Some of the commenters below seemed confused or surprised by my asserting that conservative or liberal parenting styles could affect people’s ideas about the prerogatives of authority, and of how they think about ideas like liberty, justice, and accountability.
A few thought the whole idea absurd. (It would be interesting to hear their alternative theories on how they think the dramatic worldview shift between conservatives and liberals comes about.)
Others pointed out, quite rightly, that the two parenting styles I described are hardly exclusive or hard-and-fast. Most parents go to the authoritarian side on some issues (and generally, it’s those issues where they feel least in control themselves); and tend to be more liberal on others (generally, those where they feel more confidence in their ability to control the situation). George Lakoff made the same observation about how people mix-and-match the strict-father versus nurturant-parent models in their political thinking. It holds just as true here.
But it’s also true that the conservative worldview is far more obsessed generally with the issue of control — when in doubt, clamp down hard and fast — and conservative parents would therefore lean to a more authoritarian parenting style. The liberal worldview tends to trust people and the world in general — when in doubt, stand back and see what happens — and this leads to a more open-ended sense of how to manage children.
Either way, though, the basic fact is this: Parenting is the first — and far and away the most defining — experience most of us have with power relationships. What we learn from that relationship teaches us a great deal about what we can expect from power for the rest of our lives. We may choose to revisit those assumptions as adults; but it’s not easy, and requires significant re-trenchment of how you view yourself and the rest of the world.