Reviews | “The whole of liberal democracy is in grave danger at the moment”

Or consider an article from 2019, “False equivalence: Are liberals and conservatives in the United States equally biased? ” through Jonathan baron and Jean Jost, psychology professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the NYU, who write: “Today we read that liberals are just as bossy as conservatives; as rigid and simple-minded; as intolerant; as having prejudices.

The authors found it

ironic and more than a little baffling that social psychologists drift into this relativistic view of morals and politics just as authoritarian conservatism (and illiberal hostility to democratic norms) seems to reach new heights of popularity and daring not only in Trump’s America but also in Erdogan’s Turkey, Orban’s Hungary, and Netanyahu’s Israel.

Baron and Jost also cite studies suggesting that those on the right are more sensitive to authoritarian appeals:

Conservatives score higher than Liberals on measures of personal needs for order and structure, cognitive closure, intolerance of ambiguity, cognitive or perceptual rigidity, and dogmatism.

Liberals, they write, “score better than conservatives on objective tests of cognitive ability and intelligence” while conservatives “score higher than liberals on self-deception measures” and “Are more likely than liberals to spread ‘fake news’, political disinformation, and conspiracy theories on their online social networks.

In a paper 2018, Baron argues for the need for flexible thinking in a democracy:

For a democracy to work well (both for its own citizens and for foreigners), its citizens must endorse three (somewhat synergistic) social norms, which I have called cosmopolitanism, anti-moralism, and active open-mindedness. .

To defend his cause, Baron quotes John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Liberty”, in particular this famous passage:

All the strength and value of human judgment, depending on the sole property, that it can be straightened out when it is wrong, can only be leaned upon when the means of straightening it are constantly at hand. In the case of anyone whose judgment really deserves trust, how did it come to be? Because he has kept an open mind to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because he used to listen to anything that could be said against him; to take advantage of it as much as it was right, and to expose to himself, and occasionally to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious.

It may, however, be that the very complexity of the thought and resolution proposed by Baron and Mill is resisted, and even felt, by many on the right.

In a February 2019 article, “Liberals lecture, conservatives communicate: Analyzing the complexity and ideology in 381,609 political speeches ”, four political scientists, Martijn Schoonvelde, Anna brosius, Gijs Schumacher and Bert N. Bakker, argue that “speakers of culturally liberal parties use more complex language than speakers of culturally conservative parties” and that this variation in linguistic complexity is

rooted in the personality differences between conservative and liberal politicians. The former prefer short and unambiguous statements, and the latter prefer longer compound sentences, expressing several points of view.

The authors cite studies suggesting that this linguistic divide is persistent: “The readability and simplicity of Donald Trump’s language, “Posted in The political studies journal and

Research into the language habits of American and British politicians shows that conservative politicians make less complex statements than liberal politicians.

A study has shown that

speeches by liberal American presidents score higher in integrative complexity than those of conservatives, measured by the presence of “words involved in differentiation (exclusive words, provisional words, negations) as well as the integration of different perspectives (conjunctions) “.

Another found that

conservative political bloggers use less complex language than their liberal counterparts; and conservative citizens use language that is less integrative in complexity than liberal citizens.

Separate studies of the language used by the presidents – both ”The readability and simplicity of Donald Trump’s language, and an analysis of the language used by the last 15 presidents on the blog Base of facts – concluded that President Trump speaks at the lowest level of all those studied, as measured on the Flesch-Kincaid Index. As Factbase says:

By any metric for measuring vocabulary, using more than half a dozen tests with different methodologies, Donald Trump has the most basic, simplistic, and least diverse vocabulary of any president of the past 90 years. .

Some scholars argue that the emphasis on ideological conflict masks the most salient divisions of Donald Trump’s day: authoritarians versus non-authoritarians.

Karen stenner, the author of “The authoritarian dynamic, sent me an email on this point to say that

Helping people understand the difference between conservatives and authoritarians is really essential. Conservatives are inherently opposed to change and novelty, while authoritarians are opposed to diversity and complexity. It is a subtle but absolutely critical distinction.

“What we are up against”, she continued,

is an authoritarian revolution – not a conservative revolution, the term is inherently contradictory – which in the United States has been developing since the 1960s.

Authoritarianism, Stenner continued, is

clearly distinct from what I call “laissez faire conservatism”. In fact, in transnational research, I systematically find that these two dimensions are in fact negatively linked. On the contrary, authoritarians tend to be wary of free markets and more favorable to government intervention and redistribution, perhaps even to equalization and progressive taxation schemes.

For Stenner, “The primary objective of the authoritarian is always to strengthen unity and similarity; minimize the diversity of people, beliefs and behaviors.

In a 2009 article, “‘Conservatism, context dependence and cognitive disabilityStenner wrote:

Authoritarianism is a functional disposition concerned with maximizing “unity” and “sameness”, especially in conditions where the things that make us one and the same – common authority and shared values ​​- seem to be threatened. .

The threat, she continued, sets in motion an “authoritarian dynamic” that activates

latent predispositions to authoritarianism and increases their expression in overt intolerance. That is, intolerance is a function of the interaction of an authoritarian predisposition with conditions of normative threat.

In his email, Stenner argued that “non-authoritarian conservatives, opposed to change, dedicated to upholding the law and defending the legitimate political and social institutions that underpin the stability and security of society” are a crucial pillar of democratic governance.

In the real world, she continued, “it is the authoritarians who are the revolutionaries.”

Because of this authoritarian revolution, at home and abroad, Stenner argues that

the whole of liberal democracy is in grave danger at the moment. But the fault lies with authoritarians on both the right and left, and the solution lies with non-authoritarians on both sides.

Stenner argues that the authoritarian revolution began in the 1960s: “Once the principle of equal treatment under the law was instituted and enshrined through the Civil Rights Act and the voting rights “, traditional conservatism -” loyalty to the laws of the land and the defense of legitimate institutions “- has given way to authoritarianism” as a factor in the expression of racial, moral and political intolerance “.


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