Partisanship, Ideology and Loyalty

by Henry Farrell on February 6, 2009

Brink Lindsey has a “post”: at _Cato Unbound_ criticizing Nancy Rosenblum’s “work on partisanship”: (I’ll be contributing to the seminar myself in due course).

she cites findings from the political science literature that independents tend to be less interested in politics, less informed about the issues, and less likely to participate in the process than are their partisan fellow citizens … All fair enough. Yet knocking independents down a peg doesn’t change the fact that partisanship in America today is a dreadful mess. … under present circumstances at least, partisan zeal ought to be attacked rather than defended.

I’ll confine my bill of indictment to two charges. First, partisanship undermines clear thinking. Second, it undermines moral integrity. In both cases, the root cause is the same: the conflation of friend and foe with right and wrong. … partisans are vulnerable to believing fatuous nonsense. … their beliefs, whether sensible or otherwise, about a whole range of empirical questions are determined by their political identity. There’s no epistemologically sound reason why one’s opinion about, say, the effects of gun control should predict one’s opinion about whether humans have contributed to climate change or how well Mexican immigrants are assimilating — these things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Yet the fact is that views on these and a host of other matters are indeed highly correlated with each other. …

Even when partisans know what the score is, they’re constantly tempted to shade the truth, or at least keep silent, in order to be a good team player. Recall, for example, the fury unleashed this past fall on the handful of conservative commentators who were willing to admit the obvious: Sarah Palin was obviously, embarrassingly unprepared for the office she was seeking.

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