Everyone wants to believe they are more ethical and moral than those around them. We point out the speck in others’ eyes, but miss the plank in our own. Psychological studies suggest we demand higher moral standards from others, and that we focus on that despite our own failings. Subconscious feelings of guilt are used against others to make them conform to our image. Just think of the parents who live through their children. The bully-parent who is dissatisfied with how their life has turned out, for one reason or another, and so demands more from their child despite their child’s own skills or desires in life.
I have come to believe that conservatism and liberalism, in their modern forms, are, at least in part, motivated by the guilt of people’s own moral failings. They have chosen or identify with one of the two prevailing political ideologies because they have failed their own personal litmus test of morality, and therefore are compelled to thrust their beliefs upon others through the government’s monopoly on coercion. Conservatives appear to act out of their own inner moral failures, while liberals appear to act out of their own external moral failings. While this theory certainly doesn’t describe every liberal or conservative, and may even be, I am willing to admit, completely off the mark, it is certainly something to consider as a motivating factor.
Consider, as one example, the evangelical Christian that makes up a sizeable chunk of the Republican constituency. Christians have a distinctive moral code that comes from the Bible. Even though many evangelicals claim to believe that their salvation comes from Christ alone, and not the perfection of their own behavior from their own efforts, it appears very plainly that, on some level, many of them do. They will admit that keeping to God’s expectations is impossible, and that this is why Jesus’s sacrifice is necessary to cleanse them of their sin, and yet they still beat themselves and others up when they continually fall short of this expected moral conduct. Combine this with the state’s monopoly on coercion and you have a sector of society that will try to enforce its views of morality on the rest of society. While everyone can agree that theft, rape, and murder are immoral and should be resisted and punished, other aspects of Christian morality cannot be thrust upon society. Should they wish to persuade others of their beliefs peacefully and respectfully, that is fine, but to allow the state to do it is immoral. It seems that they believe that if they can control other people’s own personal moral decisions, they can feel less guilty about their own failures.
By way of another example, think of any left-wing protest you have ever seen. Who do you often find gathered at these events? Young, spoiled, middle-class white kids. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, this group has had very little real hardship in their life. They feel the need to stick up for the “little guy,” whether their help was asked for or not. They speak for minority groups as if those groups have no voice or will of their own. Rather than volunteer their time to help the less fortunate in some way, they simply whine and shout until the state steps in and forces others to take care of these people. Through their guilt-driven “compassion” they then set themselves up as allies to these minority groups, from which point they may then use and control them for their own party or ideology’s use. If they can control how other people treat the poor or minority groups, they can feel less guilty about their own moral failures towards society.
What I would suggest is that conservatives and liberals, in general, stop trying to assuage their guilt about their own moral failings by using the state to enforce their view of morality on the rest of society. One of the things I find refreshing about libertarianism is that it doesn’t make you feel as if you need to control others because of your own moral failures and guilt. If you can’t live up to your own moral code, you work on it and don’t expect others to abide by it. If you feel you have had it easy, you can volunteer your time or money to help others who have had it harder in life. Either way, you find you do not need the state to do any of this for you.