Adams Explains Trumpism

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John Adams explains the rise of Donald Trump. From the third volume of The Defence of the Constitutions, which I am currently working on for an edition with Liberty Fund: This whole story is a demonstration of the oppression of the people under the aristocracy; of the extreme jealousy of that aristocracy of kings, of an oligarchy, and of popular power; of the constant secret wishes of the people to set up a king to defend them against the nobles, and of their readiness to fall in with the views of any rich man who flattered them, and set him up as…

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Anti-Bullying: Can the Schools Be Trusted?

One of the new initiatives of government is to act against the bullying of children.  As a general matter, I believe that concern about bullying is a force for good.  As a child, I experienced a little bit of bullying (as do virtually all children) but saw others who were treated much worse.  From my own experience and observations, I can attest to how harmful such bullying can be for a child.

One might argue that parents should be the ones who address bullying but of course parents cannot do the job entirely.  They are often not aware that the bullying is occurring and my guess is that the children who are bullied often had parents who were bullied and therefore would not really know how to address it.  Thus, additional protection would be helpful and government schools appear to be well positioned to intervene.

Unfortunately, government does a poor job of most things and bullying is likely to be one of them.  The standard litany of public choice problems ranging from poor incentives to do a good job, poor knowledge about how to do that job, and the power of special interests and ideological extremists apply in this area no less than others.  And the more jobs that government undertakes, the less likely they are to do each one of them well.

Low test schools and poor learning are just a small part of the problems with government schools.  There are, of course, the problems of teachers unions and disciplining bad teachers.  And most pertinently, there are the absurdities of policies such as zero tolerance.  Thus, no one should be surprised if the schools do a poor job of policing against bullying.

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Understanding Realpolitik

Congress of Vienna

Realpolitik is a term more often invoked within the English-speaking world than explained or understood. The word provides a condensed symbol that expresses different meanings depending upon who employs it. Sometimes it signals a practical approach focused on the concrete particulars that shape international relations or an effort to cut through naivety and utopianism. More often, however, it conjures a very different image of cynically pursuing advantage by deploying power without moral restraint. As “an unwelcome import from the dark heart of Mitteleuropa,” in John Bew’s telling phrase, realpolitik marks a disturbing counterpoint to Anglo-Saxon conceptions of fair play and liberty under law.

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For Whom the Myth Tolls


In a New York Times op-ed a week ago, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) lauded the recently deceased Delmer Berg and other Americans who volunteered to fight on the Loyalist side during the Spanish Civil War, which began 80 years ago. Berg was thought to be the last living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a unit of American volunteers who fought in that storied but oft-mischaracterized conflict that took place from 1936 to 1939.

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Is an Eight-Member Court Good for the Nation?

balance de la justice.

The Supreme Court yesterday suggested a compromise solution to the contraceptive mandate for religiously oriented service organizations that object to contraception, and required the parties to comment on whether it met their needs. This order, made after oral argument, is very unusual. It likely reflects the fact that the Court was divided 4-4 on the question of whether the Obama’s administration previous accommodation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Some initial responses suggest that the compromise might be welcomed by both sides. It should make us reconsider whether a  Supreme Court with an equal number of justices is a bad development for the nation.  A Court with nine justices would likely have come down on one side or another, embittering the side that lost in the culture wars. And when the culture war divide follows the partisan divide on the Supreme Court, the decision would only increase partisan distrust of the institution.

Greater efforts at compromise would be a hallmark of 4-4 court with such divides.  Justices like to render decisions as matter of craft and institutional obligation and would tend to avoid deadlock, where possible. 

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Cruel and Unusual

jail prison cell and bars

The world is full of little ironies. Last week, for example, I was in the Netherlands, discussing round the breakfast table the latest developments in euthanasia in Holland and Belgium (now the world leader in the field), and today I read in my newspaper the difficulties that the state of Ohio has in executing one Romell Broom.

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A Kirkian Renaissance


No other major figure in 20th century American social and political life has deserved study more than Russell Amos Kirk (1918-1994). The existing studies of Kirk are excellent, but the latest effort, by Professor Brad Birzer, surpasses all previous attempts to appreciate the magnitude of Kirk’s personal mission and scholarly opus. Birzer has a command of the primary sources that is truly amazing, and his archival labors evince the work of a superior scholar and world-class historian. In other words, a significant advance in scholarly knowledge is upon us, as well as an advance in evaluating Kirk as a political thinker.[1]

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Constitutionalism by Word Association: A Reply to Evan Bernick

The doors of the Supreme Court

At The Huffington Post, Evan Bernick has offered a thoughtful reply to my suggestion that judicial deference to Congress differs categorically from judicial deference to the administrative state, arguing instead that the real problem is deference simply: “Judicial deference of any kind sees judges elevating will over the reasoned judgment that judges who draw their power from Article III must exercise.”

This usefully identifies the core of the issue. If federal judges actually possessed all the power Bernick says Article III assigns them, there would be less constitutional basis for constraining their authority. If they do not, the issue is whether they can commandeer it.

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History versus Ideologies of Oppression

The Early Discovery of Hawaii by Captain James Cook

The trip to Hawaii I wrote about in my previous post yielded some interesting Ricardian, Schumpeterian, and Hayekian lessons, as I noted. It was also enlightening in terms of how prevailing conceptions of our 50th state compare to its actual history.

The reader of  James L. Haley’s excellent 2014 book, Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii, will see sobering disparities that match a larger trend in our society: the tendency to distort the historical record so as to exaggerate the vices of the early European settlers while exaggerating the virtues of pre-contact indigenous cultures. This revisionism has the (desired?) effect of minimizing the benefits of Western influence, and even—in the case of Hawaii—calling into question the legitimacy of its statehood.

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Chuck Schumer Wants to Raise Your Airfare

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats.

One of the Carter administration’s great achievements was deregulation, and in no sector was the success greater than in the airlines industry. The result was more competition and lower fares that democratized travel. It is a troubling sign of America’s lurch from liberty and free markets that Democratic legislators are trying to re-regulate the airlines and that the Obama administration is dampening competition.

The most egregious offender is Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic leader of the Senate (he will be majority leader if the prediction markets are right). He wants to regulate the width and leg room of airline seats. This is hardly a safety issue: the FAA has not expressed concern, and airline travel has never been safer with no fatalities on domestic commercial passenger flights last year.

Airlines already offer more room in first class and economy-plus for additional money. Are consumers not capable of choosing how much leg room they want to pay for? What other decisions does Schumer want to make for us? 

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