The Politics of Moral Outrage

shutterstock_136213418Moral outrage, when it is not fatuous, is politically potent. Vivid examples of politicians and commentators in full-throated, red-faced attacks against malignant motives and vicious political acts come easily to mind for all but the most apolitical. In some cases these outbursts are reactions against assaults on how things are or have been—on the decent order of things as inherited. But any honest observer must acknowledge that the more successful production of moral outrage has issued from those seeking fundamental transformation.

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Maybe Once You’ve “Arrived,” Being Fair Is Optional

Rick Perlstein’s reputation rests upon his award-winning first book from 2001, Before the Storm, about the crushing defeat of conservative icon Barry Goldwater in his 1964 run against President Johnson, and the conservative movement born in that defeat.

A frank left-winger who got his start at the Nation, Lingua Franca, and Mother Jones, Perlstein nevertheless was, Orwell-like, harder on his own side than on his opponent’s. Although taking swipes at Goldwater for denouncing federal intrusions into the business world when his family’s fortune was gained with government help, Perlstein depicted the Republican as much more admirable overall than President Johnson. (As an example, Goldwater ran a clean campaign whereas LBJ brought out the heavy lumber, authorizing CIA agent Howard Hunt to violate the Agency’s domestic charter and bug Goldwater’s campaign headquarters.) Perlstein saw it all and was so fair-minded, with a slight bias toward the Right, that it was hard to detect any agenda in that book.

The same cannot be said of his latest, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.

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The Call of American Liberty

Books reviewed in this essay:

The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, by Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).

The Crusade Years, 1933-1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, ed., George H. Nash (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).

New power emerges out of confusion—and ours is a confused age. No dominant historical narrative supplies us with a common story, and without a common story we belong neither to each other nor to shared ideals. When a people are unscripted by history, the past becomes raw material, to be processed via key moral and political vocabulary by those who would willfully impose “new modes and orders,” to quote Machiavelli.

New Deal and Modern ACDisordered times produce the search for order and the desire to impose order. Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport are in the former category. Their book The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism seeks to revise our historical understanding of the rise and development of American conservatism by tracing it to Herbert Hoover.

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Herbert Hoover’s Righteous Crusade Against the New Deal: A Conversation with George Nash


Herbert Hoover’s legacy is perhaps forever linked with the failure of the American economy under his presidency after the stock market crash of 1929 and his ensuing defeat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the election of 1932. Further adding to his difficulties is the charge that he was progressive-lite in his policies before and after the Great Depression. The proper foundation, it follows, for advocates of a renewed conservative focus is Calvin Coolidge, a President who cut budgets and taxes. This discussion with Hoover scholar George Nash begs to differ.

Nash, who previously appeared on Liberty Law Talk to discuss the lost Hoover memoir he edited entitled Freedom Betrayed—a brilliant criticism of American foreign policy from the late the 1930s through the early postwar period—has now edited another memoir of Hoover’s. This discussion with Nash on The Crusade Years 1933-1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath considers the thoughts, writings, and speeches of Hoover across three decades as he attempted to rally leaders and citizens against the New Deal. Hoover charged that the New Deal would produce a regimented America, one that was no longer free under the rule of law and limited government. In short, Hoover became to the New Deal what Edmund Burke was to the French Revolution, a tireless enemy. So what is the final legacy of Herbert Hoover? This discussion of Hoover’s memoir on domestic policy might cause you to rethink your former assessment.

Post-Modern Marriage and Our Relational Longings

Marriage and parenting may be disappearing in large parts of sophisticated Europe and Japan, but not so much among our high achievers. It’s true that our elitists don’t think that marriage is required for sexual enjoyment or even to validate romantic love. They’re accepting of same-sex marriage to avoid being judgmental or hateful. Marriage equality is part of “multicultural diversity.” And so it’s an issue about which it’s no longer possible for decent people to have diverse opinions.

Our meritocracy based on productivity embraces diverse lifestyles, and nobody believes that women were born to be anything but free and equal individuals just like men. And so parenthood and marriage have to be freely chosen, allegedly part of that mysterious power that one has to define one’s personal identity. Except when it comes to the responsible imperatives of personal productivity, the talk of our successful sophisticates often seems stuck in the Sixties. But not so much their behavior.

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The Idiocracy and Its Discontents

Economic inequality in the country is rapidly increasing. But our libertarians are right that inequality, by itself, hardly undermines the case for liberty.

A free country is a place where everyone is getting better off, although some, because of their hard work and natural gifts, more than others. Libertarians always point to the progress of technology as benefitting us all. Everyone is living longer, or at least everyone responsible enough to attend to what we can all know about avoiding the risk factors that imperil our health. In our march toward indefinite longevity and even the Singularity—the moment in time when machines are smarter than humans— it might be reasonable to hope that few will be left behind. And almost everyone benefits from the constant improvement and plummeting cost of the “screen”—from the smart phone to the tablet and laptop to the huge flat-screened TV.

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America’s Way Back


Friedrich Hayek once noted that “A successful free society will always in large measure be a tradition-bound society.” In pursuit of Hayek’s wisdom, this podcast with Donald Devine, author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and the Constitution focuses on his attempt to revive fusionism by harmonizing freedom and tradition in the manner once proposed by Frank Meyer.

While conservatives and libertarians have long been fractured, Meyer attempted in a series of essays almost fifty years ago to find the principles that would unite them. He observed that individual freedom emerges from the religious and moral heritage of the West. However, this freedom presupposes virtue that individuals must practice in order to be free. This heritage of freedom and its underlying principles forever remove the state from possessing a comprehensive ordering role in the lives of its citizens. So the state should not and cannot make virtuous individuals, but freedom, Meyer argues, requires virtue and the commitment to excellence in the use of one’s choices. Freedom is high drama and welcomes family, religion, and the arts of association for its support. Believing that we are a nation exhausted by the size of government and the inefficacy of our major parties to defend the American tradition of liberty, Devine discusses why we need to recover Meyer’s fusionism today.

Friday Roundup, January 10th

Brandon’s description of marriage and family life reflects a notable narrowing of what “constitutional” means. The original constitutional vision reflected a comprehensive system of how to sustain republican self-government in the long term. Government had its tasks, private institutions including the family had their tasks, and the proper functioning of each depended on the other. From the outset, non-hereditary government in a more fluid society required a less patriarchal family. Republican citizenship depended on a certain type of education, which, if the Founders were correct, would best be supplied by private nuclear families. Self-sufficient, independent, self-controlled, competent citizens were most likely to come from nuclear families. As long as this was the ideal of citizenship, governments were limited and families essential. There is a constitutional parallel between the city and the family—a family order sustained the constitutional order.

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) determined that Buckyballs and Buckycubes, executive office desk toys made for adults, were defective. The CPSC pressured retailers to stop selling these products, and on July 25, 2012, the CPSC’s staff brought an administrative action against Maxfield and Oberton Holdings LLC, the company that produced Buckyballs and Buckycubes, initiating a proceeding to order the company to stop selling all of its products and to conduct a total recall of all of its products already sold. On February 11, 2013, the CPSC amended its complaint to add Craig Zucker, the former General Manager of Maxfield and Oberton Holdings LLC, as a respondent, to hold him personally liable to conduct a CPSC-estimated $57 million recall of Buckyballs and Buckycubes. On November 12, 2013, Mr. Zucker fought back, claiming that the CPSC overreached by bringing an administrative remedial action against Maxfield and Oberton, a limited liability company, as well as him personally. Mr. Zucker challenges the CPSC’s personal jurisdiction over him, claiming he is neither a manufacturer nor a distributor of Buckyballs or Buckycubes and that, instead, the CPSC is exercising undelegated adjudicative authority over individual corporate officers.

Is Putin a New Hero of the Right?

Silvio Berlusconi Meets With Vladimir PutinWhich President advocated the following conservative notions in his State of the Union Address? Restoring local government, reviving charities, freeing business from regulation, denouncing the education bureaucracy, tightening the borders, and strengthening “the values of traditional families.”

Contrast this with a more progressive President whose State of the Union Address emphasized raising the salaries of academics and doctors; calling for frank discussion of race relations, declaring a “year of culture,” and increasing trust in the government—while never mentioning God.

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The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left

Great Debate

This edition of Liberty Law Talk is with Yuval Levin, author of The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. A 2013 Bradley Prize recipient, Levin connects us with the actual contest between Burke and Paine as they debated the central claims of the French Revolution and much of modern political thought with its focus on rights, individualism, the social contract vs. Burke’s more expansive notions of social liberty, the contract among the dead, the living, and those yet to be born, and his belief in prescription or the notion that change should be guided within the broad lived experience of the nation. Levin and I discuss the terms of the Burke-Paine debate while considering how it continues to shape the contours of current political conversation.