It's interesting to analyze people not by how left-wing or right-wing they are, but instead by which direction their mistakes tend to be in. Which direction on the political spectrum should they have moved to make less mistakes?
I have found many of examples of mistakes in a leftward direction. Karl Popper was sympathetic to socialism and disliked the influence of TV. Friedrich Hayek supported a guaranteed minimum income. David Friedman incorrectly conceded points about public goods to anti-capitalists. Bryan Magee, Richard Dawkins, and William Godwin provide further examples. All of these people would be well served by more right-wing attitudes.
It's hard to find good thinkers who could be improved by being more left wing. The best example I've found so far is Ann Coulter.
In other words, here are some mistakes common to the left wing: environmentalism, anti-capitalism and socialism, authoritarianism, anti-Americanism, anti-semitism, cultural relativism, moral relativism, being a revolutionary. And here are some mistakes common to the right wing: homophobia, anti-semitism, being pro-life, creationism, being overly attached to religion over reason, sexism. The items on the first list of mistakes are considerably more common among good thinkers than the items on the second list.
What this means isn't obvious.
One of my beefs is perfectly captured in the final comment, that certain errors are more common among good thinkers - except that I would have to put scare quotes around "good". Maybe the term is "intellectuals" in the sense that Orwell used when he wrote, of some absurdity "You would have to be an intellectual to think that...".
One of the problems here is the clash of two kinds of liberalism and I will reproduce a comment written for another blog. Last night I leaned back in the TV chair, idly plucked a Hayek book off the shelf, opened at random and hit an article on two kinds of liberalism. One kind is known these days as classical liberalism, it comes through Adam Smith and the Scottish enlightenment, through the classical political economists and the free traders like Cobden and Bright with the idea of freedom and tolerance
under the rule of law.
The other kind of liberalism came from the Continent and it is associated
with revolutionary change in pursuit of utopia which is so desirable that
nothing should be allowed to stand in the way. The French Revolution is a
major inspiration for this line of thought and socialism in its various
forms (the State Socialism of Russia and the wordwide communist movement,
the National Socialism of Hitler, Fabianism) became its vehicle. This is the kind of thinking which animates the left-liberal fundamentalists (coercive utopians) of the US and everywhere else with their policies and rhetoric.
When you see the tactics they use, you have to try to remember that they are
doing their very best to bring us a better and sweeter world, but it is
difficult to see how it will ever happen under their leadership!
It helps to remember that the great human disasters of modern times have
been secular movements powered by economic illiteracy. That is why the
socialism of the left liberals is more dangerous than the religious beliefs
that they despise. Socialism is the beam in the eye of the US Democrats,
religion is the mote in the eye of the Republicans.
I agree that there are a lot of "good" intellectuals and they slant to the left.
But I was trying to think of people I genuinely respect. People who's books are worth reading. Popper, Hayek, Friedman, Dawkins, Godwin, Magee are some of my favorite people, at least in the areas they are good at. Lefty silliness by them, especially the first three, worries me.
BTW Magee is an interesting case. As you'll know from Confessions he tried to reform the left wing British party, and they got mad at him for it. And he visited communist countries during the cold war as a journalist, and came back and told people the economic figures were lies and the people there were unhappy. And again the left wing spat on him, though not even the right wing believed him. And then doing TV shows he met capitalist libertarian type people, argued with them at length, and found them considerably more reasonable than socialists or conservatives. All he said in Confessions about his objections to them was a short list of basic points which are all adequately answered in The Machinery of Freedom. Despite all these things he remains a loyal lefty.
- Elliot Temple
Bryan Magee's leftism
Magee was disappointing when he wrote that he came to a position something like "Thatcherism plus welfare", the point is that welfare could be easily covered by private charity if other sensible policies are put in place.
US folk need to appreciate the extent to which socialism became visceral among the overwhelming majority of British intellectuals. I can't explain it but it meant that good people like Russell, Woolf, Orwell and a million other intelligent and humane people stayed socialists to the end of their days despite all evidence and arguments.
As to Popper's leftism, my shorter OSE with commentary has some critical comments in the chapters of vol 2.