Given that my current idée fixe seems to be the depressing rarity with which people actually understand the views of people with different ideologies, I was pleased to see Tyler Cowen’s attempt at a sympathetic summary of what he sees as an intelligent progressive’s credo—one that at least some progressives apparently recognize as a fair depiction of their beliefs. Matt Yglesias responded to Cowen’s invitation to progressives to do the same for libertarianism, if not entirely in good faith, then at any rate with interesting results: Instead of outlining something a self-described libertarian might accept as a sympathetic portrayal, he outlines the sort of case for a libertarian agenda that a (fairly cynical) progressive with Yglesias’ priors might find somewhat appealing. Disappointingly, if not especially surprisingly, Yglesias’ commenters seem incapable of carrying the thought experiment even this far, since they all understand that libertarianism is not so much a belief system as an adolescent emotional disorder.
His larger point, however, is that true understanding both of the other people and of yourself (or your respective ideologies, rather) comes from seeing people both as they see themselves and as the best way that you can see them, which are not necessarily the same thing.
The goal would be to formulate a thumbnail sketch of an alien ideology that would be recognized and accepted by someone who holds that ideology—if not as an exact description of their beliefs, then at least as a summary of a view that counts as broadly libertarian/progressive/conservative/whatever view. At the same time, you’d try to present such a view in what you regard as its most compelling form—the version of the doctrine that you could most easily imagine yourself embracing. I can pretty easily construct the shortest path (consisting of the fewest significant belief-change “moves”) from my own worldview to [the other’s]….
[…]But the more intriguing possibility is that a smart progressive’s good-faith reformulation of libertarianism might be something that the libertarian, too, could recognize as an improvement—and vice versa. […..]Insofar as ideological modeling trends toward treating the most significant values and causal mechanisms as the only ones worth bothering about, a second pass from an outsider perspective may help find the spots where the framework can be enhanced by adding what was omitted back in. In those cases,the process would generate what I’m calling Pareto-ideologies: Versions of each worldview that both adherents and opponents can agree are stronger or more adequate.
Easier said than done, of course, but that’s no reason not to try. The entire post is worth a read.