Last week I read a David Gelertner profile of Benjamin Disraeli in the Weekly Standard that brought up the point that conservatives are driven by pride whereas leftists are driven by shame. He makes the point that American liberals are more like conservatives in that they tend to focus on pride rather than shame (unlike Marxists), but I’m not sure that’s true. I think that I, and most liberals I know, are much more likely to be driven by shame in their political thinking than they are by pride. Asked to name 10 things about America I’m ashamed of, I could dash them off in less than 60 seconds. Asked to name 10 things about America I’m proud of would take a bit longer, I think, and indeed the list would almost certainly include qualifiers.
I don’t need to explain the dangers of pride to anyone of a liberal persuasion. But I do think there are dangers in excess shame as well, mainly in the sense that if your view is that everything we do is wrong or insufficient, you tend to lose credibility. Progress has been made, and many things are better than they once were, and it’s OK to feel proud about that.
What I find particularly interesting is that I don’t feel like I hold myself to the same standards that I hold my country, or the human race. I’m generally forgiving of my own mistakes, and indeed do not look back on my past and feel shame or self loathing. I haven’t drawn any real conclusions yet, I just found the article to be food for thought. And I do think that this shame/pride divide may be the biggest reason why liberals have a hard time communicating with conservatives.