Internal vs. external coherence in political ideology

I posted a note the other day about the difference between internal and external coherence of political ideology. The basic idea is that, a particular person or small group can have an ideology (supporting positions A, B, C, and D, for example) that is perfectly internally coherent--that is, all these positions make sense given the underlying ideology--while being incoherent with other ideologies (for example, those people who support positions A, B, not-C, and not-D). What's striking to me is how strongly people can feel that their beliefs on a particular issue flow from their being a liberal, or a conservative, or whatever, even though others with similar opinions will completely disagree with them on that issue.

I gave two examples: (1) positions on legalized gambling (where I've seen impassioned expressions pro and con by liberals and conservatives in both cases), and (2) the reaction of self-described "reactionary" blogger Dennis Mangan to a Swiss businessman who defied a government ban by erecting a makeshift minaret next to his shoe warehouse. I reacted that I was expecting he'd take the free-enterprise side and support the minaret, but he strongly supported the government ban in this case.

At his blog, Mangan replied that, as a conservative, he didn't want to be coherent, that conservatism is not a particular ideology but rather its absence. That's an interesting thought, although I'd think that the absence of ideology may be necessary for conservatism but can't be sufficient. After all, you could take any bag of attitudes at random, with no ideology at all, but said basket of views would probably not happen to be particularly conservative. I do think Mangan has a good point, though, that ideological coherence is not necessarily a virtue. I wasn't taking coherence as a virtue in my quoted blog entry either--I was being descriptive, not normative--but I could see how people could miss the point there.

I also took a look at Mangan's commenters who, unsurprisingly, supported him against what they saw as a criticism from me. I just wanted clarify one point. In the comments, Mangan wrote that I "had assumed that because one holds certain political views, one must be a champion of free markets (to the exclusion of other values)" and his commenters wrote similar things, for example, that I "equate conservatism with a blend of neo-liberalism(cultural Marxism) and libertarianism."

This isn't quite right. I was indeed surprised by Mangan's strong stance, but, no, I wasn't saying that he was supposed to have a different position or that I "equate" conservatism with any particular configuration of beliefs. Quite the opposite. What I was saying was that I think Mangan's other beliefs are consistent with different views on the minaret story (depending on various things such as his views about Switzerland, for example). On this issue which, I still think, a conservative (or, for that matter, a liberal) could go either way on, I was suprised that Mangan felt so strongly that he was able to simultaneously attribute "no loyalties beyond profits" and "liberal ideology" to the shoe store owner. These are two concepts that in another context he might very well place in opposition. Attitudes on issues depend on context, and, as Mangan wrote, "In another time, when we faced or will face different challenges, I might not have [been so critical of the Swiss businessman]."

So, to say it again: I am not making any statements about how conservatives (or liberals) are supposed to react to shoe-warehouse minarets, and I was not criticizing Mangan for lack of consistency. Rather, I was using Mangan to illustrate how a set of positions that can seem perfectly consistent to one group (Mangan and his blog readers), while a different set of views-- agreeing with him on most issues but not on the minaret situation--can seem perfectly consistent from another perspective.

Stated that way, my position might appear true but obvious. The reason why it's relevant, in my opinion, is that I think that politically-active people often feel their clusters of positions to be coherent, and sometimes it's hard for a supporter of A and B and C and D to understand the logic of someone else who supports A and B and C and not-D.

P.S. Some other commenters point out that my remarks seem hardly enough to justify my appointment as a professor of political science. I'd agree with that one. My academic position comes from my academic work; this blog is something different (usually), it's a place where, among other things, I can work out ideas and get comments on fragmentary thoughts. I often learn important things from blog commenters here and elsewhere.

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