For a few moments, I am ashamed to say, a new theory being advanced by an American academic set me thinking. Peter Schweizer, who is a research fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has been studying the private lives and attitudes of liberals and conservatives.
Those with left-wing views, he has concluded, are less happy, less generous, more likely to commit suicide, greedier and more selfish than right-wingers. Those that are parents – and, according to Schweizer, many liberals are simply too narcissistic and self-centred to have children – are statistically less likely to hug their children. These and other thoughts are contained in his book, Makers and Takers, which has just been published.
It is tempting, in the manner of someone slightly bored at a dinner party, to follow Schweizer down the dark alleyways of his thought processes to discover where they take us. Could he possibly be on to something? Conservatives, with a greater faith in the individual, may instinctively be more optimistic than those on the left and therefore happier.
On the other hand, liberals look forward rather than backward and believe in some kind of social equality, neither of which qualities suggest misery or lack of generosity. Righties grumble about modern life, but then lefties have a miserablist dependence on state interference. So where do all those contradictions lead us?