Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of those eighteenth-century deists clearly did think that designing a constitution was like designing a giant clock, a clock that might run forever if they chose the right springs and gears.
Do read the whole thing. My comments:
1. This lecture could have fit in perfectly with the theme of American Exceptionalism.
2. The belief in the fragility of civilization (or, in this case, liberal democracy) is very conservative. It gets you to the civilization vs. barbarism axis. Haidt must be aware of this, as he has read The Three Languages of Politics and told me he is a fan.
3. Haidt sees a rise of extremism within two institutions: the Republican Party, which he sees as having moved hard right; and the college campus, which he sees as moving hard left.
From the where I and most of my readers sit, blaming all of the polarization in Washington on Republicans seems wrong. We probably are more inclined to recall examples of Republican weakness than Republican recalcitrance.
I recall once bitterly accusing President Obama of taking his political views from the faculty lounge of the sociology department. In other words, I saw the Democratic leader as a creature of the campus left. Granted, that was uncharitable as a blanket statement, but to the extent that there is truth in it, you have to admit that some of the radicalism in Washington has been on the Democratic side.
But let us not pursue that argument. Rather than dismiss Haidt’s view here, let us assume that we are too far to the right to be objective.
4. Haidt is optimistic that his Heterodox Academy project and other efforts will restore reason, free speech, and political diversity to college campuses. We shall see. My fear is that we will see Haidt get more and more invitations to reach conservative audiences (we saw him speak with Jordan Peterson, and this speech was given at the Manhattan Institute). But he will get fewer and fewer invitations to speak on college campuses, where the views expressed in the paragraph I quoted will make him unwelcome.