Do liberals share the same view of human nature as conservatives as far as war and violence are concerned?

By and large, liberals and conservatives nowadays seem to share the same viewpoints as far as human nature is concerned:

  • Negotiation and dialogue can stave off some conflicts, but sometimes an aggressor is simply bent on attacking regardless of anything you say or do.
  • When an aggressor does use force, the only thing that will stop him is force of your own.
  • Some aggressors are products of circumstance or legit grievances, but some other people are simply malicious by nature and cannot be reasoned with (not just war aggressors, but also some criminals).
  • Appeasement invites further aggression; if you pay the Danegeld you never get rid of the Dane.

It wasn’t always like this; in the past there was a sizable gap between liberal and conservative attitudes towards war and violence. But nowadays it seems to have merged.

? I mean, I guess viewpoints have fluctuated back and forth over time? There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of daylight between American liberal and conservative attitudes to WWII, for example (once we were all on the same page about whether fascists are the baddies, at least).

There is still a very committed movement for nonviolent resistance in conflict management and resolution, which arguably is contributing a lot in various contested situations to mitigate or prevent actual violent aggression. And I think it’s fair to call that an almost or entirely exclusively liberal viewpoint. But it’s still a pretty small minority even among liberals, AFAICT.

I think it’s a matter of who the war is opposed to.

If it’s a question of attacking a third world country (e.g. Iraq) or a left wing regime (e.g. Communists) then liberals will tend to be more opposed than conservatives. If it’s about attacking “fascists” (e.g. Serbia or the like), then you won’t see that.

It’s similar to attitudes about free speech. Liberals were the big supporters of free speech and conservatives opposed, but that was back when left wing speech was most likely to be suppressed, and RW not. Today, the situation has flipped, and with it, the respective attitudes about free speech.

I think there is far more nuance there than you are crediting. The causes of the shifts in liberal attitudes toward free speech were

  1. that many more people became aware of the voices which had been silenced – those of people of color, women, and sexual minorities. Liberals are strongly opposed to continuing to silence these voices, and conservatives wish to keep them shut down.

  2. that the extreme far right has much more of a soap box than they ever had in the past, and much of what they say is extremely toxic and/or outright lies. Liberals are opposed to giving outrageous slander and lies a public forum, particularly if this material is pointedly anti-democracy or advocates violence.

It’s clear that, setting aside the howls from the right, there is some degree of overreaction by liberals being engaged in. But I do not think there is a ‘flip’ in attitudes. Rightwingers are just as anxious to silence liberal voices as they ever were, probably more so.

Ulfreida has pointed out the dubious assumptions in this statement. I’ll add that I think it’s a fair representation of current conservative messaging about liberal and conservative “attitudes about free speech”, but not the actual reality of them.

Look, for example, at current rightwing initiatives such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and attempts to ban from school curricula any discussions of race or racism that they can manage to label “CRT”. Look at conservative social-media sites and discussion boards ostentatiously proclaiming themselves “bastions of free speech” and then banning users who express liberal views. And so on and on.

Nope, your “flipped situation” narrative is what conservatives like to believe, but not what actually exists.

I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Velocity. AFAIK there isn’t a significant group of liberal war hawks in the U.S.

Bernie Sanders for example is still out there saying war is bad, etc.

“I’m extremely concerned when I hear the familiar drumbeats in Washington, the bellicose rhetoric that gets amplified before every war, demanding that we must ‘show strength,’ ‘get tough’ and not engage in ‘appeasement’,” said Sanders, who has, in the past, led the charge to defund the war in Iraq and to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

You’ve got what, Bob Menendez who is a bit hawkish on the Middle East? But he’s always been that way, going back to the war in Iraq.

Most of the Democrats are big on military spending and have been for decades. Just look at the Clinton Doctrine. I mean even Lyndon Johnson was a “liberal”, and he got us into Vietnam.

Kyrsten Sinema ran and won on a hawkish platform, pro military and pro military spending, after years of being anti-war, anti-Iraq, anti-Afghanistan, etc. But I think she’s an outlier, since she came from the fringe and moved towards the center.


Conservatives cynically believe that people can be conned by insulating them from the truth. Liberals have more respect for people’s ability to educate themselves.

Conservatives think that people don’t care about anything; liberals’ primary focus is s the needs of people other than themselves.

Conservatives remove extra chairs from the table; liberals add leaves to the table and will bring in milk crates in when they run out of chairs.

Conservatives are fundamentally dishonest; liberals are open to being educated about things they don’t understand.

While I concur, could you provide some support for your assertions? I have a “sense” that what you say is true, I think it is, but is there a study, poll, survey that supports this?

I would have to undertake the monumental project of compiling a library of references to 40+ years of keeping myself educated on matters of politics and social matters on a daily basis. I would have to write a densely footnoted reference book on my 40+ of political consciousness. But I have dishes to do do . . .

My personal opinion:

Conservatives tend to believe war and violence are inherent parts of human nature. They cannot be eliminated as long as humans exist. So we have to set up system to channel and control war and violence.

Liberals tend to believe war and violence are the results of external conditions. War and violence are something humans do in response to the situation they are in. So if you eliminate the situations and conditions that cause war and violence, humans would live peacefully with each other.

I’m glad you wrote ‘tend’, because I’m quite liberal on many counts but I firmly believe the first, while thinking it can be modified by the second. Which is to say I think external conditions exacerbate an innate human tendency towards violence. Or perhaps more specifically an innate tribalism that inevitably breeds violence.

I think you can substantially reduce violence and war by improving circumstances. But you’re never going to eliminate either - humans can create conflict out of thin air.

Replace “war” with economic bubbles bursting, and play that scene from Margin Call where Jeremy Irons ticks off a list of historic crashes, them proclaims “we just can’t help ourselves.”

But we can help ourselves. We’re a cowardly species that flees conflict. Too bad it’s assholes at the top who see the real gains who start it.

Seriously: name one war that was started by some poor schmuck. I know they like to say the Second Sino-Japanese War was started when a Japanese soldier wandered into Chinese territory to go poop, but the militarists and industrialist had everything loaded and ready to go vastly greater than that soldier’s bowels.

Intraspecies violence is definitely part of human nature.

Intraspecies non-violence, often including active cooperation, is also definitely part of human nature.

Some individual humans will be much stronger in one tendency than the other; most likely for reasons both of nature and nuture.

External conditions can strongly encourage or discourage one tendency over the other in any given society.

Current external conditions are such that we’d damn well better learn to encourage our cooperative tendencies over our violent tendencies or we’re not going to survive.

I’m pretty liberal.

Are you saying that war wasn’t really fought over Robert Jenkins’ ear?

I would assume that conservatives disagree with each other and also liberals disagree with each other.

Certainly the anti-war movement had very little influence on the Democratic Party sixteen years ago, when the Dems were happy to exploit disgust with Bush/Cheney crimes, but didn’t actually disagree with any of what Bush/Cheney did.

So, to paraphrase, “I’m too lazy to support my assertion.”

Yes. I have no interest in compiling a four-volume indexed tome outlining and analyzing my 59 years as a gay man with 3 sisters and a single mom, 2 of which were victims of violent rapes, a book nerd since 3, 20+ years’ experience as a fact checker, and constant observer and absorber of the world around me.

But sure, tell yourself that waving a red cape in front of a bull who would rather smell flowers than rise to your absurdity means you “won” lol.

“Reality has a liberal bias.”
–Stephem Colbert

When you all say “humans” what you actually mean is “male humans”, right? It’s male humans who start, fight in, and glorify wars. It’s male humans who engage in physical violence. Half the adult humans, who are, admittedly, as selfish and irritable as the other half, are nevertheless not prone to creating wars. Whether natural or not, it’s a fact.

It’s . . . sort of a fact. Male humans are on average more physically violent than female humans, yes. But I’ve run into plenty of female humans who glorify wars; significant numbers of us (though not me) join the military by choice; some commit physical abuse; and I’m afraid we’re just as likely to fall into the xenophobic group instead of the xenophiles.

I doubt we’d have anything like the scale of wars that we do, if there weren’t any men. But I don’t think we’d be entirely peaceful, either.

Not saying women are angels. But they are far less physically violent, and overall are far more inclined to seek communal, harmonious solutions to problems. I am growing less and less tolerant of assumptions that “humans” are like x, when it is really men who can be characterized that way, than I used to be. And I never was very tolerant of it to begin with.