August 05, 2004
Liberalism is a Psychology
Eric Alan Beltt
Many conservatives are absolutely perplexed by the question of what motivates liberals to take the patently wrong political positions they do. It’s difficult to explain it without believing such obviously wrong ideas like “liberals are just stupid”, or “they want to destroy our country”, but sometimes we resort to those explanations out of pure frustration.
But what is the explanation? Why do seemingly good, intelligent people take positions that cause so much harm in the face of all the facts? I’ve finally stumbled upon the answer, and it’s so stunningly simple, yet profound in its implications, that it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Liberalism isn’t a political ideology; it’s a psychology - the psychology of self-satisfaction to be precise.
A liberal (or a leftist; I use the terms interchangeably), is a person who only cares about politics to the extent that doing so makes him or her feel good, or avoid feeling bad, due both to external and internal factors. Their motivations can include things like a desire to feel intelligent, moral, noble, or unique, as well as a desire for peer acceptance or reverence, and aversion to being ostracized, among many other things.
Now, before I go any further, I have to draw a distinction between liberals and the people who agree with them. Liberals, the people I’m referring to throughout, are the activists and ideologues; the people who truly believe in their leftist ideas and who fight for them.
People who simply agree with the real liberals on some given issue on the other hand, are not generally the people I’ll be referring to. This group includes people who vote in their own concrete self-interest (tax the rich and give it to my group for example), as well as people who are simply misinformed about the issues (they might believe conservatives don’t support civil rights for example), and those for whom one or two issues override all else (abortion for example), among other things.
With that said, I’d like to restate the main point. Liberalism isn’t a political ideology. The only common bond that truly holds liberal ideas together is their straight-forward simplicity (pass a law, raise taxes, hand out money, talk it out, etc), which is solely a consequence of the fact that liberals are completely uninterested in real solutions to real problems.
It is the political activism itself that interests them, in that it makes them feel good about themselves for a number of reasons. The particular cause they fight for is relevant only insofar as different causes stroke different emotional needs (moral superiority, intellectual superiority, group acceptance, aversion to emotional trauma, etc).
Let’s take an easy example, same-sex marriage (I’ll come to many more examples later on). Liberals see themselves as fighting the “bigots” on behalf of the “oppressed” minorities, and they constantly compare the battle to the civil rights movement. It isn’t anywhere near, but they do it because it makes them feel important, which is also the reason why this is an issue at the national forefront today.
Liberals press the issue because it makes them feel important, and they support it because it makes them feel morally superior. Whether same-sex couples actually end up “marrying” or not is irrelevant (except to homosexual-leftists, to whom social acceptance is a great ego need), as are the consequences of that. It’s the battle itself that matters to liberals, and as soon as the issue is resolved, you can bet the farm that they’ll move onto something else.
As I said, liberalism is a psychology, not an ideology. And as such, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be limited to a person’s politics; it should show through to many different aspects of a person’s life, and it does. Liberals tend to dominate fields like academia, the news and entertainment media, and the legal professions, and they populate the elite social circles, all because they’re so concerned with their egos.
In academia, teachers and professors are revered as wise and accomplished, and they exercise almost absolute power over dozens to hundreds of students. People in the media are famous and seen as powerful, intelligent, charismatic, and accomplished. Lawyers have enormous power over people’s lives, and like celebrities are seen as intelligent, charismatic, and accomplished, and are also generally seen as moral people (by people who substitute law for morality). Judges are esteemed and seen as a source of wisdom and knowledge, and they too hold enormous power over people’s lives and are seen as moral in the same way lawyers are. I won’t even get into liberal politicians (yet).
There’s a trend here. Liberal professions offer many benefits to the ego. Liberals want to be society’s elite and powerful, much more than they want to be wealthy (although they often go hand in hand). They want to feel good about themselves, and that of course depends partially on how other people feel about them. The same thing that motivates their politics motivates many aspects of their personal lives.
Now, with the basics laid down, I’d like to draw a comparison to the Nazis. Nazism, at its core, was a product of people who cared about nothing but their own sense of superiority, just like the various leftist “ideologies” of today. The Nazi “superman”, the “purity of the German race”, the “subhuman” Jews, all of it was about feeling superior. Hitler took a defeated people and made them feel so superior that they decided to conquer the world and exterminate the “subhuman” peoples, all while helping the poor and protecting the environment.
Now before I go on, let me state that I’m quite thankful that liberals understand that killing people they see as “inferior” will earn them nothing but disdain. The Nazis were decidedly liberal in their psychology (and much of their politics for that matter), but the liberals of today simply aren’t Nazis. Like the Nazis though, they have the potential to do a tremendous amount of damage if left unchecked.
There’s even more similarity though when you consider how the liberals of today feel about certain groups of people. They’ll never tell you as much, but the poor are one group liberals consider decidedly inferior. That’s why they support handouts; the poor are like pets to liberals. They see them as this downtrodden group of people who are absolutely helpless, and who’d simply die if it wasn’t for their intervention.
Liberals have a hard time believing that most of the people who qualify as “poor” only do so for a short period of time (through college for example) and that without any help from liberals they manage to pull themselves up from poverty, and sometimes even become rich, but it’s true. Liberals want the poor to be this large group of people who simply can’t make ends meet and never will unless they step in and educate them, feed them, clothe them, and give them jobs.
Why? Because superiority is relative. If everyone was just as good as you, you wouldn’t feel as good about yourself. So part of the core of the liberal psychology is a deep-seated need to see other people as inferior, intellectually, morally, culturally (think McDonalds and NASCAR), or any other way that feeds the liberal’s ego.
The poor aren’t alone. Liberals think wealthy people, southerners, conservatives, devout religious people, minorities, “rednecks”, and many other groups of people are inferior to them in many different ways. Some they try to help and others they try to hurt (the “morally inferior” rich for example), all because other people’s “inferiority” makes them feel superior.
Liberals also want to feel revered by the people they see as their peers (other well-to-do liberals usually). That’s what motivates many aspects of their politics, like foreign policy for example. If you listen for it, you’ll hear a trend in liberal speech, over and over again. That is, the most important aspect of American foreign policy should be maintaining and elevating America’s image (i.e., the American liberal’s image in the eyes of their foreign peers).
We all want the rest of the world to look highly upon us, but to the egotist, that concern overrides every other. America’s safety, our prosperity, and our ability to exercise power in the world, all take a back seat to our image (specifically to our image among certain groups of people, like the French). If certain people don’t like us, our foreign policy is a “disaster” in the minds of liberals. Why? Because it makes them feel bad that the people they see as their peers don’t look upon them with reverence, let alone that they look upon them with disdain, and avoidance of that is a massive part of their psychology, and therefore their politics.
I should mention that the way in which liberals see their foreign peers is a great insight into how they themselves are motivated. They speak of the French and “the rest of the world” as if each country is a person with an ego that can be offended, as opposed to an entity that simply acts in its own best interest. They say that President Bush alienated “the rest of the world” with his “our way or the highway” attitude, and that he “squandered the post 9/11 goodwill” through his “insensitive” foreign policy. They see the actual consequences of his policy as irrelevant to the question of why others would support us or oppose us, which is frankly a good assessment of their liberal peers, and hence themselves.
Now this brings us to Iraq. Given the massive amount of positive consequences of the war, it’s difficult to understand why liberals generally oppose it (or “the way we went about it”), unless you realize that they’re concerned with personal consequences rather than wide-ranging ones. Liberals aren’t interested in whether the war was good policy, but how supporting or opposing it makes them look and feel (and the prevailing media coverage of the war heavily influences that).
President Bush made a critical mistake in selling the war as good policy, rather than an act of supreme morality. Liberals constantly gripe about “the reason we went to war” (as if there was only one), because “reasons” are their concern, not actions. They’ll only support a war if doing so makes them feel morally superior (there are many other more minor feelings liberals pursue as well though), and self-defense does not. Which is why when pressed, they’ll say they support everything good we accomplished, but oppose the reason we gave for war (it should have been more selfless).
And of course they also oppose “unilateralism”, meaning “without the consent of our liberal peers”. There are two reasons for that. One of course is the image issue I already laid out. Going it “alone” (support from people they don’t see as peers is irrelevant to them) lowers the opinion of America in the minds of people like the French. The other reason though, is moral accountability.
In a “unilateral action”, meaning one for which we specifically can be held accountable, everything bad that results rests on the heads of supporters of that action. If the war had gone badly in Iraq (ignoring the liberal lie that it has), liberals would have felt responsible. In a NATO action, or a UN action, or some other “multilateral” action, they don’t have to feel morally accountable for anything bad that happens (or has happened). And that fits perfectly with their egotism; they support everything good and oppose everything bad, with no need to reconcile the two within the real world (that applies to basically all of their political positions).
Another wonderful insight to the liberal psyche can be seen through their ideas about taxation. Consider the fact that they like to think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor (never mind that Robin Hood stole from the tax-man to give back to the tax-payer). Liberal ideas about how the tax-burden should be divided are based on what they consider “fair”, not what is best for the country.
You’ll rarely hear them seriously discuss whether tax-cuts for the so-called “rich” are in everyone’s interest, because they aren’t concerned about results, they’re concerned about their egos. “Progressive” taxation is a way for them to feel good about themselves, just like every other policy they support. It harms people they want to see as morally inferior, purports to help people they see as generally inferior and in need of help, and does so under the guise of “fairness” and “equity”. But whether the policy is actually good for the country or not is irrelevant. Incidentally, this all goes for affirmative action just as well.
No where is liberal egotism more evident than in the way they argue and debate though. To conservatives, debate is about the issues, which can make arguing with liberals quite frustrating, since to liberals, debate is about them. Liberals argue, not to show the value of an idea, but to show the value of themselves, either to the other person, or to some other observer. They either want to “prove” their superiority or the other person’s inferiority (or more often both). Rationality simply isn’t required as long as they can feel good about themselves in the end.
That’s why debate with them so often devolves into personal attacks, attacks on the credibility of opposing sources, claims of bigotry, denial and evasion, and any number of other tactics which do nothing to advance their argument. All of these are psychological defense mechanisms (“you’re being too simplistic” and “the world isn’t black and white” are two major defense mechanisms liberals use when an opposing position is straight-forwardly true).
Anything liberals can do to avoid facing damage to their ego, they will do, both consciously and unconsciously. But they rarely put real thought into the consequences of their positions, because those consequences simply don’t interest them. They engage in politics solely because it feeds their ego.
There is one major exception to this rule, however, and that is liberal politicians. They too are ego driven, but being directly involved in politics, the consequences of their positions are more important to them than to other liberals, as those positions have the capability of affecting them directly.
Take socialized healthcare for example. That one issue is perhaps the ideal liberal position. For the common liberal activist, it’s about taking from the rich to give to the poor (two “inferior” classes), but because it’s medicine, they can convince themselves that it’s a life and death issue, which makes them feel quite important. It’s also a quite simple “solution” to our healthcare problems (let the government take care of it).
This is all true for liberal politicians as well, but there’s one other bonus that isn’t present for the average liberal. Socialized healthcare puts immense power in the hands of liberal politicians. They decide what sicknesses will be treated and what won’t, how much or how little money each healthcare issue will get, and they decide “fair” prices for healthcare services.
What’s most disturbing of all though, is that by making healthcare an issue of spending “the government’s money”, liberals also make the health and the lifestyle of every American their jurisdiction. It becomes their business whether you overeat, smoke, drive too fast, have promiscuous sex, or do any number of unhealthy things. They have the ability to exert control over you for doing practically anything they disapprove of. To the egotist, the possibility of attaining that amount of power is simply compelling.
That’s the major reason why liberal politicians support socialized healthcare, as well as economy-stifling tax hikes, and vast entitlement programs like social security. To those with no real ideals, power is an ego trip - and the more of it the better. But with their power being directly dependent on the electorate, unpopular positions rarely last among liberals. They support only positions that will get them in power, keep them in power, and secure more power (think John Kerry and the flip-flop). Beyond that, liberal politicians are motivated by the same thing the average liberal is.
Many liberals who aren’t politicians are also motivated by power in their professional lives (I mentioned some brief examples earlier), but it doesn’t show through so much into their politics. There are a few issues however, where it shows through perfectly, those being education, the media, and the “issue” of President Bush.
Public education is one of the few issues the average liberal truly cares about. The “public” part that is, not the “education” part. Our public school system is a source of power for them. They have near total control over just about every child in America for a massive amount of time each week. It’s time they can use to push their positions on America’s future generations.
Without that source of power, it’s not a far cry to say that they’d have very little sway on the national stage, and as such, they defend that power fiercely. Things like allowing prayer in schools, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, displaying the Flag, allowing speakers and teachers to talk about abstinence and traditional values, allowing Armed Forces recruiters and ROTC programs access to students, and imposing academic standards (especially when it comes to history), are about keeping the hold they have on education and not allowing opposing ideas to take a foothold. It’s an issue of power above anything else.
The same goes for the media in America. Liberals know they have a practical monopoly on it (with the exception of those too blinded by their personal desire to see themselves as “moderates”), but they deny it to the grave, particularly with respect to the news. It’s quite obvious why that is. A liberal controlled media that appears unbiased is a vast source of power for them. They’re able to exert a great deal of influence on the country through it, and they don’t want to give that up.
So they deny the bias ad infinitum, and attack anything that challenges their monopoly, even in the slightest. Fox News is the epitome of that. FNC isn’t a right-wing mouthpiece as liberals purport (just listen to right-wing talk radio to see the contrast if you don’t believe me), but they are decidedly to the right of all of the major television news networks, and most newspapers. That makes them a threat to a source of liberal power, and a huge target for attack.
Talk radio and right-wing web pages are a threat too, but to a much lesser extent. Fox News claims to be unbiased (and they largely are, unfortunately), which gives them credibility equal to or greater than the liberal networks. Talk radio and the internet, however, make no effort whatsoever to be balanced or impartial, so most people take them with much more of a grain of salt than they take the liberal news. So like I said, they’re less of a threat.
Specific personalities though, like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, are not only a major threat to them because of their appeal, but they are personally offensive because they threaten the liberal ego (often quite intentionally). They make no qualms about the fact that they don’t believe liberals are anywhere near the wonderful people they claim to be (nor do I), and that’s like a swift kick to the groin for them. They take it personally.
The biggest issue perhaps of this whole election to the left though, is President Bush himself. With a thriving economy, a newly free and sovereign Iraq (and Afghanistan) making large steps towards democracy and stability, huge gains in the war against international terrorism, massive funding for the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and many other wonderful accomplishments and many more in the making, you’d think liberals would like the President. But they don’t. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; they hate him with a passion.
There’s a real concrete reason for that, and that’s power (standard egotism has something to do with it as well). Conservatives have it and they don’t right now (thank God), and the President is right at the epicenter of that. He isn’t just some person they disagree with; he’s the personification of their insignificance on the world stage, and insignificance is something patently offensive to a narcissist. The “anyone but Bush” crowd means that, almost literally (excepting people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and any other conservative in the Bush-Administration or elsewhere). They simply don’t care who’s in office as long as “they” have the power.
In short, President Bush is an issue for liberals because he makes them feel powerless and insignificant (particularly because of his steadfast principled leadership), two feelings which are personally offensive to egotists.
Now, they tell you that when you write a piece like this, you’re supposed to save the best for last, and I think I’ve done just that. No discussion of the liberal psychology would be complete without an analysis of their “righteous” indignation towards America and Israel. As with every other aspect of their politics, it’s motivated entirely by egotism.
Liberals desire to see themselves and be seen by others not just as moral people, but as morally superior people. All moral people condemn terrorism, but the “morally superior” liberal also condemns the “evils” of those who fight it. They stand in judgment of good people because it makes them feel superior.
Abu Ghraib is a wonderful recent example of this phenomenon. While our enemies are cutting off the heads of innocent Americans they’ve kidnapped as a matter of policy, liberals were absolutely obsessed with the mere humiliation of a handful of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of a few American criminals, while the crimes were already being investigated and the criminals dealt with. It’s quite confusing if one doesn’t understand the egotistical motivation behind it, but patently predictable if one does.
The Israeli security fence is another great example with respect to leftists around the world. They’re building it specifically to keep their citizens from being murdered by terrorists, and instead of condemning terrorism for forcing the action, leftists around the world (including the world court, where a few select people stand in judgment over the whole of humanity like gods - the greatest ego trip of all) condemn Israel because a small number of Palestinians will be inconvenienced. For those who don’t simply hate Jews, it’s egotism at its highest. Being against murder is expected. Being against a fence that makes a poor farmer’s harvest a little harder is “exceptional”.
Coming full circle, I hope my position is clear. Liberalism isn’t an ideology, it’s a psychology. Ideologies are motivated by common principles, and liberal “ideologues” simply have none. They are only a cohesive ideology insofar as they value their own sense of superiority and care little to nothing about the consequences of their policies.
Politics is personal to them, because to them, politics is entirely motivated by personal considerations. That includes things like the concrete desires for power and acclaim, as well as the internal desire to feel superior to others, intellectually, morally, generally, and in many other ways. And while the left may not have a total monopoly on narcissism, they have a huge lead over the right.
In closing, I’d like to say that while I’m quite certain many liberals will take this as an ad hominem attack on their positions, it is not. I make no claims to have demonstrated the vast inferiority of liberal positions here, as that was far beyond the scope of this piece. All this claims to be is an attempt to decipher the inner workings of the liberal mind, and whatever moral or intellectual judgments the reader may make as a result of this are his or her own (though for the record, and to their great dismay, I don’t think liberals are admirable people).
This article is provided as an educational service of Frontiers of Freedom (FOF). The ideas and opinions expressed above do not necessarily reflect the thought or positions of FOF or its officers, staff, or directors.
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