Well, Paul demands a report on what happened in Chicago. The worst news: Instead of centering on the beautiful and historic Palmer House, most convention activity was found in hotels that are very generic, ugly, full of clip joints, and endlessly confusing--a Hyatt and a Sheraton. The book room--the social center, obviously--really was a cave beneath the cave.
The best news, from an NLT perspective, is that most of the best and most hugely attended panels were Claremont roundtables. Many APSA panels had more participants than audience in a big room. The Claremont people were often overflow crowds packed into small rooms. I reject all paranoid theories about marginalization and blame bureaucratic incompetence for this ridiculous injustice.
Because everything is finally all about me, let me say a few words about the roundtable I was on, which concerned whether social conservatism is good for conservatism. The panelists agreed that nobody knew what social conservatism was, and the phrase was vulgar and trivialized genuine political concerns shared by lots of Americans.
Hadley Arkes insisted that politics and law couldn’t be separated from the truth about morality human beings share in common, and that even the Bush administration must be criticized for doing so little to protect unborn life. Hadley was particularly hard on the libertarians, while admitting that he agreed with them about 85% of the time. His most memorable comment was something like it is better to lose honorably with Romney that sacrifice our souls for success with Giuliani.
The nice-guy head of the libertarian Cato Institute--David Boaz--said something like the problem with Republicans today is that they’re no longer led by freedom- loving men from the West like Goldwater but moralistic religious extremists from the South. They want to use big government to impose their moral views on every individual in the country, and they don’t even care that government under Republican leadership continues to bloat in all sorts of ways. He also said that same-sex marriage will soon become as uncontroversial as interracial marriage, and implicitly that those who opposed it will rightly be placed in the same boat as the racists. He admitted that the abortion controversy might be particularly tough--given the conflicting rights claims.
On the basis of that understanding of the abortion controversy, I got Mr. Boaz to admit that ROE v. WADE was probably judicial imperialism. (He should call Giuliani and explain why.) Because so many have made the point that the injustice of ROE is what brought the so-called social conservatism movement into being, we might be tempted to call even our libertarian friend a social conservative. The problem with that conclusion is that he clearly would have no trouble at all with the Court declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
More generally, Mr. Boaz contended that a genuine conservative would accept the social/cultural revolution of the Sixties and the economic/market revolution of the Eighties as part of our heritage that can’t and shouldn’t be rolled back. So a genuine conservative is a "Do your own thing" individual in every area of life.
Natural-law man Chris Wolfe, from the floor, made clear that his difference with Boaz had to do with the naturalness of marriage as an institution. A free society should be understood as much as a nation of families as a nation of individuals. Boaz made it clear enough that for all public purposes marriage could be captured by the individualistic principles of contract and consent, or is fundamentally no different from any other social relationship in his libertarian eyes.
I haven’t talked about the presentations by Heritage’s Matt Spalding and myself, but that’s because I’m out of time for now.