Are liberals smarter than conservatives?

A reader sent me an article at Psychology Today, “Why Liberals Are More Intelligent Than Conservatives,” by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary biologist. The author starts off very interestingly, with his frank definition of liberalism as a willingness to pay taxes for the welfare of genetically unrelated groups—a tendency, he says, that conflicts with the behavior of all previous human cultures. I thought he might say more on this fascinating idea, which to my ears sounded like a confession of the suicidal madness of liberalism. Instead, it is just the jumping-off point for the real business at hand, the author’s tendentious, reductive assertion that because liberalism is “evolutionarily novel,” therefore liberals are more intelligent than conservatives. He cites a study finding that the average IQ of young adults who call themselves very conservative is 94 while the average IQ of those who call themselves very liberal is 106. Under Kanazawa’s barely scientific guise, this is the crudest Darwinian triumphalism: we liberals are smarter than you conservatives, we are genetically superior to you conservatives.

He then makes another rare liberal admission, though in his mouth it is a boast, that except for the area of business, “liberals control all institutions. They control the institutions because liberals are on average more intelligent than conservatives and thus they are more likely to attain the highest status in any area of (evolutionarily novel) modern life.”

This is backward reasoning. When Richard Lynn argued in 2008 that atheists are more intelligent than religious believers, I wrote to Professor Lynn:

My point is that in an age in which it is demanded and expected that people in the higher levels of society be irreligious, or, at least, that they not demonstrate conspicuous religiosity, or that their religion take the approved form of liberal religiosity, which is really religion without God, it follows that since the people in higher levels of society will naturally have higher IQs, the higher IQ people will be less religious.

Perhaps I can make my point clearer this way. In our age, it is expected that people in the elite professions be liberal. Since the people in the elite professions have higher IQs, higher IQ people will tend to be more liberal.

… [T]his seems to be the logical fallacy built into your assertion of a correlation (or perhaps even a causal relationship) between intelligence and atheism. You’re not considering the fact that we are living in a society dominated (for the first time in history) by secularism, and therefore the most successful people in our society will be secularists.

By the same token, we are living for the first time in history in a society dominated by the insane liberal belief that we should give our wealth to support the welfare of groups that are unrelated to or even hostile to ourselves. Naturally, the most successful, and therefore the most intelligent, people in this insane liberal society will be people who espouse and enforce its beliefs, i.e., liberals. In the same way, the people at the top in a Communist society, and therefore the most intelligent, will be Communists. The people at the top in a Nazi society, and therefore the most intelligent, will be Nazis.

Kanazawa’s article is exemplifies a current genre of liberal literature which basically says that conservatives are inferior human beings. About 15 years ago, I heard about a new book about conservatives, liberals, and birth order which said that eldest children were conservatives, and youngest children were liberals. I’ve always been fascinated by birth order, particularly because of my own family experience, and found this an intriguing thesis, so I went to the Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood and browsed through the book. It turned out to be the rawest liberal triumphalism. It was about portraying oldest children / conservatives as defective human beings, and youngest children / liberals as superior human beings.

After I drafted the above, I saw psychologist Shawn Smith’s response to Kanazawa in which he makes the exact same point:

It happens like clockwork. Every few years, researchers contrive yet another study to prove that conservatives are mentally deficient….

Dr. Kanazawa seems like a decent man, and it is admirable that he is unconstrained by the hypersensitivity of others. Unfortunately, he appears to have recklessly exacerbated a serious problem in the field of psychology: our transparent and irrational animosity toward conservatives.

Psychology, which is unquestionably dominated by liberals, has developed an ugly habit of falsely maligning the political right. Through respectable-looking “research” we sling mud with flawed data and tendentious methodology (see here, for example).

These bogus studies build on each other to create an inbred, incoherent body of literature that will be cited with unquestioning faith by the next conservative-bashing researcher.

That says it well. There are many liberals whose primary idea, the idea most central to their view of life and politics, is the badness and inferiority of conservatives as human beings. These liberals obsessively portray conservatives as irrational bigots who have no tolerance for people different from themselves and who want to oppose their narrow views on everyone. These liberals don’t see that they are describing themselves.

* * *

Kanazawa’s article also exemplifies the point I’ve often made about the three-character “script” of modern liberalism. To modify slightly a previous statement, the liberal order articulates the world through a script in which there are three characters: the liberal, who embodies the non-discriminatory virtue of the liberal regime; the non-liberal, who discriminates against the non-Western Other and who therefore must be crushed by the liberal; and the non-Western Other, who either is discriminated against by the non-liberal or is non-discriminatorily included by the liberal. In the script, furthermore, only the liberal and the non-liberal are moral actors, with the first representing good and the second representing evil. The non-Western Other is not a moral actor, but is simply the passive recipient of the liberal’s goodness or of the non-liberal’s bigotry.

- end of initial entry -

Corey N. writes:

I do not think he is particularly liberal. The last time he was in the news, it was because he had triggered a scandal by claiming that according to women’s own self-image, black women are systematically and significantly less attractive than any other racial type. The article ended up getting retracted, but I think it was just to make the shouting go away, I do not recall him ever issuing any statements that the finding was wrong.

I may be misremembering, but I seem to recall also seeing a short piece on his blog, about how more attractive high-class women tend to have more daughters, and therefore why does Posh Spice / Victoria Beckham have multiple sons? His answer: “Because Posh is a slut.”—specifically, a woman from a low social class background, which would fit with other findings that the lower classes tend to have more sons.

From what I have seen, it is true that liberals generally do scale higher on measurements of education and IQ than conservatives. Why this would be—part of it, I think, is that academia is already liberal and instilling that worldview, but then that leaves us with the question of where the academic liberalism came from in the first place. The more fundamental reason may be that the more intelligent one is, the easier it is to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, and to become emotionally attached to things that are fundamentally different.

Being open to and positive about differences has been one of the great strengths of the West, liberalism takes it a bit too far.

LA replies:

I’d say it’s a good deal more than a “bit” too far.

As for whether Kanazawa is a liberal or not, he seems to combine the liberal worship of altruism and egalitarianism with the Darwinist/materialist worship of superiority and the survival of the fittest. How he and other liberals manage to maintain this contradiction in their heads is a subject worth examining.

LA writes:

Here’s an example of the oddity of Kanazawa’s position, which also relates to the three-character “script.” With the crassness that one typically sees from Darwinians, libertarians, and other life-long adolescents in possession of some all-reductive explanation of existence, Kanazawa, the spokesman for the liberal team, puts down the members of the conservative team as unintelligent losers in the Darwinian struggle for fitness. But what is it, according to him, that proves the intellectual superiority of the liberal team over the conservative team? It is the fact that the liberals believe in transferring their wealth to unrelated others who for the most part are significantly less intelligent than themselves. So the liberal response to unrelated others of inferior intelligence is self-sacrificial giving, which demonstrates the liberals’ superior virtue and intelligence; but the liberal response to one’s own countrymen of inferior intelligence is mocking contempt of them over their inferiority.

I present the paradox, but can’t untangle it at the moment. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to figure it out.

Mark Jaws writes:

I am confused by this liberal assertion that those who classify themselves as “very liberal” are smarter by IQ score than those who think of themselves as “very conservative.” According to liberal doctrine, I thought liberals believed there was no such thing as IQ, and that it was all a fabrication by the White Man to pigeonhole people of color into the lower rungs of society. Now, when it comes to scoring a political point, they suddenly re-introduce the whole nefarious (to them) concept of IQ. It reminds me of their sudden and inexplicable militarization of the 2004 campaign when “war hero” John Kerry led the national ticket.

Hannon writes:

I’m curious as to what sort of people attain “control” of a society’s institutions. It has been my experience that the most intelligent people in a given organization are not to be found in the highest stations of administration, partly because they know that the resulting status and money will not bring them increased happiness. (It must be said, however, that smart employees are often re-directed from their chosen vocation by higher-ups with the lure of more money). Others are driven to such positions because they find, or believe they will find, their happiness in just such lucrative positions. In other words, inclination or will may be more important than absolute intelligence in terms of job placement at the higher levels.

Leonard D. writes:

I don’t think Kanazawa is a liberal, or at least not in the sense you mean (modern liberal, a.k.a. “progressive”, a.k.a. communist). He has described himself as a “strong libertarian.”

I don’t think you quite sense the spin on the article that I do. When a evolutionary theorist says “X is evolutionarily novel,” he is almost always going to follow it with: “and therefore humans are maladapted to X.” Similarly, Kanazawa defines liberalism as the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others; that is evolution-speak for maladapted. (It is also a poor definition of liberalism.)

My reading of it is that Kanazawa is trying to slip one by the progressives. Perhaps he is angry about the recent flap over his piece claiming that black women are less attractive. He thinks progressives will find this new article pleasing, even though he thinks he is almost insulting them; it’s as if he wrote, with all due respect, progressives, you’re smarter.

That said, the particular graph Kanazawa used immediately struck me as not credible. There are rarely such pronounced differences in IQ between any groups except races, where genetic causation is direct. I also read Shawn Smith’s debunking of the article which you linked, and he agrees with me. The result is very shaky. In particular, Kanazawa tests people for liberalness when they are at their most liberal: at the end of their university education. I would bet a very substantial amount of money that if the same subjects could be interviewed after they (a) are in the workforce for 10 or more years, and (b) have a family, that they would have shifted substantially towards the conservative. Responsibility tends to do that.

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

Concerning the researcher’s claim that liberals are more intelligent than conservatives, you write: “In the [liberal] script … only the liberal and the non-liberal are moral actors, with the first representing good and the second representing evil. The non-Western Other is not a moral actor, but is simply the passive recipient of the liberal’s goodness or of the non-liberal’s bigotry.”

I agree. I have a slightly different, perhaps a more brutal way, of putting it. Liberals fervently believe in “The White Man’s Burden,” on which, under that label, they otherwise heap endless denunciatory contempt.

Robert R. (who sent me the article) writes:

Yes, someone (perhaps you) pointed out that the left believes everyone on the right is either stupid, or evil. But I was hoping you’d bring up the point that Progressive ideas cause much actual physical and monetary harm to members of society—but not to Progressives. They are usually in positions where they are isolated from the consequences of Progressive policy.

LA replies:

Are they really so isolated from them? That explanation of liberal attitudes has never been persuasive to me. Liberals live in the same country, states, and cities as the rest of us,

Mark P. writes:

You wrote:

As for whether Kanazawa is a liberal or not, he seems to combine the liberal worship of altruism and egalitarianism with the Darwinist/materialist worship of superiority and the survival of the fittest. How he and other liberals manage to maintain this contradiction in their heads is a subject worth examining.

That’s easy. Liberals make sure other people pay for their liberal altruism and egalitarianism, while the resources they save go to worshipping the survivors of their scams … themselves.

I keep trying to point out to people that the liberal believes in diversity, altruism, and egalitarianism because they experience these phenomena on their own terms. Diversity, for example, is experienced by the liberal as a cool ethnic restaurant or an educated, erudite foreigner. When they are done with diversity, they go back to their exclusive, non-diverse neighborhoods. [LA replies: As I said to Robert, I just don’t see this. Liberals are not a people apart. They live in the same society, subject to the same stresses, as the rest of us. This image of liberals as inhabiting some city on a paradisal hill above the slums may be true in some instances (Los Angeles comes to mind), but I don’t think it is generally true. In my opinion, it is not geographical separation that explains liberals’ attitudes, but mental separation: they just don’t see what they don’t want to see. The more terrible the consequences of liberalism, the more they refuse to see them. Consider how liberals refuse to recognize the phenomenon of the black-on-white racial mob attacks going on across the country. Consider how, even when liberals are assaulted and injured, or even when their daughters are raped and murdered, they do not see what has happened, but respond with liberal clichés.]

The key point to keep in mind is that a true belief in any ideology is based on sacrifice: what does one give up to honor one’s beliefs? The biggest problem with liberals is not the falseness or insanity of their beliefs, but the fact that they have personally sacrificed nothing on behalf of them. I would much rather force the liberals to suffer the consequences of their ideology than argue with them over what is true or false.

Leonard D. writes:

Regarding the question of liberal “isolation” from the consequences of progressive policy, you wrote: “Are they really so isolated from them? That explanation of liberal attitudes has never been persuasive to me. Liberals live in the same country, states, and cities as the rest of us.”

That is true. But those locales are huge areas; they are not the particular spots that people experience in their day to day lives. People live and raise children in neighborhoods; they choose their friends; they shop at particular stores; they go to jobs and work there. All of these choices are still private. As such, it is still quite possible to live a life insulated from diversity. (Not isolated—just insulated.)

This is especially true at the top, where a high IQ progressive with his Ivy-league education will command a very livable income (and perhaps his wife will, too). They can live in a white suburb, shop at Whole Foods, and work at jobs where there may be diversity, but the particular diverse individuals are also well educated, can talk “white,” and do not engage in any unseemly behavior at work.

Only via the public schools will a progressive experience unwanted mixing across social classes. The upper class of progressives use private schools if they must. (Unprincipled exception.) However they prefer “good schools” if they can get them. We know what this encodes—a wealthy (and thus white) school district.

Later you hypothesize “mental separation” as the key form of insulation. That is also good point. My feeling is that the sort of ideological closure that progressives evince requires both physical and mental insulation. Each makes the other more tenable. If you don’t live anywhere near blacks, the number of incidents you perceive that might shake your faith in their essential similarity to whites will be few. Thus the stress on your self-deception is less. Conversely, self-deception can help you avoid noticing how thick your insulation really is.

Stan S. writes:

Left unremarked is why one ought to care about the relative “intelligence” of groups defined by their adherence to this or that pre-packaged opinion (which is, let’s face it, an apt description of the “liberalism” or the “conservatism” of the vast majority in all professions). Intelligent people judge ideas on their merit, not by who believes what. The unintelligent, on the other hand, perceive their own incapacity to judge, which is why they are desperate for any “scientific” affirmation of the superiority of their opinions. This is why we are so often reminded that “liberals are smarter,” or that, e.g., “conservatives give more to charity.”

William James once said that the purpose of a liberal education was “to know a good man when you see one.” The whole farcical emphasis on the ostensibly “objective,” exemplified here by the Japanese gentleman, is a symptom of the decline of education.

September 3

Steve R. writes:

You wrote:

“Liberals are not a people apart. They live in the same society, subject to the same stresses, as the rest of us. This image of liberals as inhabiting some city on a paradisal hill above the slums may be true in some instances (Los Angeles comes to mind), but I don’t think it is generally true.”

My problem with that statement is that it conflicts too much with something else you once wrote that I think really nails liberalism:

What is the secret of a successful, self-esteeming liberal life?

Location, location, location.

I have only lived in Southern California, which you consider an exception, but even when I visit the Upper West Side of Manhattan I get the sense that its liberals lead a substantially less dangerous life than the one lived by most others in the city. My liberal relatives do whatever possible to prevent their children from going to integrated schools yet they are adamantly opposed to school vouchers—a mechanism to give less advantaged parents the ability to protect their children.

Consider that in the 2008 election, those whites that lived close to blacks voted against Obama in significantly greater numbers than those whites that lived further away from blacks. So when whites are subject to the same stresses as the rest of us they sing a different tune.

Liberalism would end abruptly if a requirement for holding office was a) having a teen daughter and b) a residence adjacent to a house inhabited by fatherless feral black teens.

LA replies:

I was not making a considered, general statement when I said that. I was replying on the quick to specific information about how Diane Hsieh, host of the Randian blog Noodle Food (a white woman married to a Chinese man), lives in an isolated place in the mountains far away from the racial diversity she officially embraces.

But thank you for sending me that comment. I had to search for it, and it’s in an April 2009 thread, “How Randian website replied to polite explanation of traditionalism,” which I began reading through and decided to re-post.

Tim W. writes:

Liberals are smarter than conservatives. I guess that explains why the Western nations have soared to such heights since the 1960s. Has Great Britain ever been more powerful than she is today under the full sway of liberalism? And look at California. Liberalism has done wonders there. Back when it was a state that could easily elect Ronald Reagan as governor no one from the other 49 states wanted to move there. Now that it’s become a one-party leftist state it’s a paradise attracting millions of Americans, who flee their rancid and declining conservative regions (you know, places such as Nebraska or the Memphis suburbs) for a more progressive and enlightened region.

Well, all right, it isn’t at all like that but you get the point. Liberals are smarter.

And need I point out that we sent a man to walk on the moon in 1969? The Sixties were a great decade of liberalism. Granted, the moon shot was the culmination of a long series of innovations dating back to the great age of invention in a more conservative time, not to mention patriotic fervor left over from the days of Manifest Destiny, and a desire to beat the Communists (the ultimate liberals) And also granted, we’ve given up on space in our more liberal present day due to the need to reorder our priorities toward wealth redistribution. And granted yet again, there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in that successful NASA mission. Or in anything else America achieved during its rise from an outback colony to the most powerful nation on earth.

Okay, I give up. Liberals aren’t so smart after all. Maybe we could put it this way. Over many centuries of evil, idiotic conservatism, sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and Christian zealotry, Europe rose to be a great continent. It possessed unprecedented wealth and spread its influence around the globe so that the sun never sat on it. It produced great art and literature. It spawned the steam engine, the electric revolution, the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, the skyscraper, the computer, and the moon landing. Now, after a few decades of liberalism, the West is ready to close up shop by turning its lands over to people who never in their wildest dreams could have created such a civilization, and devoting itself to redistributing wealth and power to those people. Somehow I don’t think a Chinese historian writing in the year 2100 will see this latter development as a sign of genius.

Ken Hechtman writes:

You wrote:

Under Kanazawa’s barely scientific guise, this is the crudest Darwinian triumphalism: we liberals are smarter than you conservatives, we are genetically superior to you conservatives.

If Kanazawa said that or even implied it, he’s no liberal. Liberals don’t believe in any such concept as “genetic superiority.” Period. A liberal wouldn’t say that, wouldn’t imply it, wouldn’t even be able to frame the thought.

A liberal might say (probably would say) that liberals are more knowledgeable than conservatives. But that’s not the same thing at all. It leaves open the possibility that if conservatives knew what we knew, they’d want what we want and then they’d become liberals.

Going off on a tangent here, I don’t know that the claim above is actually true anymore. People on today’s left do not value general knowledge the way they did in my father’s and grandfather’s time. A Communist Party member at my grandfather’s level could have walked into any randomly selected university classroom and delivered off the top of his head the lecture the professor had prepared. That was the standard they held themselves to. That’s gone now and it’s a shame. If we’re going to present ourselves as “the people who understand how the world works” there’s a responsibility that comes with that.

Steve R. replies to LA:

Not a general statement? Great. I now feel free to appropriate it as mine when I greatly annoy my liberal friends with it.

But seriously, and you don’t need to answer now, do you agree that most liberals—not the extreme types who would sacrifice their children on liberalism’s altar—only can persist in their insanity because they are more immune from liberalism’s consequences than the rest of us (as per the remainder of my comment)?

If it were not so then why would so many of them wake up when they are literally ‘mugged by reality’?

LA replies:

You’re welcome to it.

But I still do not believe that geographical separation in insulated enclaves is the main reason that liberals don’t see the consequences of liberalism. That argument rests on the assumption that it’s only what happens to us personally and directly that affects our opinions. I don’t think that’s true. Did multiracialism and multiculturalism have to happen to me in some personal sense for me to see the de-Europeanization of America? Did I personally have to suffer from, say, feral youth crime in order to see that it was happening? Did I have to live on the Mexican border and have illegals crossing my land to know about the illegal alien invasion? No, I have a general knowledge of these things happening, from a mixture of reading about them in the news, observation, and so on. That’s the way most people know what’s going on in their society. The idea that people are only influenced in their opinions by things that have personally affected them or directly harmed them is false. It assumes that humans are mindless beings, having no idea of what is going on in their society unless it’s taking place in their neighborhood and in their face.

Jorgen L. writes:

I think Leonard D. is correct about Kanazawa not being a liberal and in his interpretation that Kanazawa regards liberalism as maladaptive. Kanazawa’s political views seem to be idiosyncratic. Perhaps he could best be described as a contrarian. He loves to make sensationalistic claims backed up by little reason or evidence just to provoke a reaction. Many of his research papers have become international news stories because of such claims. Once he wrote an article for Psychology Today suggesting that the U.S. drop dozens of nuclear bombs in the Middle East in order to end the War on Terror. He’s also a race realist.

Kanazawa’s colleagues regard him as a sloppy researcher. A few months ago a group of 68 evolutionary psychologists published a statement condemning his research. While the statement was published in connection with his article about racial differences in attractiveness (which caused an uproar and led to him being fired by Psychology Today), and was thus in part an attempt by other evolutionary psychologists to distance themselves from Kanazawa’s “racism,” there are also genuine concerns about the quality of his research.

As to why liberals would have higher IQs, I agree with your argument that it’s because society today expects that successful people be liberal. In the newest issue of the academic journal Intelligence, there’s an article (attached to this message) by Michael Woodley making the same point, arguing that more intelligent people are more adept at identifying prevalent cultural norms and acquiescing to them. However, isn’t this explanation in fact the status-competition theory of liberalism which Steve Sailer is said to espouse and with which you disagree?

LA replies:

I never said that status competition is not a factor in why people believe what they believe; I’ve repeatedly acknowledged that it is a factor. What I disagree with is the idea of making it the primary or sole explanation for why people believe in liberalism or any other belief system.

And of course in any ideological tendency there will be people who truly believe in it, and people who belief it because it’s normal in their society or what they are expected to believe or what they have to believe in order to get ahead. And these tendencies do not come pure, but will mix with each other to varying degrees in each person. But the core of liberalism or any ideological tendency consists of people who sincerely believe in it. When sincere belief ends, and people only believe something for status or because that’s what their society expects of them, the ideological tendency dies, as happened in the decades before the demise of the USSR.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 02, 2011 10:43 AM | Send

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