There is a certain species of political theory and public policy analysis which is marked by an inability to understand context and/or a denial of it, difficulty with using abstract thinking and concrete thinking in the correct situations, deep knowledge in very narrow topics, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. People who routinely produce such content tend to have a troubling need for routines, a lack of empathy, and difficulty in processing social cues. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum to varying degrees. While it is most common among libertarians, such myopic content is produced by many conservatives as well, particularly those who are politically connected.

The term political autism has come into use as a descriptor for this phenomenon because the above symptoms are commonly found among autistic people, particularly the high-functioning or mildly autistic. Other symptoms, which are more common in severe cases of autism, do not manifest politically because they are socially crippling, keeping a person from organizing in the political realm to advance one’s interests. Therefore, let us focus on the autism symptoms which manifest among some conservatives and impair their intellectual output. We will examine each of these symptoms, then consider how they typically manifest in order to provide a guide for self-diagnosis and self-treatment to the afflicted. Finally, we will compare and contrast autistic conservatism with the related but distinct phenomenon that has been labeled cuckservatism.

Personality Problems

People who have autism spectrum disorders typically have a lack of interest in sharing achievements, emotions, or interests with other people. They frequently lack empathy for other people’s feelings and have difficulties in forming and sustaining relationships. They can have difficulties in understanding other perspectives as well as non-literal speech. These personality problems amplify pathological political positions taken by certain subsets of conservatives, frequently denounced elsewhere as neoconservatives, Beltway bandits, chicken hawks, and imperialists. In argumentation, these symptoms manifest when conservatives answer leftist rhetoric with dialectic, or vice versa. A related problem is the use of faith-based persuasion toward the faithless. The autistic conservative is unable to process the operational mode of the opponent and is therefore only able to frustrate leftists.

Context Problems, Abstractness, and Concreteness

As with many other disciplines, there is a dichotomy between abstractness and concreteness, between theory and practice in politics. Given the human element which is necessarily present, a multitude of variables are introduced, some of which will escape account by even the best theorist. Furthermore, peoples’ lives are only ever lived in context; there is no such thing as human existence devoid of setting. It is thus only natural that a theorist should present a simplified model of the world for the purpose of illustrating an argument. Doing so avoids presenting a cacophony of background noise, distracting the recipient with instances of his own ignorance, and maintains the presenter’s frame of reference. Political autism takes this several steps further; the politically autistic will not only neglect certain elements of context, but will ignore important parts which fundamentally alter the calculus of a policy decision. More extreme examples will present completely abstract arguments devoid of any real-world considerations.

Depth Without Breadth

A related problem is the practice of delving deep into the weeds in a narrow topic while missing the larger picture. Again, there is a lesser version which naturally occurs for understandable reasons. As Carl Schmitt writes,

“Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy.”[1]

This insight broadens the breadth and depth of knowledge required to be a general expert in politics far beyond that which any one person can possibly acquire. Accordingly, political theorists and commentators will specialize in certain aspects of statecraft. Political autism frequently involves taking this to the extreme of knowing almost everything there is to know about an esoteric, even trivial topic while being unaware of the larger context in which such knowledge could be useful. This hampers the political autist’s efforts by peppering one’s work with useless details that do not advance the case being made and reducing one’s ability to predict future results. Notably, this aspect almost never occurs in the absence of the others, so the issues tend to overlap.

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  1. Schmitt, Carl (1932). The Concept of the Political (Expanded ed.). (George Schwab, Trans. 1996). The University of Chicago Press. p. 37.
  2. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.