A Political Thought Experiment

This election has me reflecting on American voters, American elites, and political and party ideology. In the Washington Post on Wednesday, I wrote about Republicans realizing their party is no longer the one they signed up for and thus fleeing to the Libertarians.


Which got me pondering more the makeup of the parties and, more broadly, the ideological labels we use. And this raised a thought experiment.

  1. For whatever reason, it’s been decided that the US will be ruled by one of two groups. It’s up to you to decided which. Your choices are (a) conservative academics and intellectuals or (b) progressive academics and intellectuals. Which would you pick?

  2. Same scenario. But instead of academics and intellectuals, the choice is between (a) self-identified conservative voters or (b) self-identified progressive voters. (Assume people’s label is genuine, and so they aren’t lying about affiliation in order to sneak into the ruling group.) Which would you pick?

(Note: I intentionally left “libertarian” out as an option in both.)

I’d expect the most typically answer is (a) for both questions or (b) for both questions. What seems more interesting for the insights it shines on America’s political landscape is the possibility of choosing (a) for one and (b) for the other.

For what it’s worth, that’s where I’d come down. I’d choose conservative academics and intellectuals over their progressive peers, but I’d lean — looking at the political climate as it exists today — progressive voters over conservative voters. Of course, I’d prefer neither, because both groups in both variants hold considerably anti-liberal (in the old sense of the term) beliefs that pose significant dangers to America’s freedom, progress, and prosperity.

But, really, I’m mostly curious what other people think. A or B?