Liberalismo, populismo e tecnocracia

Jan-Werner Mueller, “Can Liberalism Save Itself?“:

Needless to say, technocratic rhetoric provides an excellent opening for populists, because it invites the very questions that populists are wont to ask: Where are the citizens in all this? How can there be a democracy without choices? This is how technocracy and populism can start to reinforce one another. They can seem like opposites – the intellectual versus the emotional, the rational versus the irrational. And yet each is ultimately a form of anti-pluralism.

The technocratic assertion that there is only one rational solution to a problem means that anyone who disagrees with that solution is irrational, just as the populist claim that there is only one authentic popular will means that anyone who disagrees must be a traitor to the people. Lost in the fateful technocratic-populist interplay is everything one might think of as crucial to democracy: competing arguments, an exchange of ideas, compromise. In the absence of democratic discourse, politics becomes a contest between only two options. And those committed to either side share the view that there are never any alternatives.

Dos erros do liberalismo

John Gray, “The problem of hyper-liberalism”:

If history is any guide, large numbers want a sense of security as much as, or more than, personal autonomy.

Liberals who rail at populist movements are adamant that voters who support them are deluded or deceived. The possibility that these movements are exploiting needs that highly individualist societies cannot satisfy is not seriously considered. In the liberalism that has prevailed over the past generation such needs have been dismissed as atavistic prejudices, which must be swept away wherever they stand in the way of schemes for transnational government or an expanding global market. This stance is one reason why anti-liberal movements continue to advance. Liberalism and empiricism have parted company, and nothing has been learnt. Some of the strongest evidence against the liberal belief that we learn from our errors and follies comes from the behaviour of liberals themselves.

(…).

In the past, liberals have struggled to reconcile their commitment to liberty with a recognition that people need a sense of collective belonging as well. In other writings Mill balanced the individualism of On Liberty with an understanding that a common culture is necessary if freedom is to be secure, while Isaiah Berlin acknowledged that for most people being part of a community in which they can recognize themselves is an integral part of a worthwhile life. These insights were lost, or suppressed, in the liberalism that prevailed after the end of the Cold War. If it was not dismissed as ata­vistic, the need for a common identity was regarded as one that could be satisfied in private life. A global space was coming into being that would recognize only universal humanity. Any artefact that embodied the achievements of a particular state or country could only be an obstacle to this notional realm. The hyper-liberal demand that public spaces be purged of symbols of past oppression continues a post-Cold War fantasy of the end of history.

Liberals who are dismayed at the rise of the new intolerance have not noticed how much they have in common with those who are imposing it. Hyper-liberal “snowflakes”, who demand safe spaces where they cannot be troubled by disturbing facts and ideas, are what their elders have made them. Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past. Insignificant in itself and often comically absurd, the current spate of campus frenzies may come to be remembered for the part it played in the undoing of what is still described as the liberal West.

O regresso da utopia

No seio do CDS parece ter sido adaptada e adoptada aquela máxima de que uma mentira muitas vezes repetida se torna verdade. No caso, a ideia de que o CDS poderá rapidamente ultrapassar o PSD, tornar-se na principal força partidária à direita e liderar um governo já após as próximas legislativas. É uma ideia fomentada e verbalizada por Assunção Cristas e pessoas que lhe são próximas, os mesmos que falam na necessidade de o CDS se pautar pelo pragmatismo. Pensava que o pragmatismo (ou realismo), que em larga medida se inspira no conservadorismo, aconselhava contra sonhos utópicos e incentivava a ter em consideração as lições da história, a olhar para a realidade política e a actuar no quadro dos constrangimentos que esta apresenta. Mas talvez seja eu que esteja enganado. Vou reler Burke.

Candidaturas abertas para os mestrados e doutoramentos da Universidade da Beira Interior

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Estão abertas as candidaturas para os cursos de Mestrado e Doutoramento da Universidade da Beira Interior. Para os interessados nos cursos de Ciência Política e Relações Internacionais, aqui ficam as ligações directas para as páginas dos respectivos cursos:

Mestrado em Relações Internacionais

Mestrado em Ciência Política

Doutoramento em Ciência Política (em associação com a Universidade de Aveiro)

Sobre as alterações à lei do financiamento partidário

Já quase tudo se disse a respeito das alterações à lei do financiamento partidário. O processo foi desastroso, as explicações e justificações ainda mais, mas o conteúdo das alterações não me parece chocante, à excepção da possibilidade de aplicação retroactiva da isenção do IVA. Por mim, os partidos até poderiam estar isentos de todos os impostos e não ter qualquer limite à angariação de fundos, mas, em contrapartida, não receberiam subvenções estatais e teria de ser criado um regime de enquadramento legal da actividade de lobbying ou representação de interesses, passando as contas e a actividade dos partidos com assento parlamentar a serem muito mais transparentes e escrutinadas – o que, obviamente, não interessa a quem legisla e se senta à mesa do Orçamento. Agora, querer o melhor de dois mundos, subvenções partidárias pagas pelo Orçamento do Estado e doações e angariações de fundos sem limite é que me parece algo digno de indignação e uma questão para a qual ainda não vi ninguém alertar.

China, Rússia e a subversão das democracias liberais

Larry Diamond, This Sputnik Moment:

The proliferating global influence activities of China and Russia diverge from traditional means of public diplomacy. Instead, they use wealth, stealth and coercion to coopt influential policy voices and players, control information flows, censor unfavorable reporting and analysis, and ultimately mold societal attitudes and government postures.

The methods vary. Each regime has relied heavily on the promotion of its state-controlled media abroad, such as Xinhua News Agency, CGTV, and RT (formerly Russia Today). Russia has been perfecting a new form of geopolitical warfare, using social media to intensify political polarization, inflame social divisions, sow doubt and cynicism about democracy, and promote pro-Russian politicians and parties. Through investments, partnership agreements, donations, exchanges, positions on boards of directors, and other “friendly” relations, China has fostered wider and deeper penetration into the vital tissues of democracies—media, publishing houses, entertainment industries, technology companies, universities, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations. These intrusions are rapidly expanding not only in the West but in Latin America, post-communist Europe, and Africa as well. In different but perhaps equally devastating ways, China and Russia are using the openness and pluralism of democracies to subvert and bend them to their strategic objectives—principally, the weakening of Western democratic alliances and the relentless expansion of their own economic and geopolitical power.

What these two resurgent authoritarian states are projecting, argue Walker and Ludwig, is power that is not “soft” but rather “sharp,” like the tip of a dagger: It enables them “to cut, razor-like, into the fabric of a society, stoking and amplifying existing divisions” (in the case of Russia) or to seek, especially in the case of China, “to monopolize ideas, suppress alternative narratives, and exploit partner institutions.”

(…).

The bottom-line stakes are existential: Will the United States—and liberal democracies collectively—retain global leadership economically, technologically, morally, and politically, or are we entering a world in which we conspire in our own eclipse?

Islamismo radical, Alt-right e populismo de extrema-direita como reacções à globalização e à perda de significado

Scott Atran, “Alt-Right or jihad?”:

It was religious philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who first discussed ‘the dizziness of freedom’ and the social disruption that it creates. Seizing on the idea in Escape from Freedom (1941), humanist philosopher Erich Fromm argued that too much freedom caused many to seek elimination of uncertainty in authoritarian systems. This has combined with what social psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls ‘the search for significance’, propelling both violent jihadists and militant supporters of populist ethno-nationalist movements worldwide. In the wake of these forces, we see what psychologist Michele Gelfand describes as a ‘tightening’ of political cultures, featuring intolerance of behaviours that differ from the norm. Thus, in our recent fieldwork with youth emerging from under ISIS rule in Mosul, we find that although ISIS may have lost its state, the Caliphate, it hasn’t necessarily lost allegiance among the people to its core values of strict religious rule and rejection of democracy. As one young man put it: ‘Sharia is God telling you what to do … Democracy is humans causing wars and distrust. To be free to do whatever you want leads to many problems and divisions and corruption in society.’

(…).

From jihadis in Europe to white supremacists in the US, people most susceptible to joining radical groups are youth in their teens and 20s seeking community and purpose. The attraction of community is especially keen where there are sentiments of social exclusion or community collapse, whether or not accompanied by economic deprivation. It is a sense of purpose that most readily propels action and sacrifice, including a willingness to fight and die – especially when that purpose is perceived to be in defence of transcendent values dissociated from material costs or consequences.

In our studies across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, we find that when membership in a tight community combines with a commitment to transcendent values, the willingness to make costly sacrifices will rise. The idea is to encourage devoted action for the sake of absolute values that fuse community and purpose.

This applies to the alt-Right as well. Just look at Patrik Hermansson’s undercover investigation of the extreme Right for the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate. Like recruiters who seek to bring in people from the larger Muslim community through cultural mixers and gatherings and then nudge them towards jihadi values, the alt-Right aims ‘to bring the [white] mainstream towards us’, as far-Right Scottish YouTube vlogger Colin Robertson put it, by avoiding the stereotypical ‘race hate’ line, and by relentlessly focusing on what Aryan Nations portrays as ‘a spiritual-based, numinous way of living’.

(…).

Fearful of the chauvinism and xenophobia that fed two world wars, many Western leaders and press simply denounce national identity or cultural preference as ‘bigoted’ or ‘racist’, and show an ostrich-like blindness to pan-human preferences for one’s own. This leaves the field wide-open for the offensive of white-nationalist groups of the alt-Right, or the far-Right’s less overtly racist alt-Light defenders of ‘Western culture’ against the onslaught of Islam, globalism, migration, feminism and homosexuality.

So how might we intervene? At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where I presented some of our research findings, I had the impression that most people in attendance thought that the recent surge of jihadism and xenophobic ethno-national populism were just atavistic blips in the ineluctable progress of globalisation that were destined to soon go away. That to me was the most worrisome feature of Davos, whose denizens basically run the world (or try to). Few there seemed willing to change their policies or behaviour. They seemed to view the left-behinds of the dark side of globalisation as simply losers that might be given a handout when artificial intelligence and robots deny them any chance for a decent living.

(…).

At the very least, we must embed ourselves within actual communities to understand which approach may work best. A necessary focus of this effort must be youth, who form the bulk of today’s extremist recruits and tomorrow’s most vulnerable populations. Volunteers for al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and many extreme nationalist groups are often youth in transitional stages in their lives – immigrants, students, people between jobs and before finding their mates. Having left their homes, they seek new families of friends and fellow travellers to find purpose and significance. The ability to understand the realities facing young people will determine whether the transnational scourge of violent extremism continues and surges or abates.

“Todo o ser é feliz quando satisfaz o seu destino”

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Ainda me recordo do primeiro dia em que iniciei o meu percurso escolar, há 25 anos. Desde então, passei por várias escolas e universidades e foi na minha alma mater, o ISCSP, que descobri, logo nos primeiros dias de aulas da licenciatura em Relações Internacionais, o meu desígnio de vida: a dedicação ao conhecimento, à ciência, à academia. É, por isso, com um sentimento muito especial que inicio o meu primeiro ano lectivo do outro lado da secretária do Professor, numa universidade que se tem vindo a afirmar como uma referência não só a nível nacional, mas também internacional, e onde fui maravilhosamente acolhido e integrado, a Universidade da Beira Interior, situada na belíssima cidade da Covilhã. Tenho, assim, a imensa sorte de poder, finalmente, dedicar-me inteiramente a algo que, mais que uma profissão, é uma vocação. Ortega y Gasset, no início de O Que é a Filosofia?, resume bem o meu estado de espírito após as primeiras aulas que leccionei:

(…) já veremos como no ser vivo toda a necessidade essencial, que brota do próprio ser e não lhe advém de fora acidentalmente, vai acompanhada de voluptuosidade. A voluptuosidade é a cara, a facies da felicidade. E todo o ser é feliz quando satisfaz o seu destino, isto é, quando segue a encosta da sua inclinação, da sua necessidade essencial, quando se realiza, quando está a ser o que é na verdade. Por esta razão Schlegel dizia, invertendo a relação entre voluptuosidade e destino: «Para o que nos agrada temos génio». O génio, isto é, o dom superlativo de um ser para fazer alguma coisa tem sempre simultaneamente uma fisionomia de supremo prazer. Num dia que está próximo e graças a uma transbordante evidência vamo-nos ver surpreendidos e obrigados a descobrir o que agora somente parecerá uma frase: que o destino de cada homem é, ao mesmo tempo, o seu maior prazer.

Gritar à toa

Sonho com o dia em que a diferença salarial média entre homens e mulheres se inverta em favor das mulheres e o número de mulheres em cargos políticos e públicos e de direcção no sector privado seja superior ao dos homens. Primeiro, porque, embora se trate de uma realidade em que gostaria de viver, especialmente considerando que durante a esmagadora maioria da história da humanidade as mulheres foram e continuam a ser discriminadas de formas abjectas, repulsivas e sem qualquer justificação, perceberíamos todos que nem assim se conseguiria ultrapassar falhas características da cultura de cada corpo político. Segundo, e mais importante, porque deixaríamos de assistir ao chinfrim que os guerreiros pela igualdade de género a todo o custo teimam em produzir vociferando os seus preconceitos ideológicos assentes numa concepção profundamente errada da condição humana e numa compreensão débil dos fenómenos sociais, decorrentes do racionalismo construtivista. O que não quer dizer que, entretanto, não encontrem outras causas a que possam dedicar os seus esforços. Afinal, o racionalismo construtivista talvez nunca tenha tido um solo tão fértil como as hodiernas sociedades demo-liberais onde, infelizmente, a política da cartilha ideológica se sobrepôe à política enquanto conversação e acomodação de diferentes perspectivas. Como canta Samuel Úria numa belíssima crítica à primeira, Repressão!/ Repressão!/ Grita-se à toa/ Qualquer causa é boa num refrão.

Da violência política

Niall Ferguson, “There’s more than one side to the story”:

I do not remember Biden, much less his boss, tweeting “There is only one side” after any Islamist atrocity. On the contrary, president Obama often used his considerable eloquence to make just the opposite point. In his speech following the 2012 Benghazi attacks, he even went so far as to say: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” as if there were some moral equivalence between jihadists and those with the courage to speak critically about the relationship between Islam and violence.

Last week one of the chief executives who repudiated Trump, Apple’s Tim Cook, announced a $1 million donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet that organization earlier this year branded Ayaan Hirsi Ali (full disclosure: my wife) and our friend Maajid Nawaz “anti-Muslim extremist.” That word “extremist” should be applied only to those who preach or practice political violence, and to all who do: rightists, leftists, and Islamists.

Trump blew it last week, no question. But as the worm turns against him, let us watch very carefully whom it turns to — or what it turns turn into. If Silicon Valley translates “There is only one side” into “Censor anything that the left brands ‘hate speech,’” then the worm will become a snake.

No Delito de Opinião

Hoje, a convite do Pedro Correia, contribuo para o Delito de Opinião com um post sobre a incapacidade crónica para debater civilizadamente de que sofrem alguns académicos que, por defeito, deveriam ser intelectualmente humildes, honestos e pluralistas e fomentadores da civilidade.

Do excepcionalismo americano

David Frum, “The Souring of American Exceptionalism”:

America’s uniqueness, even pre-Trump, was expressed as much through negative indicators as positive. It is more violent than other comparable societies, both one-on-one and in the gun massacres to which the country has become so habituated. It has worse health outcomes than comparably wealthy countries, and some of the most important of them are deteriorating further even as they improve almost everywhere else. America’s average levels of academic achievement lag those of other advanced countries. Fewer Americans vote—and in no other democracy does organized money count for so much in political life. A century ago, H.L. Mencken observed the American “national genius for corruption,” and (again pre-Trump) Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks the U.S. in 18th place, behind Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany—never mind first-place finishers Denmark and New Zealand.

As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.

That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.

“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?

Thinking about that question forces an encounter with American exceptionalism in its most somber form. If, as I believe, Donald Trump arose because of the disregard of the American political and economic elite for the troubles of so many of their fellow-citizens, it has to be asked again: How could the leaders of a democratic country imagine they could get away with such disregard?

Political Science and the 2017 UK General Election

Até ao fim de Julho podem aceder livremente a esta colecção de artigos subordinados à temática ‘Political Science and the 2017 UK General Election’. Destaco “Political Opposition and the European Union” de Peter Mair e “The Populist Zeitgeist” de Cas Mudde.

Populismo, demagogia e democracia

Pierre Manent, “Populist Demagogy and the Fanaticism of the Center”:

As a term, “populism” is indisputably marked with discredit and denunciation. The populist orientation is often said to have a “passionate,” “extreme,” or “irresponsible” manner and tone. But its content, too, is never credited with the characteristics of reason, moderation, and responsibility. The term “populism” denotes an orientation, a political opinion, or certain orientations or political opinions, which are discredited and denounced. What opinions, what orientations? They can vary widely, and it is possible to distinguish them according to their basic political polarity, a populism of the Left or extreme Left, and a populism of the Right or extreme Right. It is important, however, to understand that the common substantive of populism tends to prevail over these opposing qualifiers of Left and Right. Even if this effect is not desired, it at least follows from the use of the term. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is thus effectively placed in the same boat as Marine Le Pen, which displeases him greatly. (Here, despite the axiological neutrality that ought to rule political science, I cannot help but sympathize with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) By classifying these two political leaders under the same heading, this grouping effectively clouds the political landscape to the point of rendering it incomprehensible.

We encounter, then, the following difficulty. How is it possible that a notion which seems to have become indispensable for the understanding of political debate tends rather to make it confused and indecipherable? Does this notion indicate the new reality of those who are thus labeled, or is it not rather a product of the new political intention of those who use it? If the notion of populism can cover political orientations as distant as those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen—if it thus has the power to prevail over the opposition between the Left and the Right, and even between the extreme Left and the extreme Right—it is because powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape no longer around the opposition between the Right and the Left but between populism and . . . what? We do not know yet, but since “populism” is pejorative and implies discredit, we will say “respectable” and “accredited” politics.

These powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape around the opposition between populism, which we can still describe as Right or Left, and respectable politics, which can still retain its versions of Right and Left. When I speak of the intention of these powerful forces, I do not refer to any sinister plot to give new names to things that have not changed, or to any plot to deceive good citizens. The situation has doubtless already changed enough so that the effort to pit “populism” against “respectable politics” is not merely possible in theory, but already has real purchase. The ability of the Right/Left polarity to organize and describe political life is now likely much weakened.

We can, however, already remark on the difference between how the Right/Left polarity and the populist/respectable polarity see political life. The Right/Left polarity attributes an equal legitimacy to both poles. Even if each of these halves claims full political legitimacy and doubts the legitimacy and occasionally even the simple morality of its opposing half, the system itself is based on the equal legitimacy of the two halves or the two poles, with an uncertainty or a gray zone represented by the extremes (extreme Right or extreme Left), whose democratic legitimacy is always suspect. The new mode is characterized by the unequal legitimacy of the two poles or the two halves: populism as such is tendentiously illegitimate, while “respectable” politics is tendentiously the only legitimate politics.

It seems to me that we have not sufficiently noted to what extent this new mode is actually new. The distinctive feature that the democratic and liberal order used to have as its foundation was the equal legitimacy of the majority and its opposition. The new order now imposing itself more and more upon us rests on the contrast between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions. The point deserves to be examined further, but it already seems clear that with this transformation, we have started to pass from an order built on confrontation between equally legitimate opinions to an order relying on confrontation between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions, between political orthodoxy and heresy. If this were true, then we would be in the process of departing from democracy as it has thus far been known.

O poder prejudica o cérebro

Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage”:

Lord David Owen—a British neurologist turned parliamentarian who served as the foreign secretary before becoming a baron—recounts both Howe’s story and Clementine Churchill’s in his 2008 book, In Sickness and in Power, an inquiry into the various maladies that had affected the performance of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. While some suffered from strokes (Woodrow Wilson), substance abuse (Anthony Eden), or possibly bipolar disorder (Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), at least four others acquired a disorder that the medical literature doesn’t recognize but, Owen argues, should.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

I asked Owen, who admits to a healthy predisposition to hubris himself, whether anything helps keep him tethered to reality, something that other truly powerful figures might emulate. He shared a few strategies: thinking back on hubris-dispelling episodes from his past; watching documentaries about ordinary people; making a habit of reading constituents’ letters.

But I surmised that the greatest check on Owen’s hubris today might stem from his recent research endeavors. Businesses, he complained to me, had shown next to no appetite for research on hubris. Business schools were not much better. The undercurrent of frustration in his voice attested to a certain powerlessness. Whatever the salutary effect on Owen, it suggests that a malady seen too commonly in boardrooms and executive suites is unlikely to soon find a cure.

Quando o partidarismo se sobrepõe ao interesse nacional

Jamelle Bouie, “Who Needs Rule of Law?”:

Just one of our two parties is interested in checking this president’s abuse. The other, the Republican Party, is indifferent, content to tolerate Trump’s misconduct as long as it doesn’t interrupt or interfere with its political agenda. What defined Thursday’s hearing, in fact, was the degree to which Republicans downplayed obvious examples of bad—potentially illegal—behavior and sought to exonerate Trump rather than grapple with Comey’s damning allegations about the president. Sen. James Risch of Idaho, for example, pressed Comey on his claim that President Trump had asked the then–FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, suggesting that—because Trump didn’t give a direct order—we ought to ignore the clear subtext of the president’s statement. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma described Trump’s actions on behalf of Flynn as a “light touch.” Other Republican committee members, like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, steered the conversation toward the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Still others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, defended Trump’s actions, blasting leaks to the press as efforts to undermine his administration.

Republican committee members were aided in all of this by the official organs of the GOP, which treated the hearings as a distraction—a partisan frivolity driven by Democrats and the press. “Director Comey’s opening statement confirms he told President Trump three times that he was not under investigation,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee that recommended a strategy of deflection. The RNC additionally argued that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on the procedures, defended Trump’s potentially illegal behavior as the mistakes of a novice. “He’s just new to this, and probably wasn’t steeped in long-running protocols,” he said.

(…).

James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony, both written and spoken, is evidence of one political crisis: A president with little regard for rule of law who sees no problem in bringing his influence and authority to bear on federal investigations. The Republican reaction—the effort to protect Trump and discredit Comey—is evidence of another: a crisis of ultra-partisanship, where the nation’s governing party has opted against oversight and accountability, abdicating its role in our system of checks and balances and allowing that president free rein, as long as he signs its legislation and nominates its judges.

Americans face two major crises, each feeding into the other. Republicans aren’t bound to partisan loyalty. They can choose country over party, rule of law over ideology. But they won’t, and the rest of us will pay for it.

Os liberais (no sentido norte-americano do termo) são tão intolerantes quanto os conservadores

Matthew Hutson:

So who’s right? Are conservatives more prejudiced than liberals, or vice versa? Research over the years has shown that in industrialized nations, social conservatives and religious fundamentalists possess psychological traits, such as the valuing of conformity and the desire for certainty, that tend to predispose people toward prejudice. Meanwhile, liberals and the nonreligious tend to be more open to new experiences, a trait associated with lower prejudice. So one might expect that, whatever each group’s own ideology, conservatives and Christians should be inherently more discriminatory on the whole.

But more recent psychological research, some of it presented in January at the annual meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), shows that it’s not so simple. These findings confirm that conservatives, liberals, the religious and the nonreligious are each prejudiced against those with opposing views. But surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced. While liberals might like to think of themselves as more open-minded, they are no more tolerant of people unlike them than their conservative counterparts are.

Political understanding might finally stand a chance if we could first put aside the argument over who has that bigger problem. The truth is that we all do.