Does this match your experience?

In the comments of my “Why doesn’t God let me have as much sex as I want?” post, Alte cited some interesting research on the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives.  (She’s collected her comments here.)  I’ve read her two linked articles.  To sum up

  1. Liberals are more open minded and creative.
  2. Conservatives are more anxious and tend to fixate on things that disgust or threaten us.  Our discomfort with uncertainty leads us to prefer rigid social structures.
  3. Conservatives are more conscious of in-group/out-group distinctions.
  4. Liberals are more ambidextrous.  In conservatives, the two hemispheres of the brain interact less.  It has been suggested that this is what makes conservatives less creative.  Alte points out that the level of inter-hemispheral interaction also distinguishes male and female brains, meaning that conservatives have (at least in this sense) more masculine brains.

There is a real irony in the modern condition.  “Openness to new ideas” and “tolerance” lead my peers to embrace liberal democracy, i.e. to accept the dogmas of the established regime and dismiss all other forms of social organization as illegitimate.  On the other hand, my feeble-minded desire to submit and conform leads me to conservatism even though that sets me against my whole nation.  This reflects the deeper ironies of an establishment that is hostile to authority and a communal consensus that favors individual expression at the expense of social cohesion.

Alte’s own speculations:

  1. Liberals are more physiologically more androgynous, making the value of distinct gender roles less apparent to them.
  2. Conservatives’ “binary” thinking leads them to rely more completely on logic.  They are less interested than liberals to rhetorical demonstrations of compassion.  That is, they only care whether the reasoning is valid, not whether it comes off sounding nice.

Since Traditional Christianity‘s new format doesn’t allow comments, I’ll throw out the question for discussion here:  how well do these purported correlations (the psychologists’ or Alte’s) match your personal experience?  Are your liberal friends girly men?  Are your conservative friends more consistent handed?  Can you think of any other correlations that might hold up better?

79 thoughts on “Does this match your experience?

  1. My experience:

    All the people with whom I interact are liberals, so I’ll have to compare myself to them.

    Consistent handed?

    I’m strongly left handed and have to consciously tell myself to do things with my other side, so I guess that fits.


    I don’t think I’m especially rigorous. Just for the heck of it, I once tried to take a “real” math class, real analysis, as an undergrad, but then I dropped out because I couldn’t think of how to prove obvious things. The Intermediate Value Theorem? It’s just obvious, dammit! I tend not to be interested in stability proofs for numerical algorithms until I have an unstable code. I see myself as more of an intuitive thinker. In my “Galaxies and Cosmology” class, I tell students they’ll never have to solve a differential equation or keep track of factors of pi in my class; everything is orders of magnitude, but they must manipulate many difficult ideas with these crude tools. All that matters is the essence of the phenomenon, not quantitative details. This is an odd prejudice for a physicist whose work is mainly computational, but then my main beef with how research in my field is often done is that we don’t put enough effort into understanding our results. So I don’t think I’m inherently more logically inclined than my colleagues.

    On political matters, I think Alte does have a point. The liberals I know do fuss more than I do about whether a statement someone makes indicates a correct disposition. I’m not sure if that means they’re more emotionally driven or not, but they do seem to be very interested in (and judgmental about) the perceived emotions of other people.

    Sensitive to threats?

    Sure, that’s part of the definition of conservatism.

    Resistant to change?

    Given that the Left controls the direction of change, of course!

    Loyalty to the in-group? Suspicion of out-group?

    Sure, that’s part of the definition of conservatism. I suspect that I am a particularly tribal person, even for a conservative. I don’t think this is something to be ashamed of. Although I’ve been living on the costs for the last decade, I still think of myself as an Illinoisan, and when anybody starts talking about dumb, provincial midwesterners, I do take it personally. I bitterly resent the way my Church’s hierarchy grovels before attacking Jewish organizations. That’s not how a tribe with any self-respect deals with other tribes. Even though I share most of the beliefs of bloggers in the “manosphere”, I have attacked them on several occasions, always because they attacked a group “traditionalist/social conservatives” with which I identify, or members thereof. I’m not a good Christian. When my tribe is attacked, I don’t turn the other cheek, and I don’t ask whether the attacker might be in the right. I just hit back, hard.

  2. I would like to know how the researchers cited by Alte define “open-minded.” Having spent most of my adult life in and around colleges and universities hence also among the most liberal segment of North American liberalism, “open-minded” is the last adjective that I would apply to liberals. Ditto “tolerant” and ditto “compassionate.” I suspect that tradents (I believe that that is Kristor’s term) are more logical than liberals, but I would qualify that by an insistence that tradents are at the same time more intuitive than liberals. On the other hand, liberals make effusive demonstrations of pseudo-logic. Sample any issue of the Proceedings of the Modern Language Association (PMLA) since 1970 to see what I mean. (Just select any article at random.) Liberalism is driven by a narrow range of emotions, leaping from the creamy glow of self-righteousness to screaming harridan-like rage at anything that contradicts this or that liberal thesis, without much in between. The brave might take a look at the photographs of radical feminist counter-demonstrators against Traditional Catholic demonstrators in France in a current Galliawatch article. Supposing that a picture really can be worth a thousand words, these snapshots do a powerful job of refuting the idea that liberalism equates with “open-mindedness.” I want to make it clear that I am not arguing with Alte, but only with those from whom Alte appropriates the list of putative conservative and liberal traits.

  3. Conservatives are less creative than liberals? More rigid? More focused on in-group/out-group? Because they have more masculine brains? Which means, I suppose, that men are less creative than women? What evidence is there for any of that? I live surrounded by liberals. They are almost to a man, hyper-conformist, hyper-vigilant speech police, prone to outbursts of rage at any who question the orthodoxy, unimaginative recyclers of PC “thought”, aesthetic consumers not producers, dominated by the desire for comfort, safety and comity. That liberal men are feminized is true enough, but they are feminized compared to what liberal men used to be. Conservative men seem feminized too…maybe it’s something in the water.

    These traits liberals are supposed to have are their shibboleths. They say to one another that they feel androgynous/creative/compassionate, etc. That’s how they declare their in-group(!) affiliation. Liberals are more conformist and rigid than conservatives. This is necessarily so in a world dominated by liberalism. To be conservative is to be a dissenter, precisely. Just because liberals say they’re individualists doesn’t mean they are.

    LIFE OF BRIAN (modified):
    Brian to (liberal) crowd: You don’t have to follow me! You don’t have to follow anybody! You are all individuals!
    Liberals (in unison): YES. WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS.
    Lone conservative: I’m not!

  4. I wrote this long-winded response while up all night with a toothache, so thanks for the distraction. I hope it makes sense given the lack of sleep and rather intense pain on and off, although it may seem nonsensical for other reasons.

    The real problem is that this is a false paradigm. Everything has shifted so far left now that even a centrist position is considered extreme right, and what is falsely termed liberal is in fact ‘progressivism’, which is simply a new term to replace the now highly unfashionable ‘fascism’. Cleverly, they have managed to package themselves as moderates and in the process have made moderates appear as the extremists while fooling otherwise moderate people to come into their camp. Perhaps it is their creative minds that have allowed them to bamboozle conservatives in this way, but it really is genius – evil genius no doubt, but genius nevertheless.

    Because this is the view I take of it, I don’t fit with either of these groups. One sees me as ‘reactionary’ (which they have also cleverly turned into a negative epithet) while the other sees me as too permissive. And it’s not even that my views or way of thinking are middle of the road or wishy washy, but that most people are working under this delusion of left and right that doesn’t even exist in any real sense anymore.

    The right lost the culture war long ago; it was lost before it was begun and if you care to take a good look at the way things have played out, you’ll see why. One big reason is that definition of terms, frame, etc., have all been the dominion of the far left, and the moderate right has been on the defensive from the outset but in a particularly obvious way since the 1960s. There was no way to defend against an avalanche from so many different directions – if one part was held back, another piled in. Multiply this over many years and add in the multi-pronged attacks and you end up where we are now.

    It’s got to the point for me where this kind of discussion makes little sense and I believe it is a distraction. I would have found it interesting once, but now I just find it a pointless bore. Worse than that though, it keeps people in the dark, which is right where the PTB like us.

  5. ‘Openness’ regarded as a virtue is a version of the ‘Why Not?’ question.

    By which any change is assumed to be valid and with potential for improvement on the status quo (which is, of course, flawed), UNLESS it can conclusively, and briefly (without need for evidence or reasoning) be demonstrated to be 100 percent certain of being 100 percent BAD.

    Otherwise – why not?

    This is, of course, lethal in a world where what is good and what works is narrow and circumscribed – while the possibilities of evil and ineffective options are essentially infinite.

  6. So what about African-Americans? Most are consistently liberal in their politics, but downright aggressive in suppressing any speech they suspect as anathema to their race. I remember getting the look of death in 2008 from a black girl who worked in a sub shop because me and a friend of mine were wondering about Barack Obama and nothing racial at all was being said. She waited for me to order my sub and refused to make it. Open-minded? Tolerant? Hardly!

  7. Liberals have delusions of immortality.

    It’s been tested. If you give someone an exercise to reflect on his own mortality, and then test him, his results are more conservative, compared to a control group that did not so reflect.

    I have heard liberals actually try to spin this as “fear of death.”

  8. I don’t know if liberal minds are more creative but they certainly don’t have a majority in being open. The liberal mind is less governed which may make it appear open, but in reality they’re just letting sewage in with the drinking water.

  9. There is a real irony in the modern condition. ”Openness to new ideas” and “tolerance” lead my peers to embrace liberal democracy, i.e. to accept the dogmas of the established regime and dismiss all other forms of social organization as illegitimate. On the other hand, my feeble-minded desire to submit and conform leads me to conservatism even though that sets me against my whole nation. This reflects the deeper ironies of an establishment that is hostile to authority and a communal consensus that favors individual expression at the expense of social cohesion.

    I think this is exactly right. There is a deep vein of irony here. Being a reactionary (rather than Burkean) conservative in an Anglospheric country means being profoundly un-conservative, and indeed radical. I have a fundamentally conservative temperament, and one of the reasons why I find reactionary conservatism innately distasteful is that my country’s history is intimately bound up with the liberal democratic tradition – Magna Carta, habeas corpus, equality before the law, civil liberties, trial by jury, an elected legislature, a constitutional monarchy, and so on. My grandparents and my father-in-law put on the King’s/Queen’s uniform to fight against the twin illiberal evils of fascism and communism. The same can be said in relation to the United States, the child of the Enlightenment, the country with a utopian Masonic manifesto for a constitution, the country which saved the world from Hitler and Marx…. How one can be a patriotic American and an radical anti-Enlightenment right-winger utterly escapes me. (I hope no personal offence is taken at that last comment – none is intended.)

    I’ve always thought that many (not all) reactionary right-wingers, particularly the younger and maler ones, are really radicals who are chasing a high from extreme counter-cultural politics, and would hate actually having to live in a traditional conservative society. You don’t get many internet reactionaries queuing up to go live in Saudi Arabia. I don’t include you in that comment, bonald, because I think that your belief in your cause is sincere and genuine, but I’m not convinced that you’re typical in that respect.

    • Speaking as a young, male Reactionary from the US I can safely say it is not about “chasing a high from extreme counter-cultural politics”. I was raised by a centrist, secular family, being deprived of religion, not knowing my extended family, having a childish father, and a feminist mother. For me it is not about some high but about making sure that other people, especially my potential future children, do not have to grow up like that. Before finding Reactionary politics I never understood my thoughts but I slowly learned what was truly missing and what caused our broken society. It was not some irrational thoughts in my head; it was our atheistic, hedonistic, amoral culture.

      Am I seeking a “high” in Christ, the Church, and traditional writing? Absolutely not. I believe in what is written here at the Orthosphere, elsewhere in the right-wing blogosphere, in right-wing traditional writings, and in the Bible and Catechism. All I really want is a place on God’s green earth to call my own, to think as my ancestors did without people trying to ostracize me for it, to have a society which is not seeking my destruction, to be able to raise a family without freaks teaching my kids “it’s okay to swallow” and my wife it’s okay to leave me because her happiness is most important, and to live by people who believe striving towards salvation is more important than the next orgasm.

      • I take your point, and I apologise if my generalisation was a little too sweeping.

        Incidentally, I’d agree that there are many aspects of our “atheistic, hedonistic, amoral culture” that need to be challenged I just don’t believe that right-wing radicalism is the right way to go about it. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that Burke was right and that Maistre was making the same mistake as the Jacobins.

      • @ Reggie Perrin

        I just checked your blog and realized it is thanks to you that I was introduced to the thoughts of Joseph de Maistre. You deserve a good Thank You.

        While I agree that de Maistre comes across as radical, we both know the circumstances surrounding his more fanatical reaction compared to that of Burke. De Maistre actually witnessed and was personally affected by the events of the Revolution, his first hand experience of horrible events plaguing his country would necessarily make his reaction stronger. Add to that Burke was actually a member of the then liberal party, the Whigs. So he was already working from a more liberal, rather than traditional, leaning perspective to begin with. That is not to say Burke was a classical liberal, his best comparison would be to liken him to the Neocons who left the Democratic Party in the ‘70s when it became too radicalized.

        Going with Burkean Conservatism is definitely more comfortable and admittedly, more practical, but it will only set us up to fall once again. We do not want to rebuild only to have the cycle repeat itself. There is something inherently flawed, even destructive, in the Enlightenment and the mercantile influences before it. Burke was trying to defend then Britain and France whereas de Maistre was trying to point out the flaws which allowed it to get to that point.

      • De Maistre was right and Burke was a Whig. A good aspect of the orthosphere is that it challenges the usual Anglo-American paradigm which is a choice between radicalism and conservative whiggism (Burkeanism Hayekian Old-Whig).

      • I’m afraid that I’ll have to disagree with you about de Maistre. I am very far from being an admirer of his (though I’d agree with the spirit of the quotation that is posted on the title of this blog).

        Having said that, I can see how a contemporary observer could be forgiven for being repelled by the chaos and bloodshed of the French Revolution. I have always preferred the British way of doing things (years ago, when I was at school, I remember lecturing my French teacher, who was French herself, during a presentation on Bastille Day, about how “en Angleterre, nous préférons l’évolution à la révolution” – I also vaguely remember giving another presentation in which I lectured her on the Tridentine Mass, but I digress).

        I have an instinctive aversion to revolutions, which rarely end in anything other than chaos and bloodshed, but I can’t persuade myself that reaction is the answer. It’s always difficult to strike a balance between conservatism and progress, and Burke got as close as anyone has.

      • the usual Anglo-American paradigm which is a choice between radicalism and conservative whiggism (Burkeanism Hayekian Old-Whig)

        You say “Anglo-American” like it’s a bad thing.

        For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a Hayekian (though he does feature on one of my blogs somewhere).

      • @ Reggie Perrin

        Perhaps one of the reasons we disagree is due to the fact that you are of British stock (be it Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Scottish, etc…) whereas I am of Central European descent. History has shown the British to be far more pragmatic people than the rest of Europe. It is exactly as you stated, the English by nature prefer evolution over revolution. But that also places you in the worst position when it comes to fighting back. There are few, if any, countries further down the Leftist path than the once glorious England. You lot prefer change within the system rather than changing the system. This prevented you from experiencing a revolution but also prevents you from being able to aptly identify and fix your problems. People read that as complacency but it is really much more than that.

      • There are few, if any, countries further down the Leftist path than the once glorious England

        I think perhaps you’re not giving due tribute to Cuba and North Korea there….

        I deeply admire British pragmatism (though I have the fiery Celtic blood too and I used to live in Holy Mother Ireland). But then, if I wanted to buy into an ultra-conservative worldview, my starting point would be to honour my country and my ancestors, and that means, before anything else, embracing British traditions and attitudes.

      • @ Reggie Perrin

        I intentionally left those countries out. Perhaps it would have been better to say “few, if any, Western countries…” The predicament for the UK is that you cannot really have a counter-revolution unless you plan on revolting against the Glorious Revolution. Therefore you should work within your current system but to dramatically change it. Every country has different circumstances; yours requires a party to convince the British people of its superior message. That is particularly difficult because it is the plebian cannon fodder, led by their delusional bourgeois masters, who need to be subordinated to a hierarchy which they would never voluntarily surrender to.

      • Another point which is specific to Anglo-American culture, and particularly British-Irish culture, is that Catholicism has never been the dominant religion here (at least, not since the Reformation). We were a despised minority, much as Jews were. We British Catholics know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of religious persecution and bigotry from the Protestant majority, so we have historically tended to be liberal and not to have any theocratic pretensions.

    • As an aside, while the Magna Carta, habeas corpus, and trial by jury have in some ways been co-opted by the liberal tradition, they are, of course, not actually products of this tradition. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think most “reactionaries” only oppose the whiggish narrative that sees these things as leading up inevitably to liberalism. After all, even Joseph de Maistre was an admirer of the English constitution.

      • I agree that those things aren’t products of the liberal tradition – they were invented many centuries before the liberal tradition even existed.

        We’re still left with Bonald’s paradox, though. To be a reactionary in the Anglosphere is to be fundamentally opposed to the tradition (of constitutionalism and liberty) that is the heritage of one’s own culture and country. By definition, such a stance is not conservative. I can’t see how one can really square that circle. This isn’t intended as an insult, incidentally, just an observation.

      • But, can something as alien as liberalism really be part of our tradition? And one can accept the Magna Carta, and the basic 1778 constitution without having to embrace the liberal order one bit. After all, many of our ancestors were serfs. Others were yeoman who still paid fealty to monarchs or landlords. I am not willing to say that our pre modern tradition is irrevocably dead. Is there really any clear evidence for that?

      • As far as fealty to monarchs is concerned, I myself am a loyal subject of the Queen (as are most people on both the Left and the Right in Britain and other European monarchies), so I’d regard that as a non-issue.

        The deeper problem (if one sees it as a problem) is that neither Britain nor America have any tradition of absolute monarchy or theocratic rule. What they do have is a tradition, going back centuries, of constitutional rule, elected lawmakers, freedom under the law and general social toleration of differences. In my view, this is a problem for reactionary conservatives because being a reactionary means being un-traditional and therefore un-conservative.

      • I am not a fan of absolute monarchy or theocratic rule either. I am not a fan of the reactionary types who actually endorse such a thing. But I can still endorse a hierarchical society with clear powers given to the elite which are not given to the middle class or laborers.

      • But modern England has had a very long and old tradition of absolute monarchism to point where it was absolute monarchism that really created modern England beginning with Henry VIII. I find this this whole discussion of “absolutism” vs. constitutionalism topsy turvy. When parliamentarian forces began trying Charles I there was no appeal to “constitutional laws” anyway rather there was an appeal to “rational men” and the “laws of nature.” Hardly traditional or conservative or whatever. As a reactionary I very much defend the idea of the mixed polity of Aristotle- against Whiggish oligarchy.

      • You have made the mistake of getting me on to one of my pet subjects. I’m a lawyer with a particular interest in British constitutional law, and I can be very boring on this topic. Stop me if you start falling asleep.

        But modern England has had a very long and old tradition of absolute monarchism to point where it was absolute monarchism that really created modern England beginning with Henry VIII.

        I respectfully disagree. We’ve already mentioned Magna Carta, and the doctrine of Parliamentary, as opposed to monarchic, sovereignty was in place at least by the 16th century if not the 15th (Jeffrey Goldsworthy deals with this in his book The Sovereignty of Parliament). Henry VIII was not a “normal” English king, for several reasons.

        I find this this whole discussion of “absolutism” vs. constitutionalism topsy turvy. When parliamentarian forces began trying Charles I there was no appeal to “constitutional laws” anyway rather there was an appeal to “rational men” and the “laws of nature.”

        Years before the Civil War, the English judiciary had affirmed (in the 1610 Case of Proclamations) that the king did not have absolute power. This was no more than a reaffirmation of the traditional doctrine. Charles I is an interesting case because his absolutist pretensions were a novelty – they were inconsistent with, and a departure from, the previous orthodox English constitutional doctrine. This is why he was resisted, the most famous legal case in this regard being R v Hampden (1637), which the King narrowly won by 7 judges’ votes to 5, but which helped provoke the Civil War because the outcome was considered so offensive. Then, when the Whigs overthrew Charles II in 1688-89, they did so in the name of an older conception of constitutionalism rather than in the name of a new, enlightened liberalism.

        As a reactionary I very much defend the idea of the mixed polity of Aristotle- against Whiggish oligarchy.

        I agree with the idea of the mixed polity, but I see it as being compatible with liberal constitutionalism and representative democracy (as opposed to direct democracy, as Aristotle would have understood it).

    • Hi Reggie,

      That’s a very interesting idea. It could well be that there are some psychological traits that incline a person toward political radicalism in general, and reactionaries would be more likely to share those traits. For example, I sense that, for all my attempts at humility, I am both vain and insecure. Part of me desperately wants to believe that I am somehow brilliant and better than my fellows, but I also harbor deep fears of inferiority. I always half suspect that I’m making a fool of myself every time I open my mouth, that I’m a complete failure as a husband, father, researcher, teacher, graduate advisor, etc. What better way to escape from the fear of being a sub-mediocrity than to embrace some fantastic and unpopular set of political principles. Then, when I see people around me being more successful in one way or another, I can always tell myself that they’re just dupes of “the Establishment”; only I have had the intelligence or the courage to see The Truth.

      I think the reason those psychologists Alte quotes don’t consider this idea of conservatives having traits of radicals is that they don’t appreciate the irony of the conservative’s position the way you and I (even though we come from different political commitments) do. They seem to think that being an authoritarian is as natural in today’s United States as it would have been in Egypt under the Pharaohs.

      Another confusing factor is the way I grouped together everyone right of center as “conservative”, when, as you point out, the classical liberal branch of the Right might be very different from the Orthosphere branch. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a different psychological profile than the writers at National Review, for example.

      Incidentally, I hope that readers aren’t too turned off by my seeming narcissism in talking so much about my own personality. My reasons are scientific. I have direct access to my own thoughts, and I’m sure I would score off the charts on the “authoritarian personality” test. I thus see myself as an interesting test case: do introspection and self-observation confirm what psychology suggests about the conservative psyche? Of course, I can’t get any sort of statistics from a sample size of one, and introspection is often deceptive, but you work with what you’ve got.

      • I propose that readers of this blog try to set a trend of referring to the irony under discussion – i.e. the fact that Anglo-American reactionary conservatism is un-traditional in those societies and therefore counter-cultural and un-conservative – as “Bonald’s Paradox”.

        I think the reason those psychologists Alte quotes don’t consider this idea of conservatives having traits of radicals is that they don’t appreciate the irony of the conservative’s position the way you and I (even though we come from different political commitments) do. They seem to think that being an authoritarian is as natural in today’s United States as it would have been in Egypt under the Pharaohs.

        Yes, it does rather irritate me when some people on the left regard all positions on the right, from Burkean conservatism to Maistrean conservatism to fascism, as essentially indistinguishable (much as some on the right regard liberalism as no different in principle from communism *waves at Alan Roebuck*).

        I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a different psychological profile than the writers at National Review, for example.

        Ha! Here’s hoping!

        I’m sure I would score off the charts on the “authoritarian personality” test.

        I’d be genuinely interested to see where habitués of this blog score on the Altemeyer scale. Has any exercise of this sort ever been attempted?

      • @ Reggie Perrin

        I took the test to find where I placed on the Altemeyer scale. My result was a 176/180. Upon looking through the rest of the work it was nothing but endless Left-wing rambling which did not even attempt to objectively explain the potential results of the test, although any idiot could successfully interpret their results.

        Anyone interested can take the test here:

      • Interesting. I did it a while ago and, from memory, ended up with about an average score. The average for Americans is said to be 90, though Altemeyer’s students tend to score around 75 when he gives them the test, which is unsurprising given that students tend to lean left and then become more conservative as they grow older and less naive.

        Bob Altemeyer himself is certainly a liberal (just as Adorno was a communist). Parts of his book can be irritating for this reason (“ok, Bob, you don’t like George W Bush – we get it“), but his work has value independent of his own politics. It’s unfortunate that he uses the term “right-wing authoritarian”, since many RWAs are very left wing and most conservatives aren’t RWAs.

    • I’ve always thought that many (not all) reactionary right-wingers, particularly the younger and maler ones, are really radicals who are chasing a high from extreme counter-cultural politics, and would hate actually having to live in a traditional conservative society.

      This is a really dumb thing to say on this particular site. Most traditionalist conservatives in a place like this are here because they would genuinely like to live in a place where purity, sacredness, authority and loyalty are respected. I can think of a couple exceptions, but mostly it’s not generalized discontent. After all, if that was what it is all about, why haven’t people here joined up with the punks and anarchists? What Reggie has to say would probably be more applicable to the folks over at a site like Alternative Right.

      • Conservatism is a moral orientation, not an attitude towards change, though respect for authority will inevitably mean a tendency to defer to tradition.

      • There are a couple people here who are pretty mercurial in temperament and who were into all sorts of weird stuff before stumbling onto Christianity and traditionalism, and who I really doubt would be capable of happiness in any society no matter if raised in it or not. But they are the exception, and definitely don’t include Bonald.

      • I’m afraid I do have tendency to say dumb things, so you’ll have to bear with me on that…. I wasn’t commenting on this blog specifically. It was more a general observation.

      • Conservatism is a moral orientation, not an attitude towards change, though respect for authority will inevitably mean a tendency to defer to tradition

        This is an interesting point. I’d be more inclined to define conservatism as the opposite of radicalism and utopianism. This means that conservatism will generally be broadly right-wing (since most radicalism and utopianism comes from the left). It also dovetails with Christian ideas about original sin and the imperfectibility of man. Of course, the goalposts are different in the continental European context, as opposed to the Anglo-American context – which is sort of where I came in.

    • One really has to distinguish between three things people mean when they talk about conservatism:

      1. Mere conservatives. This is the don’t rock the boat, go-it-slow brigade. They don’t fundamentally oppose liberal goals, but they don’t like irresponsible things like big deficit spending or anti-borgeois radicalism. They like to claim the mantle of Burke, but that ignores too much of Burke’s actual text, so really they’re just Fabians of a sort. They may have some sentimental attachment to the past because of its familiarity, but really they aren’t fundamentally upset when something is swept away. People like Reggie, Michael Oakeshott and Andrew Sullivan would be a good examples.

      2. Burkean or traditionalist conservatives. In addition to Burke himself, Russell Kirk, James Kalb and Nicholas Gomes Davila would be good examples. They recognize the validity and importance of non-utilitarian values like purity, sacredness, authority and loyalty in public life, but they also recognize that these things are hard to apply to politics in an explicit way and so must be worked out through a long process of tradition forming.

      3. Continental conservatives. Some people call these traditionalists too, but the label doesn’t actually fit all that well. They also value purity, sanctity, authority and loyalty, but tend to think that these things can applied to public life in a pretty straightforward, explicit way. Hence they don’t have as much use for tradition as the Burkeans. It has all been, or can be, reasoned out. Examples would include Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, Edward Feser and our own pseudonymous Bonald.


      The Continentals are want to overthrow liberalism and are pretty confident they know what it should be replaced with. The Burkeans are also ok with overthrowing liberalism, but recognize that overthrowing the current understanding means that finding a replacement will be a long and often difficult process. As Davila wrote, “Everything that interrupts a tradition obliges us to start over. And every origin is bloody.”

      I personally am more of a Burkean.

  10. @RP – You are correct in assuming that modern reactionaries would probably hate living in a reactionary society – but that doesn’t mean anything one way or another.

    Modern reactionaries are, of course, addicted to the luxury and distractions of modernity – just like almost everyone else (and those who are not so addicted do not write and comment on blogs).

    That is the thing about addictive drugs – you get addicted to them, and would be miserable without them. And we have all been force-fed these addictive drugs since childhood.

    But that don’t make it right! Reactionaries recognize that *even though* we personally would be miserable or at least sub-optimally happy (or dead – if we depend on modern medicine) in a reactionary society – nonetheless that is a better form of society.

    The thing about being a Christian is that it does not just *enable* people to distinguish between what they personally might want and what is truly right – but this is actually intrinsic to being a Christian! And if you can’t make this distinction, then you are not a Christian.

    The explanation is original sin and its consequences.

    • Bruce laughably claims that the ideal Christian society was Byzantium so no I do not think I would want to live in such a society.

      • What is your ideal? I would hazard to guess the German principalities of the Middle Ages. I must admit I have never given to much thought to an ideal Christian society (because none are perfect), so I simply default to our own heritage.

    • @bcg:

      @RP – You are correct in assuming that modern reactionaries would probably hate living in a reactionary society – but that doesn’t mean anything one way or another.

      This is true, and for a reason in addition to what you’ve stated. The argument about reactionaries is *sort* of true, in the same sense that I could never be truly comfortable living in the USA despite my deep respect for its traditions of freedom, its 1st and 2nd amendments, and so on – it’s just not where I’m from, not where I grew up, in spite of my admiration there are too many cultural differences. But if I had actually grown up there, I am sure I would be a patriot. Moreover, the fact that I know that, for cultural reasons, I would not be comfortable in the USA doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that in reality it is (well, was) a shining example of a great society.

      The same is true, I believe, about our self-professed reactionaries. Undoubtedly they would not be comfortable in the societies they say they idealize. But that doesn’t say very much to me – because it’s simply a function of what one is or is not accustomed to. Take one of our reactionaries and raise him in Byzantium and I’m sure he’d like it well enough.

  11. Pingback: Altemeyer Authoritarian personality « The Occidental Traditionalist

  12. This is a very good thread of comments, but I think there is one mistake running through it. This is the assumption that humans are essentially conservative or liberal, and so will behave as conservatives or liberals in all imaginable circumstances. If I am riding in a car with three other people and two of us think it is too hot, and the other two think it is too cold, the first two are not wishing to make the car as cold as possible, and the second two are not wishing to make it as hot as possible. If we started to raise the temperature, there would soon be three passengers complaining of the heat, and shortly thereafter four. The essence of each passenger is his ideal temperature, his “politics” is an accident of whatever the temperature in the car happens to be.

    Let’s take the simple example of open-mindedness. Now everyone knows that liberals are not perfectly open-minded. They will not, for instance, calmly consider the merits of slavery. And conservatives cannot be perfectly closed-minded, since if they were they could never learn anything. Conservatives simply think that most people have become too open-minded, and that some greater degree of narrow-mindedness is desirable. If people began to grow more narrow-minded, however, conservatives would, one by one, slip over the line and become liberals.

    One last example. I advocate “traditional” gender roles and relations. All this means is that I’d prefer to see social norms set somewhere to the right of where they presently are. It does not mean that, left to my own devices, I would reduce all women to chattel. There’s a point in the rightward swing where even I would become a feminist.

    • Hi JMSmith,

      I suppose one could think of things that way, with each ideology defined quantitatively as a point in a space of several qualities like open-mindedness and female autonomy. I see the major ideologies as being qualitatively different, with each one picking a different quality as its supreme good and pursuing it to the maximum. Among liberal theorists, it’s widely recognized that autonomy is the overriding good, and a liberal would not say that personal autonomy (properly understood) is something he only wants so much of and not more. He wants to maximize it for everyone. Conservatives have not yet formulated a word for what it is we want to maximize, but I think we could. Perhaps something like “sacralization”, “submission to God”, or “public morality”. Like “autonomy”, the conservative ideal requires some unpacking to be properly understood, but it is a coherent ideal. Both the conservative and liberal ideals then justify some forms of open-mindedness and forbid others; both justify some restrictions of female behavior and forbid others.

      For example, I do not agree that restoring traditional gender roles is part of a continuum whose extreme would be enslaving women. Patriarchy ennobles both men and women, and to carry it to its most extreme would be to perfect it according to its own essence, which is a highly desirable thing. I could recognize recognize deviations of different forms from godly patriarchy, some that error by giving women too much autonomy and some that error by giving men too much autonomy, but that doesn’t make me even slightly feminist because I reject the ideal of autonomy completely.

      • Naturally, our aim is the good, the true, and the beautiful, and we believe these to be absolute qualities, not subjective evaluations. This is what I would mean by sacralization. It is a discovery of value, not a choice. For my part, if there is a conservative temperament, it exists in the belief that these qualities exist independent of anyone’s recognition that they exist.

        These qualities do not exist on a scale. I would never say that we have too much goodness, or truth, or beauty. This is another way of saying that we can’t have too much of God. But I think there are several other values that we conservatives should view relatively. We should oppose autonomy if it means a right to define natural law any way one pleases, but we should support it if it means a right to decide what to eat for breakfast.

        We reactionaries are sometimes said to favor authority and hierarchy, but we really favor just authority and legitimate hierarchy. I think that we should not say that there is too little authority and hierarchy in the world, but that. today, all the authorities are minions of Satan and the hierarchy is the hierarchy of Hell.

      • This gets to the heart of the matter. True conservatives think that things like beauty, sacredness, purity, authority, and loyalty are good in themselves, outside of their utilitarian value. Liberals only recognize utility and fairness (i.e. how to divide up the utility) as being valid moral concerns.

        Differences between Burkeans and Continentals are only about how easy it is to apply non-utilitarian values to public life.

  13. I do not think that the idea of hierarchy ever really changes much. Liberals are as close-minded as conservatives, just in a different way. And they are close-minded because they know where the bread is buttered.

    Many American conservatives of the Republican variety still believe that they are the indispensable “Masters of the Universe” of business and monetary tabulation and are pre-occupied with their stock portfolio and golf on Wednesday with the boys even while they are being burned in effigy by the murderous mob that has gathered outside the country club.

    Liberals, on the other hand, have insulated themselves inside academia, government , and the media with the conceit that they earned those positions through intellectual superiority and a superior form of universal compassion, but which is based mostly on their support of the state and global governance.They theorize inside the walls while their ethnic allies can’t wait to cut their throats and take over their professorships and while a conservative mob gathers outside the university to burn THEM in effigy.

    I am white, working class and Catholic. That is an identity I stand by and despite attempts to do so, never really could conquer. That is because I remain financially insecure and still, at age 50, have to work my ass off. I do not know if that makes me a conservative thinker or a liberal one, all I know is that I have absolutely no problem with watching both these groups have the illusions about themselves punctured and dream of a world where they no longer exist.

    We often forget, especially in the discussion about England above, how the white working class provides so much of the muscle for Leftism. They believe the way they do because despite all the socialism of the past 150 years, they feel so powerless to do anything profound or significant with their lives other than punch the clock and go home to watch TV.

  14. I’m from a family that converted to devout Christianity after years of non-belief. We are non-Western, middle class and non-English speaking (from a Latin derived language).

    Father is into STEM (e.g. engineering) and so is my mother. Brother is into STEM as well (technology). Sister is into the arts. We are becoming less evangelical and more Catholic/Orthodox.

    There is something seriously odd and potent about Western Anglo liberalism and possibly French as well? Is Anglo liberalism the bastard child of the French Revolution?

    Due to globalization this influence is creeping into Latin countries, African countries, Eastern European countries and Asian countries.

    • Is Anglo liberalism the bastard child of the French Revolution?

      No. It’s entirely the other way around. They stole our ideas. The French thinkers of the Enlightenment appropriated traditional indigenous British ideas – Montesquieu liked constitutional monarchy and the separation of powers, Voltaire admired freedom of speech and the rule of law.

      The problem was that, while these ideas were indigenous and traditional in Britain (and therefore innately conservative), the French revolutionaries tried to transplant them violently and suddenly into a totally different political culture. The results were entirely predictably and mostly tragic.

  15. I don’t think that to be a reactionary is, necessarily, to be opposed to a tradition of constitutionalism and liberty. Reactionaries (at least those like me) just want their constitutionalism and liberty balanced with hierarchy, authority and tradition. I can be for the Magna Carta while being against the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884; likewise, I can respect the love of freedom and hatred of tyranny inherent in the founding of my American county while understanding that throne, altar, family and tradition are greater bulwarks for freedom than the ballot box could ever be.

    • I don’t claim to speak for others, but I would have to say that that’s not what I would understand reactionary conservatism to be. I would understand reactionary conservatism to be the legacy of the continental European reaction against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, as exemplified by de Maistre, de Bonald (the original one, not the blogger), Chateaubriand, Metternich, Maurras and General Franco.

      The project of reconciling order with liberty is a quintessentially Anglo-American one, and once one starts talking about constitutionalism and liberty, one starts to buy into the Anglo-American tradition, which is alien to the reactionary tradition. After all, Maistre sneered at the British constitution years before even the 1832 Reform Act had been thought of.

      • Hello,

        I’m not sure that Maistre ever sneered at the British constitution. In fact, in his “Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions,” he refers to it as “the most complex unity and the most delicate equilibrium of political forces the world has ever known.” He even acknowledges that Charles I “deserved some blame and reproach” in “Considerations on France.” He is not entirely uncritical, but I think he is generally more favorable than not.

        I would also note that he claimed rights for the parlements beyond those to which the monarchy would have agreed. When he was criticized for citing a book authored by a group of former magistrates that one of his critics claimed would have been burned under the reign of Louis XIV, he responded, “I believe it; so would Mr Delolme’s book (On the English Constitution) have been burned in London (perhaps with its author) under the reign of Henry VIII or his rude daughter.” Certainly, he is more authoritarian than, say, Burke, but I do not think he is quite as absolutist as he is often depicted as having been.

        None of this is to say that there is not a real difference between Anglo-American and Continental conservatism, and perhaps we are arguing over semantics, but I do not see any reason why a reactionary cannot have some concern for decentralization and liberty, though I would say that the absolute fixation on liberty or natural rights that characterizes many American conservatives is not compatible with the reactionary mindset. Actually, I might tend to agree that Americans cannot really be conservatives.

  16. Der Spiegel on those Americans not fully on board with the leftist project::

    We want to believe that Obama failed because of the conservatives inside his own country. Indeed, the fanatics that Mitt Romney depends on have jettisoned everything that distinguishes the West: science and logic, reason and moderation, even simple decency. They hate homosexuals, the weak and the state. They oppress women and persecute immigrants. Their moralizing about abortion doesn’t even spare the victims of rape. They are the Taliban of the West.

    • If Mitt Romney was depending on the fanatics, the fanatics let him down. Of course, in a sane world the word “fanatics” would be reserved for people who believe what no one ever believed before. It would denote people who were certain that their own thoughts were synonymous with reason awhile believing propositions that no one before yesterday imagined might be true. In other words, it would indicate the morons who dribble out the prose that is printed in Der Spiegel.

  17. I believe completely disagree with all the statements on creativity and open-mindedness. Very few of the passionate reactionaries I know were raised to be reactionaries. Like myself, they opened their minds to other points of view, which led them to truth, and the reactionary position. I would say that, unlike liberals, which consider their life system to be complete and consistent, the reactionary mind tries harder and harder to understand our world and our role in it.

    Every reactionary I know can argue the liberal case for everything; few, if any, liberals can argue the reactionary view. I thought that empathy had to do with the ability of putting in someone else’s shoes. I believe that reactionaries are empaths because of it. As a minuscule portion of the population, we are forced to do this, sometimes in our constant search of understanding. The difference is that, for us, empathy is just a tool for understanding a viewpoint, not a justification for said point.

    Bonald, please work on the incesant inferiority issue. We are not inferior, we are just insufficient in numbers, and have reason, not animal passion to back us up. You put the Jews as some kind of bogeyman. I posit that, if not for traditional Christianity, Judaism would not exist. If not for Christ, who would believe that over 4000 years ago some guy parted the Red Sea in two, that a large enslaved nation escaped Egypt, and that the Torah wasn’t written by some crazy guy obsessed with circumcision?

    • You are alluding to double consciousness, which American blacks had until fairly recently. Much could be learnt from their historical writings, if reactionaries were a smidge more honest and a tad less, well, liberal.

  18. This post does raise the question of deference to authority when the authorities are all liberal and rationalist. There are a lot of unthinking conservatives out there who adopt (some) liberal ideas simply because it’s the liberals who are in charge. I think this is why conservatives are typically so slow to react in our own society.

    I also think that a lot of conservatives are reluctant to criticize our own fundamentally culture because to do so would be to be disloyal.

  19. Things I’d agree with:

    1. Liberals really are more open to new experiences and ideas.

    2. Liberals are more rationalist than conservatives, who tend to be more intuitive. I doubt that liberals have more connections between hemispheres.

    3. Liberals are less threat conscious.

    4. Liberals are less attuned to in group/out group distinctions.

    Things I’d disagree with:

    1. Liberals aren’t more compassionate than conservatives. However, compassion and fairness are the only moral values they recognize, so compassion does take up a larger portion of their moral universe. They also interpret favouring any other moral principle, such as purity, as simply not valuing compassion.

    Not covered:

    1. Liberals are less conscientious than conservatives.

    2. Liberals have no idea what conservatives are thinking.

    3. Liberals may like new ideas, but can’t tolerate disagreement and disharmony. So, liberals are not more tolerant in general; they are only tolerant of certain things.

    4. Liberals share the novelty seeking and lack of regret typical of psychopaths. Once you’re on their enemies list, expect no quarter.


    Liberals more open, yes. More compassionate, no. More tolerant, no.

  20. Liberals share a significant number of psychological correlates with psychopaths, including disrespect for authority, novelty seeking and lack of regret for their (frequently destructive) actions. However, unlike psychopaths they still do have a moral sense.

    • I’m not sure that 911 firefighters are the best example of the type. But the so-called X-altruists seem more like X-liberals.

    • Sociopath:

      low impulse control
      high novelty-seeking (desire to experience new things, take more risks, break convention)
      no remorse for their actions (lack of conscience)
      inability to see beyond their own needs (lack of empathy)
      willing to break rules
      always acts in the interest of himself


      low impulse control
      high novelty-seeking
      little remorse for their actions (would “do it again in a heartbeat”)
      inability to see past the needs of others (very high empathy)
      willing to break rules
      acts in the best interest of others, or for the “common good” (because it is the right thing to do)

  21. I’ve pretty much always been a non-leftist, or at least as non-leftist as my current state would allow, notwithstanding a brief, two-month or so fling with outright atheism while, like, 15. By and large I have all the traits assigned to conservatives above: highly logical (leftist arguments re: compassion have always struck me as limp-wristed sissy crap), narrow-minded, aggressive, intensely loyal to my in-group (Catholics) to the point of actively antagonizing others I don’t see as sufficiently loyal to it, consistently handed (I can use my left hand for typing and that’s about it; otherwise it may as well be a useless, dead stump), and very prone to binary thinking. The only strike against me on the androgyny front, I suppose, would be my relatively slight build.

  22. Just took the Altemeyer Authoritarian Test. Scored 72% absolute/89th percentile for my age group. But I did it mostly by answering in the middle, most often the neutral zero, except for the questions about gays and feminists being all wonderful for challenging the family and such.

    • I took the same test and came out with 89%. I have low empathy and high systemizing scores according to other tests, which is a shock to no one nowhere, and the reason why my mother is constantly exasperated with me.

      As for creativity, let’s not confuse it with ingenuity or craftsmanship.

      Thanks for the linkage and sorry for rambling in your thread.

  23. The “delusions of immorality” comment fits well. Atheists tend to be mentally like conservatives, whereas agnostics are almost universally liberal-minded. This is perhaps linked to the fact that the orthodox and atheists tend to have more masculine minds, which are more future-oriented. They have, after all, considered the existence of God, decided for or against His existence, and shaped their lives accordingly.

    • That should read “delusions of immortality”. I find the link to atheism particularly interesting, as I used to be an atheist. Agnosticism never made sense to me, so conversion led straight to orthodoxy.

      As for temperament, mine is notoriously mercurial (apparently), as I have an unusually masculine mind combating an extremely feminine physiology, and periodically losing (pun intended).

  24. The reaction is the movement into sanity and may be safely based upon The Politics of Aristotle, as the Philosopher has been baptized into Christianity.
    The principles are very general
    1) Man is a Political Animal
    2) The City is Prior to the Individual and the Family
    3) The City exists by Nature (contra the City exists by contract of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau).

    The City, itself possesses a complex hierarchical structure, building itself up, from families, neighborhoods, communities and craft and trade guilds.

    The Political Nature of Man implies that man lives in Particular, Authoritarian, Self-ruling moral communities.

    Note: Particular as opposed to Universal. There are no Universal Political Equality and Rights.

    All man have inalienable Natural Rights-the right to life, liberty and property but Political Rights belong to the Citizens and not necessarily to sojourners and strangers.

    The City is defined as the Community of Love (St Augustine) but it is not an disembodied love but the City is build up from Neighborhoods. The citizens are those that share a particular conception of Good.

    Again from Aristotle:
    “The material cause of the City is the people along with the land. ”
    Thus, the City occupies a certain territory. Note that it does not “own” a territory.
    The City defines a state of law within its territory and thus ownership rights exist within this territory.
    Note again, A Right is a conclusion of an argument and thus can exist only when the parties argue with each other and not fight physically. The conception of “rights” requires a shared moral space (otherwise, we could not argue but only fight).

      • City vs tribe
        It should be clarified that City, though distinct from the tribe or the race, naturally incorporates the good elements of the tribe.
        The tribe is defined by blood, the City by the object of Love i.e. the particular conception of Good. But man is naturally pious thus the conception of the Good is naturally transmitted by descent. Thus the tribe or race forms building block of the City.

        The madness of the Nazis lay in exalting the racial. They were sub-pagans.
        The error of the Universalism lies in denying the particular. Thus, the difference between a neighbor (that shares your moral vision) and a stranger (that does not) is deprecated.
        Dostoevsky had observed in the Karamazov brothers that man must worship in common, otherwise he will force his fellow man to worship along with him. And we do see wars being fought just on this point. This is Political Nature of man that the moderns deny.

        The Progressives seek to force all men to be neighbors. Thus, the drive towards the World State.
        The Libertarians deny the common vision of Good altogether. They force neighbors to live as if they were strangers.
        In practice, the progressivism works in synergy with libertarianism.

  25. I appreciated Bruce Charlton’s comment on the “Why not?” question. It always comes down to that with liberals.

    My husband is very black and white in his thinking and I, despite my conservative views, tend to be more pragmatic. It is an issue of liberals being more feminine minded and conservatives having a more masculine and logical way of viewing things. Liberals are moved by how the course of action makes everyone feel, whereas conservatives want to know if the course of action produces measurable positive outcomes.

    And this is why the “Why not?” question really irks me. Look at the results and you can see why not.


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