The Constitution’s aim to limit the influence of factions and passion gets the lion’s share of attention among modern readers of The Federalist. To be sure, these are critical aspirations, as much or more so today as they were in the 1780s. These aspects of the Constitution’s underlying theory, however, so dominate discussion that students often overlook another theme developed throughout The Federalist, the significance of knowledge and information in policy making, and how constitutional structure can elicit more rather than less knowledge and information.
Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, is concerned about the plight of free speech on college campuses and hers in particular. She says all the right words about the importance of free speech to a university. But her suggestions about how to secure it are vague and anodyne. For instance, Faust exhorts those at the university to be “generous listeners.” For a college President, that is a bit like a preacher exhorting his congregation to oppose sin.
It is easy to be a generous listener when you are listening to people who agree you with you. But the ideological and partisan homogeneity of Harvard makes generous listening to sharply dissenting views harder, because it is easier to regard them as irrational or evil when none of your friends and colleagues share them. The problem is a structural and institutional one and cannot be solved by sermons.
Thus, if Faust were serious about free speech and free inquiry on campus she would announce some initiatives to make sure that conservative and libertarian voices punctured the campus bubble. A school as wealthy as Harvard could announce a speaker series to bring in a serious conservative or libertarian scholar once a week to speak to the entire university on an issue of public policy or political philosophy.
In his latest column, George Will laments that conservatism has been “hijacked” by “scowling primitives” and “vulgarians.” A conservatism that once cheerfully and unapologetically embraced “high culture” has been overtaken by a vulgar populism, which defends main-street values against elite liberal cosmopolitans, but which increasingly embodies not intellectual argument but rather, in Lionel Trilling’s words, “irritable mental gestures” masquerading as ideas.
To rise above this, Will writes, we should draw lessons from Alvin S. Felzenberg’s new book, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley, according to Will, needed to evolve from his early judgments favoring isolationism, among other juvenile statements, and his “ebullience, decency, and enthusiasm for learning propelled him up from sectarianism.”
Chronicling Buckley’s moral, personal, and political growth, the book shows, in Felzenberg’s words, how “Buckley walked a tightrope between elitism and populism.” Alas, Will notes, Buckley could not reconcile the dissonant notes they struck. And now, nearly a decade after Buckley’s death, conservatism “soiled by scowling primitives.”
But what was conservatism before “vulgarians hijacked it”? Why was conservatism, in Will’s thinking, “susceptible to hijacking”?
Surprisingly, Will blames Whittaker Chambers:
The President’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord has caused international hyperventilation, and a minor rift in the Greve family. We all agree on three propositions: The U.S. should never agree to an international instrument that is called an “accord”: too French. A je suis d’accord that purports to save the planet by saying, vee all civilized nations may do what we may want to do by, say, 2030 or maybe later and if we don’t you can’t make us; and which then admits that even full compliance with its targets won’t make one whit of difference to…
In this third post on Original Methods Originalism, I want to conclude by explaining how original methods has the potential for signficantly limiting the discretion that judges exercise under an originalist approach. One of the key issues in recent originalist theory involves the distinction between interpretation and construction. For my purposes, it is not the distinction between interpretation and construction, but the distinction between interpretation and the construction zone that is important. Interpretation involves the process for determining the actual meaning of a constitutional provision. After applying the interpretive process, it is possible that the original meaning may not decide the…
H.L. Mencken, one of the great journalists of the 20th century, once said that “Half the sorrows of the world, I suppose, are caused by making false assumptions.”
Look no further than a recent article in Politico for proof that the Sage of Baltimore was right. Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty, two reporters for the web site, have crunched a lot of numbers to come up with a thesis.
It goes like this: Media bias is caused not by how people think, or the fact that reporters get hired based on pre-existing ideology; it’s caused by the atmosphere in which reporters are enveloped. That is, reporters are liberal because of the ambient liberalism of the cities in which most of them live and work. Like soldiers stumbling under a mustard gas attack, writers go to New York or D.C. as freethinkers, only to turn into political hacks and cultural ideologues.
Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, devoted her commencement speech to free speech at Harvard and universities in general. First, she defended its centrality to a university’s mission of free inquiry; second, she asked why it had become such a contentious issue in recent years; and third, she made suggestions to strengthen it for the future. She deserves credit for the vigorous defense in the first part of her remarks at time when many university Presidents are missing in action. But the rest of her speech was shallow.
For instance, she suggested that it is the decline of religious, class and ethic homogeneity that has led to a renewed debate over the value of speech: “Once overwhelmingly white, male, Protestant, and upper class, Harvard College is now half female, majority minority, religiously pluralistic, with nearly 60 percent of students able to attend because of financial aid. Fifteen percent are the first in their families to go to college.”
Here she substantially exaggerates the homogeneity of the Harvard past, at least the past of four decades ago when I was a student.
Regardless of where people are on the political spectrum, many Americans—in fact most—believe that something is gravely wrong with the political system today. According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans are frustrated with the federal government. Similarly, popular trust in government is near historic lows. The Pew survey found that only 16 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing “most of the time.” A paltry 4 percent of respondents reported trusting the government to do the right thing “just about always.”
In my last post I discussed the basic idea of original methods originalism and the different versions of that interpretive approach. Here I want to note a very significant implication of Original Methods Originalism: the possible convergence of original intent and original public meaning. I then want to discuss another aspect of original methods – the view that the Constitution is written in the language of the law and therefore should be interpreted as a legal document. The Convergence Thesis The different versions of original methods discussed in my prior post also have important implications for how originalism is conducted. For many…