What attributes define intellectuals on the right and left in the strange era of Donald Trump? That’s the question Paul Krugman raised in a column attempting to explain ideological imbalance among commentators at elite U.S. media organizations. While his account betrayed dubious assumptions about civil society and the value of opinion journalism, it sparked illuminating responses.
Tyler Cowen, one of America’s most constructive public intellectuals, weighed in with the thought-provoking column, “Holding Up a Mirror to the Intellectuals of the Left.” Then Noah Smith, another Bloomberg View writer, offered his own perceptions of what intellectuals on the left and the right believe.
How can he see things so differently than I do?
“On the left, the drive to purge racism, sexism, etc. from American society is very strong,” he tweeted, “and most discourse concerns this drive––either decrying examples of racism/sexism, discussing institutions that maintain these -isms, or discussing how to effect change.” On the right, he continued, “the consensus position seems to be that differences in racial outcomes are due to (probably innate) ‘group differences,’ and that innate differences also explain the persistence of (and justify) traditional gender roles.” Smith concluded:
But because people on the right are, generally, afraid to express this idea in public, they instead talk about the idea of free speech. Basically, to the right, “free speech” is a proxy for “the right to say races and sexes are inherently different without fear of censure.” As far as I can tell, this is 100% of what the “free speech” debate is about - the idea of “group differences.” Every idea that people on the right seem to feel they can't express in public boils down, eventually, to this.
Three claims most struck me:
- One of the right’s consensus positions is that innate differences explain and justify the persistence of traditional gender roles.
- Another consensus position is that racial outcomes are due to “group differences” that are likely innate.
- One-hundred percent of the free-speech debate is a proxy for people on the right to covertly say that races and sexes are inherently different without fear of censure.