Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy New Year!

To all.

Scalia’s wit counted

A new study concludes that Justice Scalia is good for at least one laugh per agument, and is nineteen times as funny as Justice Ginsburg; Justice Thomas doesn’t even register.

This is not via Scalia:
At night court, a man was brought in and set before the judge.
The judge said, "State your name, occupation, and the charge."
The defendant said, "I’m Sparks, I’m an electrician, charged with
The judge winced and said, "Bailiff! Put this man in a dry cell!"

Jeffrey Hart again

Apologies for my absence yesterday. I was being a tourist in my hometown, visiting the Georgia Aquarium, along with a gazillion other folks (including many clad in purple destined to be quite happy with the results of a football game later in the day), and eating at the Varsity, an Atlanta institution, also with the same gazillion people, many clad in purple. Strangely enough, we ran into acquaintances twice in our peregrinations through a downtown crawling with out-of-towners.

But on to the issue at hand. First, I’d recommend a number of these comments. Then you can read Richard John Neuhaus’ riposte, followed by this at Armavirumque, and then these posts at The Corner. If I have anything to add, I’ll update this post. Right now, I’m playing catch-up.

Update: Roger Kimball argues, effectively I think, that Hart has Burke wrong.

The funniest Supreme Court Justice

You knew it was Scalia, didn’t you?

What you write about on a slow news day

U.S. plans to invade Canada. I await Howard Dean’s claims that these plans can’t succeed, not to mention John Kerry’s reminder that he’s a veteran of the War of 1812 (another unsuccessful invasion of Canada).

Jeffrey Hart responds on abortion

Here. Two representative paragraphs:

The actuality in elective abortion is that the woman is not willing to derail her life because of an unwanted pregnancy, a life she had worked for many years to shape, perhaps studied and worked. That now is an actuality different from the situation of most women fifty years ago. The women’s revolution has happened. And in the "town meeting" the women’s voice, and that of those who understand what the women’s revolution means, will be heard and heeded.


Now, no woman is obliged to have an abortion if her convictions are opposed. The convictions of many women, no doubt a majority, are not opposed. There is the political problem for those who would outlaw abortion. And of course the women’s revolution has happened. We are living with its results. The year 1950 is not going to be restored, any more than the ancient regime was going to be restored after the Revolution. I didn’t think I needed to say that revolutions have consequences. As Burke said in effect, to resist the inevitable effects of revolution is to throw sand into a hurricane.

In his view, opinion seems to be fixed, in an almost reductive way, largely determined by interest and largely unchangeable by argument.

There’s also a rather harsh swipe at Richard John Neuhaus, who hasn’t yet responded at
his blogsite.

I’ll be watching to see how this develops.


I’m getting the picture. The famous couple--the mother having just recently retired--with their five year old twins, are just trying to slip quietly out of town, on vacation. But, hey, there are a few reporters around the terminal, and the father just can’t resist being interviewed, even though he has nothing to say. So he talks to them, and so does one of the twins: "My daddy’s famous, my mommy’s a secret spy." Then Valerie and Joe, and the twins, quietly slip away to an undisclosed location. I bet the boys knew where they were going.

Edward Larson on evolution controversies

This seems to be a partial transcript (it begins rather abruptly) of a session, sponsored by the Pew Forum, in which Edward J. Larson, a very prominent law professor and historian of science (once affiliated with the Discovery Institute, though clearly no longer on the same wavelength), answers questions from leading American journalists about the evolution controversies.

Larson knows a lot and holds nuanced views, so it’s quite worth reading.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Reuel Marc Gerecht undertakes a careful and incisive comparison of incipient Islamic democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The conclusion:

Iraq and Afghanistan as liberal beacons in the region never really made much sense; as democracies in which devout Muslims wrestle through difficult questions about the proper relationship between God and man, they can have much more impact in the Middle East, where religion is like oxygen. Afghanistan and Iraq are at present the Muslim world’s two most important democratic laboratories. They are not causes for despair. On the contrary, for devout Muslims who are trying to introduce concepts of popular sovereignty into political philosophy, both nations are-and the word is used correctly-progressive. This may be hard for many secularized or disbelieving Westerners and Middle Easterners to swallow-"We have gone to war for this?"-but in the context of Middle Eastern history, we should be both hopeful and proud. The real question for us now is the one posed to me in Kabul by an Italian officer, who despite his soft manner had the martial spirit of a U.S. Marine: "Will the United States run? If you do, we all will."

Read the whole thing.

Imperial Grunts again

It turns out that President Bush is reading it in Crawford this Christmas season. I’ve already recommended this interview over at TAE Online. Hugh Hewitt’s conversation with him is here.

Another enthusiastic endorsement comes from my dad (U.S. Army, 1953-73), on whom I foisted the book. He really appreciated the non-commissioned officers who make up the backbone of the U.S. Special Forces and found that much of the book rang true to his own experience (now, of course, more than 30 years old).

Red, blue, and high culture

One of the other elements of Jeffrey Hart’s WSJ piece that I overlooked yesterday was this:

Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative. But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli’s observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.

Matthew Yglesias heartily endorses this point:

Can anyone seriously dispute that the vast majority of America’s premiere institutions of education and high culture are located in the "blue" areas? That’s not to say the South is some kind of total wasteland -- I visited the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum earlier this year and it’s first-rate, albeit a bit small -- but on the whole this stuff is primarily in the Northeast and to a lesser extent on the Pacific coast. At the same time, these institutions used to be bastions of conservatism and now -- as conservatives are wont to complain -- go the other way politically.

This is a complicated issue. I want to respond first to Hart and then to Yglesias.

Hart’s argument seems to be that the "modern" (post-1964) Republican Party--the party of Goldwater and Reagan--gained votes and power at the expense of its contact with "prudence, education, intellect, and high culture." Given the fact that these four attributes are going by and large to be the preserve of a relatively small minority, any party that gains voters, wherever it gains them, will lose some of its cultivated aspect. As recently as the brouhaha over the Miers nomination, some commentators noted tensions within the Republican coalition between the intellectuals (neo-conservatives and NR traditionalists, among others) and the base, whether it be the business class or the evangelical social conservatives. What I’ve found remarkable, however, is how well they’ve gotten along over the years. "Cowboy" that he was, Ronald Reagan provided the principal conduit for the influence of conservative intellectuals of various stripes in Washington.

Of course, Professor Hart might reply that a policy wonk or an economist isn’t the same thing as a painter, poet, or critic. But not all the conservative intellectuals in Washington, D.C. were trained at Virginia Tech or George Mason. Some came from places like Harvard, Toronto, Claremont, and Chicago. (I hasten to note, lest I offend, that these are not the only universities in the country and that the study of public choice theory does not necessarily render one incapable of appreciating the good, the true, and the beautiful, nor, for that matter, does the study of Plato and his successors render one simply unappreciative of the way in which interests are often, if not always, appropriately understood.)

Now on to Yglesias, who makes a more narrowly geographic point, but one not properly informed by history or demography. Yes, the great museums, symphonies, and universities are by and large located in blue states. When you’re settled first, established first, and start building collections and endowments a century or more before the competition, that’s going to happen.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that most of those institutions, wherever they’re located, are now essentially national in their outlook. The top figures in Atlanta’s "regional" theatre, for example, are recruited from, or leave for, other parts of the country. To take another example from my little slice of the world: my department, consisting of seven full-time faculty members, counts Ph.D.’s from Harvard, Penn, Chicago, Ohio State, Toronto, and Emory; my colleagues hail from Cambridge, Providence, Eugene, Chicago, southern California, and Paris. In other words, you have to dig pretty deeply before you find a pronounced regionalism in cultural and educational institutions in even as red a state as Georgia.

Finally, Yglesias celebrates what I would hope Hart would deprecate as a kind of "treason of the clerks": our great cultural and educational institutions by and large no longer regard themselves as transmitters of a tradition, but rather as deconstructors and ironic critics of that tradition, often in service of a political agenda. By contrast, for example, classical learning is quite alive in "classical and Christian schools", the majority of which are located in red states. Higher education and the patronage of fine cultural establishments are certainly not inconsistent with a genuine appreciation of "the permanent things," but they have long since ceased being guarantors of that appreciation.

Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg, who has more.

Update: Things are still hopping at The Corner, while this site is helpfully trying to sort things out.

Update #2: Armavirumque provides some helpful context for Hart’s WSJ essay.

NSA surveillance in court

This NYT article suggests that defense lawyers are readying evidentiary challenges in cases where their clients might have been ensnared, or have had evidence against them gathered, through the NSA program. I’m fairly confident that at least one judge somewhere will rule that we have an illegal search and seizure here. Will higher courts overrule him or her?

Unpacking suburban Republicanism

Fred Barnes calls our attention to Rep. Mark Kirk’s efforts to defend and rebuild waning Republican strength in close-in suburbs. I’m not convinced that the issues that he’s identified are sufficiently salient to overcome "image problems" the Republican Party has with the professionals who increasingly populate what Kirk calls the "inurbs" (as opposed to the exurbs). If you want to read more about Kirk’s efforts, go here and here.

Boys to men: where?

This article looks at the troubling trends regarding male participation in education, a subject I discussed from another angle here. Though not quite on the subject, we shouldn’t overlook this piece.

Presidential prerogative

My two cents worth on the NSA eavesdropping controversy is posted over at TAE Online.

A preface on gaining friends and losing wisdom

I note John Moser’s point below (and Victor Davis Hanson’s) only because I trust them more than I do, for example, Robert Kuttner, who wrote on the same theme just two days after Hanson did. Kuttner uses Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book on Lincoln, Team of Rivals, to make some points: 1) Lincoln is not Bush; 2) Lincoln was better at persuading people than Bush is; 3) Lincoln was a genius at "winning the trust and affection of rivals," and Bush is not; 4) Lincoln included in his cabinet "prominent leaders of different factions of his party who had opposed him for the 1860 nomination"; 5) Lincoln read books, Bush does not; 6) Lincoln wrote his own speeches, Bush does not. 7) Lincoln grew in office, Bush does not (and, by the way, no Republican has ever "grown in office" since Lincoln, I would add!). You get the drift. There is more. I like this sentence: "Despite civil insurrection, Lincoln resisted broad intrusions on democratic rights. Bush runs roughshod over liberties." Yet, Mr. Kuttner believes that the Union will survive the Bush presidency, although he does not tell us why. There is more to be said on these matters, and I’m working myself up to will take weeks at this pace. But I will mention, en passant, only this. Whenever a Liberal writes a book on Lincoln (Goodwin in this case, and David Herbert Donald a few years ago), the Liberal cognoscenti shout Lincoln’s perceived liberal virtues at those of us who belong to his party and who find him estimable for all of his virtues, including his steadfastness, his unbowing principles, his love of the nation and "the cause of my country," and his courage to fight the war with all his might. I find the Liberal shouting both offensive and childish. Is this the best they can do? Whine about not having enough Liberals in the Cabinet? Or whine about not being consulted enough? Where are the finely tuned Liberal minds of old, where is the brain trust, where are the best and the brightest? I see carpers only. Wesley Clark would have become a Republican if only Karl Rove would have returned his phone calls? We are to spend time reflecting on this? Sometimes this great world bores me.

The "conservative mind" today

In an effort to define contemporary conservatism, Dartmouth professor emeritus Jeffrey Hart (no slouch, he) provokes. Aside from the typical critique of GWB’s "Wilsonian" foreign policy, there’s this about abortion:

Burke had a sense of the great power and complexity of forces driving important social processes and changes. Nevertheless, most conservatives defend the "right to life," even of a single-cell embryo, and call for a total ban on abortion. To put it flatly, this is not going to happen. Too many powerful social forces are aligned against it, and it is therefore a utopian notion.

Roe relocated decision-making about abortion from state governments to the individual woman, and was thus a libertarian, not a liberal, ruling. Planned Parenthood v. Casey supported Roe, but gave it a social dimension, making the woman’s choice a derivative of the women’s revolution. This has been the result of many accumulating social facts, and its results already have been largely assimilated. Roe reflected, and reflects, a relentlessly changing social actuality. Simply to pull an abstract "right to life" out of the Declaration of Independence is not conservative but Jacobinical. To be sure, the Roe decision was certainly an example of judicial overreach. Combined with Casey, however, it did address the reality of the American social process.

Get it? Asserting a right to life is "not conservative but Jacobinical." This from a man who insists upon the importance of "religion in its magisterial forms," which is to say something like the Roman Catholic Church, which I guess is "Jacobinical" in its magisterial pronouncements on abortion. I suppose that the Roman Catholic Church--or any other--should only assert its authority in a manner consonant with "the reality of the American social process." It shouldn’t stand athwart history shouting "Stop!", but perhaps only "Slow down a tad, would you please?!?"

Professor Hart also invokes the shade of William James, whose philosophy was "always open to experience and judging by experience within given conditions." But isn’t Jamesian pragmatism an "enemy of the permanent things"?

I could say much more, but this seems sufficient to provoke some discussion. Can Professor Hart have it both ways, appealing to the power of the magisterial religious traditions and accommodating to "the reality of the American social process"? Is prudence the equivalent of Jamesian pragmatism, or is it informed by high principle, attempting to instantiate and embody it in ways consistent with "the facts on the ground."

Update: Jonah Goldberg has some thoughts. For the source of Hart’s animus, one might consider this.

Update #2: There’s lot’s more at The Corner.

Adult literacy in decline

This article summarizes the findings of this study, also discussed here. Much of the decline from 1992 to 2003 is likely due to immigration, but there are still some startling findings about higher education, discernible in these tables (numbers 11 and 12). Note that in 2003 17% of college graduates scored at basic or below in prose literacy, while only 31% scored as proficient, a 9 point decline since 1992. Also in 2003, 11% of those possessing graduate degrees scored at basic or below, while only 41% scored proficient, a 10 point decline since the last survey. These standards are not high: "proficient" is defined as the capacity to "compar[e] viewpoints in two editorials"; basic literacy requires the ability to read a pamphlet, below basic the capacity to sign a form. As Mark S. Schneider, Commissioner of Education Statistics, put it, "What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels."

Let me repeat: less than half of those with graduate degrees can read (and presumably think) well enough to compare two newspaper editorials. What say you, dear readers?

How to Lose Friends and Influence People

I had meant to blog on this piece by Victor David Hanson when it first appeared, but was on the Grand Family Christmas Tour. Anyway, it’s worth our attention now, since last week’s discussions of wiretaps brought repeated reference to the precedent of Abraham Lincoln.

The entire op-ed is worth reading (and it’s brief), but his point is that wartime presidents like Lincoln and FDR were able to build consensus by appointing some of their political opponents to important positions. He notes that three recent critics--John Murtha, Richard Clarke, and Wesley Clark--could all have remained friends of the administration had they been given a respectful hearing:

There are lessons here in managing a difficult war. We must never forget age-old considerations such as pride, honor and status. Washington is a Darwinian place where the ambitious arrive, leaving friends, family and birthplace behind to calibrate their new self-worth by the degree to which they are considered important — and needed.

Happy Hanukkah!

To all our Jewish readers !

And while I’m at it, Happy Boxing Bay! (for our Canadian--and other Anglosphere--friends).