Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mad as Hell

But not funny as hell. And praise (scroll down) for our brilliant threadpersons. They’ve also been discussing the conservative "big three" issue on NRO’s Corner, but not with our class or depth. We manage to do more justice to both Strauss and Kirk, for example.

Discussions - 37 Comments

That was a lovely thread. New book idea for ISI: Greatest hits threads from NLT.

I think Kate and Julie would be a hit.

For crying out loud.

As much as I hate to admit it (kind of), Schaff's right. This blog is pretty sweet. I'll never find a good conversation on a liberal blog (or, at least, I haven't yet) about the philosophical differences between Habermas, Derrida, and Rawles (or Foucault, Rorty, and Dewey?) and the different schools of liberalism they produced. Until they can do that, I'll never take them as seriously as I do the Right (even though you're all wrong a lot . . . heh . . .).

Keep up the good work. Fun times . . .

That was a really fun thread and one of those conversations that occupies the mind as one moves throughout the more mundane parts of the day. Whenever that happens, I know we're on to something that's pretty good. But it's always very gratifying to know that others find it useful too. Seriously, this is the most fun I've had in conversation since grad school. In fact, it's probably even better because one gets to revise and amend and rethink everything one says.

There are reasons, by the way, for what Matt is saying above. But since he was so kind as to offer that bit of praise I won't go there today.

And Robert . . . Aw, shucks. It was you who got the O'Connor and Percy ball rolling.

The Left doesn't particularly need to think, since it has power.

Did you have to go there David? I was trying my best to be gracious. The left hasn't always had power . . . but it has always thought that politics is mainly about power. O.k., stop! Tongue bitten, bleeding and I give up . . .

Surely politics is partly about power, about organizing and limiting power; about ruling according to right principles.

. . .and about contesting those principles.

Not only do I really feel the love here, I'm taking seriously the new book idea for ISI. I edit a "religion and culture" series. There's a lot of literary/cutural talent buried in these threads, and what I'd want is 5000-7000 word essays written in the thread style about these contemporary issues. Personal experience is great, nerdy music obsession (Carl) is equally so, as are the other forms of accessible erudition displayed by many of you. I'm writing not only to the various professors out there, but the rest of you too--beginning with kate. I'm not interested at all in scholarly papers, but elaborations of the thread mode of writing. I'm gladly including our libertarian and comparatively liberal (Steve, Dr. Pat) friends and even sociobiological traditionalists like dain. There's no hurry and no pressure on this, and finally this may or may not work out.

Peter, it IS the thread mode, the call and response, that draws out what is interesting. Is what you want a reorganization of the threads, with the "Moby!!!!!" comments removed? Or do you want the consistent thought of one mind in an essay?

I agree with Kate. At their best, the relatively raw comments propel topics, often in surprising directions, to say the least. One way to keep that energy would be for a single author to incorporate the comments, quoting from them, showing how they lead to a broader or deeper understanding. (This happened, at least in my opinion, in our best Lincoln threads.) The commenters might then be given space for a final rebuttal.

kate, interesting comment, worth thinking about, don't want merely a reorganization of threads, but there may be a a literary way of incorporating thread call and response in the book.


We could organize the next Oglethorpe/Berry conference around an interesting and relevant theme or two from these threads. It's our turn to sponsor it, and I think there's a way of financing some people's participation.

I thought Peter would like the idea. I'm simultaneously trying to get started on my idea for a book with a similar tone, on questions my students have asked me with my responses--sort of Jeffrey explains the world. I think Kate is right--we somehow would have to figure out how to sustain the liveliness and surprisingness. Maybe pick up on Julie's suggestion about editing grad student conversation. We could edit or expand on real threads. And maybe combine selected real threads with longer essays by some of the participants. The women of NLT set a truly remarkable tone and leaven the discussion.


Who you callin' a libertarian??!? Moi? C'est non! I was excommunicated from Reason magazine almost ten years ago now. Why these days, I only have libertarian twitchings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but only if they are odd days on the calendar. Kirk would surely approve.

The Left doesn't particularly need to think, since it has power.
So that's how we got into Iraq, David! I'd have figured it out myself, but I don't need to think.

Peter, do you have an e-mail for a discussion of book ideas? I am an Ashbrook master's student with my first book forthcoming on American founding principles soon.

Steve: You and I don't disagree re: politics and power. I just think the emphasis on it on the left is--on the whole--much greater. Maybe because for them, political power is very often the only kind of power. Conservatives tend also to respect the power of God or, at least, the power of nature or the power of tradition.

The book idea is interesting . . . I don't think we all have to worry that much about how to do it. You just give it a go and a good edit and see how it looks in the end. If it's worthy, you publish it. If not, no one's the worse for the wear. Title idea or essay theme: "Things I learned on the blog" and you write about the thing that has most inspired your ire or your intellect as you've cruised through these threads.

Julie - I was talking about FDR's Commonwealth Club speech today in class. So the example is fresh. If FDR counts as a voice on the left, then certainly he recognized something other than political power. Political power is to be mobilized in a new way -- on behalf of a new "individualism" -- because of the bad effects of concentrations of economic power. Maybe this is all history, and the left you're thinking about is something altogether different. As for God, FDR liked to say he was a Christian and a democrat (small d), in that order. One can object to FDR's view -- say, on the ground of his inventing new rights as the product of some historical necessity -- but I don't think he fits your mold.

More generally and with all respect, I believe you are caricaturing the "left" and saving all good things for conservatives. That said, it is true that the left likes government and tax revenues more than conservatives, or so it used to be.

Awww man. Now everyone's going to start posting like they're writing has the possibility of becoming more public than the humble NLT blog (which, I guess, always could happen to you higher-ups . . . but now it'll be even worse). People are going to start diving into deep issues without genuine provocation. :(

I hope I'm not feeling the authenticity of the posts here seeping away . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . :-D I so enjoyed the unadulterated conversation.

Of course, maybe I'm just paranoid.

Matt Mingus - It is a risk. I feel your pain.

Here, Matt, I'll lower the conversation for you. I was on my knees scrubbing my mother-in-law's basement floors today - surely the most humbling thing that is non-invasive - the latter encompassing things like colorectal exams. It is the sort of thing that leaves time for thought, while reminding the scrubber of her non-brilliance. Though I thank you, Robert and Peter; you left me with comforting thoughts while attending to my scrubbing.

But I thought Julie might have your bookish answer in editing the threads, Peter. Choosing: we each must have written thousands of words for you to choose from. Perhaps you ought to have people send in links for favorite previous blog threads, then you do not have to do all the work nor have to rely on memory.

Of course, part of the pleasure of the blog is the randomness of the thing. On the front page, Joe referred to a couple of posts on James Ceaser and those were very serious. I had to go look, and there, right below one of them, Peter Schramm had posted a reference to a short story about someone with a Rubik's Cube on the subway in NYC. Well, on the reading of that I'd had to relate a funny story about being on the subway. Below that was something else with funny things and then there are serious things, too, just down the list. The randomness and humanity of the thing is what is so engaging. (dain asked me recently where do women go to write about politics and I don't have any idea, as it is so much fun here.) Looking back, some of the threads ARE inspired and brilliant and some are inspired and amusing. I suggest you leaven the brilliant stuff with some of the humorous ones. It could be structured not unlike Lost in the Cosmos with the posts being the questions and the responses being the varied answers.

Has there been any collection of blog "greatest hits" before? If it is a first, that might be of interest and if it brings interest to the blog that might be good in another way as the Ashbrook Center seems to be fund-raising like mad right now.

To Matt, Your concern is real and witty, but maybe authenticity is overrated. Or as some have suggested, maybe authenticity can be faked.

Matt, you don't have to worry about me for one. I won't rummage through my shelves looking to quote Aristotle or Locke in order to be "noticed" on the blog. I'm continuing to devote my time to the permanency of books rather than the rapidly disappearing threads of a blog. Indeed, I better go follow my own advice!

I forgot to say that you can write me at [email protected]. I'm very slow to respond to emails that require any thought at all, though.

Thanks, Peter, will do. I was thinking yesterday about some informal article ideas, though it may differ from a book shaped around blog threads. I'll fire off an easy, brief e-mail and let you play with it at your leisure. Thanks!

Steve Thomas: thanks for your thoughtful response to my off-hand comments. You bring up a good point regarding FDR and I do step dangerously close to a cartoon characterization of the "the Left" with a a generalization like the one above. Even so, I do think generalizations are underrated . . . in general! Generalizations have the effect of focusing our thought and challenging it. They provoke exactly the kind of discussion we're having.

FDR recognized the power of industry, as you say, but I don't think he distinguished it as a separate kind of power, distinct from the political power. I could be wrong, (not being any kind of expert on FDR--but I have read a reasonable amount of his stuff in school) but wasn't FDR simply arguing that industry shouldn't have the power it had and that, instead, such power should be lodged in the hands of the government? So the issue was still about power more than it was about nature or right. One might say that FDR was concerned with "rights"--but what were the origins of those rights? The power of government seems, for FDR, not only to protect rights but to invent and grant them. And, again, from where does the power of government originate? Is it in the natural and inherent right of the people to establish it for the purpose of protecting their rights through their consent, or is it in something else? I have always been of the impression that FDR seemed to support the claims of so-called "experts" to rule (through regulation--a la Woodrow Wilson, but with some differences) based on their supposed expertise. Electoral politics becomes about wrangling for the power to determine who the experts are more than it is free-ranging discussion of what is right and wrong. I suppose there are some conservatives who have come to accept that view of government since the New Deal, but it seems more to be a general characteristic on the Left.

I don't however, have any desire to question the religiosity of any individual person (including FDR)--right or left--who claims to believe. But I think it is still a fair point that conservatives tend to be more chastened by the limitations of politics, at least in part, because they doubt the ability of man to improve very much upon what they see as God's design. They take the fall very seriously. But your points are interesting ones and I will have to think more about them.

Finally, for all, I wouldn't worry too much about people auditioning or showing off here if their is a book proposal in the offing. For one thing . . . doesn't anyone realize how small are the pecuniary benefits of such a thing? Of course, there is always the personal satisfaction that comes from the work itself. But that's always been there and if that's the only real benefit, the temptation to "keep it real" (as the kids say) will be much more difficult to resist than the temptation to show off. Of course, those given to showing off will continue to do so--and nothing, therefore, will change. And seeing that is part of the fun . . . if you ask me.

I don't think the book has to be rigidly shaped around the blog threads--rather, just inspired in spirit and tone. I had typed out a rather long response to Steve . . . but I seem to have lost it in the in-between posting phase. Arrgghh. Is there a name for people like me who can't type and chew gum? (Don't tell me!) Anyway, I can't re-do it now. But I do want to thank him for his thoughtful response and I will get back to him later.

Note to others who are as dumb as I am about computers: If you do this stupid thing I did (i.e., forget to press the add comment button in the "Review your comment" section) then you can retrieve it by pressing the back button on your browser. Glad I didn't have to re-type that!

Julie and Steve, I'm reading Conrad Black's riveting political biography of FDR and am surprisingly seduced by the argument that FDR intended to defend the regime from the left. One also must admire FDR's skillful use of political power to accomplish his ends, refeshing to contemplate in comparison to the present occupent of the WH. One yearns for the prudential energy in the executive that FDR represented. By the way, he was a true nationalist. Politics ain't beanbag, and is nothing without the exercise of power to preserve our constitutional order.

On the matter of the book, we need to get together to discuss it somehow, perhaps at Kate's house to help her scrub the floors. Bourbon afterwards.

My not always reliable partisanship is often strengthened by good bourbon.

FDR defended the regime from elements on both the left and the right. I agree he was a nationalist. I also agree he had flaws and blind spots, and further, that some people on today's left would profit from knowing more about his thinking and his policies, whatever their flaws.

Robert and Steve: Yes, yes. We still need the man who shot Liberty Valance. But Jimmy Stewart gets the girl. Politics ain't beanbag, but it also ain't the OK corral. Power matters but it isn't an end in itself. It matters what you use it for and it matters when you use it.

Now I have to read this Conrad Black biography of FDR--which sounds very interesting. So I'm off to add it to my wish-list at Amazon. I'm going to have to get a real job to pay for all of these books if this keeps up!

As to Kate's kitchen floors, book discussion . . . and (of course) the bourbon: Does it count as "drinking alone" if you talk over the computer? I suspect that it does, so we may have to do this sober--but why not let's just select a book and do it chapter by chapter over the blog? Anyone who wants to can join in.

Our darwinian friend Larry would not, mirabile dictu, approve of FDR's assertive use of executive power, but I am in utter admiration. Policy-wise FDR did not, at least in the early years (I'm not through with the book yet) hue exactly to the theoretical asseverations of the Commonwealth Club Speech.

Julie, what topic?

As to power, FDR, the current incumbent of the WH, political skill and a strong executive, it just seems to depend. FDR certainly did seem to control the Left while letting it take him where he wanted to go. A man for the time, yes. Where would we have been in era of dictators if we had not someone who, in relative and American terms, was willing to act nearly as dictator, himself?

Julie, that is a nice idea, as is coming to my house for whatever purpose. Thank you for your off-blog encouragement.

Robert, does it really matter what topic we begin with, given the propensity to wander from topic?

It is summer. And the first attempt should be something delightful and not too difficult with which to get engaged when distractions are too easy to come by. I suggest a novel as a test-run. I'll let you men pick one, however, since I picked the genre. (But not Tolkien, please . . . not yet!)

If the first attempt goes well, perhaps we should move on to a discussion of the big three grounded in one of each authors best works? That would be very illuminating, I think.

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