Where are Special Interests When You Need Them? The Problem of Unwanted Phone Calls

One problem with the political decisions, including those in a democracy, is the importance of special interests. Special or politically concentrated interests have an advantage in the political process and therefore are able to obtain special privileges and advantages that impose inefficient costs on the society. This is, of course, an old story. But the world seems to be more complicated than this. Sometimes one wonders why special interests do not seem to be pursuing their interests. And as a result, other special interests prevail when it seems they should not. I thought of this the other day when I picked up…

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Penseurs Extraordinaires

A friend over at the NRO’s Postmodern Conservative recently asked which contemporary French authors might profitably be read by American conservatives. As a Francophone who has translated French philosophers from this and previous centuries, I thought I’d contribute my two cents.

My criteria were: 1) What could help American conservatives better understand Europe, the evolving nature of liberal democracy, and the pathologies of the age, both abroad and at home? and 2) Who are the contemporary French authors who could speak to a fairly diverse cohort?

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Eleven Propositions that Sum to Zero

Over the weekend Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts and a former professor at Harvard Law School, outlined eleven propositions, dubbed by the National Journal as “eleven commandments” for progressives.  Warren is a very bright leader of today’s progressivism. Her propositions provide a window on the future trajectory of the Democratic party and its approach to law, three aspects of which seem particularly notable:

1.Opposition to crony capitalism. Warren wants government to make sure the banking system and Internet are run for the benefit of the people not big corporations.

2.Use of the regulatory system rather than tax system. Nowhere does Warren expressly call for higher taxes. But she does endorse a slew of regulatory interventions—a higher minimum wage, stronger protections for unions and “equal pay” provisions for women.

3. A relentless focus on equality.  In marriage, in pay, and in access to higher education and contraceptives paid for by the government.

If these are the tenets of future progressivism, friends of liberty need to sharpen their critique.

1. They need to co-opt the attack on crony capitalism.

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Post-Hobby Lobby Illusions

My late leader of days long gone, the first Mayor Daley of Chicago, once poured out his heart about life in the political arena: “I have been vilified, I have been crucified, I have been ….criticized!” Well, I haven’t been vilified or crucified, but I have been criticized vigorously for my writings in this space on the reasoning in the Hobby Lobby case, and criticized by a long-time friend, the Editor of the Public Discourse, Ryan Anderson. My response reveals his critique, while at the same time it may sharpen and deepen the argument.

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Collective Bargaining, the NBA Draft, and Superstars

I used to be interested in professional basketball back in the 1970s. In the last 4 years, I have once again become an avid fan. There are plenty of important differences between the game of the 1970s and the present game – perhaps the biggest is the 3 point shot – but a significant change is that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA and the players union has now become an important part of environment necessary to field a successful basketball team. The CBA places fairly strict limits on how much each team can spend. It also places maximum…

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I Have a Dream–or Rather Had a Dream . . . about Griswold v. Connecticut

Dreams are surreal, of course, and often you wonder where in the world some dream could have come from. In this instance, though, I think I know: I suspect that my dream was prompted by a post on this very blog. In any case, it was a dream about Griswold v. Connecticut– the old, seminal (albeit anti-seminal) contraception decision.

In my dream, the case and the result were the same, but the reasoning was completely different. I forget who wrote the majority opinion. Harlan, maybe. Or White. Definitely not Douglas. There was nothing in the opinion about “emanations” and “penumbras.” No effusive (and, given Douglas’s authorship, ironic) paeans to the nobility and sanctity of marriage. It was a due process decision–but real due process. Procedural due process, not substantive.

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Israel’s Iron Dome, and Us

shutterstock_115739893Images of Hamas’s artillery rockets being intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system naturally lead Americans to wonder why, if missiles were fired at our homes, we wouldn’t go to the trouble of stopping them in mid-flight as the Israelis do. The answer is that our bipartisan ruling class decided half a century ago that even trying to protect America against all but token missile attacks would be a hostile act toward Russia and China.

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Mutable ACLU v. Immovable Cato

The ACLU has modified over the last decade two important positions on civil liberties. Historically its position had been that limiting contributions to political campaigns was unconstitutional. In 2010 it shifted to support “reasonable” limits on contributions to political campaigns.  Strikingly, the ACLU in 2013 then failed to file any brief at all in McCutcheon v. FEC, which challenged aggregate limits on contributions. These limits prevented citizens from expressing support for individual candidates, even when those individual contributions were of modest size.

Second, in 1993 ACLU President  Nadine Strossen enthusiastically supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Later the ACLU, as David Bernstein reported, continued to support legal exemptions for reasons of religious conscience, but opposed subsequent bills providing for across-the-board exemptions  because of fear that they would interfere with anti-discrimination laws.  The ACLU today supports the bill to override the Hobby Lobby even though the  decision did not involve an anti-discrimination law.

In contrast, CATO, the premier libertarian think-tank, has been relentlessly consistent in its views on domestic policy, opposing infringements on both civil rights and property rights alike. The consistency has continued despite some unfortunate recent squabbles about the structure of its leadership.

The difference between the mutability of ACLU and the constancy of Cato underscores important truths about both the nature of liberty and politics.

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James MacGregor Burns’ Transformative Constitutionalism

Burns

James MacGregor Burns

Virtually everything that James MacGregor Burns—who died on Tuesday at the age of 95 and who is rightly being honored as one of the greatest political scientists of his time—wrote about the Constitution was wonderfully provocative, incisively argued and totally wrong. He was perhaps the leading Constitutional critic of his era, a vital service, even if Burns sometimes performed it, as in his critiques of separation of powers, in demonstrable error. He was a Progressive, both a student and an advocate of what he called “transforming leadership” and a critic of institutional mechanisms that inhibited it.

Perhaps best known among students of American political thought for his critique of separation of powers in 1963’s The Deadlock of Democracy, Burns—then frustrated by the Senate’s obstruction of civil rights legislation he thought to have been publicly endorsed in the 1960 presidential election—believed he had caught James Madison in a mistake. That is hard to do, and Burns’ effort, while innovative, stumbled.

The attempt was this: If Madison, as he claimed, solved the problem of the abusive majority in Federalist 10—and this without relying on institutional blocking mechanisms—why did he need the added security of the separation of powers, which, to the extent it was unnecessary, was also gratuitously undemocratic? Fifteen years later, George W. Carey decisively answered that Madison was not trying to solve the problem of an abusive majority through the separation of powers, he was trying to solve the problem of a tyrannical government—something the Founder explicitly stated in Federalist 51 that he regarded to be a different problem.

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Free-Floating Liberty?

In a previous post, I asked what may strike some readers as an obtuse question. If our society is no longer grounded in Christianity, as it once was, or in the biblical tradition, and if the normative passion of our time– namely, equality– is a not an affirmative ideal or vision so much as a negative and parasitic one, then what sort of society do we live in now? How should we describe the affirmative convictions or commitments (if any) that give meaning and shape to our society?

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