When Faction and Solidarity Intersect

Two groups of business people. Isolated over white background

In The Federalist #10 James Madison famously observes that the “most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.” But Madison discusses numerous other sources of faction as well:

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Building the “Parallel Polis”

Charter 77, the human rights group in the former Czechoslovakia dedicated to recognizing and protesting the lawlessness and abuses of the communist regime, turned 40 last month, and the milestone was marked by a panel discussion in Washington sponsored by the Czech Embassy and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

“The Enduring Significance of Charter 77” featured leading scholars and also Martin Palouš, one of the original 241 signatories of the Charter, who became his country’s ambassador to the United States a decade after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Palouš called the Charter movement “a candle in the middle of the night”—the night having fallen over Czechoslovakia with the thunderous Soviet invasion of 1968. The movement emerged quietly during the dark days of what the communists called “normalization”—the restoration of “really existing socialism” after the 1968 invasion quashed the experiment in liberalization known as the Prague Spring.

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Addicted to Soros Money

unbroken brain

There are several ways of understanding how people can become addicted to drugs. It has been described as a brain disease, as a developmental learning disorder, or simply as a bad habit. When construed as a habit, addiction is always understood to be a condition from which addicts could free themselves by an always possible, if seldom made, sustained effort of will.

Addiction as a brain disease is the view most widely shared by healthcare professionals today. What makes drugs addictive, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that they “increase dopamine in brain reward regions.” They hijack the reward-motivation conditioning in the brain, according to recent studies. With many diseases, we don’t put the responsibility for illness on the sufferer, and we should not for drug addiction either, Volkow argues.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are psychologists who believe addicts can and do make rational decisions, and can choose to stop taking drugs. One is Gene Heyman of Boston College, who has written that most addicts “quit using illegal drugs by about age 30” and do so “without professional help.” Dr. Heyman listed “the correlates of quitting” as “legal concerns, economic pressures, and the desire for respect, particularly from family members,” among other factors.

A major proponent of the view that drug addiction is a developmental-learning disorder—which falls somewhere between the aforementioned stances—is a former cocaine addict, the neuroscientist and professor of developmental psychology, Marc Lewis, who emphasizes what he calls “neuroplasticity,” and “the brain’s capacity to change.” This last matches the approach taken by journalist Maia Szalavitz in her new book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

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Yale’s Identity Politics Are Calhounian to Their Core

calhoun college

The protestors who pressured Yale University into scrubbing the legacy of John C. Calhoun—racist, slaveholder and forthright apologist for African bondage; statesman, philosopher and critic of excessive executive power and American imperial ambitions; and, unto Saturday, namesake of a residential college at the alma mater where he was valedictorian of the class of 1804—have no palate for moral nuance, so assume they have no taste for irony either. Consequently, they are probably unaware that the identity politics they champion are Calhounian to their core.

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An Ever Less Deliberative Body

US Capitol dome detail

The Senate has often been referred to as the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, most frequently by the Senators themselves. But the confirmation hearings on President Trump’s nominations have been marked by an absence of deliberation and responsive argument. They reveal a nation in the grip of polarization and interest group power.

The Democrats have been making a show of holding up  the President’s nominees with late night sessions. And in these sessions they did make some arguments against the nominees. The Republicans almost never responded substantively.  It is not as if they cannot respond. For instance, many of the arguments against Betsey DeVos were very weak based on distortions of her record of promoting charters schools in Detroit and on the inaccurate premise more competition in K-12 would harm rather than help children.  But Republicans recognized that few people were paying attention other than the Democratic base. More dramatic debate would just draw more attention to the Democratic resistance.  And what would please the Republican base were not arguments, but the actual confirmations for which Republicans had the votes.

And lest one think the Democrats were interested in actually persuading their colleagues, they boycotted at least three committee hearings where nominees were going to be debated. Walking out made a great show of anger to please their own base, but made a mockery of deliberation. Woodrow Wilson famously said Congress in action is Congress in committee.  During these confirmations congressional inaction was Congress in committee.

The only time that I saw floor debate come alive was about the question of whether Elizabeth Warren violated Senate Rule 19.

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Royal Burdens

the crown

Public life has never been more public than it is today, and the lives of famous people are examined as never before. Gone are the days when a President’s polio or marital infidelities were passed over in silence by a compliant press corps. A rhinoceros hide is required now, as perhaps never before, for a life in politics—though, as the new President has amply demonstrated, a rhinoceros hide is by no means incompatible with a thin skin.

Who among us has no embarrassing secrets? The constant risk of exposure and humiliation must deter many good people from seeking public office. We demand perfection and get mediocrity.

It is not even necessary any more for the famous to die for their lives to be turned into soap opera, as has happened to the British royal family with The Crown.

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The Language of the Lame Duck Pardon Amendment

A short while ago, I wrote a post advocating that we amend the Constitution to eliminate lame duck pardons.  While such a reform might seem small, it would be beneficial, it might secure the bipartisan support necessary to enact an amendment, and it would revive the moribund amendment process which is necessary to a beneficial originalism. But having an idea about what an amendment should do and writing the language of that amendment are two different things.  Stephen Sachs, an originalist from Duke Law School, saw the post and tried his hand at drafting an amendment.  Steve has both more taste…

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Silencing Warren

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Among the current body of U.S. Senators, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is certainly the intellectual favorite of many liberals in the country, and she is already being spoken of as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.  The former Harvard law school professor and consumer protection advocate has a great command of the issues, but her ideological commitments undermine her abilities, making her less effective as a legislator, and an often insufficiently decorous member of the U.S. Senate. Now that she has become a cause célèbre in the matter of Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be Attorney General, the rebukes she is receiving from Republicans will come back to haunt them.

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Lord, Give Me Constitutionalism, But Not Yet

White House Washington DC behind bars

The case of Washington v. Trump—in which a panel of the Ninth Circuit expressed apparent sympathy, during Tuesday’s arguments, for a district judge’s restraining order against the President’s pause on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries identified as terrorism threats—has less to do with an overreaching judiciary than with an underperforming Congress.

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California Secedin’

Venice Beach, California

Rumblings of secession talk in California, as in Texas a few years back, raises the question of how, if ever, a state might secede from the Union without war.

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