Are You an "Internal" or an "External?" And Which is Mitch Daniels?


The American recently ran an interesting piece by Lee Harris about "natural libertarians," those brave, semi-paranoiac, freedom-fighter fools who are "the greatest roadblock on the road back to serfdom." Harris recalls a concept from social psychology in explaining where natural libertarians come from:

In 1966, American psychologist Julian Rotter published a paper that introduced the concept known as locus of control. Human beings, according to Rotter, could be divided into two basic groups: those who believed their locus of control was within themselves, and those who see themselves as under the control of forces located outside themselves, such as luck, or fate, or other people whose will cannot be resisted. The first group, called internals, believe that they are the masters of their own destiny; they tend to be high-achievers, optimistic about their ability to improve their lot, and to discard bad habits. They believe in willpower and positive thinking. They are determined to control their own lives, for better or worse. Members of the second group are called externals. They look on themselves as victims of circumstances, the playthings of fate. If they go to bed drunk, light up a cigarette, and burn their house down, they explain the disaster as another instance of their bad luck, and not their poor judgment, much less their bad habits. On the other hand, if a drunk driver hits an internal, the internal will scold himself that he should have been more alert at the wheel, he should have seen the drunk coming and swerved in time to avoid him.

Natural libertarians, says Harris are internals, while nanny staters of various stripes tend to be externals. More important, perhaps, is Harris' argument that "internal" and "external" orientations are to some extent learned or unlearned via cultural institutions (on this point, he references Martin Seligman's idea of "learned helplessness"). That means that whole societies can shift based on what values are most successfully circulated and inculcated. He cites Bismarck's Germany, the original welfare state, as a society that tried with some success to breed dependency on the state into its citizens. On the flip side are the Nuer of Sudan, who

are taught from an early age to resist being bullied by others and to fight back at the first attempt at dominating them. But wherever it may be found, at the heart of the tradition of independence lives a set of imperatives. Be self-reliant. Don't take other people's word for something; think for yourself. Never become anyone's follower. Bow down before no one. Stand up for your rights. Don't let bullies intimidate you. Don't permit yourself to become the slave of an addiction and thereby forfeit your all-important self-control. And do whatever you can to make sure that other members of your community uphold and cherish the same tradition of independence.

Whole story here.

So what does any of this have to do with Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.), the dynamist-loving, budget-hawking head of one of the few states that isn't completely in the shitter in large part due to his stewardship? Here's the Syrian-American Presbyterian talking to an Indiana TV station about where morality comes from:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we're just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality….

This is an old argument: That when God is dead, all things are possible. It is empirically wrong when it comes to morality. Believers, even good, upstanding Christians, have certainly visited their share of hell on this earth and non-believers are hardly more likely to be the killers among us. What's interesting to me in this context is that Daniels blurs the boundaries between internals and externals. Morality comes from outside of us, says Daniels, in the form of God who lays down "eternal" standards. Yet his Christianity actually forces him to take personal responsibility for his way of living and forces him to choose carefully, which seems like something an internal would think.

The whole idea of equality of men and women [and] of the races all springs from the notion that we're all children of a just God. It is very important to at least my notion of what America's about and should be about and I hope it's reflected most of the time in the choices that we make personally.

Daniels reading of equality before God as a pretext for political liberation is straight out of 17th century England and the naturally libertarian Roundheads who "resisted" Charles The First, according to Lee Harris (who I think is right to call them that; the fact that they decapitated the king and brutalized many others suggests one way that, contra Daniels, believers can be as morally indifferent as atheists). Note also that Daniels, who called for a truce in culture war issues lately (only to be attacked by conservatives such as Mike Huckabee), is emphatic both on separation of church and state and the old-praying-on-the-street-corner bit:

I also take very seriously the responsibility to treat my public duties in a way that keeps separate church and state and respects alternative views….

I've sometimes referred to it as a Matthew 6 Christian. If you read that chapter, it's the one that talks about praying in private, not giving your alms in public, not being ostentatious about your faith.

Maybe the inney-outey thing just ain't up to describing folks all that well. Or maybe Daniels is interesting precisely because he confounds the categories that seem to govern the rest of us. Whatever the reason, you've got to admire a pol who managed to get almost $4 billion by leasing a money-losing toll road and to piss off Mike Huckabee.