Two Kinds of Diversity: Identity and Ideological

by Robert Gressis


Libertarians, like Robert Nozick, care most of all about negative freedom, i.e., freedom from interference. If you have little money, but the appropriate agency protects you from force and fraud, then you have negative freedom, even if you find yourself unable to do much of what you want to do. Consequently, since a large state has to be funded by taxes, and since taxes require interfering with people (“give us some of the money you earned, or else we’ll fine you and possibly put you in jail”), libertarians advocate for as small a state as they think we can have while still functioning as a society.

In the USA, we call people “libertarians” if they think that the fundamental role of the state is to protect people’s liberty, and if they also think that “liberty” consists in negative freedom. But this is not the only kind of libertarian there is: you can be a libertarian who thinks that the fundamental role of the state is to protect people’s liberty while also construing “liberty” as positive freedom, by which is meant the freedom to do what you want. Call such people “left-libertarians.” [1] It is precisely because they care about freedom — positive freedom — that they advocate for a much larger state, one that secures the material conditions people need to be able to pursue their goals. Because I want to begin this essay by contrasting the libertarians who care most about negative freedom with those who care most about positive freedom, I will call the negative freedom libertarians “right-libertarians” and the positive freedom ones “left-libertarians.”

Now, it’s not that right- and left-libertarians don’t care about the other kind of freedom (though some really don’t). Rather, they tend to think one kind of freedom is much more important than the other, at least for purposes of political philosophy. If you tell a left-libertarian, “Hey, your preferred government violates people’s freedom because it takes away a lot of their money that they worked hard to make, by taxing them to fund public schools, universal healthcare, free college, etc.,” the left-libertarian will give one of three responses:

Compromiser: “It violates their negative freedom a bit, but when the average person has greater positive freedom, he ends up having greater negative freedom as well.”

 Opposer: “Yes, it violates their negative freedom, but in doing so it enhances positive freedom to a much greater degree, and positive freedom is more important than negative freedom anyway.”

 Denier: “It doesn’t violate their freedom at all because that money wasn’t justly theirs anyway.”

The Compromiser argues that a left-libertarian regime gives us the best of both worlds. Indeed, even right-libertarians should be happy with it, because a left-libertarian regime gives us not just positive freedom but enough negative freedom to satisfy right-libertarians too. The Opposer admits that right-libertarians are unlikely to be happy with a left-libertarian regime, but says that they’re weighting things in the wrong way, so it’s OK if right-libertarians don’t get what they want. And finally, the Denier doesn’t even distinguish between positive and negative freedom. She has already concluded that positive freedom is the only real kind of freedom there is and may even think that right-libertarians are not libertarians at all.  She may even call them “propertarians,” to indicate that they only care about property, not freedom.

Similarly, if you tell a right-libertarian, “Hey, in your perfect society the government violates people’s freedom because it doesn’t give them what they are owed, and what they need to do what they want”, the right-libertarian response can be divided into the same three categories:

Compromiser: “It only violates some people’s positive freedom, because in letting people pursue their own ends, the modal person enjoys much greater positive freedom than he would under a socialist government”;

 Opposer: “Yes, it does violate their positive freedom, but it enhances their negative freedom to a much greater degree, which is more important anyway”;

 Denier: “It doesn’t violate their freedom, because the government doesn’t owe people anything other than protecting them from force and fraud.”

Again, notice the Denier doesn’t even distinguish between positive and negative freedom. He has already concluded that negative freedom is the only kind of freedom there is.

I bring up these well-worn points, because there seems to me to be a similar distinction going on when it comes to diversity, and yet I don’t see these points made when people discuss the subject. (Perhaps, I haven’t been looking hard enough). For example, conservatives (and Marxists, and liberals; but I’ll just call them conservatives, because in an American context they’re trying to conserve norms that were regnant as late as 2010) will often say that progressives don’t truly care about diversity, because they never seem to be concerned about ideological diversity (which the conservative usually thinks of as the most important kind of diversity), and I often hear progressives simply equate diversity with just identity diversity: diversity among kinds of identity, such as racial, sexual, gender, disability, and other such differences.

In other words, the diversity debate is a debate between Opposer conservatives and Denier progressives. As such, the Opposer conservatives are really wasting their time in arguing the way they are, because the Deniers don’t see ideological diversity as a kind of diversity at all.

For the Denier, intellectual diversity is not diversity at all, for two reasons. First, it literally undercuts identity diversity. This is because the Denier generally has the following views: (a) we need to increase our identity diversity; (b) the best way of doing that is to have an inclusive environment; and (c) an “inclusive environment” is one where certain kinds of things are not said and there is a lot of identity diversity. [2]

But a certain kind of ideological diversity makes (c) much more difficult, if not impossible. In particular, people who question (a), (b), and (c). If you have conservatives around who feel comfortable questioning (a) – (c) – well, then, it is important that you don’t have any conservatives around! Indeed, it’s a prediction of the Denier’s theory that the more of this kind of ideological diversity you have, the less identity diversity (of the right sort) you will have. [3]

The second reason the Denier progressive doesn’t think of intellectual diversity as a kind of diversity is that when it comes to (a) – (c), the Denier thinks there is no reasonable debate to be had. Wanting to have a reasonable debate about (a) – (c) is like wanting to have a reasonable debate about whether women should have the right to vote or whether the United States should reinstitute slavery, etc. It’s pointless to have a debate about these things, because either the right answer is clear to you or you’re a deeply suspicious person. You’re either arguing these things for fun, not truth – in which case, go have fun somewhere else – or you want these things, in which case get the hell out of here.

Now, I’m overstating things a bit. Presumably, the Denier does care about ideological diversity to some degree. It’s just, the kind of ideological diversity the Denier doesn’t care about is the kind of ideological diversity the conservative does care about. So, when the conservative says, “you claim to care about diversity, but you don’t want conservative ideas around!” this is like saying to the right libertarian, “You claim to care about freedom, yet you don’t want a huge welfare state!” Anyone who says this really doesn’t get the debate they’re in.

It’s also worth noting that the progressive can attempt a tu quoque on the conservative. The progressive can say, “Why do you care about ideological diversity anyway?” At this point, the conservative will probably invoke Mill: (d) we don’t know what the truth is, so (e) it’s important to have lots of different takes on the issue, to increase our chances of finding the truth, and (f) even if we think we do know the truth, it’s important to have people around who question it, so that we can come up with the best arguments for it.

But then, the progressive can say, “Do you want lots of people around who question (d) – (f)?” Here we get to the paradox of intolerance. The conservative will either say, (i) “yes! I do!” or (ii) “well … no, I don’t.”

Imagine the conservative says (i). If he’s a student of the recent present, he’ll see what happens when you have lots of people around who question (d) – (f). You get progressive control of university departments and many administrative agencies, for the simple reason that the conservative won’t hold someone’s views against (or for) them when he’s trying to hire someone new, whereas the progressive will. Consequently, the more progressives you get, the more progressives you get.

But if he says (ii), the progressive can say, “You’re just like me! I think there are certain non-negotiables – (a) -(c) – and you think there are certain non-negotiables, too, namely (d) – (f). We just differ over what is non-negotiable.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Richard Hanania, a conservative, has come out and said that diversity doesn’t matter. In Hanania’s view, the reason diversity doesn’t matter is that what we’re interested in is finding the truth, so, he accepts (d) above. Consequently, we should value whatever it is that allows us to find the truth. If diversity — of any kind — does that, then great, let’s get diversity. But if doesn’t, who cares?

But Hanania thinks diversity doesn’t help us find the truth (he denies (e) above). Rather, since there are many ways to be wrong but few ways to be right, increasing ideological diversity will just increase the ways in which you’re wrong. E.g., getting a bunch of flat-earthers in biology departments will increase ideological diversity, but it will reduce your chances of finding the truth, because flat-earthers are wrong.

So, what does help us find the truth? He thinks that there are at least two things we know of that do help us find the truth: intelligence (which he equates, rightly or wrongly, with high IQ) and good intellectual hygiene (being willing to engage in cost-benefit analysis thinking, caring about evidence, being open to being wrong, and being willing to revise your thinking in light of the evidence). If you’re interested in finding the truth, you should hire people who have those features.

So, what can the Millian who thinks ideological diversity is valuable say against the progressive critique and Hanania’s critique?

Against the progressive critique, I think the Millian has to admit that the progressive has a point. The Millian has to say that certain ways of discussing issues are non-negotiable, and maybe even certain positions (like, perhaps, parts of Millianism itself). If you preemptively rule out debate about things that massive numbers of people disagree about, then this should be disqualifying for you if you’re trying to contribute to human knowledge. This means that it’s ok not to hire people who endorse a return to slavery (because almost no one in the larger populace wants this), but also ok to hire people who are not on board the progressive train about the issue-du-jour, because about half the population, if not much more, is also not on board the progressive train.

But what does the larger population have to do with research? Well, research universities are entwined with polities. To the extent that they get money from taxpayers, they can’t completely ignore taxpayer concerns. This is, first, prudentially sound. If 90% of your researchers high-handedly dismiss views held by 90% of the national population as a sign of bad character, then this invites retaliation from that population. It may also be epistemically sound, because if large portions of the population believe something, it’s probably serving some valuable role in their social ecology — even if it is overall damaging — so it’s hard to say that such views are entirely without value and therefore should be prejudicially dismissed. [4]

What about progressives who believe (a) – (c)? At this point, large portions of the population believe (a) – (c), so you can’t just rule them out. But, if you rule them in, then progressives either take over or retain control over academia (depending on where you are chronologically).

Here, the Millian may have to take the position that David Lewis defended in Mill and Milquetoast. In that article, he said that he thought substance dualism was clearly wrong, but that it was nonetheless important to have substance dualists around, not because having them around contributes to your finding the truth, but because it prevents you from being lazy (here, Lewis accepts what I called (f) above). But how many substance dualists do you need for this? Lewis estimated (jokingly?) no more than 10% of your population of philosophers of mind. Perhaps Millians could do a similar thing in academia: have around some anti-Millians, but no more than 10% of the professoriate.

OK, but how does the Millian respond to Hanania? Here it’s important to note that there really are distinctions between the humanities and natural science. Natural science is fairly clearly involved in finding the truth; however you define it. By contrast, this isn’t as clear when it comes to the humanities. Consequently, Hanania’s view — diversity is important only insofar as it helps us find the truth — may not apply to the humanities. [5]

For instance, because philosophy (I’ll focus on philosophy, but I think this goes for all the humanities) is non-empirical, you really can’t be sure you’ve found the truth on anything. You can’t use the natural world to verify that you’re correct. All you can rely on is reason and intuition, the last of which differs dramatically from person to person. Consequently, for philosophy at least, ideological diversity could be more useful.

How much more useful? Well, here it depends on what you think of as the point of philosophy. If you think that the only truly philosophical question is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” then you’re not going to be super thrilled about lots of ideological diversity. If, on the other hand, you think of the role of philosophy as mapping out the conceptual terrain, then it’s important to have a lot of intellectual diversity, because the more of it you have, the more terrain you can map. Finally, if you think of the role of philosophy as unearthing and understanding a culture’s philosophical presuppositions, then you’re going to need as much ideological diversity as that task takes.

In addition, it’s not clear that philosophy benefits as much from good intellectual hygiene as empirical fields. Some of the most famous and historically important philosophers were not known for their good intellectual hygiene, at least in Hanania’s sense. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Wittgenstein is not “always open to revising his views” or “engages in cost-benefit thinking,” even though he did have a dramatic shift in view from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations. I would say the same about Kripke and, I’m sure, many others. Indeed, it is arguably those philosophers who are most sure of themselves and least open to changing their minds that often change the field. Whether this is for the better or for the worse is hard to say, when you don’t have the empirical world as a lasso to tie down your loonier speculations.

So, I think the Millian can retain her support for ideological diversity as the paramount kind of diversity that at least certain significant portions of academia should care about. But I don’t think defending ideological diversity is as straightforward as a lot of Millians seem to think, and I think those few remaining Millians in academia and the larger culture should be aware of this, if we ever hope to control any significant cultural institutions again.


[1]  There are indeed such libertarians out there. Some of them, like Noam Chomsky or Bhaskar Sunkara, are “libertarian socialists,” who think that we need to prohibit private ownership of the means of production, because such ownership is the greatest hindrance to the average person enjoying positive freedom. Others, like Michael Otsuka and Hillel Steiner, are “left-libertarians,” who, like many libertarians, believe that everyone owns himself and consequently has strong rights against the state (or anyone else) making you do things with your body that you don’t want to do. Unlike typical libertarians, they do not think you can come to own things by mixing your labor with them, so they end up supporting expansive redistribution of property.

[2] Lest you think I am being tautological in saying that the best way to increase identity diversity is to have identity diversity, what I’m actually saying is this: it’s very difficult to go from having little identity diversity to having a medium amount of it. But it’s easy to go from having a medium amount of identity diversity to having a lot of it.

[3] So, one way to figure out the kinds of identity progressives value is to ask: which groups have, historically and currently, been most marginalized on the basis of their identity? And here you will get a dialogue like this:

Progressive: “The identities that have historically and currently been the most marginalized are Black people, Latinx, gender non-conforming people, women, gay people, disabled people, and Muslims.”

Conservative: “And what about people from different countries?”

Progressive: “Well, we also have a duty to have representation of American groups, so that our elite institutions have legitimacy in the eyes of the American populace.”

Conservative: “And what about Jews?”

Progressive: “Well, Jewish people have historically been marginalized, but now they’re doing well. So: no.”

Conservative: “OK, so do you feel the same way about Asians? And what about working class people?”

At this point the conversation devolves.

[4] What about creationism? This is a view held by a large portion of the population, and yet I and other Millians think it shouldn’t be taught in biology departments. Here, I think my answer depends on the fact that this is a natural scientific position, rather than one that you could expert laypeople to have something valuable to say. Fine, then; what about all the conspiracy theories running amok among half the country? Should we hire people who endorse those? Well, I admit that here things are more complicated, because this is getting into social science issues, and I’m also of the view that these positions are starting to get widespread in part because of the near-unified opposition of the expert class (academics, technocrats, high-ranking federal administrators of bureaucracies, artists) to things that much of the population believes and cares about. So I don’t have much to say about this.

[5] What about the social sciences? The social sciences are a minefield. I’m not going there, because I don’t want to get blown up.


23 responses to “Two Kinds of Diversity: Identity and Ideological”

  1. Gordon Barnes

    This is really thoughtful and well argued. And given the topic, it’s very helpful too. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Ira Glazer

    If you have to sell your labor to eat — and the conditions under which you toil are not under your control — in what real sense are you free ? Especially since people spend a large percentage of their waking hours in activities related to said labor. That is why wage labor used to be called ‘wage slavery’, and why libertarian used to mean ‘libertarian socialist.’

  3. Thanks very much!

  4. I suspect that a lot of people who have to sell their labor to eat nonetheless feel pretty free. For instance, me.

  5. Robert,
    I’m not particularly happy with this article; since others may be, I’ll be brief, then let it go.

    First, the two essays that you are playing off of, that by Hanania and the other by Lewis, are not complimentary, and indeed are somewhat apples-and-oranges to each other. I also think your readings of these articles are misguided, especially of that by Hanania, who has a thinly veiled political agenda. (He has written as Trump apologist in the past; a position requiring considerable skepticism in the wake of January 6 and the current Cold Civil War in which we find ourselves today; a conflict that only one side knows it is fighting, leftists, liberals, and the Democratic Party all assuming that it is ‘business as usual.’) At any rate, it should ring alarms that one arguing against academic expertise does so by presenting himself as an academically trained expert using academic methodology in his presentation of statistics.

    Secondly, frankly I find your own argument more confusing than clarifying. I don’t actually recognize any of the characters of the micro-dramas you use for examples. I also think you’ve misread libertarianism, and especially fail to consider its the economic, philosophic, and political origins adequately.

    I would rethink the article, do some further research, reconstruct the argument around the point you really want to press home – much of this sounds rather waffling.

    I’m sorry if this is a little harsh; but I’ve seen you do better, and hope to see better from you in the future.

  6. Thanks for your comments, EJ. I’ve read and listened to a fair bit of Hanania, and I haven’t seen him do Trump apologetics, though I’ve only been reading him since late 2020. Has he been prominent for much longer than that?

    Even if he is a Trump apologist, though, I don’t think that weakens the argument he’s giving. I’m not saying it’s completely irrelevant–obviously, if you’re a Trump fan and you also think that expertise is overrated, well, those two positions could be related! But I am something of a social science skeptic myself, so if he’s using that to justify Trump (which, again, I haven’t seen), then that’s not great, but it doesn’t follow that the position is wrong.

    (And yes, we have a difficult situation here; if he’s a non-expert arguing against expertise, then you can say, “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” But if he’s an expert using expertise to argue against expertise, you can say, “you’re undermining your own argument: if you can’t use expertise, then you ruined your argument by using it; if you can use expertise, then what’s wrong with expertise?!”

    (But I don’t think these are the only options. Hanania’s position is actually that there are terrible incentives the university system gives to people, and that as a consequence, people deploy their expertise in the wrong way, and for the wrong reasons. For example, they come up with elaborate statistical methodology, not because it is needed to tackle a big problem, but rather because the peer reviewers like intimidating mathematical symbolism. Moreover, there are lots of social scientific journals that publish bad stuff that doesn’t get replicated, or that gets published simply because it confirms other academics’ outlooks, etc. It doesn’t follow from the fact that there’s lots of bad stuff that there’s only bad stuff! Maybe he’s doing some of the little good stuff there is.)

    More important, though, I wasn’t focused so much on expertise as I was on the value of diversity. It’s rare that I find someone who is willing to say, “I don’t value diversity.” That’s why I wanted to discuss Hanania’s piece. I think he gave an interesting argument against the Millian position I’m sympathetic with.

    The characters weren’t meant to be fleshed out as characters; rather, they were just vocalizing argumentative positions. As for libertarianism, yes, it has an origin–all ideologies do–and some of the originating characters may strike you as unsavory. I’m assuming you think something like this: “the movement exists only to justify rapacious business owners getting away with whatever they want without having to support the common good. Consequently, one really doesn’t have to look at libertarianism’s stated goals or even argue with it–one only need look at the kind of person who espouses it and the kind of person who benefits from it. This is all in Nancy MacLean.” I mean, I have no idea; I’m just putting words in your mouth. But that’s the first thing to come to my mind when you say I’ve misread libertarianism because I don’t pay attention to its origins.

    Regardless, the framing with libertarianism wasn’t meant to be a defense of right-libertarianism. It was to give an example of a debate where people could be talking past each other but aren’t, and to contrast it with a debate where I think people not only could, but do, talk past each other.

  7. I don’t really get this critique, EJ, and certainly not the emotional energy it manifests.

    Robert’s is a meticulous philosophical treatment of the subject. I grant that such treatments — especially of no-brainers like whether or not people should be able to have different opinions and still remain employed — can sometimes be somewhat pedantic, but I think they are useful. It’s not as if we don’t have enough rhetorical, strongly-opinioned treatments already.

  8. Peter Smith

    Even if he is a Trump apologist, though, I don’t think that weakens the argument he’s giving

    Exactly. Every one of us has something unsavoury in their past but that does not prevent us from making good arguments. Take me as an example. I used to be an atheist but that unhappy fact does not condemn me to making bad arguments 🙂

    Maybe it’s a sign of old fashioned conservatism to believe that arguments should be understood and evaluated on their own merits. And if that is true we definitely should not understand and evaluate arguments on their own merits, lest we give succour to evil 🙂

  9. Animal Symbolicum

    I found this quite clarifying. Thanks. A couple of thoughts.

    (1) Mill certainly argues that a diversity of perspectives conduces to weeding out falsehood. But he also argues those perspectives must be expressed and thus made publicly available (in principle). You can’t benefit from a diversity of perspectives without freedom of expression. And I would argue that here, too, there’s both a negative and a positive freedom (of expression). There’s the freedom from interference (by, e.g., threat of losing your job), of course, but also the freedom to participate in public discourse (by, e.g., having the resources to attend city council meetings).

    (2) Your meditation here about the humanities gave me more reason to think (more than I already had) that too much emphasis these days is being placed on the “weeding out truth” argument for freedom of expression. Mill also argued that freedom of expression and encounters with different perspectives conduce toward (i) better (richer, more fruitful, more promising) interpretations of the facts, (ii) better understanding of one’s own view, (iii) the active adoption, rather than the passive inheritance, of the views one has, (iv) the authentic development of one’s own personality, inner life, soul, etc. Such things, more or less self-consciously undertaken, are more than just aspects of “mental hygiene” and can be among the most deeply satisfying achievements in a human life, and might be among the several possible ingredients for being an interesting person, a vibrant mind, a decent citizen.

  10. Animal Symbolicum

    I meant to type “[. . .] the ‘weeding out FALSEHOOD’ argument [. . .].”

  11. Peter Smith

    I enjoyed your essay and thought it was informative, well argued and well presented.

  12. Peter Smith

    this was well put:

    Mill also argued that freedom of expression and encounters with different perspectives conduce toward (i) better (richer, more fruitful, more promising) interpretations of the facts, (ii) better understanding of one’s own view, (iii) the active adoption, rather than the passive inheritance, of the views one has, (iv) the authentic development of one’s own personality, inner life, soul, etc. Such things, more or less self-consciously undertaken, are more than just aspects of “mental hygiene” and can be among the most deeply satisfying achievements in a human life, and might be among the several possible ingredients for being an interesting person, a vibrant mind, a decent citizen.

    To that I would add that the vigorous contest of ideas is an essential ingredient. I was not happy with the term “mental hygiene“, which has negative connotations. A better phrase would be “intellectual virtue“. This phrase has gained currency and is both better defined and better understood.

  13. Robert,
    I wasn’t going to, but I suppose it would be fair to elaborate my complaints a bit. First, having re-read the article, I confess that I did not give the part of it concerning Lewis’ essay and the Millian issues here the charity it deserves. That is my problem, and I regret it, but it also signals a problem with the article itself, perhaps, namely that it is really two discussions boot-strapped together unsuccessfully. And it is the first discussion, concerning libertarianism and then the essay by Richard Hanania, that I find misguided and confusing.

    I know the “freedom from/ freedom to” distinction is considered an important topic of discussion in some quarters, but personally I find it a distinction without a difference. When I was still a Nixon Youth at 14, I read as much Ayn Rand, the philosopher of individualist libertarianism, or laissez-faire libertarianism, as it is known for its economic component as I could get a hold of, and the sources she directed me to, especially Nietzsche. Rand was not interested much in economics, but her philosophy provided an ontological and psychological justification for free-market economics.) Then at 17, my brain did a flip-flop and I became a Yippie, following which I imbibed a lot of the philosophies of what is sometimes called “socialist libertarianism,” due to its economic component, but which is more commonly called Anarchism, and identified as an Anarchist for a good decade. (By the late ’80s it became clear to me that laissez-faire libertarianism and Anarchism both suffered from the same weakness: an inability to account for, let alone limit, the corrupt, rapacious, cleverly manipulative self-serving individual.)

    I simply don’t recognize the argumentative position, or character, you call a “left-libertarian,” at least not as a libertarian. The position statements I have heard, but not from any Anarchist or socialist libertarian I can think of. In the one moment when the Anarchists came close to defining a post-revolutionary governance, in Spain in the ’30s, the brutality of the Civil War and their own strong differences of opinion pressed them into a theoretical cul-de-sac, with tragic real world consequences. So, anyway, your “left libertarian” must be representative of a different school, or, more likely, an amalgam of ideas and positions, some of which may indeed have Anarchist or libertarian sources. Trying to sort this out was simply confusing, so when you shifted ground, to traditional political identifiers, “progressive” and “conservative,” having worked through “Compromisers,” “Opposers,” and “Deniers” as well, I felt inundated with categories that I found it difficult to identify.

    Which brings us to Richard Hanania. One of the things I respect about George Will, despite my dislike for his political positions, is that he has always been up front about what he thinks. When asked what he would say to a laid-off worker in the Rust Belt, he replied without hesitation, “move to where the jobs are.” So much for community, eh?! But it was Will who taught me the meaning of “the creative destruction of capitalism.” Some will get wealthier through economic innovations, others will suffer poverty from these (*must* suffer, in order for the innovations to succeed), that’s the real ‘invisible hand of the market place.’ At least we know where we stand with Will.

    Richard Hanania is something else; for one thing he is disingenuous. Think tanks are research institutions and are thus socially adjunct to the Academy. So he attacks the Academy and then, having enjoyed employment at Columbia University, establishes his own think tank. Why? to pursue a political agenda, which is establishment of a conservative hegemony over public institutions, especially those of the Academy. No wonder he argues against diversity. After all, diversity is just the inevitable result of what he sees as a bad law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allowed government to pressure acceptance of differences even in the private sector (“Woke Capital”). But that is a small part of his larger thematics.

    And here we have another category problem. It is in the interest of Hanania and his think tank colleagues that “Trumpism” and “conservativism” be considered interchangeable. But that is not the case. Donald Trump is not a conservative, and his far right supporters are not conservative; far right-wingers have no interest in conserving anything, not even economically, they are interested in achieving a state in which they see themselves as flourishing as superior individuals at the expense of those they feel are somehow unworthy. (There’s the Randian element, BTW.) This would require a major re-write of laws and institutional regulations. But it could mean something worse. In remarking a book review of a biography of Turkish dictator Erdogan, Hanania notes:
    “To put it in a different way, to steelman the populist position, democracy does not reflect the will of the citizenry, it reflects the will of an activist class, which is not representative of the general population. Populists, in order to bring institutions more in line with what the majority of the people want, need to rely on a more centralized and heavy-handed government. The strongman is liberation from elites, who aren’t the best citizens, but those with the most desire to control people’s lives, often to enforce their idiosyncratic belief system on the rest of the public, and also a liberation from having to become like elites in order to fight them, so conservatives don’t have to give up on things like hobbies and starting families and devote their lives to activism.” If “conservatives don’t like this option, “they’ll have to reconcile themselves to continue to lose the culture into the foreseeable future, at least until they are able to inspire a critical mass to do more than just vote its preferences.”

    Hanania is extremely erudite, but he is also disingenuous and cynical, with a long range view that is potentially dangerous (think a younger more charming Steve Bannon). There’s no doubt in my mind that were his personal utopia to be achieved, diversity would not only be discouraged but quashed. “Consequently, Hanania’s view — diversity is important only insofar as it helps us find the truth —” I don’t think Hanania gives a crap about any ‘truth’ but his own.

    Again, the central problem here is that Lewis is writing a philosophical exploration of the weakness inherent in Mill’s neutral attitude toward tolerance. And in trying to apply his insights to present conditions, you actually do a better – indeed, far better – job than I initially credited (my bad). But the opening really did confuse this old (former) Anarcho-libertarian, and then following up with Hanania obviously pushed my buttons.

    I am growing more persuaded every day that discussions of this sort are going to get thornier and more difficult in the next few years.

    I recently saw an old NBC documentary (ca. 1952) about Franco’s Spain. They included an interview with a Madrid history professor who said that one good thing about Franco was that, with him in charge, there needn’t be any politics. The urge to ‘overcome’ politics is the greatest danger to a thriving democracy. And the fact that an intelligent and educated professor could celebrate that urge in Franco’s Spain remind us that the danger with fascism is that, when it arrives – nothing changes; it is just that no further change is possible. Except, of course, as the Strongman wills.

  14. jofrclark

    A useful reflection on the difference between identity vs. ideological diversity.

    The last century of civil rights movements have left the US with a well developed language for the former and a less well developed language for the latter. I think the latter is harder to formulate since it is less tangible and thus less definable.
    The association of diversity with liberty is cogent in the current cultural milieu as is the attendant reflection on identity vs. ideological liberty.

    However, I worry that the focusing on the tension between these two forms of liberty/diversity follows the current culture’s inordinate focus on individualism and risks forgetting what I would posit as the central dilemma facing the culture – the tension between liberty and justice. While discussions of liberty focuses the mind on diversity and the individual welfare, discussions of justice focus the mind on commonality and general welfare. While liberty/diversity/individuality is facilitated by “intellectual hygiene” in the form of one’s reductive rationality, justice/commonality/collectivism is facilitated by emotional hygiene in the form of our holistic compassion that inclusively see in the other the same nature and value as the self.

    What is badly needed in the current cultural is a much more robust discussion and passionate/compassionate reflection on what we share as a people and the unifying ideas that define us collectively and provide the cultural glue that keeps our society together. That is Millian utility of justice in the form of his “perfect obligations” that we can rightly demand from each other.

  15. davidlduffy

    The Hanania piece is actually quite interesting, and if you read his papers via Google Scholar, you will see he is excellently scientistic 😉 (eg he measures effects of being a Think Tank Employee on hawkishness, and whether “woke” statements decrease your chances of being elected, AND provides the raw data so you can do your own analysis). The section titled “The Case against Intellectual Diversity” is more of an afterthought to the overall thesis that certain academic disciplines still don’t understand things, but methods such as those he uses might improve matters. As opposed to “Osama bin Laden…decided to become a psychologist. He’d say ‘The problem with your research on stereotypes is that you do not praise Allah the all merciful at the beginning of all your papers.’” The latter is a pretty cheap shot, while “The upshot is intellectual diversity is a red herring, usually a thinly-veiled plea for more conservatives”, is only slightly better. His 2012 review on state building in Afghanistan mentions in the second paragraph that Afghans spent $2.5 billion on bribes in 2009 – maybe one didn’t have to use complex statistical methods to work out we’d end up here.

  16. Is not your main point the question of how to justify ‘ideological diversity’?

    Let us try to get at the most abstract limits/structure pertinent. Moral rules/systems by their very nature restrict the diversity of their member agents’ behaviour ‒ that is what rules do. A recipe, to be defined at all, limits its ingredients. So any defense of diversity (save for the most abstract, of moral domains requiring multiple agents in the first place) must always be conditional. And so if we can say at all what we want from a scene, we can be equally clear about what measure of diversity is apt. We decide what we want, and the room for diversity is the negative space: what we have *not* constrained. Is that not the basic template for the problem? (And from there it seems not so much a conundrum.)


    Negative/positive liberty is a dumb distinction and everyone should discard it! (NL says what you *should* (not) do, PL says what you *can* (not) do. One is prescriptive, the other descriptive ‒ they are not comparable.)

    Libertarians are not principled on liberty, they are market-/propert-arians! (A minimally freedom-restricting system would have but one rule: no touching other people. Do ‘libertarians’ prefer that? No. So they do not prioritise freedom.))

  17. Hi Robert: Your essay is very useful, I think. It is certainly desirable to think in terms of a four-component matrix and not in terms of a left-right spectrum. I regard the Nolan chart as something all politics students should know (

    You might be interested in Peter Zeihan’s recent talk using this sort of matrix. See, starting at 1 hour, 14 minutes.


  18. Peter Smith

    I regard the Nolan chart as something all politics students should know

    Thanks for that. The Nolan chart is a very useful way to look at the political spectrum. What I find missing is the ethical dimension. The way we exercise liberty and authority is determined by our understanding of ethics. I envisage a third, orthogonal ethical axis that ranges from self-regarding ethics on the one side to other-regarding ethics on the other end of the scale.

    A classic example of self-regarding ethics is Stoicism (and to some extent Buddhism) while Christianity has a strong component of other-regarding ethics.

  19. Peter: I think conceptions of liberty and authority derive from our sense of justice. In that sense the Nolan chart is a map of how much and how little society and government should do for members of the community. But, I agree, there is a further ethical question of how we should each exercise our rights and duties. In this dimension, attitudes involving compassion and gratitude come into play.

  20. Good article Rob! Thanks for writing it.

    One thought it evokes is another possible reason why care for ‘identity diversity’ and ideological diversity unfortunately seem mutually exclusive is that for those who care about the former, in some sense, the concern is precisely about identity categories that aren’t up to individual choice in any conventional sense. I know that distinction gets sticky and I’m not trying to defend the distinction, only that those who make it make it.

    Those who care, for instance, about making sure certain racial or ethnic groups aren’t marginalized largely do so because they see marginalization as unfair WHEN IT IS BASED ON LUCK FACTORS or unchosen characteristics. We cannot help being racialized in certain ways, therefore, it is all the more unfair when we are penalized socially for the ways we are racialized.

    This, I think, is one reason why so much proverbial ink (really pixels) were spilled on the question of whether being GLBTQ is, in any real way, a choice or whether folks are “born this way.” If a choice, it is CONCEIVIABLE that folks could argue that your choosing to be queer is fair game for your marginalization, as if you don’t want the marginalization, you can choose out. If choice, then concordant responsibility for the consequences. If no effective choice – if these are not things one can quite easily change one’s mind about – then it seems less fair to hold people accountable for the consequences.

    Of course, that distinction between choice and necessity doesn’t exactly hold. I am not sure to what degree, say, one’s belief in a particular scripture is wholly voluntary. Seems like a choice that one makes, but one can’t exactly choose to disbelieve a scripture that resonates with one. And surely, even if being GLB or T is not so much a choice but something deeper, one could theoretically choose not to disclose or signal that to others (which is a mighty unfair ask even though it can, strictly speaking, be chosen).

    So, I think you are surely right about some of the reasons why care for diversities of identity and ideology are often mutually exclusive. But living inside the belly of one of those beasts, I also suspect it has to do with a not-terribly-watertight distinction folks on the identity side make between traits that aren’t chosen (the identity categories they tend to care about) and ones that are (ideologies).

  21. Harrison,

    As someone who until a few years ago was quite comfortable thinking of myself as a libertarian and in libertarian circles, your comment is very interesting to me. (I would now, if pressed, say I’m some vague sort of liberal agonist, but since few would understand the reference…)

    First, yes, you make a great point in the first paragraph. Rules demand exclusions, and exclusions by definition put limits on the types of diversity allowed under the rules. I think FOR ANY LIBERAL who agrees with this assessment, the question becomes how best to live with the tension of respecting liberty (and the diversity it almost certainly comes with) and how to have rules that allow for a coherent society. (In fact, that this tension seems to have no non-contingent or absolute answer is part of why I think of myself as an agonist more than a libertarian.)

    Second paragraph: yes, dividing liberty into negative and positive kinds is ultimately untenable. All liberty requires both a freedom to make choices and an ability to exercise feasible choices. Libertarians might argue that liberty only means having that first thing, but anyone who isn’t libertarian will rightly argue that that alone is a liberty few will want except those subject to the most abject slavery. It’s one reason I ditched libertarian rooms, or maybe I was ditched BY those rooms. Probably both.

    Third paragraph: “Libertarians are not principled on liberty, they are market-/propert-arians!” I get the concern and on the whole you are right. But there are a surprising number of non-propertarian libertarians out there. They tend not to be the most prominent voices, but they are around. Hayek was one (he valued markets, but nothing in his work hinged on any particular notion of property.) Chandran Kukathas (I did a Sophia episode with him) is another. Jan Narveson is a third. The trend seems to be that the propertarians are almost always foundationalists of some kind – and will appeal to natural rights, natural law, human nature, etc. The non-foundaitonalists generally are non-foundationalists, and thus do not have at the core of their ideas some idea that a specific conception of property is a default part of the human condition.

  22. Yeah, that’s all true; like you, I wonder to what extent one chooses one’s ideological commitments. I mean, most ideological commitments are more ephemeral than most salient features of one’s identity, but not all are. Moreover, I suspect that most people’s ideologies have a more to do with whom they trust and whom they hate rather than arguments or self-interest (academics *may* be greater exceptions to this than the average person, though). If that’s right, then, again, it’s hard to figure out the degree to which people’s ideological views are in their control.

    But as you’ve pointed out, there’s obviously more to it than lack of control. Again, foreign-born people don’t have any choice over where they’re born, but they aren’t nearly as much in play as more traditionally American ethnic groups.

  23. Hi EJ,

    I see why you consider Hanania a Trumpist. From what I know, Hanania has no respect for Trump, and considers him a nincompoop. That said, he recommends that some conservative do in the USA what Erdogan did in Turkey. So, whether he’s Trumpist or not depends on what you consier a Trumpist. Is a Trumpist someone who engages in a certain kind of discourse — e.g., lying, accusations, slurs, insults, a cult of personality sort of thing? Or is a Trumpist someone who seems opposed to certain fundamental elements of liberal democracy (e.g., supports voter suppression, is against the separation of powers) while being on the political right? I think it’s the former. You appear to think it’s the latter. Or maybe both are needed to count as a Trumpist?

    Regardless, I wouldn’t call Hanania disingenuous, since he seems to be straightforward about what he supports. Moreover, I wouldn’t call him a Trumpist, since I don’t think he employs the same discursive tactics as Trumpists. I would call him a neoreactionary, however, a lot like Curtis Yarvin, though not as extreme as Yarvin.

    I agree that the libertarian part was probably not necessary to make my point, and was also unnecessarily confusing. To be honest, I don’t know why I included it. It just seemed apt at the time I wrote the article. I could try to defend it after the fact, but I’m not sure there’s much need.