Noblesse Oblige on the Left

By Fairooz Adams

Perhaps the best way to date to demonstrate the breadth of human political beliefs in two dimensions is a square or a diamond, which “authoritarian” and “libertarian” on opposing ends, and the “left” and “right” perpendicular to former two. Yet when the sum total of political ideologies are taken into account and a point on the compass is given for each ideology, the distribution will likely resemble a horseshoe more than anything else, with ideologies such as anarcho-syndicalism serving as an outlying extreme on the left-libertarian corner and small government ultraconservatism on the right-libertarian corner. Meanwhile most of the leftwing and rightwing ideologies follow an arc towards the authoritarian as they veer away from the center.

For this reason, there is an effect in which as ideologies become more extreme, they typically begin to resemble one another. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for instance, run by the communist Korean Workers’ Party resembles a monarchy in many respects. The DPRK’s present day leader Kim Jong-un is the son of the late ruler Kim Jong-il, who himself was the son of the first leader of the DPRK: Kim il-Sung. The culture of the DPRK is far less progressive than the culture of its southern neighbor, the Republic of Korea and, according to Victor Cha’s The Impossible State, the racial purity of the country is prized. On the other end of the spectrum, while fascism does not endorse direct control of the economy, it does advocate for a substantial degree of coordination between the state and private enterprises.  

Then it is unsurprising that in many ways the regressive leftist strain of thought that has overtaken academia, especially the social sciences, possesses a strain which resembles an old illiberal conservatism. By its nature, this is antithetical to the classical liberalism born in the nineteenth century Anglo-American political culture, and which runs across the ideological compass in various forms in the United States, shaping the national political temperament.  

Regressive leftism is both a series of grievances in search of an ideology and an ideology in search of grievances. Notably, its belief that those in positions of privilege, in terms of race, sex, class, nationality, ability, religion, and a limitless list of other criterion are obligated to act with special care to those who are not categorized as members of special classes is akin to the European aristocratic concept of noblesse oblige.

Noblesse oblige, a code of honor which presented the European aristocracy with an “obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible” conduct, resembles regressive leftist demands that the privileged be especially conscientious to avoid hurting the weak and pathetic people in underprivileged classes who are too feeble to care for themselves. Such an infantilizing condescension betrays the best instincts of the liberal tradition. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist from New York University, has posited the infantilization of Americans is because of another great shift to a victim culture from a dignity culture, which itself was a shift from an honor culture.

Perhaps. Whatever the case, it increasingly looks like the truly classically liberal temperament belonging to Anglo-American political discourse is presenting itself in vanishingly smaller progressive circles, and a far larger cohort on America’s political right still believes in the individual.

More insidious is the fact this illiberalism is buoyed by the weighty authority of social sciences. Indeed, there is a growing evidence the lack of political diversity in social sciences renders the ability to account for biases that much more difficult, and as a consequence skews the results of social science research. Indeed, in some fields like psychology, on average every conservative leaning academic will have twelve progressive counterparts. While hard sciences are not immune to dogmatism, social sciences especially are at risk as so much interpretation on the part of the scientist must be subjective. Over time, it is easy to see how an orthodoxy formulated in this environment would constrain dissent and as a consequence make knowledge incomplete and skew the paradigm through which all new knowledge is considered.

After decades of skewing ever farther to the left, social sciences have come to embrace an illiberal leftism that has little regard for independent human agency and ability, but instead seeks to settle any and all scores, even if transgressions have been carried out by one’s ancestors generations prior. No wonder over time this illiberalism began to seep into students, the pages of TIME Magazine, and may yet corrode the classically liberal temperament and belief in the rugged sturdiness and resilience of the individual which molds America’s unique character.

The solution? More temperamentally centrist and conservative scientists must enter academia, particularly the social sciences. At the present time the problem with social sciences is not that they are entirely wrong per se, but it is largely incomplete. The centrists and conservatives much not provide alternative facts, but complete the facts. American political discourse of all stripes must return to equal opportunity, but not special opportunity. Equal treatment, but not special or preferential treatment.

For Hamiltonian Republicans, this means creating a new intellectual bulwark for centrists. The objective cannot be to instill perfect balance, but to produce a critical mass to serve as a counterweight and check on dogmatism that proliferates in academia and has steadily seeped into popular culture. Indeed, another strategy may be to demonstrate that regressive leftism is condescension and its tenets and assertions have the worst bigotries of the lowest expectations. America is great because it exalts the ability and the industry of the individual.  Certainly by no means as a Hamiltonian Republican do I advocate for libertarian economics which has proven in the last several decades to be a gross overcorrection from the excessive regulations of the mid-20th century, but it is a case for treating all adults as adults in our social discourse, and readjusting America’s liberal mindset to believe in each citizen.

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