Saturday Jan 20, 2024
Saturday Jan 20, 2024
Saturday Jan 20, 2024
Is the political left and right position changing regularly? For many years now, I have been getting more and more uneasy when pundits and journalists use the “left/right” dichotomy. In my lifetime, I have observed numerous political topics that were once at the core of “left” politics that suddenly are named “right” and vice versa.
I then came across the book with the very name “The Myth of Left and Right” and it is a terrific read. So I was very excited that one of the authors, Hyrum Lewis agreed to a conversation.
Hyrum Lewis is a professor of history at BYU-Idaho and was previously a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He received a PhD from the University of Southern California and has written for the Wall Street Journal, Quillette, RealClearPolitics, The Washington Examiner, and other national publications. His most recent book, The Myth of Left and Right (co-authored with Verlan Lewis) was published by Oxford University Press in 2023.
Moreover, this episode fits very nicely with the previous episode with Prof. Möllers on liberalism, so if you are a German speaker, please check this one out as well.
Political realities do not map to a single variable or descriptor—there is no such thing as a political monism. Are “left” and “right” just post-hoc narratives where we try to construct ideologies that are not actually there?
We observe a regular flip-flopping in history; what are prominent examples?
“There is no left and right; there are just two tribes, and what these tribes believe and stand for will change quite radically over time since there is no philosophical core uniting the tribe.”
I, personally, have a profound problem with the term “progressive”, but more generally, what do these terms even mean: progressivism, conservatism, reactionary, liberal?
“It is a loaded and self-serving term […] what is considered progressive changes from day to day.”
“If you don't agree with every policy we believe in […] then you are obviously on the wrong side of history. You are standing against progress.”
So, are left and right not a philosophy but rather a tribe?
Is the definition of conservatism maybe easier? There is a nice brief definition: "Conservatism is democracy of the deceased,” Roger Scruton makes the astute observation that there are so many more ways to screw up and so little ways to do right. But does this help in practice?
“Every person on that planet wants to conserve things that are good and change things that are bad. We are all progressive, and we are all conservative. We just don't agree on what is good and what is bad.”
What are examples where positions are unclear or change over time.
“In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite and was guided by naturalist John Muir. The two men spent three memorable nights camping, first under the outstretched arms of the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, then in a snowstorm atop five feet of snow near Sentinel Dome, and finally in a meadow near the base of Bridalveil Fall. Their conversations and shared joy with the beauty and magnificence of Yosemite led Roosevelt to expand federal protection of Yosemite, and it inspired him to sign into existence five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests.”, Roosevelt, Muir, and the Grace of Place (NPR)
Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican. And here again, a “hiccup”: even though Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, he called himself a progressive.
In reality, though, if you see someone on the street in a mask, you can predict with high certainty the other political assumptions of this person. How come? Is there now an underlying disposition, or is there not? Or is it much more a phenomenon of tribal or social conformity?
Is the left-right model, at least, useful? What can we learn from past US presidents such as Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush in that regard?
Is the political discourse at least more reasonable at universities and among “elites”? Or maybe even more troubled and more conforming to their very tribe?
If “normal” people are in general “moderate” on important topics (like abortion), why do major political parties play for the few on the extreme ends of the opinion spectrum?
More generally, some educated people describe themselves as “moderate” or “centrist.” Does this even mean anything, and would it be desirable?
What about “realism” vs. “utopianism”?
“Both status quo conservatives and progressive technocrats share a common element: the hostility to open-ended change, guided not by planners but by millions of experiments and trial and error. For both, the goal is stasis, it’s just that one group finds it in the past, the other one in the future.”, Virginia Postrel
A lot of these errors are made under the more elementary mistake that we can know, predict, or foresee the future, especially when we take actions. What can we learn from Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardners forecasting studies?
“To be a true progressive, you cannot be a progressive”
“Our media does not reward granular, careful, and probabilistic analysis.”
So, is it not more significant to distinguish between authoritarian and non-authoritarian politicians or political methods?
But can we be optimistic about the future when non-tribal podcasters like Joe Rogan or Coleman Hughes have audiences that are larger than most legacy media outlets combined?
Is democracy over time the best way to deal with complex situations and challenges? Is there a value in slowness, and are we not just too impatient?
Episode 88: Liberalismus und Freiheitsgrade, ein Gespräch mit Prof. Christoph Möllers
Episode 84: (Epistemische) Krisen? Ein Gespräch mit Jan David Zimmermann
Episode 80: Wissen, Expertise und Prognose, eine Reflexion
Episode 57: Konservativ UND Progressiv
- Hyrum Lewis at BYU-Idaho
- Hyrum Lewis, Verlan Lewis, The Myth of Left and Right, Oxford University Press (2022)
- Hyrum Lewis, It's Time to Retire the Political Spectrum, Quillette (2017)
- Hyrum Lews Blog
- Roger Scruton, How to be a conservative, Bloomsbury Continuum (2019)
- Johan Norberg, Open: The Story of Human Progress, Atlantic Books (2021)
- Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge Classic
- Phil Tetlock, Dan Gardner, Superforecasting, Cornerstone Digital (2015)
- Tim Urban, What's Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies (2023)
- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, Atlantic Books (2020)
- Roosevelt, Muir, and the Grace of Place
- Joe Rogan Podcast
- Coleman Hughes Podcast