Ron Lipsman
Liberal Hearts and Conservative Brains
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Liberals Hearts and Conservative Brains

The quote, "If you are young and not liberal, then you have no heart; but if you are old and not conservative, then you have no brain," is most often attributed to Disraeli or to Churchill. In this book, we shall examine the worthiness of that assessment of the correlation between age and political philosophy as it applies to the people of the United States in the first decade of the 21st century. First of all, is it reasonable to expect the imagination and political passions of America's youth to be fired by the ideas and axioms of modern liberalism, and is it equally reasonable to expect the middle aged and elderly population to adhere to the more conservative tenets of political thought? If so, does the reality match the expectation? Do most people complete a journey, as they advance in years and accumulate experiences, from the left end of the political spectrum to the right side of that spectrum? In fact, I have made the journey myself — from a classic, dyed-in-the-wool, liberal in my teens and 20s to a rock-hard conservative in middle age, and now senior citizen status. Am I typical? If not, why not? These are the questions that I shall explore in this book. In order to do so, we need to describe clearly the distinct ground that is occupied by liberals and conservatives at this point in American history. I accomplish that through four vehicles: a lively discussion of 24 touchstone issues that separate liberal and conservative opinion; the development of a half dozen novel definitions of liberalism and conservatism, each anchored in a different aspect of human endeavor; the formulation of several world views that distinguish the viewpoints of liberals and conservatives; and finally the identification of several mental frameworks or personality traits that characterize liberal and conservative approaches to political topics. This allows me to highlight the stark differences that exist between liberals and conservatives today, a situation I refer to as the liberal/conservative divide. Not surprisingly, this situation has produced a great deal of acrimony between the two political camps. In the book I measure that acrimony against the historical relationship between liberals and conservatives — especially in the last half century. I also present a historical study of the liberal/conservative divide in the US, followed by an assessment of its current status and also a prediction of its future in the next generation. 1 I argue forcefully in the book for the validity of the correlation posited in the subtitle — which I will summarize here in the following statements:
There is indeed a natural tendency for young people to be liberal and for their elders to be conservative. But more to the point, among those who change their political stripes one time in their lifetime, more people go from Left to Right than vice versa.

To see how strong these trends are, you need to read the book. Yet another interesting aspect of the book is that I devote substantial space to those who violate the correlation. I call two particularly intriguing species of these contrarians premature conservatives and aging liberals. There is a robust discussion of the possible causes of these afflictions — especially in the context of two special communities in which I happen to reside: academic faculty and Jewish Americans. I have included a series of personal vignettes, one per chapter, which detail the events in my life that played a major role in my trek from political Left to political Right. The four main objectives of the book are:

  1. to argue for a correlation between age and political philosophy, which asserts that young people tend to gravitate toward liberalism while older people are usually more comfortable with conservatism; and that, additionally, among the people who change their political preference over time, more go from liberal to conservative than vice versa; and finally, to assess the strengths of these trends;
  2. to examine the most interesting counter-examples to these trends — namely, premature conservatives and aging liberals — and to explain what motivates them;
  3. to present a history of the liberal/conservative divide and to augment it with an assessment of its current status as well as a prediction of its future;
  4. to describe, through personal vignettes, the experiences that resulted in my conversion from liberal to conservative.
Finally, some special features of the book that distinguish it from most political literature:
  • Fairness. I suspend value judgments from the main presentation of the liberal and conservative agendas in the first part of the book. Although I freely admit that I am an adherent of the conservative philosophy, I do not allow that potential bias to color my outline of the two agendas. I confine the expression of my personal preferences largely to those portions of the book that are...
  • Personal. Throughout the book, in sections that are clearly marked, I trace my personal experiences as I made my own journey from the liberal to the conservative side of the ledger. The personal vignettes and stories often, but not always, have a Jewish or academic underlying theme.
  • Style. I seek to avoid the appearance of a weighty political tome, replete with cross references, annotations and data from statistical surveys. I prefer to present the book more in the style of a long op/ed piece rather than as an academic government and politics text. Thus, there is only an occasional footnote, a relatively short bibliography and little citation of polling data. This makes for a more lively and entertaining read. Nevertheless, the treatment is...
  • Comprehensive. Fundamental statements of the two competing philosophies are developed, the philosophies are identified by two dozen specific issues that define the respective agendas, issues which are then organized into five broad compartments that afford a definitive conclusion about the correlation I seek.