The Independent online has an interview with Roger Scruton (with a corny journalistic ending) that I find most interesting for Roger's own assessment of the rift between the left and the right:

"One of the great distinctions between the left and the right in the intellectual world," says Scruton, who has held chairs in aesthetics at Birkbeck and philosophy at Boston as well as a fellowship at Peterhouse, "is that left-wing people find it very hard to get on with right-wing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with left-wing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken. After a while, if I can persuade them that I'm not evil, I find it a very useful thing. I know that my views on many things are open to correction. But if you can't discuss with your opponents, how can you correct your views?"

Hence the coinage which heads this post (heterokakos: 'evil by virtue of its difference'). I've never quite understood it myself, but I've had my share of withering looks at parties and have learned to keep my mouth shut around other academics. It's not that I'm avoiding debate but rather that I'm avoiding a shunning. There never is any debate, but rather exasperation, disbelief, and disgust. By staying silent I can figure out who might be more open to having a genuine conversation or debate, and those people are decidedly rare. And by rarely making my political leanings known I can make a point to which most of my leftist friends are willing to concede, but only because they fail to see me as ONE OF THEM.

so you can keep your mouth shut or you, like Roger Scruton, can become a pariah ever facing the executioner's blade without the courtesy of a trial:

"There's a great distinction between legitimate criticism and assassination," a rather less jolly Roger explains as we settle down to talk after lunch. "I get the assassination all the time and not the criticism. Criticism is a compliment; you don't necessarily expect people to agree with you. But the response to my books has in the past been really quite horrendous - dismissive, trying to make out that it's not just that they are badly argued but that there is nothing there. You do get distressed by that."

You nailed it, Roger.

posted by Dennis on 07.23.05 at 09:00 AM


It's easy for a liberal to totally isolate himself from consenting views. For a conservative, that would be highly difficult, given the predominance of leftists in the media and academia. As a result, conservatives know their enemy; they know liberals are for the most part well-meaning, and don't have pointy tails and horns on the heads. For liberals, the opposition is unknown, and therefore all too easy to demonize.

Van Helsing   ·  July 23, 2005 10:09 AM

This is extremely interesting spectrumologically once again!

Van Helsing is right. I must add that most people who think ideologically tend to move from Left to Right on most spectra, either gradually as they get older and see more, or through reading books exposing them to non-Left viewpoints, or sometimes suddenly through some catastrophic event (e.g., the Hitler-Stalin Pact, 9/11/2001). Having been Leftists themselves, they know Leftist ideas and arguments. Those who are still Leftists tend to be unfamiliar with Rightist ideas and arguments, or only with a distorted view of them.

Now, as to evil vs. mistaken, I'm going to quote you a couple quotes which may seem contradictory or at least paradoxical:

The first is something Thomas Sowell quoted in his The Vision of the Anointed:

"Diagree with someone on the right and he is likely to think you obtuse, wrong, foolish, a dope. Disagree with someone on the left, and he is likely to think you selfish, a sell-out, insensitive, possibly evil."
-Joseph Epstein, "True Virtue", The New York Times Magazine, November 24, 1985, p. 95

Now here is an opposite quote from Uriah Kriegel, "Ideas Have Consequences, Don't They?" [from Tech Central Station, courtesy of Don Watkins at Anger Management]:

"The first is the utter contempt of the left's intellectual organs for the intellectual life of the right. In fact, they are rarely aware that there is an intellectual life on the right. They work with a caricature of the right as a band of "stupid (rich) white men," to borrow a phrase. This caricature makes it impossible for the left to see its opponent for what it is. Thus if "know your enemy" is among the first rules of politics, the left starts out at a serious disadvantage.

(This is not to say that there are no superficial stereotypes on the right, but they tend to portray their objects as evil rather than dumb. In some quarters of the right, the left is sometimes caricatured as a coalition of sinners: atheists, homosexuals, criminals, lazies, etc. But the implicit accusation here is of morality, not intelligence.)"

Both are true!

It's a paradox, not a contradiction, and is based on their premises. The rule or pattern is this: Peopletend to be more moralistic about what they care most about, see as most important, and more tolerant about what they see as less important.

As I observed in my last spectrumological analysis here, my 2-dimensional sma4 spectrum:

those on the Left on this spectrum, particularly the bottom (Marxist) Left, tend to see economics as the most important factor, and, as J. A. Laponce argued, they value equality more than anything else. Therefore, those opposing equality, especially economic equality, are seen by them as evil, selfish, oppressive, racist, sexist, greedy, running dogs of the military-industrial complex, etc..

Those on the Right on this spectrum see economics as less important, and they don't care too much for equality, and so they tend to see the socialists and egalitarians as merely foolish, ignorant of economic realities, "social blueprinters", "bleeding-heart do-gooders", deluded by an "unconstrained vision", etc..

Those on the Right on this spectrum see ideas, particularly religious ideas, and moral values, particularly sexual moral values, as the most important factor, and those who violate these values in whatever way they see as evil, selfish, perverted, promiscuous, adulterous, depraved, degenerate, blasphemous, enemies of God, slaves or worshippers of the Devil, etc..

Those on the Left on this spectrum see ideas, particularly religious ideas, as unimportant, as mere tools of economic interests, and moral values as merely relative, sexuality as mere ephemera. In line with their progressivist view of history, they see those who hold to religious beliefs and who oppose the changes they advocate as merely ignorant, un-scientific, benighted backward, superstitious primitives needing to be educated by the enlightened, etc..

At the top of this spectrum, between the materialist Left and the spiritualist Right, are the Objectivists, who see ideas, philosophy, man's reason, as of supreme importance, and see capitalism as the supreme expression of man's reason. They see both socialism and religion as "mysticism", anti-reason, anti-man, anti-life, anti-self, evil.

The style of it all!

Therefore, wicked Wanda sees herself as scientifically smart vs. Dawn as dumb, while holy Dawn sees herself as Divine vs. Wanda as unholy, serving the Communist Conspiracy.

The style of it all!

All this ties in with the opposite and equally passionate reactions on both sides of this spectrum to the War we are in, why it so divides us.

Those of us on the Right and the Objectivists see this as a War of fundamental ideas and values, a clash of civilizations, see the terrorists and their supporters as evil and motivated by evil ideas, enemies of a Western civilization embodying holy, Christian, and/or individualist values, and who therefore must be fought and defeated by whatever means necessary.

Those on the Left see it as merely an economic war, motivated by greed for oil, the terrorists as merely an oppressed proletariat reacting against their oppressors, and the real enemy as the exploiting military-industrial complex and its willing agents Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, etc., who therefore must be discredited and removed from power by whatever means necessary.


Eric Scheie   ·  July 23, 2005 9:19 PM

Dear Eric:


There's a corollararyallllalllally (sorry I got lost in the word and went with it) to heterokakos, (which is a totally cool word which I hereby pledge to use 10 times this year in conversation WITHOUT sounding dweebish.) Anytime you get a group of strangers together the libs will start sending out signals to find out if the rest of the group is made up of libs. Just little jokes- little "X X X" you know?"s to ascertain what kind of people they are around.

(Okay for the record I don't think I can avoid the dweebish.)


Harkonnendog   ·  July 25, 2005 10:29 PM

As a beanie-wearing Orthodox Jew, I don't really have the option of hiding my allegiances. One the one hand, this does make me a magnet for some liberals - particularly assimilated Jews whose Judaism is basically left-liberal politics - but on the other hand, I think that many are actually scared away, and so I wind up saving time.

I think part of the problem is that the left has no problem projecting itself as the norm, even when it isn't. So although it may be less convenient personally, I think being 'out' about one's conservatism has a net healthy effect on the intellectual climate. The lefties are more than willing to act like we don't exist. Why not keep 'em a little off balance?

Ben-David   ·  July 26, 2005 12:07 PM

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