The discussion over “bleeding heart” libertarians got me thinking a lot about the foundations of various political ideologies. For example, what is the ultimate intuition for modern liberalism? There isn’t a single one. They come in a few flavors:
- Reformist: Some policies simply need fixing and government is the best way to do it. Think Keynes – we just need the state to manage aggregate demand so business cycles aren’t too bad. I put arguments over public goods in this camp.
- Redistribution: It’s inherently unfair that some people don’t have enough income, thus was have to use government to redistribute income.
- Rawlsian: If we weren’t wedded to our specific interests, rational people would prefer liberal policies to manage risk over the life course and provide collective goods.
- Utilitarian: On the average, liberal interventions in the economy and society work out pretty well.
There is one intuition for liberalism that isn’t popular, but it deserves some thought. I call it “sociological liberalism.” It goes like this:
- People and groups can’t be separated. People treat each other in bad ways because of strong personal attachment to groups. Thus, we should proactively create policies that counter people’s tendency toward tribalism.
This is different than other justifications of liberalism. For example, it’s not Rawlsian in that we have to argue about what people in the ideal state would care about. It not fundamentally about redistribution of income or ad hoc reform. It’s about a basic feature of human psychology – the strong, perhaps too strong, attachment to our family, religion, ethnic group, etc. – and how that’s counter our belief that people should be treated with respect.