Posted by Jay Livingston
In a recent post (here), I referred to George Packer’s short essay on the current standoff in Washington. Packer used Max Weber’s distinction between an “ethic of responsibility” and an “ethic of ultimate ends.” Or, in Packer’s words, “between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences.”
Packer said that the Republicans came down on the side of ultimate ends and that they were now extreme in their emphasis on principles regardless of consequences.
A commenter objected to Packer’s choice of words and dismissed his take on conservatives as “caricature.” . But a recent Economist/YouGov poll (here, July 23) suggests that although Packer’s diction may have been undiplomatic, he was essentially correct about the difference between the Republicans and others, a difference that holds not just in Washington but in the electorate generally.
The poll asked.
If you had to choose, would you rather have a congressperson who...
- Compromises to get things done
- Sticks to his or her principles no matter what
Here are the results.
No other variables produced such large differences. Region, sex, age, and education yielded differences of at most a few percentage points. There was an 11-point gap between blacks and whites, High income respondents ($100K and up) were 17 points more likely to want compromise than were those with incomes less than $40K. These differences are dwarfed by the 36-point gap between Democrats and Republicans and the 45-point gap between Liberals and Conservatives. It’s also worth noting that the Independent/Moderates were much closer to the those on their left than to those on their right.
Readers of a certain age or readers of history may remember Barry Goldwater, GOP candidate for president in 1964, and his defense of principled “extremism.” Despite the reverence for Reagan that Republicans often proclaim, it’s Goldwater who may be their true guiding star.