All I know for sure is that most people don’t know why they themselves are right or left wing, but they usually think they have good reasons.
People like to believe that they have good reasons for their behaviour, and are not wildly irrational. If you ask a right wing person why they are right wing, they will usually give one or more of the following reasons:
- Because society needs order and hierarchy.
- Because it makes sense.
- Because I believe in tradition, not in throwing away everything good.
- Because leftists are idiots.
- Because leftists spend irresponsibly on social programs that don’t work as well as private charity, and which take away people’s rights.
- Because socialism is tyranny.
- Because the free market sorts things out better than inefficient government bureaucracy.
- Because collectivism is the ultimate insult to human dignity.
- Because I work for a living and I’m not giving my damn money to the government.
- Because government regulation stifle entrepreneurship and opportunity.
- Because I believe in freedom.
If you ask a left wing person why they are left wing, they will usually give one or more of the following reasons:
- Because I care about human rights.
- Because capitalism is callous.
- Because rightists are evil.
- Because the free market isn’t free and doesn’t sort things out.
- Because rightists spend irresponsibly on defence and tax cuts for the super rich which don’t benefit anyone and which punish poor people.
- Because universal health care paid for by tax revenue is more fair than private health insurance.
- Because I believe in fairness.
- Because if the laws are unfair, you don’t just suffer them, you change them to make them more fair.
- Because government regulation has always encouraged entrepreneurship and opportunity.
…And so on.
But here’s the thing. We all know that you can argue these points with either side, from either side, and the likelihood is that unless the person you are arguing with is very intelligent and broad-minded, they will not be convinced, even by coherent arguments backed up with solid evidence. People will do almost anything to win political arguments, and pretty much every single one of those reasons given above has some strong counter-argument.
Why? Because the fact that the free market really is very efficient at doing some things, and the opposing fact that it can’t do everything that some of its fans claim it can do, has not the power to convince someone who strongly believes the contrary. If reason and evidence in argumentation had the power that we attribute to it, people would change their minds on these things much more often, yet they don’t.
By far the most likely reason for a radical change in a person’s political opinions is not argument, but extended life experiences that falsify their political picture of the world.
You can find a similar journey in the story of most lives of people who’ve seriously changed their minds. The English politician Clement Attlee grew up in a solidly Conservative middle-class English family. He went to Oxford in 1906 to study history, and while he was there he worked as manager of a charitable club for working class boys in London’s East End. Attlee had never seen poverty close up before, and he was appalled by it. He saw how the only effort being made to alleviate it was organisations like the one he belonged to, and he could tell that that wasn’t nearly enough. He became convinced that only a socialist government had the power to make the kind of changes that could eradicate poverty of the kind he witnessed. So, he became a socialist politician. As Britain’s first post-WW2 prime minister, his Labour government created the world’s first national health service.
So, it’s life experience that makes people right wing or left wing, and if their experience changes enough, they may come to have different opinions about how the world ought to be run. But what you almost certainly won’t do is change their mind by trying to argue that they’re wrong.
But it can be fun trying.