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Clashing matrices: the left, the right and (ir)rationalism

How does (ir)rationalism map onto the left/right divide?  Alex (Mr Sarah) likes the site Quackometer but gave up following Andy Lewis on Twitter because he found his kneejerk left pieties too much (I’ve just followed him!).  For the same reason, even though he has no quarrel with their main agenda, Alex can’t stand Hope not Hate.

As the debates covered by HnH have been canvassed so thoroughly on this site over the years, I thought it might be more interesting to focus on scepticism and (ir)rationalism and consider what kind of correlations there are between people’s stances on these issues and their political profile.  (Clearly those on the left and right may be drawn to different kinds of irrationality, different conspiracy theories, for example.)

One target of Andy Lewis’s displeasure on Quackometer is the Steiner Waldorf system of education. This struck me as an interesting case in relation to the right/left binary.  My sense is that the system seems to attract parents from the liberal left, or one strand of the liberal left (not the one George Orwell would have felt most affinity for).

But in this 2009 article Unity takes issue with the Conservatives for their amenability to the idea of Steiner education being state funded, and draws out aspects of the Steiner system, or the philosophy which drives it, which one would not (readily) associate with the liberal left.

Steiner Waldorf is, just by itself, an irresistible topic for controversy junkies.  On the one hand some of Steiner’s views were decidedly awkward, such as his assertion that blonds are more intelligent. On the other hand Steiner Waldorf schools were banned by the Nazis,  and appear to actively promote equality between different ethnic groups today. Whereas anthroposophy seems so peculiar as to be designated a cult by many, many of the characteristics of the Steiner curriculum might be seen as positive, or at least harmless.

Discussions of Steiner/Waldorf raise intriguing parallels with discussions of Islam.  Its critics will pounce delightedly, Spencer style, on dodgy quotes from Steiner.  This is a special favourite of the anthroposceptics:

We must worm our way through…[I]n order to do what we want to do, at least, it is necessary to talk with the people, not because we want to, but because we have to, and inwardly make fools of them.

Meanwhile the Steiner system’s proponents write long tortuous essays explaining why it’s all ok really, honest.  This style of debate seems to stem from the fact that followers of anthroposophy apparently just can’t admit that Steiner might have had some faults, rather as Muslims see Muhammad as the ideal man.

Returning to the left/right binary – I got a bit distracted by Steiner! – it’s my impression that many of the most passionate sceptical/rational voices come from the left but this may be because that’s where their main opponents are to be found.  As that is not an opinion for which I can offer empirical proof – I’d be interested to know what other commenters think.