A Thrive/Survive Theory Of The Political Spectrum

I admitted in my last post on Reaction that I devoted insufficient space to the question of why society does seem to be drifting gradually leftward. And I now realize that in order to critique the Reactionary worldview effectively we’re going to have to go there.

The easiest answer would be “because we retroactively define leftism as the direction that society went”. But this is not true. Communism is very leftist, but society eventually decided not to go that way. It seems fair to say that there are certain areas where society did not go to the left, like in the growth of free trade and the gradual lowering of tax rates, but upon realizing this we don’t feel the slightest urge to redefine “low tax rates” as leftist.

So what is leftism? For that matter, what is rightism?

Any theory of these two ideas would have to explain at least the following data points:

1) Why do both ideologies combine seemingly unrelated political ideas? For example, why do people who want laissez-faire free trade empirically also prefer a strong military and oppose gay marriage? Why do people who want to help the environment also support feminism and dislike school vouchers?

2) Why do the two ideologies seem broadly stable across different times and cultures, such that it’s relatively easy to point out the Tories as further right than the Whigs, or ancient Athens as further left than ancient Sparta? For that matter, why do they seem to correspond to certain neural patterns in the brain, such that neurologists can determine your political beliefs with 83% accuracy by examining brain structure alone?

3) Why do these basically political ideas correlate so well with moral, aesthetic, and religious preferences?

4) The original question: how come, given enough time and left to itself, leftism seems to usually win out over rightism, pushing the Overton window a bit forward until there’s a new leftism and rightism?

I have a hypothesis that explains most of this, but first let me go through some proposed alternatives.

The Reactionaries have at least two theories. Moldbug suggests that rightism is common sense, and leftism is Christianity minus the religious trappings and rightism is rational thought. Another of his posts suggests that leftism is naked power-grabbing and rightism is virtuous pro-social behavior.

But the first of these fails to explain point 1; how come most traditionally Christian ideas end up on the right side of the aisle? It fails to explain 2 – how come we can call Sparta rightist even in the pre-Christian age? It might explain 3. But it definitely fails point 4; even if it were true, why would this weird neo-Christian sect suddenly take off just as all other Christian sects are hemorrhaging believers? As for the second, it explains point 4 and point 4 only, and seems, well, maybe a little completely obviously self-serving?

The Libertarians say that leftism supports government intervention on economic but not social issues, and rightism supports government intervention on social but not economic issues. Unfortunately, this isn’t really true. Leftists support government intervention in society in the form of gun control, hate speech laws, funding for the arts, and sex ed in schools. In fact, leftists are sometimes even accused of being in favor of “social engineering”. Meanwhile, conservatives lead things like the home schooling and school choice movements, which seem to be about less government regulation of society. Having gotten Point 1 not quite right, this theory then goes on to completely ignore points 2, 3, and 4.

The scientists studying neuropolitics in that article I linked to say things like “Liberals tend to seek out novelty and uncertainty, while conservatives exhibit strong changes in attitude to threatening situations. The former are more willing to accept risk, while the latter tends to have more intense physical reactions to threatening stimuli.” But this seems flawed. Leftists have an intense physical reaction to the threatening situation of global warming. Rightists seek out the novelty and accept the risk of a foreign war that might increase America’s global power at minimal cost but might waste hundreds of thousands of lives to no end. Another failure of 1, I’ll give it 2 or 3, and once again no love for point 4.

Okay, I’ll put you out of your misery and tell you my hypothesis now. My hypothesis is that rightism is what happens when you’re optimizing for surviving an unsafe environment, leftism is what happens when you’re optimized for thriving in a safe environment.

The Dead Have Risen, And They’re Voting Republican

Before I explain, a story. Last night at a dinner party we discussed Dungeons and Dragons orientations. One guest declared that he thought Lawful Good was a contradiction in terms, very nearly at the same moment as a second guest declared that he thought Chaotic Good was a contradiction in terms. What’s up?

I think the first guest was expressing a basically leftist world view. It is a fact of nature that society will always be orderly, the economy always expanding. Crime will be a vague rumor but generally under control. All that the marginal unit of extra law enforcement adds to this pleasant state is cops beating up random black people, or throwing a teenager in jail because she wanted to try marijuana.

The second guest was expressing a basically rightist world view. The prosperous, orderly society we know and love is hanging by a frickin’ thread. At any moment, terrorists or criminals or just poor management could destroy everything. It is really really good that we have police in order to be the “thin blue line” between civilization and chaos, and we might sleep easier in our beds at night if that blue line were a little thicker and we had a little more buffer room.

I propose that the best way for leftists to get themselves in a rightist frame of mind is to imagine there is a zombie apocalypse tomorrow. It is a very big zombie apocalypse and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of those ones where a plucky band just has to keep themselves alive until the cavalry ride in and restore order. This is going to be one of your long-term zombie apocalypses. What are you going to want?

First and most important, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Second, you’re going to have a deep and abiding affection for the military and the police. You’re going to hope that the government has given them a lot of funding over the past few years.

Third, you’re going to start praying. Really hard. If someone looks like they’re doing something that might offend God, you’re going to very vehemently ask them to stop. However few or many atheists there may be in foxholes, there are probably fewer when those foxholes are surrounded by zombies. Or, as Karl Marx famously said of zombie uprisings, “Who cares if it’s an opiate? / It’s time to pray!”

Fourth, you’re going to be extremely suspicious of outsiders. It’s not just that they could be infected. There are probably going to be all sorts of desperate people around, looking to steal your supplies, your guns, your ammo. You trust your friends, you trust your neighbors, and if someone who looks different than you and seems a bit shifty comes up to you, you turn them away or just kill them before they kill you.

Fifth, you’re going to want hierarchy and conformity. When the leader says run, everyone runs. If someone is constantly slowing the group down, questioning the group, causing trouble, causing dissent, they’re a troublemaker and they can either shut up or take their chances on their own. There’s a reason all modern militaries work on a hierarchical system that tries to maximize group coherence.

Sixth, you are not going to be sentimental. If someone gets bitten by the zombies, they get shot. Doesn’t matter if it’s really sad, doesn’t matter if it wasn’t their own fault. If someone breaks the rules and steals supplies for themselves, they get punished. If someone refuses to pull their weight, they get left behind. Harsh? Yes. But there’s no room for people who don’t contribute in a sleek urban postapocalyptic zombie-fighting machine.

Seventh, you want to maximize wealth. Whatever gets you the supplies you need, you’re going to do. If that means forcing people to work jobs they don’t like, that’s the sacrifice they’ve got to make. If your raid on a grocery store leaves less behind for everyone else, well, that’s too bad but you need the food. Are woodland animals going to go extinct as more and more survivors retreat to the woods and rely on them for food? That’s not the kind of thing you’re worried about when you’re half-starved and only a few hours ahead of the zombie horde.

Eighth, strong purity/contamination ethics. We know that purity/contamination ethics are an evolutionary defense against sickness: disgusting things like urine, feces, dirt, blood, insects, and rotting corpses are all vectors of infection; creepy animals like spiders, snakes, and centipedes are all vectors for poisoning. Maybe right now you don’t worry too much about this. But in a world where the hospitals are all overrun by zombies and you need to outrun a ravenous horde at a moment’s notice, this becomes a much bigger deal. Not to mention that anything you catch might be the dreaded Zombie Virus.

Ninth, an emphasis on practical skills rather than book learning. That eggheaded Professor of Critical Studies? Can’t use a gun, isn’t studying a subject you can use to invent bigger guns, not a useful ally. Probably would just get in the way. Big masculine men who can build shelters and fight with weapons are useful. So are fertile women who can help breed the next generation of humans. Anyone else is just another mouth to feed.

Tenth, extreme black and white thinking. It’s not useful to wonder whether or not the zombies are only fulfilling a biological drive and suffer terribly when you kill them despite not being morally in the wrong. It’s useful to believe they’re the hellish undead and it’s your sacred duty to fight them by any means necessary.

In other words, “take actions that would be beneficial to survival in case of a zombie apocalypse” seems to get us rightist positions on a lot of issues. We can generalize from zombie apocalypses to any desperate conditions in which you’re not sure that you’re going to make it and need to succeed at any cost.

What about the opposite? Let’s imagine a future utopia of infinite technology. Robotic factories produce far more wealth than anyone could possibly need. The laws of Nature have been altered to make crime and violence physically impossible (although this technology occasionally suffers glitches). Infinitely loving nurture-bots take over any portions of child-rearing that the parents find boring. And all traumatic events can be wiped from people’s minds, restoring them to a state of bliss. Even death itself has disappeared. What policies are useful for this happy state?

First of all, we probably shouldn’t have a police force. Given that crime is impossible, at best they would be useless and at worst they might go around flexing their authority and causing trouble.

Second, religion seems kind of superfluous. Throughout history, richer civilizations have been less religious and our post-scarcity society should be no exception. What would you pray for? What fear is there for faith to allay? With vast supercomputers that know all things, what lingering questions are there for the Bible to answer?

Third, assuming people still have jobs or something, we should probably make them as nice as possible. It doesn’t matter if it hurts productivity; we’re producing far more than we need anyway. We should enforce short work hours and ample maternity and paternity leave so that everyone has time to concentrate on the more important things in life.

Fourth, interest in the environment. We have no shortage of material goods; if our lives lack anything it is beauty and connection to nature. So it will be nice to have as many pleasant green spaces as possible; and if this means a little less oil, it’s not like our Oil-Making-Machines can’t make up the extra.

Fifth, free love. There’s no worries about STDs, the family unit isn’t necessary for any kind of economic survival, and the nurture-bots and trauma-erasure-centers can take care of the kids of anything goes wrong. And since we don’t have anything else to do, we might as well enjoy ourselves with infinite sex.

I was going to go for ten here too, but you get the picture. This world of infinite abundance is a great match for leftist values. I imagine even a lot of rightists and Reactionaries would be happy enough with leftism in a situation like this.

I should also mention what would no doubt be the main pastime of the people of this latter world: signaling.

When people are no longer constrained by reality, they spend most of their energy in signaling games. This is why rich people build ever-bigger yachts and fret over the parties they throw and who got invited where. It’s why heirs and heiresses so often become patrons of the art, or donors to major charities. Once you’ve got enough money, the next thing you need is status, and signaling is the way to get it.

So the people of this final utopia will be obsessed with looking good. They will become moralists, and try to prove themselves more virtuous than their neighbors. Their sophistication will gradually increase as each tries to establish themselves as a critic, as tasteful, as a member of an aristocracy that can no longer be defined in terms of money. They will become conniving, figuring out ways to raise their own social status at their neighbors’ expense. Or they will devolve into a host of competing subcultures, united only by their pride in their defiance of a “norm” which is quickly ceasing to exist.

Chris wrote this comment to my last post’s section on Reactionary aesthetics:

The things Reactionaries complain about in aesthetics seem not the fault of progressives, but the result of an unavoidable signaling logic. See Quentin Bell on what he called “conspicuous outrage.”

I agree with Chris 100% here, but I don’t think this is opposed to the Reactionaries’ link between this aesthetic and leftism. I think that leftists are the sort of people who are so secure that they can start thinking about how to excel at signaling games.

An Evaluation of the Thrive/Survive Theory

This is close to an explanation of our Point 1. It does not quite explain all left vs. right positions (in particular I despair of any theory that will tell me why school choice is a rightist rather than a leftist issue) but it does as well as any of the others, and better than some.

This also satisfies Point 2. The distinction between security and insecurity is far older than Classical Greece; it is perfectly reasonable for Athenian society to start from the assumption of the one and the Spartans to go with the other.

I admit some confusions. For example, it seems weird that poor people, the people who are actually desperate and insecure, are often leftist, whereas rich people, the ones who are actually completely safe, are often rightist. I would have to appeal to economic self-interest here: the poor are leftist because leftism is the philosophy that says to throw lots of resources at helping the poor, and the rich are rightist because rightism says to let the rich keep getting richer. Despite voting records, I expect the poor to share more rightist social values (eg be more religious, more racist) and the rich to to share more leftist social values (more intellectual as opposed to practical, less obsessed with guns). For a more comprehensive theory of economic self-interest and politics, see my essay on the subject.

This theory also satisfies Point 3. Developmental psychology has gradually been moving towards a paradigm where our biology actively seeks out information about our environment and then toggles between different modes based on what it finds. Probably the most talked-about example of this paradigm is the thrifty phenotype idea, devised to explain the observation that children starved in the womb will grow up to become obese. The idea is that some system notices that there seems to be very little food, and goes into “desperately conserve food” mode, which when food becomes more plentiful leads to obesity.

Another example, more clearly neurological, is the tendency of children who grow up in broken homes to have poor life outcomes. Although this was originally just interpreted as “damage”, an equally valid theory is that the brain seeks out information on what kind of society it lives in – one based on love and trust, or one based on violence and mistrust – and then activates the appropriate coping strategy. If child abuse or something makes the brain conclude we live in a violence and mistrust society, it alters its neural architecture to be violent and mistrustful – and hence dooms itself to future bad outcomes.

It seems broadly plausible that there could be one of these switches for something like “social stability”. If the brain finds itself in a stable environment where everything is abundant, it sort of lowers the mental threat level and concludes that everything will always be okay and its job is to enjoy itself and win signaling games. If it finds itself in an environment of scarcity, it will raise the mental threat level and set its job to “survive at any cost”.

What would toggle this switch? My guess is that genetics plays a very large role in setting the threshold (explaining why party affiliation is highly heritable) and that a lot of the remainder is implicit messages we get in childhood from our parents, school, church, et cetera. Actual rational argument and post-childhood life experiences make up the last few percent of variation.

Knowing this, the answer to Point 4 is blindingly obvious. Leftism wins over time because technology advances over time which means societies become more secure and abundant over time.

As a decent natural experiment, take the Fall of Rome. Both Greece and Rome were relatively leftist, with freedom of religion, democratic-republican governments, weak gender norms, minimal family values, and a high emphasis on education and abstract ideas. After the Fall of Rome, when Europe was set back technologically into a Dark Age, rightism returned with a vengeance. People became incredibly religious, militant, pragmatic, and provincial, and the government switched to an ad hoc and extremely hierarchical feudalism. This era of conservativism ended only when society reached the same level of technology and organization as the Greeks and Romans. So it’s not that cultures become more leftist over time, it’s that leftism varies with social and economic security.

Both rightists and leftists will find much to like in this idea. The rightists will ask: “So you mean that rightism is optimized for survival and effectiveness, and leftism is optimized for hedonism and signaling games?” And I will mostly endorse this conclusion.

On the other hand, the leftists will ask: “So you mean rightism is optimized for tiny unstable bands facing a hostile wilderness, and leftism is optimized for secure, technologically advanced societies like the ones we are actually in?” And this conclusion, too, I will mostly endorse.

Given that we are in conditions that seem to favor leftist ideals, the modern debate between leftists and rightists is, to mix metaphors atrociously, about how hard we can milk the goose that lays the golden eggs. Leftists think we can just keep drawing more and more happiness and utility for all out of our massive scientific and technological progress. Rightists are holding their breath for something to go terribly, terribly wrong and require the crisis-values they have safeguarded all this time – which is why posts like this one seem to be the purest expression of rightist wish-fulfillment fantasy.

I will only remark that one of the most consistent findings of my researches through economic and political history has been the remarkable, almost supernatural resilience of our particular aureate waterfowl. To a leftist, this is good news. To a rightist, I suppose this would just be evidence of how shockingly audacious we must be to try to push our luck even further.

EDIT: People are taking this as pro-Reactionary. I meant it to be at least suggestive of anti-Reactionary ideas. See my reply to the first comment below.

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297 Responses to A Thrive/Survive Theory Of The Political Spectrum

  1. “2) Why do the two ideologies seem broadly stable across different times and cultures, such that it’s relatively easy to point out the Tories as further right than the Whigs, or ancient Athens as further left than ancient Sparta?”

    I think this doesn’t have to be explained, because it is false. The disjunctive between “left” and “right” is modern, premised upon the notion of progress, which is a quite recent idea. (Nate Silver makes the point that is predicated upon the existence of the printing press; before that knowledge didn’t accumulate in any predictable way, and the general view was that we fought to preserve the knowledge we had, rather than try to discover new things).

    We of course “read” our modern conflicts and problems into Athens and Sparta (Frank Miller being a big culprit with his American Founding Fathers projected into, of all people, Spartans, and George III parading as Xerxes). But it is Flintstones methodology, as much as Star Wars is Jetsons methodology – projecting modern, and indeed specifically American modern problematics into the deep future.

    “Seventh, you want to maximize wealth. Whatever gets you the supplies you need, you’re going to do. If that means forcing people to work jobs they don’t like, that’s the sacrifice they’ve got to make. If your raid on a grocery store leaves less behind for everyone else, well, that’s too bad but you need the food. Are woodland animals going to go extinct as more and more survivors retreat to the woods and rely on them for food? That’s not the kind of thing you’re worried about when you’re half-starved and only a few hours ahead of the zombie horde.”

    In such a scenario, all of our well-established property system goes break overnight. Whatever happens, nobody is going to work eight hours a day for Shell corporation or McDonalds. Capitalism is doomed, and private property makes absolute no sence any more. If we want to survive, we will have to band together, and establish little communist wandering hordes, until the pandemics is over at least. True, these little hordes will probably kill each others on sight, but the biggest hordes, or those that are more isolated (and as such less likely to enter into conflicts), or those able to build up bigger, more reliable alliances, will tend to survive better.

    On a second thought, we have already been through this; we call it Palaeolithic, and it was an era of remarkably egalitarian small societies. Too much insecurity leads to egalitarianism as much as widespread security.

  2. Robi Rahman says:

    “The Libertarians say that leftism supports government intervention on economic but not social issues, and rightism supports government intervention on social but not economic issues. Unfortunately, this isn’t really true. Leftists support government intervention in society in the form of gun control, hate speech laws, funding for the arts, and sex ed in schools. In fact, leftists are sometimes even accused of being in favor of “social engineering”. Meanwhile, conservatives lead things like the home schooling and school choice movements, which seem to be about less government regulation of society.”

    The first sentence is essentially correct. (Also, libertarianism is social liberalism + fiscal conservatism, and statism is social conservatism + economic liberalism.)

    Funding for the arts and school vouchers aren’t counterexamples because they are more appropriately thought of in economic terms instead of saying they’re social issues.

    Gun control, hate speech, and public sex ed are backwards in United States politics: on these issues, the Democratic Party has the conservative position and the Republican Party has the liberal position. There are idiosyncratic historical reasons for these – various interest groups and lobbying coalitions make alliances with each other to help each other get their platforms passed, even though (as you rightly mention) there’s no direct connection between supporting free trade and opposing gay marriage. For example, evangelical Christians have become heavily Republican since the 1980s, and these people don’t want their kids learning sex ed in public schools. Similarly, minorities have voted heavily Democratic for the past 50+ years, and so the Democratic Party supports laws protecting them from hate speech, even though this conflicts with support for free speech, which is a traditionally liberal position. As for gun control, I have no idea why the Republican Party decided to support Constitutional rights in the case of the 2nd Amendment but not all the others.

    There are other issues where the major parties are inconsistent: for example, the Republicans in Congress always pay out corporate welfare and subsidies to oil companies, despite the fact that this isn’t fiscally conservative at all, because they get campaign contributions from lobbyists in Wall Street and the petroleum industry.

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  5. Dan says:

    Leftism brings collapse. If there are 100 tics to the leftist singularity, society goes one tic at a time until failure and then resets far to the right.

    The presently problem in the west is utter dysgenic demographic calamity, led both by technology and by a breakdown in ‘family values’ (i.e. modern leftism) in the west.

    If the current dysgenic demographic calamity continues, dramatic failure is not avoidable. Europe, which precedes us in leftism, socialism and demographic decline, is already moribund, unable to approach its all-time highs of 2007.

    In failure, things can instantly jump many tics to the right. Europe’s right wing is far to the right of America’s. In a failed America, many leftist platforms do not even make sense.

    One good example of a jump discontinuity to the right in America is re crime. Views became more and more sympathetic toward criminals until the collapse in 1990 when the core of almost every major US city was uninhabitable. An enormous law-and-order system (a police state almost) developed in just a decade driven by Democrat mayors, and crime declined.

  6. Dan says:

    “Communism is very leftist, but society eventually decided not to go that way.”


    Many societies went lustfully that way until they destroyed themselves utterly and the char-blackened remains of those societies covered the globe to serve as a lesson to all.

    The west drifts leftward while China, Russia and Eastern Europe have moved rightward. Having seen that leftism properly implemented leaves hardly one stone atop another they are immune for at least one generation.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Incredibly thought-provoking essay. I’m pretty liberal, but when I play a zombie game or read the Walking Dead, I’m absolutely a righty.

    On your confusion on why school choice is a right v. left issue, I think it’s because leftists think that a good education is a human right, and if you allow choice or competition, there will be winners and losers. This will deprive many people of their right to a good education.

    It might be a reach, but it’s the only thing I can think of.

    • I came independently to the same education argument and it seemed to me sufficiently obvious that I wasn’t really sure why it wasn’t in the post.

      Possibly that means there’s a reason it’s a reach that I’m missing, but I can’t immediately see one.

  8. Dodecahedron says:

    That doesn’t seem to quite work, though. It works with modern leftism (what we might call the descendant of the Fabian Society), but consider some counterexamples.

    First, the Soviet Union. Russia was a backwards country in 1917, and one where a great many were occupied with surviving. That was the climate that produced the revolution in the first place: the people saw that the nobles and the insane royal family was hoarding all the wealth, and decided enough was enough. Yet the revolution veered left, not right. Similar arguments could be made of any violent leftwards revolution. The revolutionaries were very much in a survive society, yet they did not veer right, they veered left.

    Second, once the Bolshevik revolution succeeded, what came after it was very harsh. It had some aspects of what you call the left (diversity, etc), but also some of what you call the right (most notable, very strict hierarchy up until it started to crumble in zastoi and the “geriatric intermezzo”). The first signs of softening in that area didn’t happen until Khrushchev.

    And the whole labor ennobles ethic connected to the strict top-down planning system directed from on high by GOSPLAN surely doesn’t sound like the free love kind of leftism. Would someone who wanted life to be as pleasant as possible go for anything like Stakhanovism or construct any city remotely like Magnitogorsk? Also recall that the Soviet Union was a worse polluter than the capitalist societies, despite having the chance to directly restrict emissions through the economic planning system. Not much of an environmental focus there.

    Okay, that’s the USSR. The second instance of “atypical” leftism I can think of would be the Spanish anarchists (and more indirectly, the Ukrainians and the Paris Commune also fit this pattern, although I know less about them). The Spanish anarchists were in a struggle against the right in the Civil War, and this was not a small matter. The war was, as wars often are, ugly and quite dangerous. Yet they kept to their leftist position. They organized the military in a less hierarchical manner, and they ran the society they could control based on their ideas of how the leftist society should be run.

    The Spanish anarchists were ridiculed for this by the Soviets, the latter saying, in effect, “Wait with the leftist governance until you’ve won”. But they wouldn’t compromise. One could of course say that the CNT did not survive the war, and therefore it shouldn’t be counted, but given the external support to that war, that seems an unduly high bar to set.

    Then, finally, we have the libertarians in the United States. I’ll consider libertarianism right-wing as that makes a lot more sense than considering it leftist. Libertarianism doesn’t appear to be a survive-type response. Instead, it seems more based on either a deontological position (natural law libertarianism) or an acceleration position (“free markets are so good at innovating and finding equilibrium that the democracy of the dollar is much to prefer to the democracy of the ballot”). Neither of these seem to be zombie apocalypse reactions.

    So, in summary: the Soviet Union is a leftism with the properties you ascribe to survival mode, without being contradictory; the CNT/FAI/Republicans developed a survival leftism that was still unambiguously leftist (“how to be leftist in a zombie apocalypse”); and the libertarians advocate right-wing positions while still being in thrive mode. How can that work?

    • Multiheaded says:

      Yet they kept to their leftist position. They organized the military in a less hierarchical manner, and they ran the society they could control based on their ideas of how the leftist society should be run. The Spanish anarchists were ridiculed for this by the Soviets, the latter saying, in effect, “Wait with the leftist governance until you’ve won”. But they wouldn’t compromise. One could of course say that the CNT did not survive the war, and therefore it shouldn’t be counted, but given the external support to that war, that seems an unduly high bar to set.

      A crucial question here, IMO. My personal political/social philosophy includes a strong suspicion that far freer and less repressive societies are possible, have been successfully tested in Spain and partly in Ukraine, and don’t just collapse “because of Human Nature” like ye olde strawman leftist utopia. But nonetheless the same features that made anarchists in Spain and Ukraine so much better than the competition led to their military destruction from without; their principles must’ve forced them into a repeated impossible choice between authoritarianism and extermination.

      Anti-authoritarian societies might well be easy, worthwhile and internally stable, and yet so restrained in their military capability that they’d get eaten alive by rightists or left-authoritarians every time. And the same things that’d give them a direct boost to self-defense would corrupt their anti-authoritarian foundation, as described by Orwell in his writings on Spain.

      • oligopsony says:

        Both this and the parent comment strike me as substantially correct (though I’m skeptical about very free societies being able to last among lots of people for a very long time.) I was about to say “note that almost everyone gets more authoritarian during wartime” but then obviously the Spanish and Ukranian examples arose in wartime; chalk that up to the conditions in which leftists can actually seize power.

      • Dodecahedron says:

        Whether or not anti-authoritarian societies are at a defense disadvantage when facing authoritarian societies is a very tricky question, and I don’t think I have an answer to it.

        The answer to that question is further obscured because, while the anti-authoritarian societies were conquered, they were usually facing overwhelming force to begin with. Thus the uncertainty provides plenty of room to argue either that the anarchists’ military limitations proved to be their undoing or (on the other hand) if the forces had been more evenly matched, the anarchists would have come out on top.

        My hunch is that in anti-authoritarian societies would fight differently than authoritarian ones. With current technology making guerrilla warfare easier, let’s call them evenly matched. Thus the anti-authoritarian societies wouldn’t be all that good at war itself, but they would be hard to occupy for other reasons. The people wouldn’t easily take orders, and the structure of the society wouldn’t lend itself to a simple leadership takeover. It would tie up the conquerors until they could re-engineer society.

        I might be wrong or right about that. But even if I am wrong, authoritarian leftism on the one hand and libertarianism in democracies on the other still poses problems for the thrive/survive theory.

        One could attempt to salvage the theory by claiming that leftism is better suited for a thrive society, and so that trying to implement it in a survival situation leads to failure down the road (and vice versa for rightism and a thrive society). The corollary then being that Fabian socialism is what survived, because it was aligned with a Thrive society to begin with, whereas the USSR was fundamentally incompatible with itself and so destroyed itself. But the taste of fitting the facts to the theory lingers just a little too strongly with that explanation. One adjusts the theory to take into account more counterexamples, but by doing so, one runs the risk of overfitting. It would also predict that the USSR would have run into problems in its authoritarian stages rather than in glasnost.

        • oligopsony says:

          Guerrilla warfare is most successfully prosecuted by disciplined, solidary organizations. These may or may not be decentralized for tactical reasons but they can’t be anti-authoritarian in the sense of being individualistic or unwilling to throw a burning tire around your neck when you step out of line.

        • Damien says:

          Yeah. Athens was successful, then failed, but still resisted oligarchic imposition, until conquered by the Macedonians and then Romans, who after all both conquered pretty much everyone around. The Paris commune got ‘conquered’ by the rest of France. The Spanish Revolution faced an enemy backed by Nazi Germany.

          Conversely, the US is more authoritarian than those societies, but less so than most of its significant enemies, and has done rather well. Granted there’s other factors, like already being big and isolated, but still. Sufficient levels of thriving mean being a good survivor, too. The problem is getting through the hostile bottleneck.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Re: Ukraine – yes, I know of the ethnic clashes (along class lines) in the Free Territory, but I get the impression they weren’t half as bad as White or Red rule in Ukraine at the time. And Makhno’s people did try to stop the outright pogroms. (If you bring up the anti-Catholic activities of Spanish anarchists… well, here I’m just tempted to shrug and say that many of the victims had it coming. Sorry, but classes that for centuries work to oppose meaningful justice in a society tend to invite indiscriminate vengeance.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You could try to salvage the theory against this evidence by positing that thrive/survive is applies much more strongly to philosophers than to political actors.

      (Me, I reject left and right as useful concepts.)

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  10. Ialdabaoth says:

    It would seem, then, that the best thing that could happen to the Rightist movement would be some kind of social collapse that forces people to return to survival mode. While this goes against one of the main goals of the Rightist system (social order and hierarchy are primary values), I wonder if it might set up a perverse incentive for Right-thinking people living in Progressive cultures with a lot of excess wealth lying around?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think you underestimate the damage that the leftist signalling games can cause. You paint them as a harmless diversion, but reactionary thought offers two contrary points of view.

    1) Cultures shifts ever leftwards because the rightmost elements of a society are constantly purged. Leftist not only compete to show the most leftism, but also censor, harass, fire, imprison, and/or execute those who show insufficient leftism. Under this interpretation, leftism is a Holier-Than-Thou signaling spiral, which inevitably leads to bad things for those who fail to keep up.


    2) The lower classes are kept alive on welfare which provides them with more money than they could earn in the free market, and the institution of marriage is utterly destroyed in favor of the hookup culture you cheerfully describe. The end result is that none of them has any incentive to engage in constructive, positive signaling. No more decorating their houses, washing their clothes, grooming, being on time, educating themselves, etc… what’s the point? They don’t have a career to keep by being professional. They don’t have women to attract as a marriage prospect. They don’t have children who will one day lack a father’s land or money which is squandered today. The state keeps the men alive, it keeps the women alive, and it will keep their children alive, at the same state of living, regardless of what they do.

    Instead, the only way they can differentiate themselves is by negative, destructive, thuggish signalling. Joining gangs, destroying property, using drugs, raping, etc… That way they can gain status among their group of similarly thuggish friends, and they can be sexy alpha dark triad boyfriends to lots of women, whom they get pregnant with babies the state will take care of.


    • Multiheaded says:

      You forgot the swarthy races overtaking the planet, the complete destruction of all art and creativity nowdays, and the violent purges of the noble, productive capitalist elite that are currently underway in all Western countries. Bring a fucking checklist next time, you wanker.

    • ozymandias42 says:

      …you know, I can’t imagine a single possible reason why, as a person who has been institutionalized for mental illness, I would want to harass a person who off-handedly mentions in his blog posts that he thinks insane people should be murdered. Damn. Must be that I’m an evil leftist who can’t tolerate dissent.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Eh, don’t bother. Neither me nor you are even really human to him. Unless they somehow attain a shred empathy for “deviants” first, they aren’t going to consider us as (potentially) rational beings participating in public choice, either.

    • Jeff says:

      Find us a crewcut. OK, now find us a hippie.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I do not understand this comment.

        (I wrote the grandparent, so I’m curious).

        • Anonymous says:

          I think Jeff means that people with crewcuts are much more common than full-fledged hippies today, therefore the world has moved right from the 60s. I think this is a pretty stupid comment, both considering fairly superficial characteristics and trying to compare a hairstyle to a lifestyle.

          But it is certainly true that most people consider the world to have rebounded right from the extremes of left reached by the hippies. You should at least explicitly acknowledge this and explain it away, either taking the obvious position that there is a lot of right-wards noise against a left-wards trend, or, if you really mean what you said, explain in what sense the 80s are left of the 70s.

  12. jooyous says:

    I don’t know if anyone said this already, but I think the rich tend to be rightist and the poor tend to be leftist because being poor doesn’t FEEL like an attack or a zombie horde. Being poor feels like having scarce resources and uncertainty, which means you’re more likely to form a community and pool your resources together and try to help each other out whenever one of you is on tough times. Meanwhile, when you’re rich, it FEELS like EVERYONE wants some of your money. Everyone turns into a zombie that’s trying to attack you and take something that’s yours that you worked hard for. The government in particular starts trying to take your stuff and give it to some other people! So that feeling of hostility from people makes you feel threatened and revert to rightist policy while forgetting that your SURVIVAL isn’t actually threatened because you have loads of food for every meal.

    I think the solution to this is to make effective charities high-status? That way, rich people will be buying the same status that they’d be getting by patronizing the arts. Maybe paying high taxes should be considered tasteful and virtuous.

    • MugaSofer says:

      >Being poor feels like having scarce resources and uncertainty, which means you’re more likely to form a community and pool your resources together and try to help each other out whenever one of you is on tough times

      That does’t fit with Scott’s idea that liberalism flows from abundant resources, though, does it? Maybe – gasp! – there’s MORE to politics than liberal vs. conservative!

      • jooyous says:

        I found a thing! It sort of fits with this analysis. I think the point isn’t that liberalism flows from abundant resources, but the lack of threat that those resources will be taken away by some Other and then you and your family will be murdered. So it’s more of like a war/invasion type of situation? Meanwhile, peaceful poverty feels more like a state of peaceful, limited-but-not-poverty-level resources.

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  14. Steve Sailer says:


    I’d also point to the question of loyalties: conservative’s loyalties tend to be concentric, while liberals’ tend to leapfrog over people almost like them to exotics:


  15. Steve Sailer says:

    Good dichotomy.

    In general, liberalism tends to expensive (just as the old meaning of the word “liberal” implies), while conservatism tends to be cheap.

    For example, largely eliminating smog in Los Angeles County over the last 50 years has cost so much money nationally (especially in terms of worse gas mileage) that I’ve never seen an estimate, but it’s likely closer to a trillion than a billion dollars. But, it worked.

    The paradox is that to pay for liberalism, you need a highly productive population.

  16. Two problems with your theory:

    One, you’re confusing elementary aspects of human psychology and group fitness (the “signal/survive” dichotomy) with the specific dogma of clades that exist within the US (things like lefties liking gun control and Priuses). They’re two different things.

    The litmus test your theory fails is this:

    If leftist society is optimized for abundance, as you say, given that American circa 1950 is shockingly close to the utopia you describe (it wasn’t perfect, but crime was low and prosperity was high, and we still had Detroit), and given that American society has gotten far more leftist since 1950 (just talk to your grandparents about politics sometime), shouldn’t American society have exploded with success since then? Reality is that, uh, no, it hasn’t.

    Moldbug is essentially right in this: Leftism is the child of democracy, a non-functional system of governance. Any government with democratic elements introduces leftism into the sphere of policy. Democracy, being made essentially of theft and thuggery, begets policy, leftism, which encourages theft and thuggery. This leads to an inexorable wasting of the human resources of a nation.

    • Damien says:

      Wrong on pretty much all points:

      * Exploding in abundance: the US is wealthier per capita and has longer lifespans than it was/did in the 1950s.
      * The 1950s weren’t that great for non-(straight white men).
      * “American society has gotten far more leftist since 1950”: only in some ways, specifically social freedoms like becoming less oppressive to non-(straight white men). On economic issues the US has gone far to the right: cutting taxes, cutting social programs, breaking unions, casting Keynesianism in doubt, accepting an unemployment level well above that which moved Nixon to crisis mode (and Keynesian solutions, or at least rhetoric.)
      * Reported crime was low, though the denial of civil liberties to blacks was a huge crime of its own that doesn’t make the statistics, but the rise in crime seems attributable to spewing a neurotoxin into the urban air. (tetraethyl lead).
      * “democracy, a non-functional system of governance.” Funny how all the most functional societies are democratic, apart from a few small oil states.

      I almost think Scott doesn’t need to refute the reactionaries, he needs to just let them keep digging.

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  18. Dan says:

    Growing ‘diversity’, being economically unhelpful, is a force for conservatism in a way.

    The post makes a lot of sense when you look at the present liberalism of prosperous places such as New England and Minnesota and Sweden versus the anti-PC nature of the less-prosperous American South, Russia and so forth.

    Gritty US urban areas are very segregationist, crime-ridden, tough on crime and much else. Residents of urban areas are hard-nosed and thick skinned, even though they have a D next to their name.

  19. Medivh says:

    Two empirical counterexamples to the trive -survive – theory:

    1) The inuit: They are hunter- gatherers, yet live under harsh conditions, it is not unsual for people to die from starvation. And indeed, they have rules like: live is hard, and if there isn’t sufficient food for all, the crippled guy who cannot hunt anymore has to go first.
    BUT: apart from that, they are as liberal as other hunter- gatherers, for example concerning sexuality or the non- autoritarian realtionships between adults and children.

    2) Medieval cities: The majority of the city population was about as poor as the country population, yet the cities were notorious for their liberal sexuality.

  20. Sniffnoy says:

    What, all this and no mention of Lakoff? 😛

  21. Erich Schwarz says:

    “…the Marxian observation that “crony capitalism” is THE normal functioning of capitalism…”

    You mean, the Adam Smithian observation?

    “The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.”

  22. Erich Schwarz says:

    The problem with assuming that leftism is inevitable because of economics and technology should be rather obvious to anybody who’s observed the Left’s attitude towards economic and technological growth in the last 40 years. Namely, they’re against it. To the degree that leftism becomes more powerful in the U.S., we can expect a flattening out of the economic and technological growth that has enabled leftism. (But, really, who am I kidding? It *is* more powerful, and we *are* seeing a flattening out of economic growth, which if it continues will probably also strangle technological growth as well.)

    Megan McArdle would probably be unhappy to see herself cited in this context, but her recent post on the “new normal” is spot-on here:


    Marxists used to like to talk about the “inherent contradictions of capitalism”. In 2013 America, we’re starting to see the inherent contradictions of progressivism. And they will get much uglier, probably quite soon.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Obvious counterpoints: Europe (especially Scandinavia or Germany) and Japan. Yes, the Japanese system is not quite your typical liberal democracy, but political consensus both there and in Europe seems way to the “left” of America on any number of axes. And it’s probably up to Scott or Gwern to provide us with stats on research, but plenty seems to be done here.

      Also, consider the end of the Cold War and the arms race as a technological factor. The US military-industrial complex had incentives to push a lot of such innovation back when it had a real enemy. DARPA, etc.

      • Erich Schwarz says:

        “consider the end of the Cold War and the arms race as a technological factor”

        I couldn’t have put it better myself. Yes, we cared more about research, space exploration, etc. when the entire U.S. was motivated by something like a real-world “zombie apocalypse”, than we do now, when we have the luxury (real or imagined) of electing a community organizer to focus on spreading the wealth around. I.e.: we in the U.S. were stronger on research when we were more right-wing!

        As I said: there is an internal contradiction between leftism and the technological progress which enables leftism.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Wait, so you would say that American internal policy from the New Deal to the 60s (growth of regulation and centralization, high taxes, heavy infrastructural investment, welfare-statism, civil rights legislation) was somehow to the right of Reagan or Bush? Or that there wasn’t massive innovation under the New Deal state? Or even that the Soviet Union, which started the space race and strove to keep parity with the US, at least in military technology, until its collapse… was somehow not an example of (authoritarian) leftism? Your model is incoherent.

    • Multiheaded says:

      “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.

      DARPA began as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created in 1958 by president Dwight D. Eisenhower for the purpose of forming and executing research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science and able to reach far beyond immediate military requirements.[3] The administration was responding to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957, and ARPA’s mission was to ensure U.S. military technology be more sophisticated than that of the nation’s potential enemies.”

    • Intrism says:

      the Left’s attitude towards economic and technological growth in the last 40 years. Namely, they’re against it.

      Excuse me? Turn off the Moldbug and go look at what’s actually happening in the real world. You’ll find that this isn’t true at all.

      • Erich Schwarz says:

        I work in genomics. If the Left had had their way in the 1970s, my current career wouldn’t exist:


        Nor would HIV protease inhibitors, which absolutely required recombinant DNA to come into existence. Which means that AIDS would still be a death sentence.

        Also, quite possibly, we wouldn’t have gotten ELISA or the Western Blot, which means we’d have had no way to screen the blood supply for HIV, which means that by 2013 we’d be seeing much more widespread HIV infection in the U.S. than we currently have.

        The reason you can tell yourself that the Left isn’t anti-innovation is that, mercifully, they’ve so far only had partial success in blocking it. But to be aware of its bias, one hardly needs to read Moldbug’s lengthy Web posts. You just have to have spent your life working in a field that they tried to ban (and then, conveniently, decided to forget having done so when that started being an embarrassment).

        As for economic growth: note which political side favors energy sources which have some snowball-in-hell chance of scaling up to allow affluence for 350 million U.S. citizens, and which side doesn’t. If we really do go the windmills route (unlikely, but you never know) we’ll all be a lot poorer. As it is, our current policies seem designed to keep energy supplies in the U.S. scarce and expensive, which isn’t exactly helping bring about Recovery Summer.

        • Intrism says:

          Ooh, wow, you’ve found an out-of-print book from 1983 that might support your point if only I could actually read it, describing some kind of left-wing conspiracy which is evidently too secret to find sources for on the Internet. Meanwhile, the Right is still banning medical research and firebombing clinics.

          I’ve no idea why you don’t think nuclear or natural gas is scalable. Studies say that solar and wind will also scale well with the benefit of a few decades more of R&D, and China’s present push for renewable energy suggests that they agree.

    • Damien says:

      Except it’s the right wing that’s cutting education funding, is increasingly anti-science, and is very hostile to new infrastructure. Given that modern factors of growth are rule of law, new science and technology, educated human capital, and infrastructure, that puts them in the anti-growth camp practically, no matter what pro-growth rhetoric they use to justify cutting taxes again. The Great Slowdown correlates with an economic shift to the right. Correlation isn’t causation[1] but it makes it hard to plausibly blame progressives.

      [1] Another explanation would be that growth is Hard and we picked most of the low-hanging fruit of new technologies and human development. S-shaped curves.

      • Dan says:

        Baloney. It is the left is that is anti-science on more things:

        Anti human biology

        Anti genetic differences as it applies to the sexes, the races, etc. Basically denial of biology as it is relevant to people

        Anti evolutionary science as applied to ourselves

        Anti empirical results that go against the Narrative

        Anti nuclear power

        Anti biotechnology in food

        Anti immunizations


        And the left actually controls the levers of power enough to implement anti science. Massive anti science education and social engineering.

        Leftist politicians from coast to coast blather as if transgender is not only real, but the most normal thing in the world. Sorry bub. DNA is real. Meosis is real. Work on changing that and then lets talk.

        • Intrism says:

          The left supports nuclear power (first new plants in years happening under Obama) and immunizations (in fact, they’re even willing to pay for ’em!). These are the only even remotely reality-based objections on your list. Everything else falls into one of three categories: 1. things that the left doesn’t do, but the right does, 2. things that haven’t been shown empirically, and 3. things that have been shown false empirically. All-in-all, this comment gets the “mind-killed” stamp.

        • Andrew G. says:

          Anti-vaccination beliefs are more common on the right than the left (e.g. this poll).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “The problem with assuming that leftism is inevitable because of economics and technology should be rather obvious to anybody who’s observed the Left’s attitude towards economic and technological growth in the last 40 years. Namely, they’re against it.”

      That seems to broadly support the theory, though. One only has the luxury to be against economic/technological growth if one is relatively comfortable already. If you’re on the verge of starvation, being against economic growth seems stupid.

      If you mean that continued progress towards leftism isn’t inevitable because maybe all this against-economic-growth-ness causes the economy to collapse, then yes, I agree with that. I’m just saying that while the economy/technology are growing, this progress is inevitable-ish.

    • asdf says:

      Japan is the most reactionary large country in the world today. It is massively to the right of America.

      In Japan they believe in a such thing as the Japanese people & culture and that the interests of the state are to help its people and culture thrive. This is the total opposite of progressivism, which holds that we are all autonomous individuals whose goal is to self actualize and the states goal is to aid in our self actualization.

      The only more reactionary country today is Singapore, but that is a tiny city state. Many of the other Asian countries are definately to the reactionary side compared to the west.

  23. Paul Crowley says:

    I don’t know if this is a prediction of your theory, but it’s not my picture that leftists are optimistic about the future. It seems to me that the default way that people talk about politics, from any side, is that things are getting constantly worse and the forces of the Other Side are getting ever stronger. Obviously there are exceptions!

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  25. asdf says:

    Didn’t your previous post show that liberalism isn’t even good at helping people live in the society we live in today.

    Anyway, this is a well known phenomenon. The phrase is, “civilization walks down the stairs in silk slippers and walks up the stairs in wooden sandals.”

    Barbarians come down from the mountains and conquer the decadent civilization. Then those barbarians start to get a little soft from living inside civilization. For awhile this is offset by access to all of the advantages of civilization (supplies, weapons, organization, etc), but eventually they get too soft and a new group of barbarians comes and beats them. Wash, rinse, repeat.

  26. Leonard says:

    You have not grasped Moldbug’s theory very completely. Yes, both of the glosses you make are part of it. But there is more.

    To Moldbug, the cause of leftism is democracy. In democracy, certain beliefs “work” — work in the sense of being able to seed and/or keep together coalitions which can capture and/or wield power. Any such belief which is new, which has not won yet, is left. That is all there is to it. It is natural selection applies to memeplexes. If the environment is democracy, you get Cthulhu.

    There are things that Moldbug’s theory predicts that yours does not. For example, that the contents of what the left memeplex change, and indeed can contradict each other at sufficient distance in time. For example, eugenics was originally progressive.

    Just based on optimizing for increasing wealth, you might expect that an idea would either never be in leftism, or that some ideas would not be in leftism at one point, and then enter (or the reverse). But you would not predict that an idea could transition in/out of leftism more than once.

    Another example: the 19th century left was what we would call libertarian. It propounded, among other things, free markets and the abolition of monopolies and other aristocratic privilege. It was a great ideology for attacking the right of its time. But once privilege had been abolished, there was no competitive advantage to being free-market any more. The right was forced to adapt free-market ideology to compete. The left moved on.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “In democracy, certain beliefs “work” — work in the sense of being able to seed and/or keep together coalitions which can capture and/or wield power. Any such belief which is new, which has not won yet, is left. That is all there is to it. It is natural selection applies to memeplexes. If the environment is democracy, you get Cthulhu.”

      I’m confused by this. In the 90s, the evangelical Christians got together, formed the Moral Majority and things like that, and formed a successful coalition that helped propel Newt Gingrich’s Republicans to spectacular legislative victory. Since then the House of Representatives has stayed Republican and shows every sign of continuing to do so – their legislative victory seems to have been long-term. Does that mean evangelical Christianity was leftist in the 90s? Was Gingrich leftist?

      • komponisto says:

        In the 90s, the evangelical Christians got together, formed the Moral Majority and things like that, and formed a successful coalition that helped propel Newt Gingrich’s Republicans to spectacular legislative victory. Since then the House of Representatives has stayed Republican and shows every sign of continuing to do so – their legislative victory seems to have been long-term

        Looks different to me: in 1994, Republicans rode a wave of voter anger; but this had basically dissipated by 1996; they held onto power by inertia until 2006, when Iraq finally finished them off. (By contrast, the Democrats had held the House for half a century!) They then rode another, smaller wave of public anger in 2010, but that was clearly over by 2012; inertia may keep them going for another election or two, but probably not much more than that, unless something unexpected happens (which it probably will, so never mind).

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Even so, it seems complicated to define leftism as “the beliefs that win elections” when leftism doesn’t really have that strong a history of winning elections. Even if the Republicans get kicked out next election, that seems like a contingent fact about the world; if they stayed in we wouldn’t suddenly redefine them as liberals.

          • mrmandias says:

            I’m not Moldbuggy, but I think what he’s saying is that there are two different kinds of memeplexes that can win elections, sustain coalitions, etc, in democracies. The first kind says ‘we’re sick of all this change, we need to take care of real problems,’ and the second is ‘there are injustices that we can and should fix!’

      • Leonard says:

        Forming a political action group was not a new thing. The Moral Majority was nothing new. Just a slightly better organization of the losers than before. It did not change the game at all.

        What do I mean by a game changer? Consider “we should build a city on a hill”. Christian in origin, like most of progressivism. Obviously, that we ought to use the government to build a glorious future, if people believe it, is a great way of getting people to sacrifice now for your political organization. Other things equal, a party of people who believe it will out-compete a party of people that don’t believe.

        By now, of course, both Democrats and Republicans routinely use this idea. So it’s no differentiator. But I think if you could resurrect George Washington he’d be appalled by it. Government, to him, is a dangerous thing, something to be kept small as possible and carefully watched. But small government, as an idea, has no resonance whatsoever with democracy. Every person on the payroll is another pro-government voter.

        What about an example of a belief which would “work”, but it not currently accepted?

        Consider this idea: “no person is illegal”. If no person is legal, all are legal. And all should be given a “path” to citizenship, although frankly that sounds like “voting delayed is justice denied” to me. Really, everyone who can step onto US soil should immediately be allowed to vote in our elections. Although really, we also know that arbitrary lines written on some old map by some old evil dead white slaveowner ought to hold absolutely no meaning for the vibrant living. So we ought to open the US franchise to anyone who wants it, anywhere in the world.

        When this happens, after a few years, you’ll see a Republican party that fully endorses it. People who believe in national borders will be considered old-fashioned bigots, and shunned as necessary. Occasionally one will be purged from National Review.

        Don’t confuse yourself by equating Republicans with the reaction. Republicans are the (very very moderate) right at any given point in time. But they are always moving left, chasing Cthulhu. The long-term legislative victory of Republicans (such as it is — there is a President and a Senate also involved in legislation) is as a party. Not as a set of ideas. You may note that Gingrich et al lost in the 90s against Bill Clinton, and they have lost ever since on most issues of importance. Women in the military. Gays in the military. Gay marriage. Abolishing any entitlements. The size of the Federal government. The only substantial victory I can recall offhand for them was the 1996 welfare reform — and of course that one they got Clinton to sign.

        • Multiheaded says:

          “…they have lost ever since on most issues of importance. Women in the military. Gays in the military. Gay marriage.”

          Wait wait wait, what the hell is your definition of “importance” here? Issues like these obviously have local, object-level impact on the well-being of specific humans – and, as many would argue, moral importance; they also have a specific place in the tug-of-war between coalitions, and so when one side abandons the struggle, other stuff can take the spotlight – but how is gay marriage or women in the military structurally important to economic structure, social organization, etc?

  27. WhoWhom says:

    “in particular I despair of any theory that will tell me why school choice is a rightist rather than a leftist issue”

    The education apparatus is the primary recruitment arm of the Left. Schools not only teach children, but they also employ teachers. A world where education is more like a free market and less like a top-down governmental institution would be bad for the Left.

  28. mrmandias says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post.

    Your basic model for rightism is pretty compelling. In times of threat, people do draw in their horns in exactly the way you describe. The weakest part is the bit about wealth-gathering, which seems like a shoehorned attempt to fit in the free-market ideology of conservatives. A better explanation would be that in times of the experience of crisis, people are more resistant to innovation. So if one’s society and institutions have been organized around free-market capitalism for awhile, free-market capitalism becomes the tradition that the rightward orientation defends. But this means that at any given time, the contents of ‘rightism’ could vary widely and even be contradictory based on the the traditions of that time. It also means that at any given time, you may have members of the rightward grouping who are there for left reasons, and members of the leftward groupings who are there for right reasons (I am a conservative because I want the poor to stop being dominated by stodgy, dodgy bureacrats who think they’re better than everyone else. The poor can flourish if we can just put some free-market innovations in place! I’m a liberal because I’m sick of rich people who probably have their money invested overseas among foreigners anyway attacking our long-standing common institutions like Social Security and Medicare.).

    But once you go that far, the usefulness of this approach is gone.

    • Multiheaded says:

      >I am a conservative because I want the poor to stop being dominated by stodgy, dodgy bureacrats who think they’re better than everyone else. The poor can flourish if we can just put some free-market innovations in place!

      Semantic nitpick: I rather agree with you in substance, but once you also concede the Marxian observation that “crony capitalism” is THE normal functioning of capitalism – that capitalists have every incentive to form monopolies/oligarchies and either support a powerful state to extend regulatory capture (like in modern Russia, China or America), or, worse, create quasi-statist structures that engage in loot-and-run, regressing from “sedentary banditry” (like many Western TNCs robbing the Third World after the collapse of imperialist rule)…
      …you probably end up at left-libertarianism/”free-market socialism”. Which is only moderately conservative in the technical sense, and is utterly dissimilar to modern rightist “Conservatism.” I’d insist on such attention to terminology, as the simplistic American “liberal”/”conservative” labelling is unhelpful even for America.

  29. Oligopsony says:

    Also, re: “let’s call whatever way Cthulhu swims ‘left,'” the obvious steelman of this is that leftness is sticky. Thus communism relative to capitalism and regulated as opposed to unregulated capitalism remain “left” even when a Burkean would have reason to complain about their being replaced by “right” alternatives. I still don’t think this sort of null hypothesis is particularly compelling, but it’s not as obviously wrong as might appear on first glance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be steelmanned into something much stronger.

  30. Oligopsony says:

    Since the empirical question of how much people like feminist relationships has come up, and is this due to false consciousness or whatever, here is some research suggesting that the empirics themselves are at the least mixed.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Thanks. I actually vaguely recall hearing that before, but as people tell me, I have a habit of conceding even dubious assertions in a political debate when I want to attack the opponent’s premises more fundamentally.

      So here – if the data is at least suggestive of more women reporting satisfaction in a less economically privileged position – I’d guess that “false consciousness” is A Thing, and that from a game theoretical/ev-psych view we could expect it to influence the psychology of women under a patriarchal socioeconomic structure – even without outward threats of force or brainwashing that we usually associate with “Stockholm syndrome”.

      See this article by Satoshi Kanazawa, reviewing a book on related problems in decision theory. He agrees that, game-theoretically, the fact of resource inequality alone, without any “extra” acts of aggression/subjugation against women, could well account for the gender roles arising in early civilization – although indoctrination and subjugation had to feature in conserving that inequality, once the balance of resources became more favourable to women.

      As far as I see, this is very similar to how Engels explained the Marxian-feminist view of family and marriage a century before. The socioeconomic/game-theoretical basis of inequality comes first, then it is rationalized, hallowed and solidified by the social superstructure. I was really stricken by the similarity of implications as I was reading Kanazawa’s article. (Here’s a detailed review of how Engels’ assertions, made before Darwin, have held up over a century.)

      And if the empirical data in fact shows equal or greater reported happiness after feminism… then I’d guess that either false consciousness can’t be a strong influence here, or that the effects of its loss are simply cancelled out by other factors improving women’s satisfaction.

      • Oligopsony says:

        To the extent that “false consciousness” here is a thing, I suspect it may be a function of low expectations. Hedonic treadmills seem to operate, more or less, by ratcheting up our normative ideas of what should satisfy us. If a political movement’s reach exceeds its grasp, changing people’s visions of what their life should be like more radically than it changes the lives themselves, then it may make people better of in a preference satisfaction or Aristotelian or autonomy sense and yet experientially unhappier – “how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm when they’ve seen ole Paree?” This seems to be consistent with observation, if it is a true observation, that feminist relationships are more satisfying but feminist cultures are less satisfying.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Well, yeah, sure, that too. That’s how I imagine expectations work too. (And I do value goodness in the Aristotlean sense.) However, the first Western women (and men) openly discontent with traditional gender roles had to come from *somewhere*, back before there was a widely visible alternative in society, before there *was* Actually Existing Feminism that could be pointed to as a functioning example.

          I think that, say, the British and American women’s movements in the 19th century wouldn’t have taken off solely based on generic social dynamics around high-status feminists (like Wollstonecraft or Austen) – as reactionists seem to imply. Even privileged and “sophistication”-seeking women wouldn’t have given much notice to feminist messages (e.g. in Austen’s works), if they couldn’t relate such messages to some experiences or emotions that were already a thing in their lives.

          Related thoughts: satisfaction/aspiration/discontent is not a one-place function, and in most cases it probably has lots of hidden levels. I suppose that our daily thinking, with all its elitist or egalitarian signaling, wrongly conflates uniqueness and complexity when arguing about how much “individuality” or “personality” common people have. Individual “average” people might not vary as much as extraordinary folks, but their psychology might still be complicated and multi-layered – so sweeping judgments about them from on high tend to fail, not because each one is an unique snowflake, but because arrogant elitists can’t discern the complexities and dialectics of this “common” individuality.
          (Oh lol, I just realized I’m echoing Chesterton again.)

          • Oligopsony says:

            1) Yeah, I definitely don’t want to come off as so idealist that I’m proposing things like feminism just come from nowhere. The needs to which feminism speaks were already there, but the possibility of their fulfillment (and not just for reasons of who has political power) is novel (unlike elite female intellectuals who were personally dissatisfied with the ancien gender regime!) And of course there are other felt needs which cut against these, whose relative salience can be a function of objective as well as political and individual/psychological factors.

            2) Agreed, and I would actually go so far to say that if anyone has more complexity than others it’s the most ordinary people, who don’t go all gung-ho on a few aspects.

      • Mary says:

        If the data is at least suggestive of more women reporting satisfaction in a less economically privileged position, Ockham’s Razor says that money isn’t as important as you think, and the positions are otherwise different in ways relevant to happiness.

        Ockham’s Razor also says that since there are a lot fewer people promulgating the “false consciousness” stuff than the people they claim to be suffering form it, it is more likely that the first bunch is deluding themselves, even without outward threats of force or brainwashing that we usually associate with “Stockholm syndrome”, than that the second one is.

        Especially since the alternative to saying that all those women are deluded would entail their admitting they were wrong about something in which they have obviously invested a lot of time and energy and often built their lives about. There’s a good motive to delude yourself.

        • Randy M says:

          Isn’t a bit, hmm, how to put it? paternalistic to suggest that you know better than women what would make them happy? Indeed, better than them if they are even happy at all?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          @Randy M:

          Considering how awful people are at introspection and how ridiculously good they are at rationalization… no, it really isn’t.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I’d like to rephrase my earlier comment. Yes, it is paternalistic. No, that doesn’t somehow make it untrue.

    • Mary says:

      People think romance and feminism are not compatible.

      Non-traditional women are not as happy as traditional one.

      That you could not find anything more relevant to the topic shows how weak the claims of false consciousness are.

  31. Matty G says:

    Wrt “1) Why do both ideologies combine seemingly unrelated political ideas? For example, why do people who want laissez-faire free trade empirically also prefer a strong military and oppose gay marriage? Why do people who want to help the environment also support feminism and dislike school vouchers?”


    Check out “A Conflict of Visions” http://www.amazon.com/Conflict-Visions-Ideological-Political-Struggles/dp/0465002056 He’s obviously a conservative, but he’s lucid and fresh, and is generally *fairly* charitable. Really deep analysis of the structure of political beliefs without being heavy-handed or jargony.

  32. Andrew G. says:

    On the foreign policy thing, it’s likely that more than one factor is involved. Consider Altemeyer’s example (in The Authoritarians) of running the Global Change Game with groups of high-RWA players – one group with social dominators excluded, the other with them included.

    The first group operated in an almost completely isolationist manner – no international cooperation at all, even in the face of global threats, but also no wars at all (despite the maintenance of military forces); the huge death toll was all down to starvation and disease.

    The second group’s behaviour was completely different, with every region trying to trade and negotiate with every other to get maximum advantage by whatever means – including military threats – but with no attempt to cooperate against global threats, and bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war (averted only by the end of the game). The death toll was still huge, also due to starvation and disease, though not as large as the first group – but the impending war could have changed that.

    (By comparison, a previous experiment in running the game with low-RWA players had resulted in widespread demilitarization, cooperative rather than coercive approaches to trade, coordinated action in the face of global threats, and so on.)

  33. Mary says:

    I observed that one psychological test tested how conservative people were, in two groups, the control, and a group that was told to medidiate on something related to death — IIRC, to write a brief account of medidiating how their hand would one day be the hand of skeleton.

    The meditiating group turned much more conservative.

    I suppose I should refrain from observing that, in fact, everyone’s hand will one day be the hand of a skeleton. . . . 0:)

    • Intrism says:

      in fact, everyone’s hand will one day be the hand of a skeleton

      Clearly, you’ve spent insufficient time around LessWrongers. Ignoring that, though, usually references to mortality go the other way politically – “you can’t take it with you,” et cetera. I’d be interested in seeing results of similar psychological tests with the meditations on mortality loaded in different ways.

      • Mary says:

        The other way? Not in my experience. Leftists are perfectly happy to declare that you have enough, and they are entitled to everything else you own while you are still living.

        Indeed, I have never heard a leftist cite you can’t take with you.

  34. I like the thrive/survive contrast. It brings out a lot of issues. I may need to revisit my take on a three-axis model to incorporate it. A single-axis model still hides a lot. Each side has disagreements. They’re just being forced into two coalitions by the ‘first past the post’ electoral system we use in the USA. Ideological liberals can be tempted by school choice. Some hipsters are even homeschooling. But teachers’ unions (correctly) see it as a direct threat to their jobs, so the other unions side with them and they bring the rest of the left coalition along in horsetrading.

    You may want to split your view of the rich and poor a little finer. Working poor, small farmers and folks putting in sixty hours to get by, typically vote right. It’s the welfare poor who vote left to keep their checks coming. Likewise the rich small business owners vote right. It’s the rich who got that way by inheritance or winning the talent lottery (actors, rock stars) who vote left.

    • asdf says:

      One thing that is a constant worry amongst reactionaries is that the virtuous members of the middle class and working class, especially whites, are getting fucked by the progressive system. Progressives are basically a high/low coalition. The very wealthy elites at the top end, and the lumpenprole welfare dependends on the bottom end.

      You’ll note that what keeps these groups togethor is that they don’t face the consequences of their actions. Either because they can buy their way out of them (the elite) or they can get the government to buy them out of it (the welfare). The working man has to earn his keep, and his limited amount of capital is not something he can squander with bad decisions because its all he has and he worked hard for it.

  35. Douglas Knight says:

    I wish you’d give examples. Forget antiquity, that’s too far away. But Britain has parties stretching back three or four hundred years. How do the Whig-Tory conflicts of 1630, 1730, 1830, and 1930 compare? (I chose xx30 because the Whigs were eclipsed in 1930 and almost existed in 1630)

    A variant of “because we retroactively define leftism as the direction that society went” is that progressives are the people who think reason can produce good big changes in government. Communists are an extreme version of this. This does not necessarily predict that government will swim left, but only that if you only look for big changes, it will tend left, with occasional reversals of particular changes. It does not explain why there should be progressive parties. Why should people who think they can redesign different parts of government join forces? Because they both believe in argument?

    If there’s one thing you should have learned from Moldbug, it’s that the progressives used to be religious.

    • Intrism says:

      If there’s one thing you should have learned from Moldbug, it’s that the progressives used to be religious.

      Not quite – a lot of the early-1900s religious progressive issues (eg. prohibition) have migrated to the other side of the aisle since then. Though the movements share a name, they’re not all that alike.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Moldbug means “progressive” in a much broader sense than that, ranging from early Protestants to slaveholders establishing settler republics to Victorian imperialists to communists to technocratic liberals to hippies to Osama bin Laden.

        (As a general rule, Moldbug uses terms to mean things that are, let’s say, nonobvious.)

        • Intrism says:

          Is there some sort of sensible logic underlying this, or is he just defining progressive to mean any movement that he doesn’t like? Certainly from that list it looks like the latter…

          • Oligopsony says:

            I confess that I have not read enough of the man to tell you whether there is, and that I cannot really steelman up a plausible one, and that my prior – based on experience with terms like “statist” et al. – is that if a term does not actually group together people who group themselves together it probably just means “people I don’t like.” But hopefully if there is a deep logic linking these together one of our resident reactionaries or reactionary-whisperers can fill in the details.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I used “progressive” and I tried to explain that what I meant was someone who believes in progress, and the ability of reason to bring it about. You could say the Enlightenment, but that’s usually dated later. Maybe reason got added later, but I think that at least the New Model Army was the result of reason.

            I think that is also what Moldbug means. He endorses Whig history and moreover sees it as the result of a intellectual line of descent from the non-conformists. Maybe he throws in people he hates, too, but the main point is pretty good.

            When I said “progressives used to be religious,” I don’t mean 1900, but the Puritans building a City on a Hill, the Commonwealth of England, the Abolitionists… But, yes, Prohibition fits. The parties have no exactly reversed in the past century. People usually emphasize white southerners switching parties, but Moldbug’s claim is that the progressives now are the intellectual descendents of the progressives then.

          • Intrism says:

            Kindly explain the assertion that religion values either reason or progress. It certainly appears that the opposite is true.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is not all religions that value progress and reason, but the Non-Conformists who tried to bring about a better world and talked about what changes they wanted. This is not so far from Weber, who attributes to Calvinism the idea that improvement of the individual’s lot is possible and even virtuous. I don’t know how far he takes it, but he invokes Franklin, who certainly worked to improve society. Tracing the Anglophone Enlightenment to Puritans is pretty easy.

            The clearest example is Abolition, 200 years of religion, reason, and social progress.

          • Intrism says:

            It is not all religions that value progress and reason

            It’s not enough to point to one or two religions that justify your point. Scientology venerates the Douglas DC-8, yet you could hardly call the jet aircrafts themselves “religious.” Similarly, although you might find that certain religions promoted reason or progress, you’ll need to find a pattern to justify calling the values themselves “religious.”

            The clearest example is Abolition, 200 years of religion, reason, and social progress.

            Looking it up, it seems like American abolitionists were sometimes religious and sometimes not. Opposition to abolition, though was extremely religious. Perhaps that example isn’t making the point you think it’s making…

          • Oligopsony says:

            Looking it up, it seems like American abolitionists were sometimes religious and sometimes not. Opposition to abolition, though was extremely religious. Perhaps that example isn’t making the point you think it’s making…

            What sources are you looking at? This is my academic area, and in the English-speaking world abolitionists were overwhelmingly devout Christians while planters tended to appeal to liberal principles regarding property rights and regional autonomy and to modern scientific ideas of biological supremacy. They also appealed to Christianization, but mostly as an aspect of superior European culture and not terribly ingenuously, as planters tended towards religious indifference, both personally and in the sense that dissenting churches involved in abolitionism also tended to be the most interested in evangelism. Before the era of abolitionism it was the liberals who tended to advocate and set up more brutal slave systems and the Catholic monarchists who were most concerned to grant slaves protection as persons.

            With the French Revolution and associated radical enlightenment you see secularist abolitionism on a large scale, but here again pro-slavery groups tended to appeal to liberal or Racial or Burkean or mercantilist principles moreso than religious ones. In the former Iberian dependencies your version probably gets its closest fit, but not overwhelmingly so.

          • The problem with Moldbug using “progressive” to mean the ability to use reason to get progress is that the currents world is partly the result of a large number of progressive movements.

            Any significant change, including one to a non-progressive world, is going to involve the use of reason (I think Moldbug is using reason, or at least something that vaguely resembles it) to make improvements.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Nancy, whether that’s a problem depends on the purpose of the word. My original point was that many people arguing for “progress” in opposite directions could produce the illusion of an Enlightenment-wards flow of history, while correctly classifying rejected experiments like communism as “left.” (And it classifies all rejected experiments as “left,” but modern assessments may differ because the left has switched direction. New directions for progress have taken hold of the narrative. Certainly this is what happened with eugenics. But I think fascism is harder to place.)

            But, if, like Moldbug, one wants to claim that all Progressives form a single movement, then it would be a problem if they don’t. It is not so exotic to say that there was just one Enlightenment. Liberalism was invented by Dutch Calvinists. English and Scottish Calvinists and the more exotic Quakers picked it up and ran with it. They settled in the northeast and created the Ivy League. The biggest jump that is not genealogical is the French Enlightenment.

            If you think that the world was made by many progressive movements, name them.

  36. Max says:

    “Rightists seek out the novelty and accept the risk of a foreign war that might increase America’s global power at minimal cost but might waste hundreds of thousands of lives to no end.”

    The scientists studying neuropolitics may be simply wrong on that count, but I think the usefulness of this as counterevidence is limited by the fact that conservatives do not necessarily acknowledge before the fact that the risky things they support are actually risks. When most conservatives suggest that we should pursue a foreign war, or deregulate some industry, they won’t claim that it might lead to disaster, but might have huge payouts, and the reward is worth the risk, they’ll argue that it will definitely achieve the intended goal.

    I’d think this was pretty compelling evidence of conservatives not being willing to face risk, except that it doesn’t really get us anywhere in relative terms because liberals do the same thing. Everyone tries to make policy debates appear one sided.

    If liberals privately acknowledge risk while publicly disclaiming it for political advantage, while conservatives don’t acknowledge it publicly or privately, that could preserve the scientists’ assertions, but I doubt anyone’s collected the evidence by which we can properly make that judgment.

  37. mrmandias says:

    I don’t buy–at all–that Athens is lefty and Sparta is righty. Or that Imperial Rome was left and the Dark Ages were some kind of McCarthyite era or whatnot. Doesn’t map, sorry. When you say that they’re leftwing and rightwing, you are basically just recycling cultural stereotypes generated by the mostly broadly left-wing creators of cultural stereotypes. Athens is good because Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, democracy. Therefore Athens is left. Sparta is bad because it opposed Athens therefore right. As an aside, Donald Kagan wrote an interesting book on the Peloponnesian War that argued that the standard Cold War frame of US=Athens and USSR=Sparta was backwards, because the US and Sparta were both status quo powers and the USSR and Athens were interested in rearranging the international deck. Why then did the convention equation persist? Because we liked us and we liked Athens.

    School choice is easy to explain. The most conservative and Republican group is married white people with kids. But across nearly every racial and economic demographic, being married with kids tends to make you more right-wing then you would be otherwise. This doesn’t appear to be only a selection effect either. Marriage and having kids also tends to make you more religious on average. Again, not a selection effect.

    Now, in many ways the right-wingizing and religionizing effect of marriage with children supports your thesis. Safety becomes way more important to you once you have kids. Libertine environments that look perfectly secure to an unattached adult start looking much more dangerous. There is a significant amount of social science evidence that supports this, but I can tell you its absolutely true from my own experience. And its logical too–parents have less flexibility and are more vulnerable.

    Parents will also, naturally, want as much control over schooling as possible. So it makes sense that conservatives would be the party of school choice (especially because the more children you have, the less likely you can afford to buy in to a tony neighborhood where housing values ensure that the “riff-raff” are kept out and the public schools are quite nice).

    The other dynamic is that public schools are often sorta leftist institutions and in any case often morally dangerous for children–early premarital sex, drugs, pressure to conform to an extreme malign form of status competition, etc. So parents, who fear for their children, are more likely than average to see conventional public schools as threats. I suspect that if religion, conventional morality, screaming-eagle nationalism, and nastier discipline (and segregation, even, because I think you’re right that there is a connection between being worried about safety, in this case of your kids, and distrust of outgroups) were still features of public schools, you’d see conservatives a lot less in favor of school choice.

  38. Ian Pollock says:

    I think perhaps Stephen Pinker slightly anticipated your idea here in “The Blank Slate” when he identified the liberal vs. conservative divide as primarily about optimistic vs. pessimistic views of human nature (Rousseau vs Hobbes). But I like that your formulation is more specific than that.

    • Ian Pollock says:

      One interesting thing about Scott’s idea, although he didn’t seem to go there in his post, is that if he is right then, in a sense, our political discourse is (contrary to appearances) extremely healthy.

      At the moment, technology is enabling a great deal of goose-milking, so liberals are currently (rightly) winning. But there are still lots of conservatives, so if for some reason our technological progress were reversed, the winds of Hegelian dialectic would quickly shift in a conservative direction, and in short order we would get a political climate optimized for scarcity.

      • Damien says:

        Except the current right-wing is dominated by anti-scientific denial of reality, including in economic matters. Or quasi-military ones, like how the Bush administration f-ed up the occupation of Iraq. Doesn’t bode well for their ability to lead through real crisis.

      • asdf says:

        None of those things you mention are on the right. The conservative party in America is a progressive party.

  39. Multiheaded says:

    Wikipedia seems to say that – curiously or not – Roman women basically had more rights and practical socioeconomic power than in any other Western society up until the 19th-20th century. Yes, this is the opposite of what the cached dichotomy of “sophisticated liberal Athens” vs “imperialist hypermasculine Rome” tells us.


    • Mary says:

      One notes that in Rome, your husband could divorce you and order you to marry another man as part of his political manevouring.

      It was the medieval era that started to insist on her consent, and even saying that the consent made the marriage.

      Kinda depends on what rights you look for.

  40. I’d like to say that I lean towards thinking I could live with a life of endless signaling games, as long as we could have a fucking sense of humor about it and focus on the fun signaling games rather than the annoying moralistic ones.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Except that stuff like “Protestant work ethic” and authoritarian parenting and strict internalized discipline backed by threat of extrenal force is seen to strongly correlate with “rightist” values – see e.g. the Miller and Deleuze links above. So I think your morbid fantasies are, well, not very grounded in history.

      Also see this:

      …where Foucault tended toward a totalizing critique of modernity, Deleuze and Guattari seek to theorize and appropriate its positive and liberating aspects, the decoding of libidinal flows initiated b the dynamics of the capitalist economy. Unlike Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari’s work is less a critique of knowledge and rationality than of capitalist society; consequently, their analyses rely on traditional Marxist categories more than Foucault’s. Like Foucault, however, they by no means identify themselves as Marxists and reject dialectical methodology for a postmodern logic of difference, perspectives, and fragments. Also while all three foreground the importance of theorizing microstructures of domination. Deleuze and Guattari more clearly address the importance of macrostructures as well and develop a detailed critique of the state.

      Further where Foucault’s emphasis is on the disciplinary technologies of modernity and the targeting of the body within regimes of power/knowledge. Deleuze and Guattari focus on the colonization of desire by various modern discourse and institutions. While desire is a sub-theme in Foucault’s later genealogy of the subject, it is of primary importance for Deleuze and Guattari. Consequently, psychoanalysis, the concept of psychic repression, engagements with Freudo-Marxism, and the analysis of the family and fascism play a far greater role in the work of Deleuze and Guattari than Foucault, although their critique of psychoanalysis builds on Foucault’s critique of Freud, psychiatry, and the human sciences.

      In contrast to Foucault who emphasizes the productive nature of power and rejects the repressive hypothesis’, Deleuze and Guattari readily speak of the repression’ of desire and they do so, as we shall argue, because they construct an essentialist concept of desire. In addition, Deleuze and Guattari’s willingness to champion the liberation of bodies and desire stands in sharp contrast to Foucault’s sympathies to the Greco-Roman project of mastering the self. All three theorists, however, attempt to decenter and liquidate the bourgeois, humanist subject. Foucault pursues this through a critical archaeology and genealogy that reduces the subject to an effect of discourse and disciplinary practices, while Deleuze and Guattari pursue a schizophrenic’ destruction of the ego and superego in favor of a dynamic unconscious.

      Although Foucault later qualified his views on the subject, all three theorists reject the modernist notion of a unified, rational, and expressive subject and attempt to make possible the emergence of new types of decentered subjects, liberated from what they see to be the terror of fixed and unified identities, and free to become dispersed and multiple, reconstituted as new types of subjectivities and bodies.

      I think this is some good far-left philosophy… and, well, about as anti-Puritan/anti-Calvinist as anything I’ve ever seen! Is this not evidence against your ideas?

      • Mary says:

        The famous link between right views and authoritarianism was established by questioning people and filing any conservative responses as evidence of authoritarianism. Very easy to find a link if you presuppose it and use evidence of one thing as evidence of the thing purported linked to it.

  41. Eric Rall says:

    Are you familiar with Arnold Kling’s three axes model? It seems to have a moderate amount of overlap with your theory here.

    To summarize, Kling sees three rough ideological camps, each characterized by a prevailing narrative through which they process issues of political controversy:

    Libertarians, who view the world through a freedom vs. coersion narrative;

    Conservatives, who view the world through a civilization vs. barbarism narrative; and

    Progressives, who view the world through an oppressors vs. victims narrative.


    Another model for the “left/right” axis, one which I’ve been kicking around in my own head, is based on what types of aristocrats they prefer. Historically, there are a few flavors of aristocracy that show up over and over again. In any given society, there’s usually one or two clusters, each of which merges aspects of these. From right to left, the flavors are:

    1. Military caste
    2. Landowners
    3. Commercial/industrialist elite
    4. Bureacratic class
    5. Informational elite (priests or scholars)
    6. Leaders of internal institutions within the lower classes (maybe — I’m not sure this belongs in the model)

    If there are two distinct clusters of aristocrats in a society, the one that’s dominated by the former aspects is the “right” and the one that’s dominated by the latter aspects is the “left”.


    Alternately, a much simpler model of left and right is that “left” is the political cluster associated with cities and “right” is the political cluster associated with the countryside. This has the virtue of simplicity, and off the top of my head seems to fit the facts on the ground pretty well.

  42. orthonormal says:

    This seems to predict, among other things, that people who experience trauma of various types in their childhood are more likely to become politically conservative when they grow up (because they subconsciously start executing the “scarcity/hardship” program rather than the “plenty/safety” program). Are there studies on this subject?

    • peterdjones says:

      People who exist in hardship have more to gain from the left. Anyone can go either way depending on whther they run off their instincts (system I) or rational self-interest (system II).

      • Andy says:

        This may well depend on the kind of hardship. People who exist in resource scarcity have more to gain from the left, while I feel that people who perceive dangerous threats all around are more likely to identify with the right. But that’s just my wild-ass guess.

  43. Athrelon says:

    So to be clear, one reasonable gloss on this is that extrapolated leftism is high school forever? Producing actually-useful things pretty much irrelevant, all energy focused on zero-sum status competitions?

    Let me be so bold as to predict that every commenter on this thread would personally find such a social structure less congenial than our own, holding tech constant. This is true even if we ignore the vast speculative gains from future technological growth.

    • Athrelon says:

      Note that this can be true even if you like many of the individual sub-issues that are currently “of the left.”

    • Multiheaded says:

      Sorry, nope. Would extrapolated rightism be Old Eton forever, in your view? Read Such, Such Were The Joys by Orwell and tell me this isn’t both 1) very rightist, productivity-hierarchy-and-conformity gone rabid, and 2) a really horrible ruthless inhuman thing.

      If you don’t want to be strawmanned into a fan of this Prussian horror, please don’t project your nerd’s bad memories from high school (I share them, I suffered from all that bullshit too) onto leftists!

      • Multiheaded says:

        Hmm, reading that Wikipedia article I see that scholars have questioned St. George’s narration – I have previously only read the essay itself, sorry.

        Nevertheless, my point still stands – Orwell was no mealy-mouthed liberal and disliked the hippies of his day, so if he talks of brutal authoritarianism so starkly and evocatively, we can take this as weak evidence that *something, somewhere* around him was wrong, that something was rather foul and rotten in the Old Order.

        The various codes which were presented to you at St Cyprian’s — religious, moral social and intellectual — contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of nineteenth-century asceticism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for ‘braininess’, and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

        Seems like a fairly astute observation regardless of the particular circumstances in Orwell’s personal life.

        (Come to think of it, Kafka’s writing was inspired by a fairly “reactionary” society and culture too, and scholars agree that he detested his tyrannical father and his career.)

      • Athrelon says:

        Hierarchy and conformity, yes. But as to productivity:

        “Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous than other people”

        This seems like a mix of normal status dynamics plus an aspect of dominance based on physical prowess. This may be useful in hunter-gatherer war but otherwise don’t seem to map onto “productivity” in any recognizable form. (Steelman: the productivity-prod is actually on the parents, with the kids as pawns prodding dad into greater avarice that is mostly channeled in productive directions in capitalism).

        Straw reaction seems like it would be unequal and even cruel but channel it towards stereotypical quasi-prosocial ends – whether because the rich get to lord it over the poor in a mostly functional capitalist system or because clergy get to order around the plebes.

        • Oligopsony says:

          To be fair, productivity is a pretty new virtue. Pre-capitalist elites certainly did not prioritize it! Instead it seems to map onto romanticism-modernism, which is probably an orthogonal axis.

        • Multiheaded says:

          As Oligopsony remarks on his blog, speaking so calmly and detachedly of the advantages of a “cruel” system is in itself evidence of how remote one is from it. Really, I know this would make your blood boil and I’d hate alienating you – but maybe you should check your 1st world, middle-class, straight, neurotypical, heteronormative privilege a bit. It sounds like all you neo-reactionists have only ever been on the wrong end of the high school hierarchy – exactly the one you’d like to turn upside down.

          Well, there are other hierarchies out there, and for many, “cruel” doesn’t begin to describe what they do to a soul. I was lucky in many aspects too, but even being in a gay relationship in a homophobic society is pretty bad – and I have seen friends who were far worse along other axes too. A somewhat different example: I had a pal at school, from a disfunctional, lower-class family. He got bad marks, started fights, but somehow I found out he was actually an OK guy and after a year of hostilities we began to get along – he hung out with my fellow nerds on occasion, etc.

          Then, as we were graduating, I realized that his life is probably going to be shitty from there onwards and that I’m never crossing paths with him again. Now I also realize that he was fortunate to get into a still-egalitarian post-Soviet school system at all, and that in a more capitalist/right-wing world he would’ve been stuck with fellow proles and I would have never had an occasion to think of him as a decent guy and an equal! This is part of what horrifies me about rightism – exclusion and alienation are always there, and once you’re trapped by them you’ll never have such equal bonds with people.

          • Multiheaded says:

            My cached image of Versailles is in many ways the opposite of “old-style hardcore private school”. Intelligence, artistic talents and wit rather than machismo are celebrated; people are huge hipsters and seek to signal openness/daring; in the status competition, just displaying “brute” physical prowess or “vulgar” wealth actually sets you back so you need to humuliate opponents by charm, social graces and political cunning instead; there’s less moralizing and it’s framed more on an “aristocratic/enlightened” versus “crude/common” axis rather than “conforming/manly” versus “weak/misfit”.

            I perfectly realize that autistic geeks might not like either model much, but you seem to be dropping some really awful outgroup homogenity fallacies here! In any set of things-that-you-really hate, many might vastly differ from, or even fundamentally contradict each other.

          • ozymandias42 says:

            I dunno, fandom and about eighty percent of the Internet are elaborate signalling/status games that produce absolutely nothing useful, and nerds seem to enjoy them a great deal.

    • Oligopsony says:

      High school is one possible thing to map that too. Elementary school, college, graduate school, monasteries, artists’ colonies, the internet, cultured slaveholding elites, and so on demonstrate others. The particular signaling you see in high schools is a product of particular features (the village-like small and involuntary social universe, constant adult supervision, teenage hormones, and so on) that are fairly specific. In a post-scarcity society I’m sure that some people would pursue eudaimonia and some people would jerk off and play WoW all day, but it strikes me as unlikely that the late 20th century Nerd Oppression Narrative ;_; will be a significant feature.

      • Athrelon says:

        Yup. There’s definitely a diversity of mostly-signalling social systems, and I was using the stereotypical “high school” mostly as a metonym to illustrate the central dynamics of not being able to compete on anything besides persuading other humans. (My actual high school was actually pretty good and didn’t fit the stereotype that well).

        If the only game in town is navigating social dynamics, it will be nerd-unfriendly. Scratch a successful nerd and you’ll find someone who leveraged ability to produce things others valued, and even then the successful ones usually had personality traits that helped them play at least a few social games.

        Social power trumping market or institutional power is not a friendly environment for nerds, even if we ignore the vastly reduced capability of such a system to produce technological Good Things. This is certainly not a reason for nerds to reject leftism outright, but it’s a factor worth considering.

    • Damien says:

      The involuntary social aspect of high school is a distinctive feature. You can’t avoid your peers in school. The post-scarcity utopia is more like the Internet, with self-sorting.

    • peterdjones says:

      But you wouldn’t actually have superleftism unless you had conditions of superabundance that meant no-one needed to graft. If your point was against “the further left, the better, irrespective of conditions”, you have made it. I fit was gainst “we will never have supleftism”, we won’t.

  44. Army1987 says:

    This squares well with what Geoffrey Miller in Spent says about the openness personality trait and the finding that higher-openness people tend to be more leftist.

  45. Erik says:

    “3) Why do these basically political ideas correlate so well with moral, aesthetic, and religious preferences?
    4) […]

    The Reactionaries have at least two theories. Moldbug […suggests…] that leftism is naked power-grabbing and rightism is virtuous pro-social behavior.
    it explains point 4 and point 4 only, and seems, well, maybe a little completely obviously self-serving?”

    Virtuous pro-social behavior doesn’t explain correlation with aesthetic and religious preferences? I’ll leave aside moral preferences at the moment, since those are much more disputed, but religious organizations are generally pro-social organizations, and you mention in your previous post that the rightists are supporting the sort of art most people like while the leftists are putting up anti-art urinals.

    • Multiheaded says:

      It’s a long, long, long story (i.e. the inferential distances are large), but I take offence to the charge of “anti-art urinals”. To me, it’s the “reactionary” aesthetic that’s mostly pointless, dogmatic and shallow, while Modernity is a great and under-appreciated era.

      See Comrade Hatherley, a fearless leader in the current hopeless street-fight for Modernist architectural legacy (which Moldbug hates and I adore – and I live in Russia, so this is not a statement made lightly; I love it, warts and all). It’s delightful to read Hatherley unabashedly defending Leftist architecture! And check out his Guardian column for more mainstream fare, please.

      • Randy M says:

        If the inferential differences are that large against a suggestion, it seems self defeating to take offence at it. Or at least, it seems like others have little reason to value your offended feelings in that case.

        • komponisto says:

          I disagree. Folks should be prepared for the possibility of large inferential gaps, because they frequently exist. In other words, “inferentially distant positions don’t exist until the gap has been bridged” should NOT be the default stance in a community of intelligent well-meaning people with diverse experiences.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think that is the case; he takes offence ata critique of an ‘art’ piece despite the ‘long, long, long’ inferential distance to getting there?

            To me that is erroring on the side of hyper sensitivity merely for posture or rhetorical strength.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Nah, damnit, I simply meant that I’ve truly had it with the bashing of modernism, especially when no-one really bashes classical or “realist” art – the praise of which as a timeless treasure I’m also quite sick of.

            I honestly believe that Greek temples are quite boring and bland while modernist architecture and design can be powerful and intellectually charged, and even that some of the better staff on deviantart/pixiv/etc has more aesthetic value than classical paintings. Yet these preferences are “barbaric” and “decadent” for many people who appoint themselves guardians of art and beauty. I’m not “offended”, really I’m just sick of people refusing to even contemptate that my preferences might be for real.

          • Damien says:

            @Multiheaded: Hmm, more than two things going on here. “Pre-modern” vs. “Modern”, representationist vs. abstract, realist vs. surrealist vs. stylized, popular vs. avant-garde. Comic books and a square of white paint are both modern (leaving aside comics’ prehistory) and someone sufficiently reactionary might denigrate both, but they’re also pretty different from each other.

            And there’s outright bashing and persecution (extreme case once again: the Nazis. Probably Soviets too, and Iranian mullahs), vs. “should we be spending public money on this, as opposed to public beauty projects most voters would actually like and on buildings that don’t leak?”

    • Multiheaded says:

      Please understand Scott/Yvain was mostly doing that as an Ideological Turing Test; I’d guess he doesn’t think that we ARE, as a culture, digging ourselves into any holes, only that shifting socioeconomic and technological conditions lead to all kinds of weird new problems, and the Left tends to have one category of responses to those and the Right has another.

      And I don’t know about him, but I myself think that the Right just sweeps a lot of such structural, long-term problems under the rug or locks them in cupboards instead of curing them.

      Slavery, a culture of militarism and warfare, pervasively enforced social roles even for people whom they ill fit, almost totalitarian silencing of dissent (look up the 19th century history of the Left and labour movements – met with steel, terror and contempt), socioeconomic subjugation of women*, evolving towards more and more productivity to the exclusion of all reason and personality (think the Prussian school system)…

      *Those marriage satisfaction polls might basically be influenced by Stockholm Syndrome lite – of course most women locked into such an economic position would make an effort to wear a happy face even in private… and then we can tell very little about deeper psychological facts. Compare the total invisibility and exclusion of queer people 100-150 years ago – if you can’t tell how many of them were secretly miserable, what does this imply about all the other powerless groups?

      • Mary says:

        So might the working women’s satisfaction be influenced by the Stockholm Syndrome lite, and the difference even more pronounced that the poll shows.

        Good old “false consciousness.” Probably the best way to alienate a woman from the feminists discoved yet. Many feminists I’ve run across seem to have no clue how insulting they are being when they throw it about.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Come on, Mary. From what I’ve seen, you’ve never ONCE conceded any stereotypically “leftist” claim while commenting here or on the previous blog.

          Yes, “false consciousness” tends to happen, and has clear, obvious ev-psych advantages (like conformity bias, preventing people from seeking change and independent action because those are potentially dangerous to the individual; consider the trope of a kidnapped and raped woman falling in love with her captor).

          Conservatives, and in particular religious conservatives, throw around charges like this all the time – cf. “Atheists/agnostics all secretly yearn for theistic religion, that’s why they’re always so discontent and crazy and in denial.” The question is not how true the statement is, but: how is this any different from stereotypical leftist charges of “false consciousness”?

        • Mary says:

          My, what a bloated sense of entitlement you have. Why should I concede any stereotypically “leftist” claim? What rights have leftist claims to demand that of me?

          As for your claims about “false consciousness,” you merely assert that it exists. Even if this is true, it is no proof that it exists in any given case. Ockham’s Razor demands that a person’s self-description be taken at face value unless you have evidence that they are not telling the truth. Contradicting feminist dogma by being happy in an unapproved situation is not evidence.

          Following it up with a tu quoque that is not even a proper tu quoque because you are talking about other people whom you associate with me — is silly.

        • Multiheaded says:

          You understood my implication wrongly; no personal offense is intended. Of course you aren’t obliged to concede any particular fact to any particular leftist faction out of mere politeness or decency or anything like that. It’s just that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and that even the most crazy and morally awful political faction cannot be wrong on every single claim that it contests. Yes, even the Nazis were insightful about preserving German nature/wildlife being an important value and the treaty of Versailles being an act of injustice, cruelty and pettiness – at a time when many disagreed.

          And so, for example, I concede to Moldbug the benefits of imperialism/British colonialism, the existence of downsides to democracy and the strong parallels between leftist memes and Christian ones. I think that my fellow leftists are quite mistaken to disagree in those matters, and yet in general I’m certain that this doesn’t make me a reactionary enemy of the people. So you can really, really despise your opponents – but if you can’t find a single issue when they happen to be correct and your own coalition happens to be mistaken, then you’re probably biased and blinded by conformity. Reality is never ever tidy enough for truth and delusion to be so clear-cut.

        • Mary says:

          I notice you think you can judge what I think from a small sample of what I have commented about online.

    • Multiheaded says:


      Far-leftists took over some countries, implemented Communism, and collapsed.

      Please read some Robert Lindsay on Chairman Mao. I don’t agree with all of his extreme views, but many of them rub me the right way.

      Basically, it appears that Mao took a medieval-level war-torn empire of subsistence farmers, exploited by rentier landlords, ossified bureaucracy and Fnargl-like foreigners, and went on to DOUBLE life expectancy… build up a massive infrastructure of education and healthcare… save way more people from misery and hunger then were killed by his erratic and partly-insane decisions… and make sure that no foreigners ever act in China like drug cartels on contested turf again.

      I’m not even talking about the amazing Soviet work of modernization in Caucasus and Central Asia – which was basically a shining example of everything that can go right about Multiculturalism plus Westernization plus State Socialism,… and then the economic ties collapsed and the local strongmen wrecked it all.

      NB: it sounds like Oligopsony would support me and Lindsay on this.

    • Multiheaded says:

      I second the request for a preview form! Already fucked up one comment below 🙁

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think I just installed a live Comment Preview plugin. You can see your comment beneath the comment box as you’re typing it.

      Also, I have an “edit” button on all my comments. Is this universal, or just because I’m admin?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Some of this I hope to get to later, but I’ll point out that I think most hunter-gatherer cultures developed under conditions of abundance, and the fact that they’re so traditional means we would expect even their subsistence-level modern descendants to still be somewhat adapted for conditions of abundance.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Regarding lifespan of empires, that seems to be the wrong metric for what we’re thinking about here.

      Modern imperial collapse is not a zombie apocalypse scenario. Take four of the greatest empires to have collapsed in the 21st century: Ottomans, Japanese, British, and Soviets. It’s hard to deny any of these powers suffered a genuine imperial collapse, but all of them bounced back within a few decades and the living standards in the homelands of these empires (Turkey, Japan, UK, and Russia) were barely affected over the medium-short term. In all these cases, it might be said that power was redistributed (say from Britain to the US), but the general living standard/civilizedness of the world did not decrease.

      We compare this to nightmare scenarios like the fall of the classical world. The fall of a “world” seems to be a completely different level event than the fall of an empire. Business went on as normal after the fall of Macedonia; the fall of the classical world set civilization back a thousand-ish years. The only analogs might be the fall of the Islamic world to the Mongols and the fall of a few Mesoamerican/Mayan civilizations.

      Although we have every reason to think empires will keep falling, it’s less obvious that worldfalls are still possible. Most of them seem to have involved invasion by foreign barbarians, and we are kind of out of organized barbarians nowadays – any state that could destroy the USA would have to itself be pretty civilized at least technologically/organizationally. And the world is so interlinked that anything other than the entire world falling would be quickly followed by the surviving parts of the world aiding, recolonizing, and technologically uplifting the fallen parts – something that failed in the last few worldfalls because they were either in isolated areas (ie Mesoamerica) or just lack of access (Muslims kept classical science but didn’t have enough access to Europeans to give it back until Crusades/Renaissance or so).

      I think the study of worldfalls would be an important area but that noticing how long it took the Ottoman Empire or somewhere to collapse would have very little to do with it.

  46. Oligopsony says:

    As best I can tell, the strongest Reactionary theory of why Cthulhu drifts left is that a modern economy tends to bring to power people who prefer System II to System I reasoning, and who thus tend to worship abstract systems like bureaucracies and markets where people are interchangeable, who tend to overestimate the ability of experts to predict and control complex systems, and who believe, having put a man on the Moon, they can tear down Chestertonian fences. And because devotion to this is correlated with the sort of successful innovative thinking that’s needed to master modern economies, they get in signalling arms races with each other. The modern alt-right of course phrases things in their biological terms (IQ, autism spectrum) and the usual and often overlapping quarters in their own (JEWWWWS) but dates back as far as Burke’s identification of “ability” as the basis for radicalism. It also seems somewhat isomorphic to Marxian explanations (which can be dated back at least as far as Adam Smith) emphasizing the different consciousness characterizing bourgeois as against aristocrats.

  47. Kevin says:

    Several commenters have already remarked on the most obvious reason for “school choice” being a right-wing issue, which is that in practice, it tends to be used as a way to funnel government money toward religious indoctrination. Approximately 75% of private schools in the US are religious.

    There is a deeper reason, though, and it has to do with the difference in how markets are viewed on the right and on the left. From Progressives should be proud of “sewer liberalism”:

    If we set aside the nonprofit and household realms, then it is a crude but fair generalization to say that conservatives believe in an economy with two sectors — the market and the government — while liberals believe in an economy with three sectors — the market, the government and the utility sector.

    Liberals believe that some goods and services could be provided in a purely competitive market but should not be. Instead, these goods and services should be provided to citizens by an industry organized as a publicly regulated utility, which in the terms of ownership can be private, public or a mixed private-public enterprise.

    Most school voucher programs which have been tried in the US have used a lottery system, so only some students can take advantage of them. This has the inevitable consequence of taking money out of failing school systems, which makes things worse for students who must still attend those schools. Vouchers also move responsibility for education quality to disadvantaged parents, who are unlikely to have the time, energy, or knowledge to make the best school choice.

    However, even if we move beyond a lottery system and give every disadvantaged student a voucher, it still doesn’t work: How one national school voucher program fared

    For private schools, the emphasis is on serving students that are cheapest to educate, not tailoring different programs to the unique needs of students.

    Education, like other utilities (and, for another example, health care), is a necessity for quality of life. This means that consumer flexibility is low, so markets are unlikely to be efficient at producing the results we want.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Let’s be charitable here. The Reactionary perspective would be that it is a way to funnel government money *away* from the pseudoreligious indoctrination that goes on in your average progressivist public school.

    • mrmandias says:

      School vouchers have been quiet successful in the Nordic countries, and most voucher schemes have been set up in a way that doesn’t take money from schools, since the voucher is usually less than the per capita costs of education, which means the public schools end up with more per capita (but then there are fixed costs, so actually the answer whether vouchers hurt public schools or not financially is ‘its complicated).

  48. Oligopsony says:

    Let’s take a quick look at left authoritarianism! How does, say, Marxism-Leninism stack up in terms of being a rightist variant as far as this scale is concerned?

    1) Lots and lots of guns. Yes.

    2) Support for the police and military. That depends on whose police and military you’re talking about, of course, but let’s say yes.

    3) Religion. In the sense of actual religion, no. In the sense of Official Organized Belief Systems With Teeth, then yes, but arguably then this is not a meaningful difference between anyone. In the sense of trusting the beliefs your parents held over what some egghead says, no.

    4) Deep suspicion of outsiders. Hell no. You may of course have all sorts of enemies, but that folds into supporting guns and black-and-white thinking and police and so on. You have no enemies who are enemies because they are foreign.

    5) Hierarchy and conformity. In an operational sense, which is the sense mentioned for zombie apocalypses, then yes; in the sense that some people are natural leaders, then no.

    6) Lack of Sentimentality. Yes.

    7) Maximizing Wealth. Hell yes.

    8) Purity/Contamination Ethics. Not really.

    9) Practical skills over book learning. In the sense of practicality, yes. Let’s pump out doctors and engineers! In the sense of opposing practical reason with theoretical reason, no. In the sense of women being in the kitchen, my, that doesn’t sound practical at all! (You may want to raise fertility, but that’s not necessarily a countervailing goal.)

    10) Extreme black-and-white thinking. Sure.

    Bonus round) Kitsch. Yes.

    So the record is mixed here. A comparison with Nazism is useful: both Nazis and Stalinists believe in shooting their enemies and everything that comes with a commitment to doing that effectively. But Nazis endorse natural hierarchies and gender roles, disavowed theoretical knowledge, hated outsiders, and held to purity-contamination ethics. (They also tend to scorn materialism and like the environment more.)

    On the other hand, no to all of your left values, except possibly signaling in that signaling among the elite was a matter of survival. If we’re talking about left authoritarians out of power, then signalling clearly yes, and we can drop the kitsch, a bit of the practicality, and strongly reject purity-contamination. (The difference between being in and out of power does point to the possibility that observed differences between groups along some of these dimensions may reflect differing degrees to which they believe themselves (in an extended sense) to be in or out of power.)

    So I don’t think we fit usefully into your model. If it’s meant to explain contemporary first world politics, of course, then having the conclusion that we don’t exist is a predictive success (not that there aren’t other good explanations for that,) but its intended scope seems broader than that.

    Arnold Kling’s Three-Axis Model doesn’t have these problems, but then seems to be more descriptive than predictive.

    • gwern says:

      > 4) Deep suspicion of outsiders. Hell no. You may of course have all sorts of enemies, but that folds into supporting guns and black-and-white thinking and police and so on. You have no enemies who are enemies because they are foreign.

      Are we talking about actual Marxist-Leninist dictatorships? Because that would be totally wrong. We have the famous comity with all other communist countries (the harmonious Warsaw pact; the alliance between Russia and China, a relationship so close and affectionate that they almost went to nuclear war); routine accusations of being a spy for outsiders or their counter-reactionary stooge in all the purges (*still* there, consider Putin Russia’s ban on people with American passports being involved in politics); or consider North Korea’s national foundation on xenophobia, attacks against the outsiders, and blaming everything on South Korea, Japan, or ‘the Yankee bastards’, a xenophobia so deep and entrenched that I was struck to see a Chinese article claim that it extends even to the Chinese themselves:

      > Fourth, North Korea is pulling away from Beijing. The Chinese like to view their relationship with Pyongyang through their shared sacrifice during the Korean war instead of reality. They describe it as a “friendship sealed in blood”. But North Korea does not feel like this at all towards its neighbour. As early as the 1960s, North Korea rewrote the history of the war. To establish the absolute authority of Kim Il-sung, its founder, North Korea removed from historical record the contribution of the hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of China who sacrificed themselves to beat the UN troops back to the 38th parallel that now divides the peninsula. Many cemeteries commemorating the volunteer soldier heroes have been levelled, and Kim Il-sung was given all the credit for the offensive. For the North Korean people, shaking off the “Chinese bond” was seen as an expression of independence and autonomy.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Again, ideological enemies, but not nationally constituted enemies. In the general case, at least – North Korea is as best I can tell genuinely rightist on all of the salient dimensions (except possibly the practical-theoretical opposition, on which I’m not informed enough to say.) B.R. Myers’ the Cleanest Race covers this in detail and gives some fairly plausible theories for why it turned out that way.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What if rightism is what you get when you go on a crisis footing because modern society is collapsing or you’re on some uncivilized frontier, and Marxism is what you get when you go on a crisis footing despite being in a working modern society?

      In a working modern society, there’s less need for gender roles because you don’t have to pop out a bunch of children really quickly. There’s less need for racism because you might be in a working multi-ethnic society already. There’s less need for purity/contamination ethics because you’re in a technologically advanced country with clean water and decent health care.

      So maybe Marxists are people who aren’t desperate for survival against the elements, they’ve successfully defeated the elements (which would normally produce leftism) but are desperate for survival against some other human faction (which brings them back to some rightism)

      • Oligopsony says:

        Like classical Marxism itself, this seems to disastrously mispredict where Marxist regimes would actually have a support base and come into power. The appeal seems to be in places that don’t yet have clean water and good health care and times in which they know that those are in fact things that are possible. Inasmuch as I think the strategy is “modern survivalist” in the sense of optimizing for getting from Point A to Point B I would be inclined to agree.

      • Mary says:

        One notes that the break-down of the family produced some quick reversal on part of the USSR, which turned to promoting nuclear families with lots of children — how petty of women, to deny the next generation, born into the most perfect of societies, all the children it could hold.

    • Mary says:

      Actually Nazis loosened up divorce, encouraged single motherhood as much as they dared, founded the Lebensborn homes that I have heard leftist praise as progressive even nowadays, by their practices actively encouraged women married to Jewish husbands to claim that their children were illegitimate and so German, preached the need for a high birth rate to the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls and put their camps close together in a manner that produced a good number of German babies — etc.

      What traditional gender roles you see in Nazism were the consequence of not being able to repel the German people.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Rather than tussle over the meaning of “traditional,” let’s merely revise the claim to say that the Nazis were enthusiastically against egalitarianism in the field of gender, as with everything else.

        From Wikipedia:

        Women in the Third Reich lived within a regime characterized by a policy of confining women in the roles of mother and spouse and excluding them from all positions of responsibility, notably in the political and academic spheres. The policy of Nazism contrasts starkly with the evolution of emancipation under the Weimar Republic, and is equally distinguishable from the patriarchal and conservative attitude under the German Empire. The regimentation of women at the heart of satellite organizations of the Nazi Party, as the Bund Deutscher Mädel or the NS-Frauenschaft, had the ultimate goal of encouraging the cohesion of the “people’s community” Volksgemeinschaft.

        The Nazi model woman did not have a career, but she was responsible for the education of her children and for housekeeping. Women only had a limited right to training revolving around domestic tasks, and were, over time, restricted from teaching in universities, from medical professions and from parliament. With the exception of Reichsführerin Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, no women were allowed to carry out official functions, however some exception stood out in the regime, either through their proximity to Adolf Hitler, such as Magda Goebbels, or by excelling in particular fields, such as filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl or aviator Hanna Reitsch.

        I think it’s fair to say that there is a considerable ideological contrast with the Soviet Union here. If your concern here is merely to acquit your own traditionalism of Nazi contamination, I will happily concede that Nazi ideology clashed with traditional Christian morals in all sorts of ways.

    • Multiheaded says:

      It’s been a marvellous party with marvellous guests
      Discussing the decline of the decadent West
      Over nibbles and wine we are disarmed and impressed
      By the charming men in uniform
      It’s been a wonderful evening, we’ve exchanged our views
      How the Zionists doesn’t mean the Jews
      At no single step did we feel confused
      By the charming men in uniform

      Be afraid of your parents!
      Be afraid of their clever friends!
      I’ve read this book before –
      And darling, I can tell you how it ends!
      Be afraid of the line they teach you,
      Be afraid of the way it goes
      You be amazed at what you can raise
      To something everybody knows!

      We’ve read our Jacques Derrida, our Michel Foucault
      We’ve averted our eyes from the atrocity show
      It’s better to beat up on the devil that you know
      Say the charming men in uniform
      Give praise to the empty heaven above
      I reject the sword and embrace the dove
      I see the world suffused with love
      And the charming men in uniform!

      Be afraid of your parents!
      Be afraid of their clever friends!
      I’ve read this book before –
      And darling, I can tell you how it ends!
      Be afraid of the line they teach you,
      Be afraid of the way it goes
      You be amazed at what you can raise
      To something everybody knows!

      (posting this solely for the sake of balance – I didn’t mean to imply that you “reject the sword” or other such liberal nonsense!)

  49. nemryn says:

    How does the theory that ‘leftism is about preventing harm, rightism is about respecting authority’ fit in here?

    • Multiheaded says:

      This American stereotype actually serves to confirm the (incomplete but useful-seeming picture). The “harm” leftists seek to prevent tends to be the constant, low-level daily struggle and misery and alienation, while the rightists tend to dismiss or rationalize away its awfulness (“builds character! stop being such a sissy! might makes right!”). Instead they focus on creating rigid, hyper-robust, expansively self-replicating structures (including authority and hierarchy) that can conquer external enemies and minimize all kinds of local and global existential risks.

      Such risk aversion might sound sensible, but I fear that its own institutional dynamics are remarkably UFAI-like – and we’re thus lucky that imperial overreach/leftward memetic drift/intentional leftist subversion eventually weaken rightist systems. Otherwise Lord Shang/Frederick the Great/Lee Kuan Yew would take over much of the world, force competitors to imitate them, and their order would optimize away everything it deems too weak or sentimental in an attempt to endure forever. Its paranoid, survivalist signaling-and-justification system (“discourse”) could follow its institutions and self-perpetuate, leaving no room for leftism to arise. Here Brian Tomasik explicitly makes an utilitarian argument against minimizing X-risk, suggesting that we should instead deny the future to Unfriendly systems of suffering. I find it very persuasive, and believe that we should extend this to human history too.

      Or, as Mark Twain stirringly wrote of France:

      …the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood — one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.

      There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.


      John Taylor Gatto already argues that the Prussian school system was a 19th-century Unfriendly foom that eventually took over the world, producing neuroticized and disciplined subjects and obedient soldiers at the cost of deep personal trauma, repression and alienation. Foucault more famously says much the same about the “societies of discipline” that arose with the Industrial Revolution and capitalism.

      I find Foucault’s anti-modernist leanings to be very misguided – he doesn’t do justice to all the ways in which modernity and capitalism were emancipatory, curtailing worse evils – but (post-)freudo-marxists like Deleuze and psychohistorians like Alice Miller correct anti-modernism by pointing out the roots of such Unfriendliness back in the old “societies of sovereignity”.

      P.S. I’m saving this rant for a blog post, when I finally get around to setting up my own blog.

      • Mary says:

        This would be a better argument if leftists actually sought to prevent the constant, low-level daily struggle and misery and alienation. But if they actually were, they would notice things like this, realize their techniques are not working, and try something new. In reality they double down on their techniques when they learn they are the problem, not the solution.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Oh. Theodor fucking Dalrymple talking about motivated cognition and finding motes in leftists’ eyes? Gimme a break. Here’s a good summary of some of his droning. He’s like a vicious caricature of John Derbyshire or Peter Hitchens, and I’m hardly an admirer of those.

          Regarding the charge itself: no, sorry – a loosely Socialist ethos and political climate appears to strongly correlate with a morally superior, less domineering, more humane culture to me. Today’s neoliberal capitalism with its dubious compromises might indeed be responsible for some blatant social evils, but I’d say that it’s 1) not proper leftism, 2) not proper rightism either, but proper old-time rightism had different evils that it concealed better.

          Trust me, if these weren’t my object-level beliefs, I wouldn’t have bothered with the wider commie framework. (Defending Lenin and Mao! The horror!) I used to be a lot more centrist and didn’t think that leftist radicalism has much rationality to it; thought it was for crazy old people stuck in the past. Then I actually listened very carefully to what Marxists and others have to say.

          (That Guardian column can be pretty funny, btw.)

          • Multiheaded says:

            Defending Lenin and Mao! The horror!

            Well, Lenin himself not so much – he made awful mistakes like anyone, and moved against Stalin far too late, just before his suspicious death. But I’d still defend Actually Existing Leninism as being far less horrible and evil than commonly understood, with under-appreciated achievements in infrastructure-building of all sorts, cultural innovation, modernization/uplifting and multiculturalism. It could’ve likely done even more good and less evil, absent the brutalizing dynamics of permanent confrontation with hostile foreign powers.

          • Mary says:

            I rest my case. A real live man with real experience is dismissed with a vicious caricature on Multiheaded’s part — a real live example of a leftist doubling down rather than admitting to be wrong.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Mao was a real living man too, a rather extraordinary one in his or any circumstances – yet you would “dismiss” him as a cartoon villain too in a heated debate like this. All because, on the road to transforming China, he was slightly crazy or selectively obvious, did some distasteful/taboo things, and caused the suffering of quite a few people. Well, I think that many right-wing authoritarians are complicit in similar or worse things – and that their complicity with old evils gets a free pass, where a leftist resorting to violence to change the brutal system would be branded a ruthless self-serving madman, regardless of the positive results or any virtues of the new order.

            For starters I’d say that the present “War on Drugs” is at least as brutal as anything the Maoist regime was ever complicit in – and I’m as shocked and sickened about Dalrymple’s defense of it as you sound in regards to apologies for Maoism.

            And while Dalrymple himself has, thankfully, no political power, his views have been quoted approvingly by some drug warriors. Go on, read that organ of tyranny – isn’t it troubling that this is the official line of many modern governments on drug policy?

            And this is only the thing that Dalrymple is most devastatingly wrong about, IMO. His aggressive intolerance of modern ethics, modern culture, etc also disgusts me, and again I’m bothered that some people who share it might be in position to act on them. I bet he’d approve of many cruelties in defense of “traditional norms”, like jailing the Pussy Riot girls.

        • Mary says:

          Notice that people being killed for their grandparents is equated in this argument with people voluntarily engaging in illegal activities.

        • Mary says:

          I add that nothing of what Multihead says actually refutes what Dalrymple said. If someone cited Mao on people being badly treated before Communism, that should not be dismissed out of hand.

  50. suntzuanime says:

    This is a really interesting article, and it could explain another of my confusions about Reaction, specifically why reactionaries seem to think everything is going to hell in a handbasket when as far as I can tell things seem to be fine and getting better and you can walk the streets of NYC and maybe not even get murdered.

    That said, I’m not sure that you have to go right-wing to fight off a zombie apocalypse. I’m watching the currently-airing anime Shin Sekai Yori, and one of the most compelling things about it is how it describes a left-wing progressivist society’s response to the zombie (in this case demon) hordes. I wrote about it on my blog: http://suntzuanime.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/shin-sekai-yori-episode-4-restore-the-house-of-bourbon-to-the-throne-of-france/ although it might not make much sense to you if you haven’t seen the first four episodes.

    And yeah, ok, Shin Sekai Yori is fictional. All stories of zombie apocalypses are fictional, but there are some true stories of societies facing down obvious existential threats. Consider the Soviet Union. They had to face their own “zombies” in the form of first German Nazis and then American Capitalists, both of which were poised to destroy them. But they didn’t relax their leftism, they leftism’d even harder. And Communist China, which did relax its leftism a bit, seems not to have relaxed it in response to a fear of destruction, but rather because they wanted to get rich as heck.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Did the Soviet Union really leftism even harder? I mean, I know they used the trappings of leftism, but they basically created a really authoritarian military state where you couldn’t speak out against the leader, everybody marched in lockstep behind a single supreme philosophy, the enemy was viewed as inherently evil, and there was an emphasis on developing the economy at any cost.

      Aside from having pictures of hammers and sickles everywhere, what exactly was leftist about it?

      • Oligopsony says:

        Income distribution. Income and status mobility. Gender. Secularism. Affirmative action. Anti-colonialism. Greater liability of elites to state repression relative to masses. Science worship. Universalist discourse. Post-Stalin, not actually all that much of an emphasis on developing the economy at all costs, if we’re counting that as a component of the left-right axis.

      • Viliam Búr says:

        Could you please write an article explaining why Soviet Union was not a true Left regime? I am especially curious about explanation why many left-wing people around me keep saying that Communism was a good thing.
        Under your hypothesis, the right-wing people should be celebrating the Soviet Union, shouldn’t they? I do know some left-wing people who criticize Soviet Union, but they are in a minority. But I am not aware of right-wing people supporting it.
        To be honest, to me it feels like your reasoning is simply: “Left is good. Soviet Union did these bad things. Therefore, Soviet Union was not Left.” My version is: “Soviet Union was Left, and it did these bad things; therefore Left can also be bad.”

        • Intrism says:

          The Soviet Union was a totalitarian dictatorship. It doesn’t matter what political arrow you paint on the front of one of those; they’re a totalitarian dictatorship first and foremost.

          I personally would argue that such dictatorships always drift right, but this thread is too small to contain such an argument.

        • I spent a long time as part of the radical left in the UK in my late teens and early 20s (from 2001 – 2007 ish), and I don’t remember meeting anyone who was pro-Soviet Union. Post cold war the pro-Soviet left really declined in numbers!

        • Mary says:

          One explanation would be — that the Left contains many of the zombies whose attacks the Right justly fears, and it not only gives them a craving to kill more than the 100 million they’ve done already, it also rots the part of the brain that could tell that this is bad.


    • mrmandias says:

      They went left even harder? I thought it was notorious that when the Nazis started getting grabby, Soviet internal propaganda tamped down on the class warfare stuff and started yakking about ‘Mother Russia’ and reached out to the Orthodox Church for support.

      I think you’re mostly right about Communist China, but remember that (1) they went into detente with the US because of growing hostility and even armed clashes with the Sovs and (2) someone who really wants to make the case can argue that the Communists were actually fairly right-wing in their level of repression and went to ‘left-wing’ freedom and capitalism as the revolution quieted down. This sounds a lot like victory-through-definition to me, but that would be the argument.

      • Mary says:

        It’s the same sort of argument that people use to pretend that involuntary eugenic sterilizations were a right-wing idea when they were progressive all the way.

        They haven’t quite got the gumption to pretend that Woodrow Wilson was not a progressive, so they just say when segregation started, and don’t point out that everyone knew that Wilson would stop busting such laws as the feds during the Reconstruction. (He was too busy segregating the federal workforce and screening Birth of a Nation.)

        You know, that makes Martin Luther King Jr. a reactionary. He wanted to go back to the Reconstruction.

        • Intrism says:

          I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’ll do it again… In Wilson’s time, the label “progressive” meant socially conservative and, if you’re familiar with Haidt, a big emphasis on the purity axis. The modern progressive movement is nothing like this. Kindly stop conflating two very different movements.

          And, no, just because Reconstruction technically happened in the past doesn’t make wanting to return to it “reaction.” Actual tradition was firmly on the side of the segregationists.

          • mrmandias says:

            Again, victory through definition.

          • Intrism says:

            Do you actually understand what that phrase means? I don’t think you do. Go read some LessWrong, and come back when you can explain why the concept you cited wasn’t applicable here.

          • mrmandias says:

            Less Wrong isn’t the Academy Internetaise. I’m sorry if you thought I was speaking jargon and were confused accordingly. I wasn’t.

          • Oligopsony says:

            Personally, I’m a Reactionary who pines for the good old days of 1791, 1804, 1848, 1917, and 1952. Where do I sign up for the Moldclub?

          • Intrism says:

            Right, my apologies for the overreaction. I had interpreted your comment as a grievous and unjustified insult to my argument using LW jargon. I’d appreciate it if you could explain what you actually meant.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Oligopsony: same here, and I’d add the famous reactionary gripes that the goddamn liberals:
            1) made a compromise with the Enemy around 1968, selling out battle-tested principles for personal comfort, some scraps from the table and empty promises;
            2) either show undue softness where strength and conviction could yet win the day, or signal inoffensive but “nice” demands that oblige no-one to any action;
            3) indulge the temptations of fruitless identity politics and ivory-tower seclusion;
            4) simply don’t get the insidious nature and danger of the Enemy, and allow a relentless assault on our hard-won institutions.

            Note to the confused: the above description of far-left grumbling is all true – but half-ironically phrased to imitate the far-rightists who complain about liberals from the mirror opposite direction. Proof:

            But there is more to the station for me than mere nostalgia and comic relief. As intensely annoying—indeed, sometimes sickening—as I find many of the views expressed therein (especially as regards abortion), it is fascinating to see that many of the same public figures and events that annoy me are annoying others for opposite reasons. If I despise this and such a one for going too far, the folk at KPFK are likely to castigate him or it for “selling out” and not going nearly far enough. It helps to put persons, places, and things in perspective.

            Amen to that… you feudal pig.

          • Mary says:

            People who don’t want to be associated with the Progressive movement, flaws and all, should not call themselves progressive.

            Fiat declarations that progressives were conservatives because they did things you don’t like are not only silly, they ignore the little problem that actual conservatives opposed the great progressive movement. It was a conservative Supreme Court Justice who dissented from Buck vs. Bell.

          • Intrism says:

            I’m not calling 1920s Progressives “Conservative” with a capital C or associating them with the Conservative movement. I’m saying that they were social conservatives, i.e. they favored government intervention to protect traditional morality. This is in opposition to modern progressives, who are social liberals, i.e. they do not favor government intervention to protect traditional morality.

          • Oligopsony says:

            “Liberal” used to mean libertarian, “libertarian” used to mean anarchist, “Third Way” used to mean fascist, “social democracy” used to mean communism, and “car” used to mean chariot. Admittedly not optimal, but that’s the world we live in.

          • Damien says:

            People who don’t support the absolute French monarchy shouldn’t call themselves right-wing.

          • mrmandias says:

            The absolute French monarchy never called itself right-wing either.

  51. Multiheaded says:

    Please excuse my exhilaration… it’s happening, dawg! Yvain, a mouthpiece of bourgeois liberalism, is putting reactionists back in their place! Some kind of Counter-Reaction has finally arrived!

    (Sigh, of course it’s nowhere near enough, we need some different vectors of attack too; looks like I’ll have to do my own strafing run on this flak-spewing Sith fortress… I’d better rearm with some Marx XIX semi-guided rockets…)

  52. Mike Blume says:

    Yay, I’m in this post!

    The first time I said to myself “See, Lawful Good is a contradiction!”, it was during the Empire of Blood arc in OotS. Belkar and Roy were in prison, and Durkon refused to spring them, because they’d been held by Legitimate Authorities. And my immediate reaction was, sure Durkon can *call* himself LG, but when forced to choose between Law, and Good, he chooses Law, and any character who chose Good ten times out of ten would never be called Lawful* (my Personal Theory of Alignment says such a character would be called Chaotic Good if ey visibly enjoy having to make the choice, plain Good otherwise).

    On the other hand, I think you’ve *perfectly* identified the *emotional flinch* that caused me to be infuriated at Durkon on that occasion, but to think of any foolish mission-endangering thing Elan might do that it’s just good fun, and they’ll probably be fine.

    * Actually Roy pretty much does this, and people call him Lawful Good. This confuses me somewhat.

    • Sarah says:

      The alignment system never rang true for me at all.

      If I try to map it onto lawful=deontology, good=utilitarian, then “lawful good” doesn’t make any sense, you’re either lawful OR you’re good, there is nothing on earth that we share, there is only Valjean or Javert. And who thinks of themselves as promoting evil anyhow?

      If I wanted to set up an alignment system that actually described how people approach morality, it would probably be more sentiment-based. One axis for humble/awesome, one axis for warm/cold.

      • Jeff Kaufman says:

        Wouldn’t “lawful=deontology, good=utilitarian” combine to give “lawful good=rule utilitarianism”? The belief that following moral rules and legitimate authorities is what will lead to the best outcomes?

      • im says:

        I like the idea of a humility/magnamnity axis. (in games, this would probably be connected to level or some other kind of measure of power, since power is needed for more than minor awesomeness.)

        THe DnD setup, I would say, is actually virtue ethics based perhaps.

        THe Law-Chaos aspect is more like the difference between libertarians and mainstream liberals. It’s about obedience to authority as an end in itself.

        An extremely naive and un-self-aware modern liberal would probably see theself as Lawful Good, libertarians as maybe Chaotic Neutral or Good, anarchists as Chaotic Evil, and modern republicans as Lawful Evil.

      • Michael V says:

        I like Warm/Cold as an axis. Humble/Awesome is definitely a distinct dimension, but seems correlated with level, though possibly in a complex manner where Awesome attitudes make for faster progress but lower ultimate potential?

        In finance, lots of people do think of themselves as evil. Also, remember “Thank You For Smoking”? Or “Lord of War” with it’s great contrast of Evil vs. Corrupt. Actually, the original Harry Potter does that pretty well too.

        Some intellectuals see themselves as “Beyond Good and Evil” but don’t have a suitable replacement.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        If I try to map it onto lawful=deontology, good=utilitarian, then “lawful good” doesn’t make any sense

        That mapping indeed doesn’t make sense, but I’m not sure why you’d want to map it in such a way in the first place. I’d use something like good = empathy/altruism and lawful = respect for authority/rules/honor, which makes perfect sense to me. Utilitarianism/deontology seems like a mostly orthogonal axis.

        And who thinks of themselves as promoting evil anyhow?

        Well, given that in D&D universes, alignment is an objectively measurable thing, probably anyone who notices that the Detect Evil spells ping them. Also, since there are evil gods and races, “evil” in the D&D-verse seems more like a faction label than something that nobody would ever admit being.

    • Misha says:

      A lawful good character wants the best for people and thinks laws and society are pretty good at supplying that. A neutral good character wants the best for people. A chaotic good character wants the best for people, and doesn’t care what gets overturned or changes in his wake.

      The neutral moral axis characters I view as either totally uninterested in human society (ie alien gods, animals, some other races) or simply less motivated. Most citizens of cities are lawful neutral. They respect the laws due to status quo and convenience, but don’t go out of their way to do good or evil.

      A lawful evil character wants the best for himself, and thinks laws are pretty good at supplying that. A neutral evil character wants the best for himself. A chaotic evil character is a dick.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I don’t remember – at that point in the story, was it obvious to Durkon that the Empire of Blood was evil? Because if it wasn’t, then that’s not necessarily an example of Lawful prevailing over Good – just of Lawful prevailing over Chaotic. “Being forced to choose between Law and Good” would imply that letting them stay in jail would be actively Evil, but if Durkon believes in a moral principle like “undermining legitimate authorities strengthens criminals and makes everybody worse off”, then there isn’t any conflict between Good and Lawful in the first place.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      The reason the alignment system doesn’t quite make sense, and doesn’t map sensibly onto real-world philosophies, is that the descriptions of the alignments that are printed in modern editions of D&D have been rather “flanderized” from their original conceptions. 1st Edition (where the alignment descriptions were written by Gygax personally) treated alignments in a much more nuanced way, and it was actually possible to map them to real-world worldviews.

  53. Randy M says:

    Interesting post. I’d quibble about a few aspects of rightism, such as militarism–is there any correlation between left-wing leaders and peace? I think nationalism might be a better descriptor for what you are going for, since both left and right seem willing to use military to enforce their values/interests abroad–and complain when foes do it.
    Also, I don’t like how rightist respect for law gets tied into police and state in your analysis. It seems to miss the libertarian, state-distrusting elements of rightism. I’d say, as far as lawful good represents the right, it is belief in and adherence to a universal code outside oneself, which may be law isn’t necessarily.

    But mostly I’m jealous of your dinner parties.

    • peterdjones says:

      “is there any correlation between left-wing leaders and peace?”

      A problem with the article is that what it describes leftist are the attitudes of US democratic party voters, which, in globale terms, are moderate or centrist. Moderates tend to be peaceful, the far left and far right tend not to be.

  54. Alejandro says:

    I think your schema also meshes well with the minimal definition of “left” and “right”, the only one that has been consistent in the two centuries we have used the terms: the right wants to keep things broadly as they are and always have been, the left wants to implement new ideas which will (in theory) make things better for everyone. (It is in this sense that two hundred years ago, free trade was a left idea.)

    In a high-risk situation like the zombie apocalypse (especially if it is a long and stable zombie apocalypse, like its equivalents in the ancestral environment were) you really want to stick to what has kept you alive so far; those mini-societies who experiment with new sexual mores like feminism or gay rights, or new schemes for producing wealth (free trade 200 years ago) or distributing it (socialism 100 years ago), will probably be doing something not-as-efficient-for-surviving-zombies compared to the traditional ways that have allowed societies to survive so long (since in a ruthless Darwinian environment, most changes are for the worse and lead to extinction). On the other hand, in a secure environment, if someone comes up with an idea that will make things a bit better for all or most people, it is easier to say “why shouldn’t we try this?”

    • One wrinkle in this analysis: it seems like in the current political climate, the people demanding the most radical changes are Republicans who want to greatly scale back the welfare state, along with even more extreme libertarians. Though the current apparent extremism of the American right may be the product of (1) tactical posturing by politicians and (2) a small minority of hardcore libertarians being very loud. Maybe.

      • im says:

        Don’t forget fairly extreme liberals, who are 1. often sneaky and 2. rarely deign to enter the normal political arena.

  55. Intrism says:

    Why do the two ideologies seem broadly stable across different times and cultures, such that it’s relatively easy to point out the Tories as further right than the Whigs, or ancient Athens as further left than ancient Sparta?

    It’s a dichotomy, it’ll map to anything. The question is whether or not an Athenian or a Spartan would recognize the left and right as political concepts of value.

    Meanwhile, conservatives lead things like the home schooling and school choice movements, which seem to be about less government regulation of society.

    Not quite. The point is to subsidize their own well-regulated bubbles – they’re there for Christian fundamentalist schooling, and nothing else. See, for instance, the reaction when an Islamic religious school got funded under Louisiana’s religious voucher program. If it were really about unregulating society, they wouldn’t care about this. Note that these voucher programs often arise to fund religious schools in areas where public schooling is awful, shoving students towards religion with public dollars.

    For example, it seems weird that poor people, the people who are actually desperate and insecure, are often leftist, whereas rich people, the ones who are actually completely safe, are often rightist.

    Perhaps this is really about risk. Rich people could stand to lose a lot if things change, whereas poor people don’t have much to lose.

    • im says:

      – I would add that there are multiple bands here.

      – Desperately poor seem to go for liberals because self-serving

      – Secure but very low status often right-wing, possibly due to OP’s idea or possibly other status-related stuff.

      – Middle class often liberal, because self-serving or because of OP’s idea

      – Petit bourguoise / Moldbug’s Brahmins liberal because of OP’s idea.

      – Plutocrat class and above: Would go for Rockefeller Repulicans if that faction were available today. Self-serving.

  56. Don’t understand the reaction that this sounds like supporting rightism. Halfway though this piece I was thinking, “after this post you won’t need a rebuttal to rightism, you can just say at the end, ‘refuting rightism based on the above is left as an exercise to the reader.'”

    On the whole it’s a nice hypothesis. It occurs to me that it may explain the surprising number of reactionaries among the LessWrong crowd, since fearing techno-apocalypse would seem to support rightism. On the other hand, on your scheme, Eliezer’s view of these matters seems distinctly left-wing: either we create the ultimate utopia where lefty values can flourish, or we’re completely screwed and no amount of right-wing values will save us. Perhaps we should say that the consistent techno-apocalyptic rightist would be one who thinks a medium-scale techno-apocalypse is likely.

    I do see some issues, though. The explanation of religion seems to need more work, at least. As Justin Griffith (Military Director for American Atheists) once said on the issue of praying when the bullets are flying, “SHOOT BACK, DUMBASS!!!!” Why shouldn’t superstition be seen as a luxury only affordable in secure conditions?

    And I share Sarah’s worries about how well the left/right scheme universalizes. See also observations about how left-wing authoritarians look a lot like right-wing authoritarians.

    • MugaSofer says:

      “Halfway though this piece I was thinking, “after this post you won’t need a rebuttal to rightism, you can just say at the end, ‘refuting rightism based on the above is left as an exercise to the reader.’””

      Could you quote the parts that refute points made/described in the last post? Since this post describes both sides as motivated by biases/heuristics rather than, y’know, logic, I saw it as fairly neutral.

      • As Yvain puts it at the end, leftism seems optimized for the situation we’re actually in. And furthermore, the trends that put us in this situation have been very consistent over the centuries (see Pinker etc.), which means we’re unlikely to lose what we have for no good reason and especially not because of the threats that rightist traditionally freak out about like communists or brown people.

        If we screw things up, it’ll probably be because of something weird and novel like nano or AI, so let’s get our military budgets under control and then maybe we can spend some of the money we save figuring out how to reduce the risk from the weird novel threats. (And when I say, “we can spend,” I do mean collectively through our governments; I’d love to see the US federal gov give out grants for the study of existential risk.)

        • Mary says:

          Which brings us back to the two people who thought Chaotic Good and Lawful Good respectively were impossible.

          No, we do not live in the cheery Utopia that is described as the Leftist society. We don’t even live in one that is close to one, and it is inching toward the brink all the time because you can’t sell our children’s future income to China forever.

          • There are at least four reasons why this is wrong:

            1) Prosperity and stability are increasing globally, so we can expect things to keep getting better all around regardless of whether China or the US will get a larger share of the big fat future pie.
            2) People overestimate how much of our debt is foreign as opposed to domestic. Domestically held debt has implications for how the wealth is distributed within the US, but doesn’t create the “debt slavery to China” problem (which wouldn’t exist anyway for other reasons, but still).
            3) Real interest rates for the US government are negative right now. That means that when the US gov goes into debt, people are paying our government to keep their money safe because they trust in its stability that much. Puts the debt in a different perspective.
            4) As long as we have nuclear weapons (and the Pacific Ocean), China is not going to invade to collect their debts. If worst came to worst (and there’s no reason to think it will), we could tell the Chinese to go fuck themselves. Countries do sometimes go bankrupt and come out richer than ever; infrastructure and skilled workers matter more than balance sheets if you’re a country.

          • The danger of stacking our debt isn’t in China trying to foreclose on Los Angeles. The problem is that debt keeps getting rolled over, some of it at less than a year. We need a constant supply of lenders willing to bring an extra trillion to the party every year and no one wanting to sell out.

            The day a US debt auction suddenly runs short of buyers the Fed will have to up the interest rate. That’s going to panic everyone using the USA as a safe deposit box. And then it’s going to be very quick slide to hyperinflation. China’s economy collapsing will be just collateral damage as ours goes the way of Weimar.

            Or, with luck, the Singularity will arrive and save us. Or divine intervention. Possibly the same thing, and with odds equally easy to calculate.

          • That’s probably correct, though the Weimar example seems to reinforce my general position here. The collapse of the Weimar republic wasn’t a permanent disaster for Germany. Instead, a new leadership came in after not too long and made the country get its shit together to the point that it was able to conquer most of Europe, albeit temporarily. And then after Germany lost that war, the parts that got occupied by people with sane economic policies recovered quite nicely economically, to the point that Germany today is the 4th largest economy in the world today.

            So economically, the prognosis doesn’t look that bad. Politically, one hopes that if it came to that we could emulate Germany’s economic recoveries without the war, genocide, and being occupied by foreign powers. But even there I’m optimistic, since if you look at recent examples of countries that have gone bankrupt they haven’t responded by invading everything in sight.

          • Mary says:

            Actually what happens is that the Treasury ‘buys” the debt, which means it runs the presses. Weimar Germany, here we come.

            And the problem is not the debt slavery but that China no longer wants our money which means a crashing halt to all those welfare programs regardless of what you think of it.

          • Mary says:

            As for the claim that prosperity and stability are increasing globally —


            Arab Spring is ushering in Islamism, and so oppression and violence. Great Britain and France have already seen riots about the need to reform the welfare state. Greece has seen murderous riots.

            You are simply imagining you are back in the Victorian Age, when such a claim was plausible.

          • Intrism says:

            China no longer wants our money

            Funny, our interest rates haven’t gone up. I’m going to assume that this is false. More seriously, buying US Treasuries is how China keeps their exchange rates low – they’re not going to stop doing it.

            Arab Spring is ushering in Islamism

            Not really. Egypt is the only Arab Spring nation that’s been having serious issues with Islamism. Libya has stayed secular and Tunisia’s ruling party is technically Islamist but very moderate.

            Great Britain and France have already seen riots about the need to reform the welfare state. Greece has seen murderous riots.

            France has seen protests and strikes, not riots. While there has been a recent riot in England, it was triggered by police brutality and not commentary on the welfare state. Greece is the only country that’s seen actual riots.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            (Damnit, I keep posting this comment to the wrong part of the thread. Sorry, this indenting gets confusing. Scott, could you delete the triplicates?)

            As for the claim that prosperity and stability are increasing globally –


            2012, The Greatest Year of All Time for Humanity

            After Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedy, you may not be feeling it… but 2012 was the greatest year of all time for humanity. You read that right. Yes, the western world remains in the economic doldrums and biting our nails over a fiscal cliffhanger, but the developing world has been lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. What’s more… the death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also at an all time low. There has never been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. It’s true, we are now living in a golden age.

            (Annoyingly, the article does not cite any sources, but its claims do seem to match up with the claims of other places that do cite reliable sources.)

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          As for the claim that prosperity and stability are increasing globally –


          2012, The Greatest Year of All Time for Humanity

          After Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedy, you may not be feeling it… but 2012 was the greatest year of all time for humanity. You read that right. Yes, the western world remains in the economic doldrums and biting our nails over a fiscal cliffhanger, but the developing world has been lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. What’s more… the death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also at an all time low. There has never been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. It’s true, we are now living in a golden age.

          (Annoyingly, the article does not cite any sources, but its claims do seem to match up with the claims of other places that do cite reliable sources.)

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        As for the claim that prosperity and stability are increasing globally –


        2012, The Greatest Year of All Time for Humanity

        After Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedy, you may not be feeling it… but 2012 was the greatest year of all time for humanity. You read that right. Yes, the western world remains in the economic doldrums and biting our nails over a fiscal cliffhanger, but the developing world has been lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. What’s more… the death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also at an all time low. There has never been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. It’s true, we are now living in a golden age.

        (Annoyingly, the article does not cite any sources, but its claims do seem to match up with the claims of other places that do cite reliable sources.)

  57. András Kovács says:

    I really like this post. I can’t remember ever seeing a model of political axes that makes this much sense.

    • gwern says:

      Ever? Come on, this is just the old “Tragic view” model of conservatism, mixed in with a bit of Haidt and Adorno’s authoritarian personality and given a clever modern zombie gloss.

    • im says:

      Yeah. Most political axes seem to be made incredibly biased. The ur-example is the ‘social issues – economic issues’ libertarian graph that is rotated to place the libertarian attractor at the top and the statist position (which is not even really an attractor) at the bottom.

      One somewhat more useful one was a 3d system consisting of that plus an authoritarian / antiauthoritarian axis.

  58. Fnord says:

    You mention respect of hierarchy and conformity as rightist values. And those (sometimes with authority substituting for or supplementing hierarchy) are frequently mentioned as unifying themes. To what extent do they render the rest of your model unnecessary?

    Police and the military are valued because they’re the tools to enforce the authority of the hierarchy (and, as agents of a broader authority, are entitled to respect as surrogate authorities in their own right). And they’re pretty good examples of conformity (uniforms and all that) and hierarchy (particularly the military) in their own right.

    Religion is a major part of social conformity in human cultures. Note that tolerance for minority religious is frequently less of a rightest value.

    Suspicion of outsiders is an obvious corollary of conformity. Purity/contamination ethics and black and white thinking, as they relate to obeying the taboos of the group and rejecting those who don’t as contaminated are likewise connected to conformity.

    So that leaves guns, maximizing wealth, practical skills, and sentimentality. And to what extent are those universal rightist values as opposed to values associated with the current political right?

    Maximizing wealth/laissez faire economics wasn’t a feature of the Spartan ethos, or that of the medieval European aristocracy. Right now, we’re in a capitalist, nominally classless society. Wealth is an important marker (perhaps the most important marker) of standing in the hierarchy, so it gets respect. All the more so when it’s a matter of eschewing regulations about what those high the hierarchy are allowed to do to those lower (bonus points if it’s an explicit hierarchy, like the hierarchy within a specific corporation), which is clearly a matter of respecting hierarchy.

    Practical skills, again, don’t seem to be a universal value. As the Harvard entrance exam showed, knowledge of Latin and Greek was frequently a mark of high status (as opposed to, as was pointed out by comments, the foreign languages we teach now that have native speakers). But in the current society, wealth is the mark of hierarchy, so what’s valued are skills that are useful for earning wealth. Also, of course, it’s a reaction against the “impractical” portions of the academy being taken over by their political enemies.

    Is lack of sentimentality a value on the political right even now? Yeah, they’re opposed to welfare, but that’s the whole wealth = hierarchy thing again, so those low on the modern hierarchy don’t get respect. But there seems to be sentimentality about religious things, for example. Certainly, eg, veneration of the elderly, was a rightest value in some settings.

    Guns is perhaps the hardest to fit. Where weapons (as opposed to militarism) major rightest values in the premodern era? Or even now, outside the US? I honestly don’t know.

    • Fnord says:

      I don’t think the idea of surviving/thriving is necessarily irrelevant to this. Survival needs to push towards hierarchy and conformity. And various pleasure-maximizing desires push away from it in times of plenty. So all that is as you point out, and that’s part of what drives the progress towards leftism (which, over all of history, is not at all a steady march).

      But, well, there seems to be more to the story. Rome was moving right well before the Fall (most obviously, the transition from a republic to a dictatorship).

      • Oligopsony says:

        But, well, there seems to be more to the story. Rome was moving right well before the Fall (most obviously, the transition from a republic to a dictatorship).

        Not so for the treatment of women, slaves, and those-who-had-previously-been-defined-as-foreigners, whose fortunes tended to rise with increasing centralism and autocracy.

        • Fnord says:

          You may be right. Although, on at least some of those things (particularly, I believe, treatment of women), post-Fall Europe might still be more better than Classical Athens. Especially if we include the Eastern Roman Empire.

          Which brings up the point discussed in other comments that political history is rather more complicated than unified shifts to a universal idea of left or right.

        • Mary says:

          Spartan women, yeah. Helot women, not so much.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You make a good point regarding my point 1, but I don’t know if “respect for authority” fits my points 3 and 4. It may be that the only important thing having a more stable society does is decrease the need to worry about authority, but I still think it’s important to relate this to neuropolitics, signaling games, and historical trends.

      • Fnord says:

        Allow me to address point 3 and 4 separately.

        First, point 3:

        3) Why do these basically political ideas correlate so well with moral, aesthetic, and religious preferences?

        Because politics, morality, aesthetics, and religion are not distinct and unconnected things.

        Morality is supposed to be a guide for all human action. Of course it’s connected to political ideas.

        Aesthetics I think I need to think about some more. I will say that, to the extent that art is means for conveying ideas, ideas of any sort will be tied into aesthetics.

        As for religion, for most of history, following the state religion was the norm. Religious freedom and the separation of church and state are relatively modern ideas, indeed, in many ways, leftist ideas.

        All this is actually independent of my idea of rightism as respect for authority and conformism.

      • Fnord says:

        4) The original question: how come, given enough time and left to itself, leftism seems to usually win out over rightism, pushing the Overton window a bit forward until there’s a new leftism and rightism?

        I don’t have an answer to this question. The respect for authority and conformity idea doesn’t contain an answer, without an empirical analysis of the conditions that cause leftism appear and the conditions that cause rightism to appear. But, I think, the only reason the survive/thrive model has an answer is that it’s begging the empirical question.

        Respect for authority and conformity is a unifying theme of rightist values based only on the content of rightist values themselves. The survive/thrive model has built-in the assumption of what environments give are optimal for and give rise to rightist versus leftist values. Knowing that leftist values are favored under conditions of prosperity and security, it’s easy to see why leftist values are favored by the advance of technology.

        You’re still left to actually show that rightist values arise from insecurity while leftist values arise from prosperity, though. To show not merely that the security-insecurity distinction existed in Classical Greece, but that it was Athens that was shaped by security and Sparta by insecurity. You already saw you have a bit of an issue with the poor leftist/rich rightist thing.

    • im says:

      I think that guns are kind of an artifact to the modern-day US although I don’t really know. THe NRA’s desperate war against gun control is <50 years old.

      • altereggo says:

        You’d have a lot more credibility if you got your facts remotely right.

        • Multiheaded says:

          But he’s correct. American conservatives were the first to push for gun control in the 60s, when the black radical leftists started bearing arms in public to nonviolently deter police brutality against African-Americans. Then, scared by the upheavals of the 60s, American mainstream liberals bought into it – just like they bought into the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” and what not.

          As, IIRC, Corey Robin pointed out several times, American mainstream “liberalism” is actually very close to American conservatism in its ideology; liberals merely want a “motherly”/”nurturing” and more regulated structure of dominance, in place of the conservative paternalistic rule and hypermasculine culture. But this ends up merely preserving the underlying facts of domination – as Moldbug would say, the “Brahmin” replace the “Optimates”. (Except that Moldbug is deluded enough to think that the “Optimates” and the old structure were somehow noble and more “deserving” – a typical quasi-Nietzschean substitution of ethics with aesthetics.)

        • Mary says:

          As an argument that would be rather more impressively if you weren’t using “non-violently” to mean “murderously and treasonably.”

          (Murder definitely. Treason if you take them at their word.)

    • Damien says:

      Hmm, interesting points! Medieval Europe wasn’t set up for wealth maximization… at least, not efficiently. Perhaps it was set up for maximum local food production as best they knew how. Survival, again. Warring hurt that but they weren’t organized at a big level.

      “Where weapons (as opposed to militarism) major rightest values in the premodern era?”

      Well, there’s the aristocratic right to go armed. Sword-fetish and all. Problem is that pre-modern is usually also more formally classist, and you’re not going to see “let’s arm the peasants”.

      As for alternate ideas, I just remembered my own, which is perhaps more parochial, that modern urban life breeds (US) liberal values: http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/568937.html?thread=2310761#t2310761
      As we urbanize, liberalism would go up.

      @Oligopsony: “whose fortunes tended to rise with increasing centralism and autocracy.”

      Hmm. AIUI the Roman Republic was *always* centralized and autocratic with respect to the world outside Rome. The provinces had no feedback into the government, which was just the municipal government of Rome. Kind of as if the NYC city council ran the US.

  59. Apprentice says:

    What’s your take on the farmer / forager idea?

    • Athrelon says:

      I like it as a partial explanation of what’s going on. Farming is what you get when you take foragers (who were mostly post-scarcity) and throw them into a Malthusian environment where wealth generation is essential to survival. As you get richer, you’d prefer to revert to natural forager ways if possible – you no longer optimize strongly for growth.

      Note that both this model and Scott’s have some disturbing implications for the sustainability of future growth. For singulatarians, it also suggests an unconventional solution to the Fermi paradox…

  60. Sarah says:

    I really don’t buy the premise that the left/right spectrum is a lasting historical force.

    19th century Republicans and Democrats, for instance. They sure as heck don’t look like a left-right split to me. The Republicans were the anti-slavery party, but they were also *wildly* pro-free-market, and anti-immigrant relative to the Democrats.

    Reading 19th-century novels like Middlemarch with a strong political component, I can’t really figure out their politics, or, with any confidence, map it onto modern left/right.

    Also, what about outside the West? Does this make sense in China?

    And there’s this weird phenomenon when you read people from the past and they seem…wildly incongruent with “left” or “right” tags. Shaw and Wells are moderate socialists whose views on women, authority, and genetics are…more or less like a more aggressive version of Razib Khan’s. Richard Wright is an ex-communist who never really made friends with capitalism…and he goes to Ghana and says things that you just *can’t say* about poor countries today.

    I think we project a left/right frame onto the past instead of really inhabiting it. Do we *know* Athens or Sparta? Really? I don’t have a classical education, but here’s the thing: once I saw a transcription of Ancient Greek music and tried to play it on the piano. It was not recognizable as music. I could not understand how they could have thought this was a song. I also could not understand how many of the jokes in Aristophanes were supposed to be jokes. These people were *alien* on a deep, deep level. It’s not quite “His god is not my god” territory, but realizing the weirdness of the past is an experience with a similar flavor. I really, really doubt that if we knew what we were talking about we would think Athens was “left” and Sparta was “right.”

    • Athrelon says:

      re: ancient China – obviously we don’t have political parties, but these guys do look pretty proto-right and left, respectively, if you squint a little. It’s also amusing to read this debate in light of modern-day debates on regulation.

      More broadly wouldn’t consider “parties don’t look right” strong evidence about lack of left-right ideology. Coalition dynamics don’t always break down along party lines – certainly the current Democrat-voting lower class has super-conservative beliefs about homosexuality, for example.

      I consider a stronger argument the concern that we’re projecting a left/right frame onto the past.

      • gwern says:

        IMO, anyone who doesn’t think that the Legalists fit perfectly into the theory of rightism proposed here needs to go read up on the Warring States period and also read the Book of Lord Shang. Shang makes Moldbug looks like an effete Berkeley leftist.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Agreed. Improbably enough, I read the Book of Lord Shang (in English) when I was like 14… because it was in the same paperback volume as The Art of War… which I begged my parents to buy when I saw it at a bookstore… while we were on vacation in Germany.

          The Art of War came in handy for playing Medieval: Total War (the applicability of its heuristics hence became my test of wargame quality)… but man, BoLS was a fucking chilling read.

          The six parasites are: rites and music, odes and history, moral culture and virtue, filial piety and brotherly love, sincerity and faith, chastity and integrity…

          Yeah, Shang literally proposes eliminating all those. Which are taken from the list of Confucian virtues. Paperclips for the paperclip god! Thrones for the, um, throne throne!

        • Mary says:

          Nonsense. The Legalist theory went to war for the sake of maintaining control; they did not maintain control for the sake of the risk of war.

          • gwern says:

            “An empire long united, must divide; an empire long divided, must unite. This has been so since antiquity.”

    • Deiseach says:

      I’d be interested to know what music this was, any chance of a link?

      As to no need for police in the post-scarcity future, I disagree. Right now we have police who deal with financial fraud and art theft and forgery, for two examples off the top of my head. You might not have the rozzers hauling drunks off the street in the shiny new times, but if status is the signifier of worth, people will try and cheat and steal and cause others to lose status either in reputation or by taking property (or whatever will be used instead of currency/property; swindling Jones out of his hard-earned access to the New National Park Dodo Enclosure may be just as criminal as stealing his wallet).

      So I don’t think we’ll see the back of lawyers yet – and, since you mention that parents may get ‘bored’, even with the mind-wipe centres, I presume boredom and the like will still afflict our fortunate descendants. So little Billy may not need to shoplift, but if he gains status (the new currency of value) from his peers or the in-group he wants to join by, say, hacking the Machine of Plenty factory and causing it to churn out six million pairs of left gloves, why wouldn’t he do that? It doesn’t cause any real damage beyond being an annoyance, and he gets the credit he craves.

    • Jeff Kaufman says:

      “once I saw a transcription of Ancient Greek music and tried to play it on the piano. It was not recognizable as music. I could not understand how they could have thought this was a song.”

      My guess is that you weren’t playing it anything like an Ancient Greek musician would have played it. If you take music from anywhere in the world and listen to it as it is played, it sounds pretty much like music. Often I don’t like it very much, but it’s pretty clearly music.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Can you find an example of alien ancient Greek music on youtube? The stuff that pops up when I search sounds like music to me. Obviously, there is bias in what gets recorded and distortion by the performer, but you ought to be able to find an example to explain what you mean.

      • komponisto says:

        My guess would be that Sarah was talking about the Seikilos epitaph, or something like it.

        Assuming the modern transcription is accurate, I don’t find it “alien” at all, just primitive.

        • Sarah says:

          oh! I think that was it!
          Now listening to it, it kind of works as music, I was wrong, it sounds a bit like early music.

          I think when I encountered it I had never heard anything outside the octatonic and my brain parsed all other scales as “random sequence of notes.”

        • I’m betting that it would have been played with more variation of volume and rhythm– the online version strikes me as maximally drab.

    • mrmandias says:

      Absolutely agree. If you actually read antique sources instead of reading massaged modern reconceptualizations, you don’t get a Left-Right vibe. You get an Athenian-Spartan vibe.

    • Doug S. says:

      Ancient Greek music would have been played using a different tuning system. If the transcribers didn’t correct for it, then playing it on modern instruments that uses discrete notes (such as a piano) would result in something that, well, doesn’t sound like music.

      • komponisto says:

        If you think the difference between Pythagorean tuning and equal temperament is enough to turn music into non-music, then you have an extremely narrow conception of “music”.

        What do you mean by “discrete notes”? After all, there exists such a thing as a Pythagorean scale, and a “scale” is nothing if not a division of the pitch continuum into “discrete notes”.

        (Please notice your confusion!)

        • Doug S. says:

          If you think the difference between Pythagorean tuning and equal temperament is enough to turn music into non-music, then you have an extremely narrow conception of “music”.

          Looks like I fell into the “a little knowledge can be a ridiculous thing” trap. I know that instruments that are out of tune can be very unpleasant to listen to, and that Pythagorean scales are different than chromatic scales, so I put that together and got “you’ll get stuff that doesn’t sound right if you try to play the music with the wrong tuning system, because notes that should be consonant will be dissonant and vice versa”. I guess the effect isn’t that big?

          What do you mean by “discrete notes”? After all, there exists such a thing as a Pythagorean scale, and a “scale” is nothing if not a division of the pitch continuum into “discrete notes”.

          Basically, what I meant to say is that some instruments, such as violins and trombones, can play quarter tones easily and others, such as pianos, cannot. You can’t play a note between C and C sharp on a piano because there’s no “C half sharp” key, but you can do it on a violin by changing the position of your fingers.

          • komponisto says:

            Looks like I fell into the “a little knowledge can be a ridiculous thing” trap.

            For some reason music is one of those subjects such that “popularization-level” knowledge is insufficient to allow one to draw non-ridiculous inferences. (Note to self: try to fix this some day.)

            Pythagorean scales are different than chromatic scales

            Not exactly. This is actually a category error. Pythagorean scales are different from equal-tempered scales (and meantone scales, and just-intonation sclaes, and…), whereas chromatic scales are different from diatonic scales (and pentatonic scales, and octatonic scales, and…) . You could certainly have a Pythagorean chromatic scale, though of course it wouldn’t sound exactly the same as an equal-tempered chromatic scale. (However, it would sound similar; many people in many contexts wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.)

            You can’t play a note between C and C sharp on a piano because there’s no “C half sharp” key, but you can do it on a violin by changing the position of your fingers.

            This is true but orthogonal to the issue of tuning systems, except insofar as a violinist can change tuning systems “on the fly”. But a piano could be tuned to the Pythagorean system if desired (see above).

            notes that should be consonant will be dissonant and vice versa

            Consonance and dissonance are relational properties between notes, so one should say “intervals will be dissonant…”. And at least as generally used in music theory, these terms refer to musical properties of intervals conceived within a diatonic system, not to acoustical properties independent of a musical system (i.e., they distinguish between things like seconds and thirds, not between things like Pythagorean thirds and equal-tempered thirds).

    • Damien says:

      “Shaw and Wells are moderate socialists whose views on women, authority, and genetics are…more or less like a more aggressive version of Razib Khan’s”

      Though there’s a progressive spin on the eugenics of the time: the idea that human nature was improvable by human action, not an unchangeable gift (or curse) from God.

      ” The Republicans were the anti-slavery party, but they were also *wildly* pro-free-market”

      Eh, were they? My impression is that they were more of a big business party, happy with tariffs and internal improvements, both of which the Democrats opposed. The Democrats were a populist anti-government party… of course slaves didn’t count as people, at least to Southern Democrats.

      I think there’s something to survive/thrive. I’m not sure it’s everything. A common political axis I see through history is rich/poor and privilege/equality. From Greek oligarchs/democrats through Roman optimates/populares and the French Revolution left/right to today. I’m not sure if this can be hooked up to survive/thrive neatly. Equality struggles have a momentum of their own, I think; it’s possible to fight for equality in only one dimension, but the logic of the arguments tends to erode barriers and expand its scope.

      One hookup: when in thriving conditions, or in conditions in which you think thriving is possible, worrying about equality becomes more feasible, perhaps. The 30 years leading up to the Revolution had an unprecedented lack of famines… and then food shortages right at the end. A generation had grown up without the fear of starving every few years.

      Conversely, the Spartans spent a lot of effort on keeping themselves equal — and utterly superior to the helots.

  61. Oligopsony says:

    I think that according to your scheme certain parts of the radical left would be “rightist,” albeit very unusual rightists. Relatedly, I don’t think it really explains the left you see in the third world, which is very attuned to crisis (livining in it as they do.) It also seems at odds with the general observation that conservatives tend to be temperamentally happier and more optimistic, and to value optimism more, although arguably optimism is more valuable in crisis mode.

    To some extent I think you’ve very ably outlined a decent hypothesis for an individualist-communitarian axis, which together with certain configurations of interests can be mapped on to the left-right distinction.

    • Oligopsony says:

      On reflection, perhaps your model can explain the missing data by recourse to “enjoy prosperity,” “survive crisis,” and “solve crisis” modes. I still think the actual historical diversity of ideologies is best explained by the historical diversity of interested actors, but this might go some way to explaining some of the themes in flavor that seem to appear time and again.

    • im says:

      I’d add that for some leftists, they seem to have taken the survivalist right-wing approach but at a much lower level of fatality (focusing around trauma and social acceptance, not death and survival.)

  62. naath says:

    School choice>

    Well, the rightists love it because they want to send their children to Faith Schools where they will be taught all about God and not at all about sex or evolution…

    But why do the leftists hate it? I have two – Firstly I think that by allowing parents to make those choice you deprive the children of future choice-making ability because you deprive them of knowledge; Secondly I think that this sort of choice often leads to class-based sorting, and for a variety of reasons school where most of the children come from poor backgrounds do a lot worse.

    • Mary says:

      One could as easily argue that sending them to public schools deprives them of future choice-making ability because you deprive them of knowledge. No, more easily. The children of high-school dropouts who homeschool do better on academic than the children of high-school dropouts who attend public schools, even though obviously in one case they’re being taught by a college-educated teacher and the other, by a homeschool drop-out.

      Also, another reason coudl be that the leftists think that the schools will improve the children’s chances of being leftists.

      • Intrism says:

        The children of high-school dropouts who homeschool do better on academic than the children of high-school dropouts who attend public schools

        Ahem, big obvious confounding factor in the time the parent spends with the child. Cite me a source that controls for that, and then we’ll talk.

        • Mary says:

          You want a study that controls for that fact that the parent is home-schooling? And you somehow thinks that this refutes the test results?

          • Oligopsony says:

            Perhaps we could control for class size instead.

          • Intrism says:

            I want a study that’s not comparing kids who never get to see their parents to kids who spend their whole days with ’em. Seems like a reasonable request.

          • Fnord says:

            It’s not that parents spend more time with kids (to the extent that’s an advantage of homeschooling over traditional schooling, it’s something that should count in homeschooling’s favor). It’s a matter of “parents who care enough about their children to make specific choices and expend significant additional resources on their education” versus “parents who make the default choice”. The relevant comparison group to homeschoolers isn’t generic public school kids, it’s kids whose parents made the specific choice to send them to a private school (or who otherwise made a costly or at least deliberate choice on how to educate their children).

          • Mary says:

            Nonsense. The claim was made that liberals oppose home-schooling because by homeschooling “you deprive the children of future choice-making ability because you deprive them of knowledge.” Given that homeschooling in fact increases the child’s knowledge, this is bosh regardless of the reason why the child has more knowledge, so either the liberal don’t oppose it for that reason, or they are opposing it for a lie.

            To bring up class size, or parental attention, or parental engagement, is not a reasonable request but a blatant and obvious attempt to evade the overtly obvious truth, that you can not oppose homeschooling on the grounds it keeps children ignorant.

          • Intrism says:

            Excuse me? If you’ve ever studied education you know how important parental engagement is. And your study seems to have deliberately picked out the lowest-parental-engagement group to compare to what is by definition the highest-parental-engagement group Isn’t that even a little suspicious? In fact, we’re also talking about high school dropouts who can afford to not work in order to homeschool their children, so there’s another weird. So the groups you’re trying to compare – children of high-school dropouts who go to public school and children of high-school dropouts who are homeschooled – are ridiculously vastly different and you’ve told me nothing about anything the study did to control for that.

            I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this effect will go away if you change anything important about the study design – look at middle-class or college-educated families instead of high-school dropouts, control for hours spent with parents outside of school, et cetera.

          • Intrism says:

            And, just as a note, I’m not opposed to homeschooling in general, just to your (awful) study and to the fact that homeschooling often means “religious indoctrination” in practice. (Indeed, if I ever have children I would need to give serious thought to homeschooling them – I happen to think that the standard school system serves people of high intelligence very poorly.)

          • Oligopsony says:

            Indeed, if I ever have children I would need to give serious thought to homeschooling them – I happen to think that the standard school system serves people of high intelligence very poorly.

            I have to admit, I admire the implied chutzpah here.

          • Intrism says:

            Allow me to phrase that more delicately. I was frustrated, I can see how to optimize it, and if I should happen to have kids who are like me I want to perform that optimization if I can.

          • Mary says:

            So — you think that attending public school is on the face of it evidence that a parent is not engaged with the children?

          • Intrism says:

            I think the following three axioms: Not graduating high school is evidence against being engaged with the children. Sending one’s children to public school (in regions without notably deficient public schools) is not evidence either way. Homeschooling one’s children is evidence in favor of being engaged with the children.

          • Oligopsony says:

            So — you think that attending public school is on the face of it evidence that a parent is not engaged with the children?

            Extraordinarily weak evidence, yes, since that is what the vast majority indeed do, and an even vaster majority of the uninvolved do. That’s how default options typically work!

          • School takes up so much time that parents who home school are likely to spend a lot more time with their children.

        • Mary says:

          Nice bait-and-switch, Intrism. Blathering about parental involvement in hopes of drowning the facts that a situations where children learn more is not one where they have been kept in ignorance.

  63. Erik says:

    This model appeals to me.

    • im says:

      To me, only in a limited way. Some of the aesthetic considerations seem wrong. I’d say it describes modern mainstream liberalism and only some (very significant) factions of conservatism.

      • Modern *American* mainstream liberalism.

        Other countries and times would frame those things very differently.

        For instance, it never crossed the very far-right minds of the Brazilian military dictators that home schooling could be a good idea. Indeed, I don’t think it crossed their olive-green intellects that it could be an idea, at all.

  64. Fnord says:

    School choice and home schooling are rightist issues at least in part because of the religion issue. Parochial schools and all that.

    And, of course, the nature of the political system means that once an issue is associated with one side or the other, the association is self-perpetuating.

  65. You’re really selling reaction here.

    I’m hoping for an amazing rebuttal in the pipeline.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      …this post was not intended to sell Reaction. If anything, it was about how it was adapted for conditions that no longer exist. If you’re in a stable society without zombies, optimizing your life for zombie defense is a waste of time; working towards not-immediately-survival-related but nice and beautiful and enjoyable things like the environment and equality and knowledge-for-knowledge’s sake may be an excellent choice.

      I hope I didn’t come off *too* conservative.

      • I assumed this was still part of the “this is what reaction is all about, which I will later explain to be nonsense” series.

        I’m probably in the “holding my breath for something to go terribly wrong” camp, although for leftist reasons such as the environment omg we’re going to run out of oil and the greenhouse effect and and and.

        I think your post can be perhaps read either way depending on one’s assessment of the stability of society? More comments should be interesting.

      • Damien says:

        *I* thought the intended point was obvious.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        This argument contains a fatal flaw. While the post explains under what conditions conservatism and liberalism are optimized to operate, it never states what they are optimizing for. If conservationism and liberalism are really differing strategies that evolution has built into our brains, then they are optimized for the only thing the blind idiot god ever optimizes for; inclusive fitness. This sounds plausible; in a hostile environment, the most important requirement for reproduction would be surviving, while in a safe environment, accruing status and winning signalling games would get you the highest amount of females (or give you a chance to sleep with the highest status male if you were a female, thus having children with genes that led to high status).

        The problem with all this, of course, is that we don’t care about genetic fitness. If liberalism has not been optimized for happiness, or wholesomeness, or something else we actually value, then why the devil would we care if it was designed to work better under our current conditions? What it is working towards is not something we actually want.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Whoops, should have written “rightism” and “leftism” instead of “conservatism/conservationism” and “liberalism”. Specially since “conservationism” is a completely different thing. Fucking spellchecker.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Just stumbled across Anonymous Conservative’s theory that conservatives and liberals correspond to K and r strategists, respectively. I found it thematically similar enough to post here.

          …I can’t post the link; I keep getting error messages. Just go to www(dot)anonymousconservative(dot)com