Psychology: What Conservatives and Liberals Need to Learn

It’s helpful, every now and then, to take a step back and take in the vista.  James Kalb described the outlook for conservatives and liberals in his recent post at Crisis.  Thoughtful and somewhat forlorn, he decries the current technocratic thrust which appears alive and functioning well, and outlines its eventual implosion.  What struck me from a psychological perspective was his quasi-definition of conservatism:

They should be conservative not in the sense of maintaining existing trends and arrangements, but in the sense of valuing what those trends and arrangements reject: history, human nature, and the patterns and attachments, like family, religion, and particular culture, that are necessary for normal social functioning. [emphasis added]

Coming from the psychoanalytic tradition, attachment equates to something like the quality of relational bonds experienced from an early age.  Psychologists and psychoanalysts hypothesize that the quality of bonds contributes to the development of a particular relational-attachment style.  In recent decades, theorists described a few commonly-observed styles, such as avoidant, anxious, and secure.  Perhaps, like most psychological concepts, people’s attachment styles are contextually-driven and more continuous than categorical.  That is, I am probably more securely attached in some instances but more anxious in others.  Also, attachment security probably isn’t an all-or-nothing experience.  However, it is theorized that optimal relational functioning and affect regulation hinges on successfully secure attachment.  Unsuccessful, or insecure attachment supposedly contributes to anxiety, ranging from neurotic, everyday-level nervousness, to a more problematic, debilitating anxiety.  

Kalb’s emphasis on social attachments is really important to consider.  The concept seems so obvious–that optimal functioning requires a sense of social and institutional belonging.  Family, culture, and institutions such as religion are common ways to fill that need.  As our culture continues to devalue institutions, emphasizing instead individual fulfillment and autonomy will create a new way of relating, which will really be an old way.  Culture, religion, and family bring together.  Technocracy tears apart.  The irony of collective psychology (e.g. APA, etc.) is the emphasis on individual fulfillment, based on a misguided notion of humanism; namely, favoring autonomy over belonging.  We can learn a lot from the attachment folks, who share with us the importance of the balance of belonging.  

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