Jim Gee: Thoughts on the current state of American politics

By | February 4, 2011

The thoughts below come from Jim Gee, who’s been doing a lot of really awesome writing about the politics of America these days. He explains that in thinking about the conservative / liberal dichotomy,

we have four features: a focus on justice, a focus on enterprise, a focus on engineering, and a focus on tinkering.  They give us four possible political orientations: justice/engineering (a classic liberal); justice/tinkering (a conservative liberal); enterprise/engineering (a liberal conservative); enterprise/tinkering (a classic conservative).  In reality, a person might be one of these for one issue (e.g., health care) and another one for another issue (e.g., school reform), though many people are fairly consistent across issues.

What I am calling conservative and liberal are tendencies rooted in a person’s genetics, upbringing, and life experiences.  Below I summarize a number of contrasts between these two ways of seeing and being in the world socially and politically:


  1. At risk of the sin of greed/ At risk of the sin of pride
  2. Tinkering/Engineering
  3. Oriented toward past/ Oriented toward future
  4. Focus on human fallibility/Focus on human perfectibility
  5. Favor a republican form ofgovernment/Favor a democratic form of government
  6. Favor an authoritarian form of parenting/Favor a more permissive form of parenting
  7. Favor status quo/Favor change
  8. Distrust human knowledge/Trust human knowledge
  9. Trust tradition/Distrust tradition
  10. Favor free markets/Favor regulated markets
  11. Focus on family/ Focus on society
  12. Focus on charity/ Focus on social welfare/justice
  13. Focus on liberty/Focus on justice
  14. Focus on merit/Focus on equity
  15. For small government/For larger government
  16. Focus on society’s winners/ Focus in society’s losers

These are tendencies.   As I said above, a conservative need not (though some do) disavow social justice.  However, the conservative will see enterprise as a route to, or crucial element in, social justice.  A liberal need not disavow enterprise.  However, the liberal will see social justice as a force to mitigate and, when necessary, “trump” enterprise.

A person could be on one side of the above chart for some items and not others.  There are people who “pick and choose”.  But many people tend to be much more heavily on one side than the other.  And, of course, these choices can change with education, experience, and age.

I consider myself a liberal and really love the descriptors on the righthand side of the chart. I wonder if people who consider themselves conservative love the descriptors on the lefthand side. Anyone have any thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Jim Gee: Thoughts on the current state of American politics

  1. N. Husted

    While I do not consider myself a ‘conservative’ in the American political sense (I’m more of a ‘classical liberal’ in the european sense and much prefer von Hayek over Keynes) there are a number of descriptors on the left hand side of that I might agree with but others I do not. While those perhaps can capture a large number of individuals in the U.S. political spectrum, I think the minority of us certainly fall through the cracks.

    There are other issues, such as his statment of “Republican Form of Government” and “Democratic Form of Government” that are no opposed in any way. You can have a Republic and a Democracy and we certainly subsisted that way for the first 100 years or so of the U.S.A.

    I guess in the end I’d prefer a pragmatic form of government that doesn’t subsist soley on truthiness. I’d prefer judgements to be based on compromise and rational thought, not on knee-jerk emotional reactions that fill every political discussion out there and reactions that should certainly not be used to create policy.

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