I'm happy to introduce Joseph Postell as this month's guest blogger. Joe is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and the co-editor of two books: Rediscovering Political Economy and Toward an American Conservatism. Joe has contributed to this site on several occasions, where he has called for an increased judicial role in the administrative state and highlighted the importance of Roscoe Pound's critique of administrative justice. He looks forward to discussing some interesting aspects of his current project: a manuscript on the historical relationship and tension between American constitutionalism and the administrative state. He will also…
Archives for May 2014
With this I end with thanks a month-long stint as a Law and Liberty blogger. It’s been great fun, even with the distractions that came from pushing my book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
The book’s thesis is that, from an admirable patriotism and a less attractive ignorance of history, American libertarians do not adequately defend liberty.
We are all patriots first and philosophers second—and that is just as it should be. For American theorists, patriotism means elevating people such as James Madison to the pantheon of political philosophy. The British have Hume and Burke, the French have Rousseau and Tocqueville—and the Americans have Madison and Hamilton. To be sure, they’re not mediocrities. But then they’re not the people who made the deals that produced the Constitution, or whose beliefs informed its content.
The Obama administration has recently moved to rate colleges and universities. This proposal is not just the idea of some bureaucrat or even cabinet secretary. It appears to be a brainchild of the President himself. As such it represents a window into his progressive, centralizing mindset. This proposal threatens to undermine and further politicize our universities and colleges, which even with their many faults are the best set of higher educational institutions in the world.
It is true that one of the impulses behind the President’s effort is laudable. Many colleges do cost too much, saddle their graduates with excessive debt, and ill prepare them for the world of work. But often progressive ideas have good intentions. It is their consequences that are bad. The administration is also right that government may have some role in encouraging colleges to provide basic information about graduation and employment rates. Such information is a good that the market may undersupply, because no one has a property right in it. But again the problem with the progressivism is not that markets are always perfect, but that the solutions are frequently worse than the defects.
The defects of government ratings of higher educational institutions lie in the choice of criteria by which college will be graded and in the decisions about how to use these grades.
There are three principal grounds for justifying originalism: (1) Interpretive: the original meaning is the actual meaning of the Constitution; (2) Normative: following the original meaning is normatively desirable, where the normative desirability might be social welfare or justice or popular sovereign choice; or (3) Legal: the original meaning of the Constitution is the law (the “Legality Argument”). In the past, I have expressed skepticism about the Legality Argument, noting that the jails are filled with people who violated statutes that conflict with the Constitution’s original meaning. Instead, I have argued that the rule of recognition in the United States allows…
When our sensibilities were fed from different sources, it used to be said that, with spring, “the voice of the turtledove has been heard in the land.” But in these recent weeks the landscape has been filled with the sounds of “disinvitations” to speak and receive degrees at what used to be called our “better” colleges and universities. Colleges of the second rank may now be seeking to lift their standings by seeking out prestigious speakers to “disinvite.”
A lot has been said about Arizona’s SB 1062, vetoed by Arizona Gov. Brewer. Some see it as a bellwether of “growing threats to religious liberty,” others as a debate “captured by utterly intolerant people on both sides” with many seeking “liberty for me, and [to have their] opponent ground into the dust.” Marriage equality advocates see SB 1062 as, at best, a “misguided attempt to preserve an outdated social order;” at worst, a license to discriminate.
Lost in the aftermath is the fact that SB 1062 was a very different animal from the primary context in which religious liberty exemptions have emerged—namely, same-sex marriage legislation.
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.
Disordered 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.
There is a tendency to liken modern parliamentary systems to the kind of one-man rule seen in most presidential regimes. The claim, made by Don Savoie and others, is that prime ministers are all-powerful. But it’s more accurate to see parliamentary systems as a kind of corporate government, with the PM as CEO and the party bigwigs as a not impuissant board. The CEO is fine as long as he seems to be able to lead the party into the next election, but if not he’ll find he’s not really in charge. As happened to Thatcher in 1990 and Jean…
A recent meeting in Geneva on the implementation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons focused on regulating autonomous weapons. Autonomous weapons are systems that decide to deploy lethal force without direct human control. Imagine, for instance, drones guided by sensors and preprogrammed algorithms that would choose for themselves the time and place to release their deadly missiles.
There was substantial sentiment at the meeting for banning such weapons. Such a ban would prove an enormous mistake. It would harm the interests of the United States and make for a less peaceful world.
The first problem with such a ban is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to verify. First, autonomous systems depend on AI programs, which, unlike nuclear weapons, are very easy to hide. Second, autonomy is a matter of degree: limited human oversight would be hard to distinguish from full autonomy. The lack of verifiability will empower rogue nations in the arms race that has characterized military competition from the beginning of civilization. In the world of tomorrow that arms race will be paced by robotics and machine intelligence.
Second, because of the West’s technological superiority, the West in general and particularly the United States have an advantage in developing these weapons.
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…