). IMO, that is more "right-wing" in the sense people usually mean by it (although I don't particularly like the term). As far as I know, Obama has never publicly criticized the federal minimum wage.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 August 2013 11:54:33AM 0 points [-]

Basically both politicans don't want to change anything about the minimum wage but stay with the status quo.

The German solution was over long time to have binding contracts between employers and unions about what minimum wage had to be payed in certain sectors.

Even employers in that sector that didn't engage in the negotions were supposed to be bound by them.

Some sectors such as temp work then has gotten by law a minimum wage that pays €7.50 = $9.97 because there no binding labor contracts. That a lot higher than the US minimum wage of $7.25 = €5.44.

It fairly recent in Germany that the left started to call for a minimum wage. I think nearly nobody who calls for a minimum wage in Germany would feel that he reached much if the minimum wage would be at US levels.

Obama certainly doesn't try to get the minimum wage raised to the kind of level that the people who call for a minimum wage in Germany want to have.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 August 2013 01:47:53AM -2 points [-]

I haven't been paying that much attention to German economic policy.

Comment author: Alejandro1 30 July 2013 09:08:01PM 0 points [-]

At the most basic level, the definitions are that the right wing wants to keep things as they are and the left wing wants to change them. There is one way to do the first, and innumerable to do the second. This probably accounts for a large part of the effect you observe.

(There are of course, many exceptions to the given definition; for example, conservatives wanting to eliminate government programs that are currently part of the status quo. But in this case, they are likely to frame this as a return to a previous state when they didn't exist, which is still a well-defined Schelling point. Right-wingers that do not fit this categorization, such as extreme libertarians calling for a minimal state that has never existed, are known to squabble among them as much as left-wingers.)

Comment author: Randaly 31 July 2013 01:26:56AM 2 points [-]

the right wing wants to keep things as they are

This is not actually accurate. On virtually any issue you can think of, the right-wing consensus supports changes in government policy. This is true to an extent such that some have argued that Republicans oppose everything about the liberal executive branch and civil service, simply because Obama is in office.

Comment author: Randy_M 31 July 2013 09:29:50PM 1 point [-]

"This is true to an extent such that some have argued that Republicans oppose everything about the liberal executive branch and civil service, simply because Obama is in office." The arguments could be rhetorical, hence not demonstrative of the extent of the truth of such proposition. Weak evidence without discussing how those arguments are put forth.

Comment author: Randaly 31 July 2013 11:33:44PM 1 point [-]

Are you claiming that Republicans are only claiming to oppose Obama, and secretly support him on many issues despite their habit of verbal attacks, filibustering policies they claim to support as a means of threatening Obama on unrelated issues, and swearing to avoid compromise? I would need very strong evidence to believe this.

Comment author: Randy_M 01 August 2013 02:26:06PM *  2 points [-]

I don't know how you get that from what I said. I would claim the following three things, at least, that are relevant:

Republicans are not an especially united group; some will fillibuster the same policies that others support, like Rand Paul vs John McCain on the NSA programs.

Republicans, or pluralities of them, do not oppose all of the Presidents policies, such as much of the foreign policy and bank bailouts.

The opposition to the Presidents policies drives opposition to him being in office, and not vice versa.

Also, Republican and right wing are not synonyms.

Comment author: Randaly 01 August 2013 10:17:14PM *  -1 points [-]

I don't know how you get that from what I said.

Looking back, I misread your first post- I thought you were claiming that the Republicans' arguments were rhetorical. My response would've been, a) your response didn't really address my argument, since the section you disagreed with and b) you have no reason to assume bad faith.

Republicans are not an especially united group; some will fillibuster the same policies that others support, like Rand Paul vs John McCain on the NSA programs.

Well, yes, I wasn't claiming that every conservative holds the exact same opinion on everything; this is not true in politics in general, and is more-or-less assumed.

Republicans, or pluralities of them, do not oppose all of the Presidents policies, such as much of the foreign policy and bank bailouts.

The bank bailouts were conducted under President Bush, not Obama, and in any case poll poorly with all Americans, including Republicans. Americans as a whole oppose Obama's foreign policy, which has a 16% approval rating among Republicans.

The opposition to the Presidents policies drives opposition to him being in office, and not vice versa.

This is disproven by the fact that strong pluralities of Republicans supported almost identical policies under a different president.

Also, Republican and right wing are not synonyms.

In general, people base their identities around political parties or organizations like the Tea Party, not general political affiliation. Therefore, the relevant groups are political parties, not 'left-wing' vs 'right-wing'. Party membership is also a lot easier to measure. Therefore, people in general talk about the parties, rather than specific points on the left-right axis. (e.g. note that the above poll broke data down by Republicans vs. Democrats, not left-wing vs. right-wing)

Comment author: Randy_M 02 August 2013 02:29:13PM *  3 points [-]

"This is disproven by the fact that strong pluralities of Republicans supported almost identical policies under a different president."

Well, look, I think you are casting people as acting in bad faith but it is a lot more complicated than that, for example, different nuances in how the policies are crafted, promoted, or enforced; learning from what are viewed as mistakes; or different sentiments among the population at large. It's hard to say because you haven't given any examples.

I'm also not sure if you mean congressional Republicans or individual voters or activists or whathaveyou.

But I'm not really interested in defending Republicans any further than this here.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2013 04:58:26AM 0 points [-]

Americans as a whole oppose Obama's foreign policy, which has a 16% approval rating among Republicans.

The pole in question fails to deal with the questions of whether they think it is too interventionist, not interventionist enough or something else.

Comment author: Randaly 30 July 2013 09:44:42PM *  1 point [-]

At least in the US since the 60's, another way to divide conservatives has been in the party's three big issues: economic classical liberalism, social conservatism, and foreign-policy neo-conservatism. The moderate, short-term goals of these groups are sometimes in alignment, but their desired end-states look very different:

  • Neo-conservatives want a big military and an aggressive foreign policy, whereas classical liberals hate war and want to shrink the military, along with the rest of the government; and religious conservatives (generally- the prevalence of the other groups has lead to abnormalities in the most famous preachers) hate war and love peace.

  • Religious conservatives are generally fine with the welfare state and regulations, and support restrictive social laws; whereas classical liberals hate all of the above.

  • Classical liberals want to shrink (or drown) the government, which both of the other groups oppose for various reasons: some to most religious conservatives like environmentalism and the idea of a safety net, and neoconservatives love the military.

There's also a distinction between traditional politicians who support negotiation, moderation, and compromise, and the Tea Party-backed groups who don't.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 30 July 2013 01:10:14PM 0 points [-]

Not speaking based on what I've grown up but this seems slightly more common on the American left than the American right. That said, examples of squabbles of similar forms on the right include over religion such as arguing over whether voting for Mitt Romney was ok given that he was a Mormon. (See e.g. here, with similar attacks on Glenn Beck. Recently one had certain aspects of the Tea Party call for a boycott of Fox News for being too pro-Obama. Similarly, of the Protestants on the right are still not ok with Catholics although they aren't a very large group and seem to be getting smaller. There's also a running trend in the fight between the more interventionist end of the right and the more isolationist end. See e.g. here. Another example is when Rick Perry tried to get HPV mandatory vaccination in Texas, there was blowback from the right as well as from the general libertarians.

But it seems that overall, these sorts of fights occur at a smaller scale than they do on the left. They don't involve as much splintering of organizations. And like many of the similar issues on the left, few people who aren't personally involved are paying much attention to them and even when one does, the differences often look small to outsiders even as the arguments get very heated.

Comment author: Randaly 31 July 2013 01:36:26AM 2 points [-]

At least in American politics, this seems to me to be cyclical: conservatives were very tightly united during the 80's and 90's, and are presently fairly divided. (Their present divisions are partially papered over by the two other factors that lead to increased party-bloc voting- the end of racism as an effective issue that ran across party lines, and a general increase in party-line/ideological voting that also shows up among Democrats. Non-substantive votes like the historic near-failure of Boehner's run for House Majority Leader, and the Party's internal discussions, show divisions better.)

Comment author: Prismattic 31 July 2013 02:08:53AM 2 points [-]

There have been some substantive examples as well. The TARP vote was considerably more divisive for Republicans than for Democrats. Both parties were about equally divided on the recent Amash Amendment vote (to defund the NSA).

Comment author: johlstei 31 July 2013 04:24:54PM *  0 points [-]

I don't think the racism as an effective issue is over. Atwater's southern strategy seems alive and well to me. This was first executed (successfully?) by Reagan and the pattern seems to hold. Here's Atwater's quote on the matter:

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger.

Comment author: Randaly 01 August 2013 12:01:09AM 1 point [-]

This is not relevant to what I said, for several reasons. First, guessing at your beliefs, you almost certainly believe that only one party today is racist; therefore, racism is not an effective issue that runs across party lines. (Note that until the 60's-70's, the South was split between Democrats and Republicans; there were effectively four political groups in the US: racist Democrats, racist Republicans, non-racist Democrats, non-racist Republicans. This screwed with party-based analysis of voting patterns.) The second is that, so far as I know, Congress no longer holds any straight-up-or-down votes on racism ala the Voting Rights Act; racism itself is not an issue, as nobody would vote for it.