I now tweet.

I’m now on twitter and can be found @andysabl

Having just returned from the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, in which arson at the main hotel in the middle of the night effected a mass slumber party of political scientists on the lawn and in the hotel ballroom, I was so entertained by reading on the web the hashtags #APSAonfire and #APSAsuspects that I was provoked into signing up for twitter.

I won’t promise—or threaten—to tweet incessantly. But if you want quick notices of my blog posts, and the occasional one-liner, you can now find me @andysabl


This Saturday in DC: Roundtable on Hume’s Politics

Upcoming author-meets-critics panel on *Hume’s Politics* (Saturday, 8/30).

I’m writing this lest some political scientists attending the American  Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting—and other random readers living near DC—miss an opportunity to see my work simultaneously celebrated and torn to shreds: an “Author Meets Critics” panel on Hume’s Politics, this coming Saturday, August 30, at 9:30 in the Marriot Wardman Park’s Maryland B room. (I suspect you’re technically supposed to register for the conference in order to attend. I also suspect that no Homeland Security agents will be enforcing that in the case of this panel.)

For the occasion, Tom Merrill of American University assembled a bunch of people who like the book but who also disagree with it sharply and won’t be afraid to say so: Russell Hardin of NYU, Emily Nacol of Vanderbilt, Michael Frazer of Harvard, and himself. So those who enjoy a good argument as much as I do won’t be disappointed.



The one candidate who could still challenge Clinton (but probably won’t).

It’s getting late for any Democrat to challenge Hillary Clinton. Any serious rival would need instant name recognition, a compelling issue or two, demonstrated competence as a presidential candidate, nothing to lose, no reason to care about the Clintons’ future favor, and lots of money. One qualifies.

Jonathan Bernstein gives (and Ed Kilgore endorses) plenty of reasons to think that it will be hard for any Democrat to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination. Both focus on the actions of the party elites—broadly understood—who decide the nomination. Ed notes that the analogy of 2008 is inapt, since at this stage back then Edwards had made tremendous organizational progress and Obama commanded universal fame and a unique ability to build up quickly. A couple of days ago Nate Silver noted that Clinton is very popular among Democrats of all ideological tendencies, and has racked up an unprecedented number of endorsements from Democratic members of Congress, again from across the party spectrum. But Jonathan has the most exhaustive list of what seriously running for president takes:

During the invisible primary, potential candidates introduce themselves to party actors and demonstrate their fealty to the party’s policy positions, their capacity for running a national campaign and the skills and abilities that promise to make them reliable presidents. They also begin to demonstrate that they can attract enthusiastic support from party voters (before the actual primaries and caucuses), and that they would make solid general election candidates. But not all candidates begin at the same starting line. Hillary Clinton had already achieved pretty much everything on the 2016 nomination checklist by November 2012. By contrast, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, have a lot more to do. The more a candidate must achieve, the more time it will take to do it.

This all sounds completely right. Any Democratic candidate jumping in at this point will have to have already demonstrated party loyalty, actual or likely executive skills, and the ability to win a majority of votes in both a party primary and a general election. Moreover, it would help if that candidate had a record of early and loud opposition to doing “stupid [stuff]” in the Middle East—the same issue that sank Hillary in 2008, and that deserves to sink her now—and a history of running, long before Elizabeth Warren, as a candidate of “the people” against “powerful forces.” It would help if the candidate had vast personal wealth, maybe not enough to self-finance a whole campaign, but enough to buy a campaign infrastructure and the advertising to compete immediately in early primary states, as well as strong and deep connections to Silicon Valley, the only serious rival to Wall Street (Clinton’s base) as a source of campaign cash. It would help, morally if not politically, if the candidate were universally regarded as caring fervently and persistently—as Clinton palpably does not—about the biggest issue of our time, global warming. Finally, it would be great if the candidate had a demonstrated willingness to tick off both Clintons, and were old and accomplished enough not to care about the future consequences of doing so if the challenge failed—though let’s say not too much older than Hillary Clinton, or a tiny bit younger.

No, I don’t have any evidence that Al Gore has any interest in coming out of political retirement; I see as of a few minutes ago that he has more interest in suing Al Jazeera (though that would hardly hurt a campaign). But if he did, and if he ran as the anti-war and populist—yet impeccably mainstream—candidate that Hillary clearly is not and has no desire to be, things would suddenly get interesting. And if he’s not, they won’t.

Days of glory: the case against

On Bastille Day, an appreciation of American individualism. Only a fanatic seeks out days of glory.

Happy Bastille Day. As a liberal and an American, I can think of no better way of celebrating it than by defending American individualism against French (small-r) republicanism, the pursuit of happiness against compulsory fraternity, and personal lives in all their diversity against the longing that citizens all hold the same purpose in common (and it doesn’t matter what it is).

Writing against David Brooks’ latest lament for the “spiritual recession” entailed by creeping loss of faith in the gospel [sic, several times] of democracy promotion, independent-minded paleoconservative Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote a great piece a couple of weeks ago defending the sufficiency of private life and the unsung sacrifices involved in living it well (h/t: Daniel Larison). I can’t help but quote a good third of it:

Brooks’ linking of American ebbs of American idealism with tides of American materialism is not only wrong but perverse, as if Americans were somehow worse off for buying cars in the 1920s than they were dying of gas attacks in Europe a decade earlier. And if noble causes were a cure-all for the materialism of the elite, then the Truman Committee would not have been booking companies for war-profiteering as the Greatest Generation made its name.

Times of peace are not absent of ennobling effects of sacrifice and duty. But the common sacrifices that fathers and mothers make for children, that entrepreneurs make for the future, that researchers make for the legacy of science, are somehow beneath our notice.

An analogy might suffice. Stern fathers often make the mistake of believing that their children will not defend the home or the values of the family if martial discipline is not instilled. But turning the homestead into a garrison then drives the children to go AWOL. Instead, all the father has to do is make his home a place of love and, yes, comfort. Having done that, his sons will defend it from any real threat with fire in their eyes.

Ideologues prefer the idea of an ideological nation, a crusader state. Crusader states inspire great battle poetry. But a democratic republic like America needs no purpose, no mission civilisatrice. It needs no poetry. America just needs to be our home — that will require sacrifice enough.

Dougherty rightly aims his attack against national greatness conservatism, which is by a long way the most prevalent and dangerous form of American fraternatism. (Shorter NGC: “Americans, admit it: your lives only have meaning when your country is killing a fair number of foreigners or loudly proclaiming an eagerness to do so.”) But though it now persists only in the minds of Robert Kuttner and about twelve other people, there once was common on the Left an equally cloying and also pernicious habit of averring that when people live their own lives and make their own choices they’re effectively surrendering to selfishness. America, on this neo-Deweyan view, is worth the trouble only when “private interest” yields to “public purpose”—i.e. having things run by the state, as a matter of principle and, to simplify only slightly, in as many areas as possible.

Of course no sane and decent person believes that people should lead callous, narrow “private” lives in which we ignore our duties to others and our obligation to contribute to the public goods that all of us count on. (Lots of people do believe that. But they’re not sane and decent.) And on the unusual occasions when ordinary people do turn their attention to politics, I hope they will keep those duties and obligations strongly in mind. But the rest of the time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Americans’ leading our diverse, untranslatable, personal lives, lives of strife and sacrifice and ineffable, idiosyncratic goals. As we live such lives, the condition and the feelings of our family and friends will, inevitably, strike us more directly than those of other fellow citizens.

And even if there were something wrong with our leading such lives, we will in any case live them anyway: a human being is not by nature a self-forgetting animal. A constant, tub-thumping commitment to national greatness, solidarity, fraternity, la patrie, or public purpose will not make a person altruistic. But it may—very commonly does—distort his or her good judgment, and deaden good moral sense.

So: let’s go, children of their actual parents. An ordinary day of summer camp has arrived—and no shame in that.

Anti-intellectualism in libertarian policy?

Hayek thought it might be a good idea to abolish copyright, so that only propertied people could write books. We’re getting ever closer to that. Do today’s libertarians care?

Though most people aren’t aware of it, Friedrich Hayek in a 1949 article (“The Intellectuals and Socialism” [JSTOR: academic paywall; ungated version from the Mises Institute, with a crucial omission described below]) wondered aloud whether the existence of independent intellectuals, who could make a living due to copyright, was on balance a good thing. In the text (p. 420 of the law review version, 374 of the Mises Institute’s reprint) he wrote:

In the sense in which we are using the term, the intellectuals are in fact a fairly new phenomenon of history. Though nobody will regret that education has ceased to be a privilege of the propertied classes, the fact that the propertied classes are no longer the best educated and the fact that the large number of people who owe their position solely to the their general education do not possess that experience of the working of the economic system which the administration of property gives, are important for understanding the role of the intellectual. Professor Schumpeter, who has devoted an illuminating chapter of his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy to some aspects of our problem, has not unfairly stressed that it is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs and the consequent absence of first hand knowledge of them which distinguishes the typical intellectual from other people who also wield the power of the spoken and written word. It would lead too far, however, to examine here further the development of this class and the curious claim which has recently been advanced by one of its theorists that it was the only one whose views were not decidedly influenced by its own economic interests. One of the important points that would have to be examined in such a discussion would be how far the growth of this class has been artificially stimulated by the law of copyright (bold emphases added).

The law-review version contains at this point—though the reprint omits—the following rather striking footnote:

It would be interesting to discover how far a seriously critical view of the benefits to society of the law of copyright or the expression of doubts about the public interest in the existence of a class which makes its living from the writing of books would have a chance of being publicly stated in a society in which the channels of expression are so largely controlled by people who have a vested interest in the existing situation (bold emphasis added).

Hayek, often praised by his enemies for his consistency, was consistent here as well. Given his deep and abiding hatred of generalist intellectuals, who make their living by their pens and fix the general tenor of society’s ideas, Hayek mused about cutting the knot: abolishing intellectuals by abolishing the law that alone lets them support themselves. His whole purpose was to bring about what might seem the reductio result: that the only writers would be professionals—mostly academics—who drew a salary to convey their expertise; people with independent incomes who wrote on the side; and writers as servants, employed by wealthy patrons and willing to toe their line. Hayek lamented that an honest policy debate on this was impossible because those pesky intellectuals, knowing their living was at stake, wouldn’t allow it.

Well, it turns out we didn’t need an honest policy debate in order to approach Hayek’s preferred outcome.

Continue reading “Anti-intellectualism in libertarian policy?”

Reviews for Hume’s Politics: so far, so good.

Three reviews of Hume’s Politics: so far, so favorable.

In a busy summer for research, I missed the chance to note three prominent reviews of Hume’s Politics. So far, gratifyingly, they’re all favorable, even very favorable (though two of the three reviews start a fair argument with the book after praising it, which is of course fine). But I’ll report neutral unfavorable ones too if such appear.

David Walsh reviewed the book for Perspectives on Politics;

Thomas W. Merrill, for the Review of Politics;

and Ross Carroll (in a review essay covering mine and another book) in Political Theory (.pdf here)

Alas, all the reviews are, as far as I know, behind academic paywalls (except for the first page). But Princeton has thoughtfully selected the most flattering parts for the description of my book on its website; they appear at the link to my book above as well.

Campus religious groups should be able to “discriminate” based on religion.

I must admit that I didn’t know this was happening. Colleges, private as well as public, are withdrawing recognition as official campus student groups from religious groups, often evangelical, that “discriminate.”  The key Supreme Court case that has “emboldened” campus authorities is a 2010 case (specifically Christian Legal Society v. Martinez: slip opinion [.pdf]; Scotusblog coverage) that held it was permissible—no violation of the First Amendment—for public universities to withdraw such status from a group that excluded gays and lesbians. Leave aside for the moment the foolishness of a tendency, however common, to confuse what’s constitutionally permissible with what’s a good idea. It’s important to stress that that the decision at Bowdoin College discussed in this article, apparently typical of many other recent decisions, is not about anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Christian Fellowship group at Bowdoin college isn’t being stripped of its status for excluding gays. In fact, it avows even-handedness on that subject—it tacitly expects that “unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex” (emphasis added—and don’t laugh: in my college experience, straight Christian Fellowship couples were indeed either celibate or pretending to be, in effect “closeted”).* Rather, the group is in trouble because it’s insisting that the leaders of an evangelical Christian group affirm a belief in the basic tenets of Christianity. While Christian Fellowship’s membership and meetings are open to people of all faiths, unbelievers, and those who don’t know what they believe, its leaders are expected to be, astonishingly, Christians. And this the campus administration won’t allow.

Continue reading “Campus religious groups should be able to “discriminate” based on religion.”

Progressive activism and the politics of federalism

Kos is right to say that progressives who don’t like Clinton should focus on non-presidential politics. But this brings up a bigger point about why Progressives have come to think like monarchists.

An eon ago in blogtime, Kos dared to tell the truth that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. More controversially, he argued that, given Clinton’s organizational advantages and broad, overwhelming popularity in the party, progressives who don’t particularly love her politics, as Kos doesn’t, should avoid wasting their time and donations supporting a populist Democrat against her in the primaries—which will only break their hearts—and focus instead on down-ballot races. Those races really matter, for reasons that shouldn’t need stating (though Kos lists a few) and progressive candidates might actually win some of them.

I agree with about 90 percent of what Kos wrote. I would only add that down-ballot races not only matter in themselves—legislatures, by the dog, make the laws—but also provide excellent opportunities for slowly taking over a party. When the religious Right in the late 60s and early 70s felt outraged by what it saw as creeping secularism (especially the Supreme Court’s ban on school prayer), it voted for the relatively secular Nixon for President but focused its real energy on taking over school boards, city councils, and local Republican precinct organizations. Now, in many parts of the South and West, and to a large degree on the national level, the religious Right is the Republican Party: not every Republican must adopt its rhetoric, but none may oppose its core policy positions. More recently and on the other side, the Working Families Party, which leans social-democratic and regards the Democrats as frenemies, has scored impressive successes, where the local demographics and ideology lean in its favor, by starting with school boards and city councils.

In some sense, Kos’ point should be obvious. It combines three basic insights: that the efforts of one person make the most difference in the smallest settings; that it’s good strategy to pick one’s battles; and that the U.S. political system is sprawling and decentralized, with multiple centers of real power—which is bad for accountability, but good for activists looking for somewhere to make a difference. Surely smart people, on reflection, already know all three of these things. But why, judging by the comments Kos has earned, do progressives have a hard time drawing the conclusion?

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