Podcast podcast
Jul 20 2022

Oliver Traldi joins Theodore Kupfer to discuss the role of expertise in American life, the origins and future of wokeness, and the sources of political belief.

Audio Transcript

Teddy Kupfer: Welcome back to 10 Blocks. This is Teddy Kupfer, an associate editor of City Journal, and I'm joined today by Oliver Traldi, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Notre Dame and a writing fellow at Heterodox Academy.

Oliver's popular writing covers what we might call metapolitics: the norms of our political discourse, the comings and goings of political fads, demystifying what we're really doing when we're having debates. This work can be found in the pages of National Review, Quillette, and of course City Journal, and Oliver is working on a book project that will be titled Political Beliefs: A Philosophical Introduction. So Oliver, thank you very much for joining.

Oliver Traldi: Thank you for having me.

Teddy Kupfer: Why don't we start with a tricky subject these days: expertise. There was a book published a few years ago by a writer named Tom Nichols, who now writes for the Atlantic, called The Death of Expertise. Nichols lamented that we are living in dangerous times. As he wrote, "People have never had access to so much knowledge and yet been so resistant to learning anything."

But as you recently observed, learning from experts is actually an interesting problem. How should we evaluate claims made by experts when we might not possess the domain-specific information that they do? How can a layman adjudicate a dispute between two subject-matter experts in a complicated field? And indeed, the role of expertise in society seems to be an urgent problem today. If you open an article in the New York Times, the Washington Post, you're likely to see a story treating the opinions of experts with dubious credentials as authoritative. So if reliance on expertise means deferring to expert knowledge, what should small-d democrats make of this notion that we should just sit back and trust the people with expert knowledge to run society?

Oliver Traldi: I definitely think that a small-d democrat should make their political participation as informed as it should be, as it could be, as it can be. And that can definitely involve listening to experts. But I think that people have a lot of uncertainty about experts. Laypeople have, even some people who are educated in elite institutions have, and they are often justified in this.

One cause of this, as you mentioned, is simply the difficulty in identifying experts. As a layperson, I'm confronted with all these people on talk shows, on political shows, they're all saying, "We need to do this, we need to do that. Here's the situation with Covid, here's the situation with the economy, here's the situation in the Ukraine." Right? And I need to evaluate all those claims, but I don't have any knowledge that will help me settle those disagreements.

In order to evaluate the claims, I have to kind of evaluate the people. Now, this is something that in philosophy we're often very hesitant to say people should do. We call it ad hominem: we're going towards the people rather than towards the argument. But it's not ad hominem, because it's simply what we do every day when we decide who to trust. If you're in a new city, you walk down the street, you ask somebody where a certain landmark is and they point you in a certain direction, you have to decide whether to trust them or whether they're making fun of you, having you on.

So that's one source. But another source of distrust of experts, which I think is at least as politically salient, is simply that the experts don't often... Well, maybe often is the wrong word. They don't always seem to get it right. My political awareness has been peppered by a series of expert failures. I think the Iraq war was a failure of at least the apparent experts, the people who presented themselves as experts. The economic crash of 2007, 2008, the housing crash, the credit default swap implosion was a failure of experts. In a way the Trump election was a failure of experts. Many political experts said he had no chance.

And many aspects of Covid were a failure of experts as well. The Covid response, the bungling of whether masks worked, the bungling of whether to close down transportation, and even questions about the source of the virus itself seem to have been mishandled by experts. Now, one response I sometimes get when discussing this issue is something like, "Those aren't the real experts," or, "The experts were just saying certain things in order to try to get the public to do the right things, and they had to tell these noble lies." And I just think that from the perspective of a member of the public, that doesn't really matter that much, right?

If you say, "Well, those weren't the real experts, the real experts were people you would never have heard of in some cloistered ivy laden ivory tower somewhere," that doesn't really help the lay person, right? They're presented with a certain series of apparent experts, socially credentialed experts, experts who are, as you said, quoted in papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, put on talk shows, things like that. And those are the people that the layperson has to evaluate. The layperson isn't going to have time to look at the faculty list of every university in the United States or even read magazines like the ones I write for. And so the lay person is in a lot of trouble. Even if there are experts out there somewhere, the lay person doesn't know how to find them.

Teddy Kupfer: You offer some recommendations in the article for the layperson to evaluate expertise. And there's a sort of interesting distinction here that I gather is one made in philosophy all the time, between knowledge-how and knowledge-that.

You begin the article by talking about a New Yorker cartoon seeming to mock the notion that the regular person knows better than the expert how to run society. There's a man in a plane, facing the cabin, and saying, "These smug pilots are out of touch with us regular passengers. Who thinks that I should be the one to get up and fly the plane?" But as you point out, there are two types of knowledge. The kind that a pilot has, knowledge-how: How do you fly a plane? And then knowledge-that: I know that something is true, I know that something is the case. And you point out that this distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that helps render this idea that society is like the plane moot; the analogy doesn't hold up. So why don't you explain this distinction and how it can be useful?

Oliver Traldi: The distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that is exactly what you said. It's a pretty straightforward distinction. We can become more expert in accomplishing or taking part in or engaging in certain kind of activities. We learn how to tie our shoes, we learn how to cook certain dishes, things like that. We learn how to ride bicycles or drive cars or play musical instruments or play video games. So that's what we mean by knowledge-how. Just a very, very rough characterization. And knowledge-that is learning facts about the world, learning information about the world.

Now, I don't mean to rest too much on this distinction. One question would be, okay, somebody has a lot of knowledge-that in terms of economics or parts of society, right? And then they come up with some idea about how to run society, and you need to have some sense of how they're able to make that connection. How do you get from all of the things they've learned to them being able to organize society in the right way?

In the particular example of flying a plane, I think something that's good about knowledge-how is that often it can just simply be demonstrated. So you can watch somebody driving a car, you can watch somebody flying an airplane, and you can sort of see. It's obvious that they have that knowledge because you know what it would look like for them to have it, and you know what it would look like for them to not have it, right? The plane would crash or the plane would land. Those are clear differences.

So it makes the issue of identifying the expert sort of moot. Whereas in the knowledge-that case, you can claim to have a lot of knowledge, you can say, "I know this about economics, I know this about society, I know this about international relations," and so on. But me not being the person who has the knowledge itself, I also seem to lack a way of identifying it.

Now, this isn't true for all knowledge-that, right? You could say, "Well, I have the knowledge that it's going to rain tomorrow," and I say, "Okay, well I just need to wait until it's tomorrow, and then I can test you on it," right? And of course, knowledge-that and knowledge-how are connected. The knowledge that certain diseases have certain symptoms is connected to the knowledge of how to diagnose as a doctor. But the main issue is, how do we test somebody for their knowledge? How do we test somebody for their expertise? How do they demonstrate it?

And so with knowledge-how, there seem to be easy ways. They simply do the thing that they're claiming to be able to do. And with knowledge-that, it can be much more complicated.

Teddy Kupfer: One thing I think about when we start having these debates about expertise is common sense. This is a very powerful rhetorical idea in politics. There's no shortage of populist traditions and politicians who say that elites have lost touch with the common sense of society. This was a very important strain in Reaganism, and even neoconservative intellectuals would point out, especially on something like crime, that academic criminologists, sociologists, what have you, had argued that, for example, incarcerating people will not reduce the crime rate. These figures argued such a position was out of touch with the common sense of society.

This can feel like an underbaked idea. It can feel demagogic, and people who extol the role of experts often say as much: that the masses have been led astray by some irresponsible demagogue, and common sense is not something that we should let drive the bus. But in philosophy, there really is a role for intuitions in making arguments. There really is a debate over the role that intuitions should play when we're having an exchange. What do you make of this idea that it's important to take a step back and just appeal to what you might feel in your gut?

Oliver Traldi: It doesn't seem that philosophy can work any other way than by this, right? You kind of have to start somewhere in your philosophizing, and it seems for it to be better to be something that is very strongly held, a stronger foundation. It might be you start from the proposition that there is an external world, or there is such a thing as right and wrong, or I don't know, that words mean things or that something exists. You have to start from one of these foundational ideas and then see what you can work out, expanding on that.

Now it is true that in philosophy, just like in many other places, the growing politicization of philosophy, which I've written about a little bit and other people have written about with regards to the academy as a whole, has led some philosophers to say, "Look, we shouldn't be taking these intuitions for granted. We should be debunking these intuitions. We should be thinking about the sources of these intuitions. We should be doing genealogies of these intuitions. And we should be thinking about the idea that maybe we shouldn't be respecting them that much. Maybe we should be trying to replace them with more political intuitions, more progressive intuitions."

Obviously you can probably tell from the way I'm talking about it, or you know me, so you know that that's not the sort of project I'm usually behind. But it's similar to what you see in politics. Recently, this is such a perfect example I'm never going to give it up, there's a Democratic media and policy guy on Twitter. He has me blocked, but I managed to click through and see this tweet anyway. He said something about, the only reason anybody thinks inflation is going on is because the media told them it was. Nobody would ever have noticed without there being so much reporting on it. You know?

That is an attitude that I see as very, very opposed to my own. This idea that media narratives and propaganda and warping reality through these things, that's where people really get their ideas, that they're just listening for these messages from on high. And if you believe that, then you're going to think there should be a very, very pronounced role for experts, because you're going to think there need to be these people who take control of the public narrative and tell people what the right things to think are.

If you think people are never going to think for themselves anyway, never going to get real empirical feedback from the world around them anyway, never going to notice on their own that something like inflation is going on anyway, then sure, you're going to think, "We, the good people, need to control the narrative. We need to control the news, opinion pieces maybe even, and we need to deplatform the people who are lying or being evil, things like that."

But if you're like me, you sort of think, well, maybe people are self interested, but they're going to be actively developing their sense of their own interest. They're going to be noticing when things cost more. They're going to be noticing what's going on in their communities. Right? They're going to be worried about crime when crimes are happening. And for the most part, when crimes aren't happening, they're going to be worried about other things.

Now, this is complicated. America is a large country and we're in the internet era, right? Something that happened with critical race theory stuff was, it did seem at some points that a lot of people who were concerned about it were concerned about it happening elsewhere, not in their own school district necessarily. So in that case, you might think, "Okay, somebody is concerned about something that's happening in a different part of the country or a different part of the world. They must have heard it somewhere, and maybe there's some effects of how that media is presented."

But I think that the things that people really feel the most strongly, that's going to be things coming from their own community, things that they've felt themselves. And I don't think media manipulation generally plays an enormous role in people's reception of those things. I think people are genuinely getting information from the world around them. Maybe they don't know the solutions, but they're looking for politicians who can offer solutions.

Teddy Kupfer: All right, let's switch gears a bit. You wrote an article recently for City Journal on the website, making the case that the U.S. has passed what you called peak woke, that wokeness is, all things considered, on the downswing. This might be welcome or unwelcome news to the listener, but why don't you sketch out the argument of it?

Oliver Traldi: Yeah. So even in the article, the argument was kind of just sketched. It's an idea that I've been thinking about for a while. I ran it by some people a few months ago and they thought I was being very, very optimistic, but maybe I'm just an optimistic person. The idea's basically that this phenomenon of the great awokening or wokeness that we started to see maybe a decade ago coming off of earlier trends of political correctness, identity politics, social justice, those sorts of things, all the online social justice warriors, keyboard warriors, the cancel culture, the callout culture, people getting fired for making jokes on Twitter, people being kept out of the academy for having conservative views, things like that.

My idea was basically, I think we're seeing this being effectively pushed back. We're seeing some people being convinced that it's wrong, that it's bad, that it's bad even for them. And there's a bunch of causes of this. One is just people realize it's not effective on the large scale of American politics, right? The wokest candidates in the Democratic Primary in 2020 didn't do that well. Biden was the oldest and stodgiest candidate, and his vice presidential pick Kamela Harris was arguably one of the woker candidates, but was also a former prosecutor and also has not necessarily distinguished herself too much as Vice President. And the anti-CRT push from Chris Rufo has been very successful, and the Virginia governor's race. I don't remember the details there, but CRT stuff was a big issue.

Most people seem to agree that there's been little bit of an overreach on transgender issues, especially on gender and sports, things like gender in prisons. There's a story about a transgender woman who impregnated two other women. People seem to agree that there's something odd going on there, something strange going on there. And of course woke stuff during Covid, a lot of it was very ridiculous. In the early days of Covid, there was all this, "It's racist to think that Covid is going to be horrible," it's anti-Chinese or something. And that just completely missed the mark, completely unserious.

Teddy Kupfer: So across multiple indicators, it seems to be at least no longer ascendant, and no longer to hold the kind of power that it once did over many people's minds. Is that the idea?

Oliver Traldi: Yeah, exactly, yeah. So people have realized it's bad political strategy, and I think people have also been convinced, me hoping that people are rational, thinking that people try to come up with the right beliefs and try to be serious about things, I think people have also been convinced to a degree that a lot of the woke ideas are not great. And also, another piece of evidence that I cite is just the rise of Substack, the fact that a lot of successful journalists have gone there, mostly anti-woke. Substack is a largely anti-woke platform. In a lot of ways, it's sort of beating out traditional journalism, traditional op-ed pages.

So yeah, those are a few sources of evidence. In terms of people's beliefs, a lot of it for me is just anecdotal. When I talk to the sort of people who used to lecture me or call me names maybe six or seven years ago, racist or sexist or whatever, they don't really do that anymore. They've taken on the anti-woke critique to a degree. And the other piece of evidence I cite, which I think is really important, this article from Ryan Grim in the Intercept, basically about woke stuff taking over progressive organizations in a way that even progressives don't like, right?

A lot of people on the right think wokeness simply is progressive or Democratic politics, but I don't think that's right. Real concrete politics is always pointed towards achieving some external goal, getting some legislation passed or something like that. And the woke stuff in political organizations is all very internal. It's all about, is there enough mental health support, or did you give me a day off after this crisis or that? And so I think a lot of progressives are seeing their own organizations being imploded from this stuff.

A lot of D.C.-area progressive thinktanks and nonprofits are having to deal with this stuff. When I talk to my friends there, they say, "Oh yeah, the article's been passed around. We basically all agree with it." I'm talking about people in their thirties, millennials and older than that, and so they're basically all seeing how, even if they kind of agree at the policy level or this or that woke issue, maybe Black Lives Matter or maybe transgender issues or what have you, they sort of see at the institutional level, there's this problem that it causes where they can't really do their work. They're hiring people who don't really seem to be that invested in accomplishing anything. And they end up having basically the same view that maybe a conservative in the academy might have.

Teddy Kupfer: Sure. So I want to ask about wokeness itself. To understand where it might be going, it'd be useful to understand where it came from, but nobody seems to quite agree. There are folks on the left who tend to deny that wokeness qua wokeness exists. Jamelle Bouie has intimated that he thinks it's essentially a slur, that it doesn't denote a real phenomenon, and that it's basically used as a pejorative against certain groups.

And then among people who do believe that wokeness exists, there are lots of different genealogies or accounts of where it came from. There are idealist accounts that focus on the influence of particular arguments over time, so you can think of Jordan Peterson citing the work of the Frankfurt School or "postmodern neo-Marxism" and saying what we see today is an extension of these ideas. There are economic accounts that focus on the alleged incentives for corporate leaders who adopt the language of wokeness: the Ross Douthat "woke capital" argument, or the situation of younger members of the managerial class, the "woke labor" arguments that we've seen Josh Barro and Malcolm Kyeyune make.

There have been sociological accounts that focus on the creation and perpetuation of new institutional norms. Charles Lehman and Gabe Rossman have made this case in City Journal, and our friend Aaron Sibarium talks about it on Twitter sometimes. And there have been legalist accounts that see all of this as an essentially elaborate exercise in liability avoidance after the civil rights laws. Richard Hanania and Christopher Caldwell have made this point.

I'm curious what you make of all of these various attempts. Why do we spend so much time talking about this thing when we can't quite agree where it comes from?

Oliver Traldi: Yeah, so I think you gave a great rundown of the different accounts, and I honestly think for me as a philosopher, I don't know if an article like this exists, but I would love to just see an article that's like, "Let's lay out all the different theories of wokeness, all the different accounts of what it means and accounts of what its causes are." I would love to see something that just lays them out all next to each other.

I've explored different aspects of these. I've tweeted about different aspects of these, and I wrote an article for the Bellows that was very much about the material side, the professional managerial class, and the elite overproduction thesis and things like that. That was a couple years ago now. But basically each time I get committed to one of these theories, I eventually find it being lacking, because it fails to capture something that one of the other theories captures.

So my current view is a kind of perfect-storm view, where all these things developed and they just all contributed to the phenomenon, and maybe they were all even necessary for the phenomenon of wokeness. I don't think you can tie wokeness to any particular cause. In particular, when I reviewed the book Cynical Theories, which gives one of the genealogical theories that says it all comes from the French, Derrida, Foucault, these French postmodernist philosophers, I don't find that very plausible. Wokeness, in many ways, departs from postmodernism.

Even if it didn't, you would have to explain why postmodernism was so popular among these people. It's not like it's intuitively convincing. It's usually very bad philosophy, so you would have to explain why people were actually convinced by it, right? Which the book really does not do. Like a lot of intellectual history, this is why I'm pretty skeptical about a lot of intellectual history that I read, it basically says, "Look at this idea. I've found something that's a little bit like this idea in another place, so therefore there must be some causal connection," right?

Teddy Kupfer: Sort of like Ideas Have Consequences, the idea that nominalism and William of Ockham have destroyed modern society.

Oliver Traldi: Yeah. And it's not exactly that I think ideas don't have consequences, but I think many, many other things have consequences too. So that's why I don't like the genealogical side. The reason that I abandoned the materialist approach was basically I saw in a small internet crowd that I'm part of, a sort of video game crowd where I'm anonymous there, I just saw a cancellation that had no material stakes. I saw somebody being kicked out of the group where there was no job on the line, nobody was trying to gain anything, nobody was making money from it or anything. It was very, very pure social ostracism.

And I basically think that it was either opportunistic in a nonmaterial way, where people just really liked having a reason to ostracize somebody and a reason to bully someone, or the more likely thing is that it was heartfelt. These people were genuine, true believers in wokeness, and they simply thought it was the right thing to do to kick this person out of the group for these ridiculous woke reasons. And I think any theory of wokeness needs to make room for true believers and needs to make room for cancellations that are purely social, that have nothing to do with people's jobs.

You start to hear stories of things happening on undergraduate campuses, all among wealthy elite former private school students and things like that. And it doesn't seem that in those cases, there are any class differences, no professional consequences, it's all social. Of course it can be about getting something, but it doesn't have to be something material. It can be the pleasure of kicking somebody out of a group. It can be higher standing for yourself because you seem to have the power to kick people out of the group. And so the class theories, the PMC theories, I think they're an important part and I like the people who run them, but I don't think they're convincing, I don't think they're complete.

And the legalistic theories, again, it doesn't make room for the true believers, right? It doesn't make room for the people who really, really are convinced by wokeness. It explains the institutional arrangements, but take affirmative action. The law says that you can engage in affirmative action, but every institution does engage in affirmative action. You need to explain. The litigation avoidance theorists are in a very similar position to the sort of "America is a racist country" theorists who are progressive, where you need to explain, if America is so racist, why do all of our elite institutions engage in affirmative action?

And wokeness? You know, one of my ideas about how to explain wokeness is, a lot of wokeness is simply taking affirmative action and saying, "You need to practice this as an individual. You need to have this in your hearts." Right? In my piece for Quillette on affirmative action, I basically suggested that this is what Robin DiAngelo does. In all of your interactions, you need to be practicing affirmative action. And studies have shown that white progressive liberals use shorter words when talking to people of color and stuff like that. It's clear that there's something that's incredibly condescending and patronizing about wokeness in a way that you might think is also true of affirmative action.

So basically I think all these theories capture something but none of them capture everything, if that makes sense.

Teddy Kupfer: Finally, I want to talk a bit about your book project. We've been talking today about the nature of expertise in politics and where particular views might come from. Lots of people spend a lot of time thinking about, writing about, and working on politics, acquiring object-level expertise on a given public-policy issue or a matter of political strategy. "I know how this tax credit works, I know how to pass a bill." But there aren't as many meta-level experts on the sources of these beliefs.

I spend a lot of time on my day job editing opinion pieces, and I spend a fair amount of time thinking about whether the arguments make sense, are rigorous, are well made. But I don't spend as much time thinking about why they might be appealing to me or to the author or to the readers. So first, what are you trying to accomplish? Is the idea to bring to bear some of your philosophical chops to the capital-d discourse, which can so often be so crazy?

Oliver Traldi: Yeah, so I don't even know how much this book will enter the discourse. Originally I conceived it as a textbook. So the idea is basically to figure out how to use politics to some degree as just an example to teach undergrads about making good philosophical arguments and things like that. And as a vehicle for thinking about epistemology, which is this subdiscipline in philosophy that I work in, where the topic is just, how should we form our beliefs, what reasons should we have for our beliefs, and things like that, or which sorts of reasons are the good ones?

In terms of what I'm hoping to accomplish with it, yeah, that's a good question. I think I'm not yet at the point where I can say, "Here's a large theory of how you ought to form your political beliefs." It's going to be much more topical and, what's the right word, scattershot than that. So it's going to be, first of all, how should we deal with the fact that there are a lot of people who disagree with us? On most topics, if you said, "Well, 50% of people think this, 50% of people think that," you might feel some pressure to say, "Well, it's 50-50, so it's really hard to decide." On politics, we don't seem to feel this pressure. If anything, sometimes when people disagree with us, we become more convinced of our views somehow.

There's a whole literature on the theory of disagreement in philosophy that has been in some cases related to politics, but I'm going to try to do it a bit more rigorously. And then related to disagreement, disagreement, it's the word we use in philosophy for when you have a different belief than somebody with similar knowledge to you and reasoning ability to you. Then there's this stuff about expertise that we've already talked about. How do we identify the people with better knowledge and expertise? There's sort of a whole rundown that I do there, and expertise is a topic that a lot of philosophers have taken for granted, and I try to do it more justice in this book, or I will try to do it more justice.

And then there's a bunch of little topics, like philosophers have argued about whether it's possible to rationally believe a conspiracy theory. Maybe every conspiracy theory is irrational. That seems like a really strong view, strong in the sense of it's a reach, right? It's very universal. It doesn't make room for exceptions. So I'll run down arguments people have made for that. Then there's all this discussion of political polarization. Polarization is maybe the most important phenomenon of political belief in the US. The fact that you find these different groups, basically two big groups of belief clusters, and they seem to be moving apart from each other. So there's all this debate about, what am I rationally required to do when I realize I'm part of a belief cluster?

So yeah, it's going to be a little bit scattershot, it's going to engage with a lot of previously existing philosophical literature. And n the end, I don't know if it's going to offer much positive guidance. I think to a degree, the more that I've thought about this stuff... And this is something that always happens with epistemology. The more that you think about epistemology, the more you start to wonder whether we know anything at all or should believe anything at all, just like Descartes.

So I don't have a positive view yet. I started to wonder, is there really anything that we ought to believe about politics? Maybe there's so much disagreement and so much unclarity out there, and people have such bad track records in politics, that we should just be political skeptics, we shouldn't necessarily have any political beliefs at all. That's just a view that I'm considering, not a view that many people seem to hold, but yeah.

Teddy Kupfer: So I want to close by drilling down on one of these questions, that of rationality and political belief. Some scholars seem to believe that polarization and even our political views themselves tend to be a matter more of attitudes than of belief. On this view, what seems like a country that can't agree on anything, whether it's basic facts or value judgements, is actually a country where people possess pretty flexible ideological views, and the disdain for the partisan out-group is mostly a tribal, expressive thing.

This position is associated with thinkers such as Jason Brennan and Larry Bartels. It tends to counsel skepticism that Americans, or at least many Americans, hold stable and coherent policy preferences. But on the other hand, we do have some real evidence from polling and experience that Americans tend to be, for example, dispositionally conservative but operationally liberal, or that they hold real positions on, say, social security reform. So I'm not going to ask you to give a grand unified theory of where political beliefs come from, but as somebody who earlier in the podcast was defending the idea that our political beliefs are at least in part rationally grounded, what do you make of this argument?

Oliver Traldi: Yeah, so I think it's one of the theories that you have to engage with if you're writing this kind of book or teaching this kind of course. And yeah, at the extreme you can present this theory as just being, people don't even really have political beliefs at all, they just have political affiliations. One question you might have in response to a theory of this is, "Okay, so people don't have their political beliefs. So where do their political affiliations come from? How do people form these political affiliations?" Because you can have very, very similar people in a lot of ways who have very, very different political affiliations.

This is one reason why Karl Marx, in his class based theory, doesn't really give a satisfying theory of political belief. Because it just is the case that within a class there's a ton of disagreement about what is right and wrong to do in politics. So basically you can't simply say, "Okay, the proletariat have these beliefs, the bourgeois have these beliefs, the aristocracy have these beliefs," because within those classes, there's plenty of disagreement. So if you really want an explanation of how people come up with their political beliefs, you need a lot more information than that. You need to go a lot more fine grain than that.

So similarly, here you have to figure out, what is it that drives these affiliations? Where do these affiliations come from, if not some initial set of political beliefs? One thing that you might have... So in the case where a lot of Republicans became more skeptical of free trade after Donald Trump was opposed to it, you might say, okay, people have their core political beliefs, and that indicates to them who is trustworthy, who the experts are in some sense. And then they're willing to change the periphery of their political beliefs, but maybe those core political beliefs wouldn't change, and it's only the other political beliefs on which they defer.

I don't know exactly the right way to respond to this position. I think it's one of the positions that you simply have to engage with based on a lot of literature about what people believe and how they express it. And another thing that goes as support for this is that if you ask people their political beliefs, they can express them very strongly and there's polarization between right and left. And then you ask people to bet on them, and the more you ask them to bet, the closer the beliefs get together, right? So that indicates that there's less disagreement than we would think.

So yeah, I think it's a difficult question, but there's stuff that remains to the people who think that political beliefs are just this ephemera, this side effect of affiliation or whatever, you have to explain what the main effect is. You have to explain where that comes from as well. So that's one challenge I would make to that kind of theorist. But in general, it's one of the most difficult challenges for someone like me.

Teddy Kupfer: Thank you very much Oliver, fascinating stuff as always. Listeners, don't forget to check out Oliver's work on the City Journal website. We will link to his author page in the description, and we'll also link to some of the other writings for other outlets that he had mentioned today.

You can also find City Journal on Twitter @CityJournal and on Instagram @cityjournal_mi, and Oliver is on Twitter @olivertraldi. As always, if you like what you hear on the podcast, please give us a rating reflecting that, and Oliver, thanks very much for joining me.

Oliver Traldi: Thanks so much for having me.

Photo: calvindexter/iStock

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