I was reading a profile of New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman that appeared in this month’s issue of New York magazine, when a statement in the article jumped out at me as having some relevance to things we’ve discussed in class. Some background: the subject of the article, Paul Krugman is one of the foremost liberal voices in the American media. (His blog, titled The Conscience of a Liberal, is the “most popular single-author blog online” according to the profile.) A portion of the article makes the claim that aspects of Krugman’s personality resonate with liberal readers in the same way that Rush Limbaugh has a distinctive style that appeals to right-wing listeners. On this subject, the following quote appears in the article:
“What I think Krugman got intuitively is that liberals understand politics as a policy argument,” says Ezra Klein, now a Washington Post columnist and then an influential political blogger. “On the right, there’s something of a cultural underlay to the worldview: We are the real Americans, and they are not. Liberals want to say, We are correct on the evidence, and they are not.”
In this quote, Ezra Klein is pointing out a difference between two groups of people: those who see political issues in cultural terms, and those who see the same issues as questions that should be determined by reason. (He equates the former group with conservatives, and the latter with liberals.) This is the same sort of cultural tension that led to the trial of Socrates: Socrates argued that Athenian values should be tested on logical grounds, and restructured to match principles dictated by reason; this understandably angered the conservative aspects of society, as it was traditional values that were put at risk when Socrates philosophized. One can interpret today’s partisan political atmosphere as evidence that the dichotomy between those who believe society’s structure should be determined by tradition, and those who believe it should be determined by logic still exists, just as it did in 5th century B.C. Athens.
The article can be found online here: http://nymag.com/news/politics/paul-krugman-2011-5/index2.html