Beliefs, Actions, Wagon-Circling

Late but – as droitblog notes notes that the wagon-circling of conservatives continues unabated, with, in a move I honestly don’t underestand, townhall blogger Matt Lewis declaring Ross Douthat not a true conservative. There’s a similar act of conservative wagon-circling going over with Conor Friedersdorf at theamericanscene being called-out as not a true conservative.

This can only bode well to those who like to see the conservative movement’s future look weak. Especially since I’m still hypnotized by this post from orgtheory (my underline):

Last night I started reading Ziad Munson’s new book, The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works, and it turns out to be a really, really interesting treatment of the processes that lead people to get involved in social movements. The key question motivating the book is, do people join movements because they believe in the cause or do they believe in the cause because they joined the movement? On its face, it seems like the answer would be straightforward – beliefs must precede involvement; why else, if not for beliefs and values, would anyone sacrifice their time and resources to a cause? This is the conventional wisdom of many social movement studies (e.g., recently Klandermans but going all the way back to Tocqueville). But Munson discovers through in-depth qualitative analyses of pro-life activists that this conventional wisdom doesn’t always hold true. Many activists alter their beliefs as the result of participating in a movement. Here is Munson’s summary:

The link between beliefs and action must be turned on its head: real action often precedes meaningful beliefs about an issue. Demographic and attitudinal differences between activists and nonactivists cannot explain why some people join the pro-life movement and others do not. Instead, mobilization occurs when people are drawn into activism through organizational and relational ties, not when they form strong beliefs about abortion. Beliefs about abortion are often underdeveloped, incoherent, and inconsistent until individuals become actively engaged with the movement. The “process of conviction” (Maxwell 2002) is the result of mobilization, not a necessary prerequisite for it (pg. 20).”

I think that is right, though it turns how ideologues normally think of things completely upside down. Instead of needing to isolate true conservatives and then create practices, they should be creating mechanisms for people on the fence to engage with true conservatives. The practice of engagement encourages beliefs, not beliefs that encourage engagement.

I can’t tell if I think the pro-life movement is atypical in this respect. Pro-life ideology certainly ‘hangs together’ very well, and can be abstracted away from the messiness of life as lived. I’m not sure how well that moves into political movements the same way.

I’m a pretty strong liberal when it comes to finance and economic issues, less so with other things. But since starting this blog, I’ve never gotten a “you aren’t a real liberal. I know one when I see it” comment or email (but feel free to change that). Honestly it’s never even come up. Instead I’ve gotten emails saying “keep up the good work” from people all over the spectrum on the left and elsewhere; this has encouraged me to try and write better, which means focusing clearer on what I believe. It also gets me engaged in conversations with others on the left, which often sets the terms for the debate. For example, I’ve heard a lot on health care, but bringing “market discipline” onto the population’s health care needs is not a point-of-view that is brought up very often.

Which is to say Dewey et al had it correct 100 years ago; beliefs are things you do, not things you have.

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2 Responses to Beliefs, Actions, Wagon-Circling

  1. Mike says:

    I’ve finally gotten my first “you aren’t a real liberal. I know one when I see it” email. I’m very happy about it.

  2. Anonymous Ex-Pro-Lifer says:

    interesting, i wonder what my parents would think of that book? they were (no joke) close personal friends of francis schaeffer, who basically invented the pro-life cause (“were” as he’s dead now, they’re not). they’re basically part of generation one of that meme.

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