Political liberalism and conservatism are both essential to a good life

Sharing this passage and my take on it was inspired by a recent messaging exchange with @Jay313 and by exchanges with @RobA ad @EastwoodDC in or with regard to this earlier thread Atheists and Jesus Christ

I’m currently reading Robert M. Pirsig’s LILA and so I turn to it to help me sleep. Unfortunately it has hit another stimulating section where the ideas it illuminates don’t lead to sleep. What I want to share here is a passage which I think sheds light on what motivates liberalism and conservatism in a way which highlights how each is important to morals but not to the exclusion of what is important in what the other brings. It might help to talk about his metaphysics first, but skip the next paragraph if your prefer.

In this novel, Pirsig lays out his Metaphysics of Quality in which he suggests, instead of starting with subjects and objects, beginning instead with dividing all of reality into static quality and dynamic quality.* Dynamic quality is that which brings about greater degrees of freedom. Static quality is that which preserves the freedom gained. They are in tension because greater freedom can only come about by challenging what the forces of static quality seek to preserve. Politically, liberalism emphasizes the dynamic force while conservatism represents the static, preservationist force.

Apologies for any errors in transcription. The quote is from the hard bound edition of LILA, pp. 307-8:

“…what is meant by “human rights” is usually the moral code of intellect-vs-society, the moral right of intellect to be free of social control. Freedom of speech; freedom of assembly, of travel; trail by jury; habeas corpus; government by consent - these “human rights” are al intellect-vs-society issues. …these “human rights” have not just a sentimental basis, but a rational, metaphysical basis. They are essential to the evolution of a higher level of life from a lower level of life. They are for real.

…ths intellect-vs-society code of morals is not at all the same as the society-vs-biology codes of morals that go back to prehistoric times. They are completely separate levels of morals. They should never be confused.

The central term of confusion between these two levels of codes is “society.” Is society good or is society evil? The question is confused because the term “society” is common to both these levels, but in one level society is the higher evolutionary pattern and in the other it is the lower. Unless you separate these two levels of moral codes you get a paralyzing confusion as to whether society is moral or immoral. That paralyzing confusion is what dominates all thoughts about morality and society today.

The idea that, “man was born free but is everywhere in chains” was never true. There are no chains more vicious than the chains of biological necessity into which every child is born. Society exists primarily to free people from these biological chains. It has done that job so stunningly well intellectuals forget the fact and turn upon society with a shameful ingratitude for what society has done.

Today we are living in an intellectual and technological paradise and a moral and social nightmare because the intellectual level of evolution, in its struggle to become free of the social level, has ignored the social level’s role in keeping the biological level under control. Intellectuals have failed to understand the ocean of [poor] biological quality that is constantly being suppressed by social order.

*If you’re wondering how such an initial split in metaphysics can possibly account for all of reality I don’t blame you. But he seems to think four levels of movement toward greater freedom will catch everything in our experience. First is the movement from chaos to the cosmos of the inorganic. The second is toward all things biological. The third is toward society and culture. The final is toward matters of the mind, intellect and reason. I won’t blame you if you give him an incomplete for his failure to flesh out theological matters, but I suspect he would say that God is manifest in the urge toward Dynamic Quality, from top to bottom. Of course you can also see the church as providing much of the moral ratcheting to prevent intellect from going so far off the rails, @LM77.

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I find this a bit disturbing. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, but I want to think on it.

Fair enough. I do think the animal side of our nature is plenty red in tooth and claw. I wish it were otherwise but at least there is some chance our humanity will win out. That is something I very much hope for.

Hello, I am new here. I have been poking around the website and so far I really like the level-headedness of most of the posters. The title of this thread caught my eye because I have been very depressed recently with the political environment.

I am independent, who tends to fall on the conservative side of things. However, I am watching a lot of conservatives right now with seemingly no sensitivity to what is going on and shouting about rights. At first, I thought they were overblown. But then I started talking to a friend who is pretty liberal and what she was saying about freedom and regulating families and stuff made me begin to think that conservatives are perhaps NOT wrong in their concern??

I don’t know. Are democrats out to take everyone’s freedoms away with big government?? Is my friend representative of the democratic party at large?

Perhaps I was reading this wrong - in the meaning of the part I highlighted. I initially took it to mean “biologically inferior” people, but on consideration I think it means the darker side of our base human instincts. I think I can agree to the latter.

I think there is a lot more to it than “red in tooth and claw”. Beyond tooth-and-claw fighting there is signaling (bluffing) which, among other things, might avoid the need for a bloody fight. There is also cooperation, care and nurturing, and social order. We see hints of these good qualities on the biological side even in other animals

But yes, we have a ways to go before hitting that Star Trek style ideal of leaving behind our poorer qualities. I hope we can get there too.

It seems there is plenty for both sides to worry about the other side diminishing rights they care about. I can’t think of any rights which the liberal/progressive side wants to take away except for wide open unchecked access to every type of weapon by civilians. That is a restriction I favor, though I don’t want to take anyone’s hunting rifle.

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Hello, Gstanto - and welcome to the forum!

It is super easy right now to find militant sounding alarmists in either side of the political aisle who do a good job making the other side sound eminently reasonable in comparison. You are correct that this doesn’t just apply to conservatives. There are plenty of liberals who say things that probably help explain why conservative reactionism looks like it does now. So conservatives aren’t the only ones who need to do a lot of soul-searching in front of a mirror.

I think it safe to say that both sides seen in their better lights (which will not be the caricatures put forward by their opponents) have much of essential value to offer to our political system. So I wouldn’t depend on caricatures from opposing sides for definition. Seek out a thoughtful liberal to know more about their side, and a thoughtful conservative to learn about theirs.

Our forum here is supposed to steer away from politics, but as you can see, we sometimes get a little fuzzy about enforcing that - though we tighten up in hurry if tone or civility degenerates.


One of the ones she mentioned was vaccines, forcing families to vaccine whether or not they want to. I personally think vaccines are important, but I do have friends who are adamantly opposed. I am not trying to get into that particular issue, just giving one of the examples she gave. Since a lot of anti-vaxxers are opposed on religious grounds, it seems to me that that would be giving over freedom, but of course that brings into questions harming someone else by not vaccinating…which is really what all of the fighting over COVID is about…

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Thank you for the welcome. And I do apologize for going into politics on a scientific forum. The title just caught my eye and like I said, it has been so pleasing to see some level of thoughtfulness in responses here.

My friend is thoughtful, perhaps too much so? Her husband is a physicist and she is working on a masters in philosophy. She hasn’t been angry in her responses, which almost scared me more than what she was saying. A lot of people may say things angrily on social media or wherever, but there is rarely thought put into it and so it doesn’t make me worry (as much). This was cold “reasoning”.

In any case, I am happy to take these questions elsewhere if anyone has suggestions for a political forum that has similar calm tones to the ones I see here…

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Oh - I wasn’t meaning at all to chase you away! There are existing threads here about antivaxxer issues, and that very much is on our scientific and theological radar! Please … hang around to ask all the questions you want. Start new threads too if you wish.

Those two things seem mutually exclusive to me. :wink: But anyway, let me welcome you as well. I think we generally fare pretty well when we’re able to discuss sociopolitical issues in general terms, especially when it comes to topics that are related to science and faith. What is probably best avoided is references to parties and candidates or other hot-button issues not related to the science/faith discussion.

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I didn’t mean that I was going anywhere. :slight_smile: Just that I was going to take political questions elsewhere. I like this site. Learning about theistic evolution has been a welcome corrective to my fundamentalist upbringing. Anyway, thank you again for the welcome.


Lol, you’re right. I probably am wishing upon a star with that one. Anyway, thank you also for the welcome. I understand what you are saying and will keep that in mind in the future.

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I’m hoping not to cross the line from talking about politics in general to specific political opinion. I think @MarkD has a good point about liberal and conservative needing each other. Let me know if overstep!

Welcome GStanto! :grinning:

I think it’s a matter of perspective which side is in favor of protecting or restricting rights (and which rights). The one that worries me most at the moment is contact tracing via our cell phones, and what that means for our civil liberties. I think we should all be concerned. That’s another topic at least, and I mention it only as an example of the next political football.

Anti-Vax is not just a religious issue. Dare I risk my opinion? … Let me put it this way … I’m an agnostic liberal, and I think Anti-Vax is a huge problem on the political far-Left. Someone objecting on religious grounds at least has a basic basis for that belief, even if I do not agree. The Anti-Vax left regularly cite source that misrepresent facts, or contain outright lies, and will not reconsider even when shown the original source.

Sorry for that last rant, but these folks have been running rampant on FB these past few weeks.

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Good example. I’m for excluding unvaccinated children from interaction with children in the general population who are protected for the protection of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Sorry about my typing. My computer is having issues so I’m a my phone. I may be away more until that clears up. But isn’t because I’ve lost interest. My fingers are just too fat for this.

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There are also some rights ( depending on what we are defining as rights ) about how much of our income we can keep and even some decent pushback on things like do the rights of girls in a high school locker room outweigh the rights of a boy who is transgendered and wants to change in the girls locker room type of issues too.

Then in this specific pandemic there is the issue they mentioned of concerning business rights and citizens rights and how much control can the government have over its citizens.

But both sides are just that. Neither side is better or worse or righteous or not. They focus on different things and stack their priorities differently. I’m neither. My conservative friends think I’m liberal and my liberal friends think I’m conservative.


This is all biology. I don’t find Pirsig’s hyperbole helpful at all. As in 2001’s stunning leap of a million years, our hands are smarter than our heads and always will be. So? I find Haidt’s The Righteous Mind infinitely more helpful and he endorses the thread title as it is a truism. They’re essential in that they are of our genetic essence.

Well Pirsig’s analysis works for me in that it has given me new appreciation for conservatism which I didn’t have before. I think it helps to explain social evolution. I needed it to be made simple to see the need for both points of view.

How does Haidt’s analysis differ and how do you find it helpful?

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It’s been really strange to observe what an odd sort of “equalizer” this one issue seems to be. I guess if you go far enough to an extreme on both sides, you’ll eventually find overlap. To be fair, I think many on the “religious” side are just as adept at misrepresenting the facts, and I’m not sure how much of the objection truly stems from religion, but I’m not privy to others’ motivations.

I think it’s similar in many other topics in subcultures that find an identity in diverging from the mainstream. Other forms of “alternative medicine” may count right-wing Christians and very liberal religious “nones” among their followers, who would be on completely opposite sides on many other political issues.

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