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Are free marketeers sociopaths?

How important is empathy, and do conservatives, libertarians, and other free marketeers lack it? Does that make us sociopaths?

Terrence Watson - July 24, 2008

"And please, folks, mock if you must, but don't tell me what I feel when I see a picture of a mother and daughter like the one above. Don't project your almost sociopathic lack of empathy onto others. We on the Left aren't like you. We could never be like you. We're better than you are. Your politics aren't politics at all; they're just one fat character flaw."

Is there something to Dawg's criticism?

Dawg's attack on those on the right is a familiar one.

In my experience, conservatives and libertarians are often accused of lacking
empathy. If we were as empathetic as liberals, we would recognize that the state has a legitimate role to play in helping the poor and the unlucky. We should be happy that our taxes are used to provide for those who need it the most. To object to the redistribution of wealth is to reveal only a base selfishness, or a "sociopathic lack of empathy."

While I'm tempted here to suggest that even the Nunez's would be better off if the state lowered taxes and got off our backs, I'm more interested in addressing Dawg's central claim: that those on the right are profoundly lacking in empathy, and that this is a serious character flaw.

My immediate reaction to Dawg's claim is to point out that empathy can itself be a character flaw, if manifested in the wrong ways. Some people simply don't deserve our empathy. Empathy is most warranted when it is a response to harm that befalls people for no fault of their own.

Think of people who lose everything in an earthquake. As far as I know, conservatives are not usually reluctant to aid those who suffer from natural disasters. Arthur C. Brooke, author of "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism" found to his surprise that those who espouse "conservative" values tend to be more generous than those who do not.

To be fair, this doesn't show that conservatives are more empathetic than liberals. They could be giving more because they feel they have a duty to do so, for example, and not because they "feel sorry" for the suffering in the way empathy requires. But Brooke's findings are at least suggestive.

More articles by Terrence Watson