'Political action involves mental vulgarity," wrote Michael Oakeshott in 1939, "not merely because it entails the concurrence and support of those who are mentally vulgar, but because of the false simplification of human life implied in even the best of its purposes." Economist Arnold Kling says something similar in "The Three Languages of Politics."
Mr. Kling's three "languages" are ways of talking about politics and government, and they align roughly with the progressive, conservative and libertarian viewpoints. Progressives, Mr. Kling thinks, typically express opinions using an "oppressed-oppressor axis": societal problems are envisioned mainly as forms of oppression of the weak by the strong. Conservatives favor a "civilization-barbarism axis" and worry about how to defend traditional values and institutions. Libertarians use a "freedom-coercion axis" in which the threat is governmental encroachment on individual choice.
One reason American political culture has become polarized and uncivil, Mr. Kling believes, is that each side puts its contentions almost exclusively in terms of its favored language, and fails to see that contrary opinions are manifestations of a different language rather than evidence of stupidity or duplicity.
Read the rest of the review at the WSJ.
One can buy the e-book at Amazon for $1.99. I just did.
Last 5 posts by Clark
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