Post Author: Bill Pratt
Arnold Kling, in his book The Three Languages of Politics, argues that there are three dominant political viewpoints: progressive, conservative, and libertarian. Each of these three view the world along completely different axes. Kling explained these three axes in an interview with economist Russ Roberts:
So what I claim is that Progressives organize the good and the bad in terms of oppression and the oppressed, and they think in terms of groups. So, certain groups of people are oppressed, and certain groups of people are oppressors. And so the good is to align yourself against oppression, and the historical figures that have improved the world have fought against oppression and overcome oppression.
The second axis is one I think Conservatives use, which is civilization and barbarism. The good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad is barbarians who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization.
And the third axis is one I associate with Libertarians, which is freedom versus coercion, so that good is individuals making their own choices, contracting freely with each other; and the bad is coercion at gunpoint, particularly on the part of governments.
When I heard Kling say these things, it really resonated with me. The first thing that popped into my mind was the debate over gay marriage. Progressives see the entire debate in terms of gay people being oppressed. Conservatives see the debate in terms of millennia-old traditions being overturned. Libertarians see the debate in terms of gay people’s freedom to do what they wish.
The problem, says Kling, is that since each of these three groups are speaking a completely different language, they just talk past each other and fail to substantively engage. Coming from a conservative viewpoint, I can definitely see how progressives only want to talk about the oppression of gays, and libertarians only want to talk about the fact that gays should be able to freely do whatever they like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
What’s interesting about the gay marriage debate in France is that a group of Progressives have stood up to denounce gay marriage. Why? Because they claim it will oppress children of gay couples, children who will be denied either a mother or father.
Do these three political languages resonate with you? How do you think the gay marriage debate is playing out among Americans? Vote in the poll and leave a comment.