Who Are the Republicans?

That is, people who vote for the Republican party in the USA? Richard Posner offers this:
Apart from the many Republicans and Democrats who vote for a party out of habit or nostalgia or family tradition or attachment to a particular issue or a personal liking or loathing for the other people who vote for the party, there are ideological voters. In the Republican Party these fall into three main groups: believers in (1) free markets, low taxes, and small government; (2) believers in tough criminal laws and a strong foreign policy; and (3) social (mainly religious) conservatives, who are hostile to abortion, gay marriage, pornography, and gun control. Groups (2) and (3) converge on hostility to illegal immigrants. Groups (1) and (2) are in some tension because a national security state requires big government and therefore high taxes. Group (1) is in tension with (3) because (1) is libertarian and (3) is regulatory.
That sounds about right to me, which is a polite way of saying that Posner's taxonomy offers nothing new; even so, it is useful to keep in mind when thinking about US party politics.

Posner also writes:
For myself, I would be happy to see conservatism exit from the political scene--provided it takes liberalism [in the American sense] with it. I would like to see us enter a post-ideological era in which policies are based on pragmatic considerations rather than on conformity to a set of preconceptions rooted in a rapidly vanishing past.
I couldn't agree more (both Posner and Becker add nuance). In fact, it's a bit of a mystery why being against nuclear energy almost always goes together with being for abortion rights and against the death penalty, for example. If you can find a common factor behind those views, please let me know.


John Althouse Cohen said...

I think there's a really crucial point in this blog post about conservatives vs. liberals in general -- that it doesn't necessarily make sense why people so strongly tend to share a whole messy collection of views. But I disagree with your specific example of nuclear, though this could just be due to the fact that we're in different countries. As I see it, conservatives try to trump up nuclear power as if it were one of the defining issues of our time (implying liberals are rigidly opposed to it), while it's far less common for liberals to actually feel so strongly about it. (Admittedly there are some liberals who are reflexively opposed to nuclear power, but I think they're in a minority.) See this Bloggingheads segment, where Conn Carroll (conservative) gives Bill Scher (liberal) a hard time about liberal views on nuclear power, and Scher responds, "I'm fascinated by the right's fascination with nuclear."

As for the broader topic, Jonathan Haidt has a pretty elaborate psychological theory about the real dividing line between liberals & conservatives -- video, article.

LemmusLemmus said...

Your disagreement about the nuclear power example indeed seems to stem from our being in different countries - it is a very defining issue over here.

I don't have the time to read the links now or during the next few days (may add another comment later), but I don't think the specific examples are explained either by Jonathan Haidt's work (which I know in part and have blogged about) nor Thomas Sowell's view that conservatives have a more skeptical view of human nature than liberals (in the American sense).