On Monday's Daily Show, the guest was Richard Viguerie. He's a pioneer of political direct mail who has been a key figure in the growth of the conservative movement. He was on there to promote his book, America's Right Turn, which was described as a handbook for how the conservative movement was built. One exchange between he & Jon Stewart caught my attention. Stewart observed how conservatism seems more like a movement while liberalism seems like an assemblage of unrelated causes. This may seem quite obvious, but it long been my opinion that there are no particular principles which connect most policy beliefs of conservatives with each other and that the same is true for most liberal beliefs.

To get the obvious part out of the way, a large part of the difference has long been that conservatives are more willing to tolerate inequality if the price is using the government's coercive power to remedy it, while liberals are more willing to use the government's coercive power to remedy inequality. I believe that is a very value neutral way to state the difference, though I'm open to correction in either direction. Except that if you think that statement is unfair to conservatives you're quite mad. It is not clear that this distinction applies to a Bushian conservative, since Bush has not demonstrated any affection for limited government. But even assuming that this is the fundamental distinction between conservatives and liberals, it doesn't do anything to explain many other correlations of views.

For instance, what does one's view on limited government have to do with pro-life versus pro-choice views? If anything, being in favor of less use of coercive power would bring one towards pro-choice, and being in favor of more use would make one more likely to be pro-life. The reverse is true on gun control, and I suppose there are some big government, pro-life, pro-gun control people. But this is still a very over simplified model. None of these views have any connection with the validity of any particular foreign policy view, and yet I would really be surprised to find more than a very few people holding the first three views who are against the war in Iraq. And this is still a radically simplified vision of the range of policy views. What does one's view on gay marriage have to do with being a limited government conservative? How about evolution/ intelligent design debates? Drug policy? Whether or not the United States government has engaged in torture/abuse, and what are proper interrogation policies? What about education policy? Environmental policy?

I just noticed this post might be taken as my saying it's really a shame that people don't just hew to one principle like small government or big government, and then arguing for libertarianism which actually does stick to the small government view in every case. That's not my point at all. My point is that since people's positions on many of these issues aren't based (and shouldn't be based) on just one principle of the type illustrated above, the ideological uniformity among people who are broadly conservatives or (in my opinion to a much lesser extent) liberals is really strange and that you'd expect to see more people with odd mixes of views on these different subjects. Part of me thinks this may be a naive point that everyone recognizes, but what the hell.