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RWN’s Peter Schweizer Interview #2

Written By : John Hawkins
July 16, 2008

I’ve previously interviewed Peter Schweizer about his superb book, Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, and I thought he did a great job.

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So, when I saw that Schweizer had an important new book out, Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less…and Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals, I decided to ask him for another interview. Mr. Schweizer generously agreed and what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

There have been numerous studies that have shown that conservatives are happier people than liberals. You’ve studied that quite a bit in your book, so why do you think that is the case?

I think it’s for a couple of reasons. First of all, modern liberalism tends to emphasize certain qualities that have a negative effect on happiness. The emphasis on envy, on victimhood, I think creates this sense of dissatisfaction that people ordinarily wouldn’t have. So, I think that is a factor.

I also think, on the other side, that conservatives tend to emphasize commitment to family, commitment to God, faith, and something bigger than yourself. Those sorts of ideas and beliefs tend to often encourage good thoughts and good attitudes among people.

You also say conservatives are more generous than liberals. Why do you say that and why do think it’s the case?

Well, the studies consistently show that if you are politically conservative, you are more likely to give money to a charity and more likely to volunteer time to a charity, regardless of income. So, this is not a case where wealthy conservatives are being compared to poor liberals.

The data is pretty clear. It also shows that conservatives tend to give to charities out of a desire to help people, while liberals are more likely to cite that the reason they give to charities is to make a statement. In other words, they view it, in effect, as a political act.

The reason I think is, again, that ideas drive behavior. I’m a strong believer that ideas motivate or discourage certain kinds of behavior. I think that modern liberalism, since the 1960s in particular, has been all about outsourcing your responsibilities — meaning that the government is supposed to take care of you and other people — so I think this encourages that sort of mindset. They (feel) that they gave at the office, they voted for the right political candidate, they believe in the right political causes — so they’ve done their bit for poverty and they’ll leave it to government to spend money on people that have needs.

Have you seen any research on the differences between liberals and conservatives on racist views? If so, what have you found?

What you find is really a mixed bag. Conservatives are more interested in cultures that they are comfortable with and liberals are more interested in different cultures. But, when it comes to attitudes on, for example, anti-Semitism, you find that it’s a myth that has been perpetuated for quite some time that somehow Republicans or conservatives are more anti-Semitic.

The data actually shows that it’s the opposite. If you are politically liberal or identify yourself as a strong Democrat, you are more likely to embrace stereotypes about Jews — that they’re money-seeking, that they’re more prone to violence, etc.

What about selfishness and materialism? Who’s more likely to be materialistic and all about money? Is that a conservative or a liberal?

Well, we’re always, of course, talking about tendencies. There are people that are politically liberal and are not materialistic at all and there are conservatives that tend to be, but the data does show something interesting.

That is that when they’re asked about how important money is and the type of job that they desire, in terms of their values, liberals actually rank it higher than conservatives. They’re more likely to say, for example, that high pay is the main reason for taking a job. They’re also more likely to say that after good health, money is the most important thing to them.

The question, of course, is “why?” My feeling, again, is that this goes back to modern liberal beliefs. Modern liberalism really teaches that the financial yardstick is the yardstick that matters in determining whether society encourages equality or not. Conservatives are interested in equality of opportunity and equality before the law, while liberals tend to be interested in income equality. I think this leads to a preoccupation with a material focus rather than focusing on larger and more important issues.

I also think that there is a satisfaction that often comes to people on the left from believing that they are selfless because of their political belief system. I would argue that in some individuals, that leads them to believe that they in effect have a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card — that they are now able to pursue money and do so aggressively because they have done their bit for income equality because of the ideas that they embrace.

Now just to be fair, what are some positive areas where liberals come in ahead of conservatives?

That’s a very good question. There are some. Liberals tend to be interested in more diverse experiences than conservatives are. They are more interested in foreign travel, for example. They’re more likely to like things that are experimental. I don’t mean in a moral sense, but in the sense of areas like art. Certainly modern art is not to my taste, but liberals do tend to like to try different things. I do think that’s a plus….

Here’s a quote from one of your promos about the book: “Do you get satisfaction from putting someone else’s happiness ahead of your own? Fifty-five percent of conservatives said yes versus only 20 percent of liberals.” So, is it fair to say that conservatives are much more concerned about our fellow citizens and just other people in general than liberals tend to be?

Modern liberalism has tended to focus almost exclusively on “rights” and very little on “responsibility.” So what you find, for example, is that conservatives are more likely to express a desire to get married and more likely to have children. I think that’s because modern liberalism has this self-orientation that focuses on self-actualization, self-worth, and self-focus while conservatism tends to emphasize the importance not just of rights, but of responsibilities — responsibilities to family, responsibilities to community, and responsibilities to country. So, I think what you find is that the sort of hyper-individualism that you find in so much modern liberalism really has an effect on attitudes towards others and whether liberals feel an obligation to help other individuals, friends, or family members.

There have been numerous studies done by academics which show that conservative families tend to be closer than liberal families. Obviously, there are many exceptions — we’re talking about tendencies again — but I think the reason is that liberalism promotes this hyper individualism which says it’s about me, it’s about my self-worth, it’s about my value, about my rights, and that leaves very little room for paying attention to the needs or desires of others.

Let’s say there is someone out there and they love what you said so far and they’re considering buying the book; give them a little promo. Tell them why they want to check your book out.

It allows people to have (a window) into the attitudes that conservatives and liberals have on a whole host of issues that relate to how they live their lives. Oftentimes, we look at the fact that there are blue states and red states and there are conservatives and liberals that tend to vote certain ways, but what this book really talks about is how the liberal world view and conservative world view affects the way people live their lives.

My contention is that modern liberalism, not always, but oftentimes brings out qualities that are not good. It encourages the idea, I believe, that envy is acceptable when it comes to issues on income inequality.

But, I think conservatism on the other hand, oftentimes appeals to our better angels. It encourages this sense of responsibility…a sense of obligation to others. I think that conservatism oftentimes brings out the best in people.

Outstanding. I really appreciate your time!

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