Archive | Conservatism

British Panel Concludes that the War on Drugs is a Failure

A British panel composed of leading members of Parliament and former public officials has concluded that the War on Drugs is a failure and should be abandoned. The panel includes former heads of MI5 (the British domestic intelligence agency) and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as leading Conservatives, including prominent former members of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Here’s a report by the conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph:

The “war on drugs” has failed and should be abandoned in favour of evidence-based policies that treat addiction as a health problem, according to prominent public figures including former heads of MI5 and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Leading peers – including prominent Tories – say that despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible.

Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country.

The increasing use of the most harmful drugs such as heroin has also led to “enormous health problems”, according to the group….

It could lead to calls for the British government to decriminalise drugs, or at least for the police and Crown Prosecution Service not to jail people for possession of small amounts of banned substances.

Their intervention could receive a sympathetic audience in Whitehall, where ministers and civil servants are trying to cut the numbers and cost of the prison population….

The chairman of the new group, Baroness Meacher…. told The Daily Telegraph: “Criminalising drug users has been an expensive catastrophe for individuals and communities….”

Lord Lawson, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1983 and 1989 [under Margaret Thatcher], said: “I have no doubt that the present policy is a disaster….”

In the United States, the opposition of political conservatives is still perhaps [...]

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What if Libertarians and Conservatives Agreed on Empirical Issues?

Following up my post on what might happen if liberals and libertarians agreed on empirical issues, this post addresses the question of what might happen if libertarians came to agree on empirical issues with conservatives.

Unfortunately, answering this question is a lot tougher than the previous one about liberals. Libertarianism and liberalism are fairly coherent ideological movements. By contrast, “conservatism” is a hodgepodge of different ideologies united mainly by their opposition to the political left. George Will, Pat Buchanan, Bill Kristol, and Mike Huckabee are all considered conservatives. But they differ greatly from each other on both empirical issues and values. So too with neoconservatives, religious right social conservatives, and Burkean conservatives. Moreover, some conservatives are quite close to libertarians on most issues because they have a assimilated a great many libertarian ideas.

To make the question more tractable, I’m going to focus primarily on social conservatives who generally support free market policies on “economic” issues, while also supporting a high degree of “social” regulation. I recognize that this is far from the only type of conservatism out there. But it’s probably the most common one in the United States, especially among conservative intellectuals.

As with some libertarians and liberals, some social conservatives are purely utilitarian in their values. They support conservative policies because they think that will maximize human happiness. If a utilitarian libertarian and a utilitarian conservative could agree on empirical issues, their policy differences would disappear. They would then agree on both values and the best way to implement them. But pure utilitarianism is even less common among conservatives than among liberals and libertarians, possibly because many social conservatives are strongly religious and the major religions all incorporate many non-utilitarian values. Here are some issues where non-utilitarian conservatives will continue to disagree with libertarians even [...]

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New York Times on the Secular Right Blog

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article on the Secular Right blog, which I commented on here back when it was first established:

As a child, Razib Khan spent several weeks studying in a Bangladeshi madrasa. Heather Mac Donald once studied literary deconstructionism and clerked for a left-wing judge. In neither case did the education take. They are atheist conservatives — Mr. Khan an apostate to his family’s Islamic faith, Ms. Mac Donald to her left-wing education.

They are part of a small faction on the right: conservatives with no use for religion. Since 2008, they have been contributors to the blog Secular Right, where they argue that conservative values like small government, self-reliance and liberty can be defended without recourse to invisible deities or the religions that exalt them….

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, noted that conservatives throughout history have esteemed “mediating institutions” like schools and churches, sources of authority other than the state. “If that’s the way you’re thinking, concern for the strength of organized religion follows pretty naturally,” Mr. Ponnuru said.

I do have a small bone to pick with the article and possibly with Ramesh Ponnuru. There is a difference between being an atheist and having “no use for religion.” One can deny the existence of God, while simultaneously recognizing that religious institutions sometimes serve useful purposes. Being an atheist doesn’t prevent me from seeing that the Catholic Church runs an excellent system of private schools, for example. It also doesn’t prevent anyone from recognizing the value of “mediating institutions,” including religious ones.

At the same time, it is also the case that organized religion has often contributed to grave injustices, providing support for slavery, gender inequality, and occasionally (in the case of “Liberation Theology”) even communism. Whether a [...]

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Political Attitudes of Russian Jewish Immigrants

In a comment on my last post on Russian Jewish immigration, University of North Carolina law professor and blogger Eric Muller writes:

Again and again I find myself wondering to what extent it’s true that Jewish refugees/emigres from Soviet totalitarianism (and their offspring) tend to have a libertarian and/or conservative political orientation. Does anyone know whether this has been studied? Are Eugene, Sasha, and Ilya typical in this regard, or atypical?

There is actually survey data on this, which reveals that some 75% of Russian Jewish immigrants vote Republican, as compared to only about 20% of native-born American Jews. The same pattern is evident among other refugees from communism, such as Cubans and Vietnamese. The reasons are not hard to figure out. The experience of living under communism makes these refugee groups hostile to anything that smacks of socialism and also to those political parties and ideologies that they perceive (with some justice) as having been soft on communism during the latter part of the Cold War. This in turn leads them to be more “right-wing” than they might have been otherwise. As I discuss in my immigration memoir, I probably would have become a liberal or leftist had I been born in the US and had the same interests and personality.

The overwhelming majority of Russian Jews in legal and social science academia tend to be conservative or libertarian (more often the latter), which is in sharp contrast to the generally left-wing orientation of the vast majority of other US academics. My impression is that rank and file Russian Jewish immigrants also tend to be on the right, more libertarian-leaning than conservative (e.g. – most are pro-choice and favor fairly strong separation of church and state). Obviously, most are not nearly as self-conscious or consistent [...]

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How Progressives Misunderstand Much Conservative Skepticism of Climate Policy

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress laments widespread conservative opposition to “government action on climate change.”  Responding to the threat posed by global warming should be a conservative cause, Hendricks argues, because a warmer world will breed bigger government.

Many conservatives say they oppose clean-energy policies because they want to keep government off our backs. But they have it exactly backward. Doing nothing will set our country on a course toward narrower choices for businesses and individuals, along with an expanded role for government. When catastrophe strikes – and yes, the science is quite solid that it will – it will be the feds who are left conducting triage.

My economic views are progressive, and I think government has an important role in tackling big problems. But I admire many cherished conservative values, from personal responsibility to thrift to accountability, and I worry that conservatives’ lock-step posture on climate change is seriously out of step with their professed priorities. A strong defense of our national interests, rigorous cost-benefit analysis, fiscal discipline and the ability to avoid unnecessary intrusions into personal liberty will all be seriously compromised in a world marked by climate change.

Failure to take decisive action against climate change is unconservative, Hendricks argues, because global warming presents such grave risks.

far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk. When faced with uncertainty and the possibility of costly outcomes, smart businessmen buy insurance, reduce their downside exposure and protect their assets.

Dan Farber finds the op-ed compelling.  I do not.   Unlike some conservatives, I believe global warming is a serious problem that merits a serious policy response (as I’ve blogged about at length), but I don’t find Hendricks’ arguments particularly persuasive.

Conservative action [...]

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The Defeat of Proposition 19

To me, the most disappointing of the many electoral results this Tuesday was the relatively narrow (54-46) defeat of California Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative that I and and many other VCers endorsed. I’m not disappointed because this proves that law professors have little electoral clout. We knew that already. Rather, the disappointment is because Prop 19 was the best opportunity in many years to deal a serious blow to the War on Drugs. Early polls showed that it had a decent chance to win.

At the same time, it is notable that such a broad legalization measure could get 46% of the vote in the nation’s largest state despite the near-uniform opposition of the political establishment in both parties, ranging from President Obama to Governor Schwarzenegger and many others. Such a result would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago.

The CNN exit polls on Proposition 19 contain lots of interesting data. They reveal that the initiative lost in large part because of its weakness among two groups: the elderly and self-identified “conservatives.”

I. The Age Gap.

People over the age of 65 voted against Prop 19 by a 68-32 margin. Had the electorate been limited to people under the age of 50, Proposition 19 would probably have won, albeit narrowly (by about 51-49). But people over the age of 50 formed a whopping 54% of the California electorate, which reflects the much greater of propensity of the elderly to vote and participate in politics. Using the data collected here, I calculated that people age 50 and above are actually only about 37.5% of the voting-age population in the state.

The interesting question about the age gap on this issue is whether it is a cohort effect or a generational effect. In other words, do [...]

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“You Can’t ‘Fact-Check’ a Fever Dream of Paranoia and Irrationality”

Forbes has “fact-checked” its infamous and inflammatory cover story by Dinesh D’Souza, “How Obama Thinks.”  Heather MacDonald is not impressed.

Such a “fact-checking” feint is irrelevant to this travesty of an article; you can’t “fact-check” a fever dream of paranoia and irrationality.  Sickeningly, while “How Obama Thinks” is useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment.   The article is worth analyzing at some length as an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse.

D’Souza argues that Obama’s policies are motivated by a hatred towards American power absorbed from his Kenyan father.  He offers exactly zero evidence for his hackneyed psychological theory.  But the most laughable weakness in D’Souza’s thesis is the fact that the policies which D’Souza presents as the “dreams of a Luo tribesman” have a decades-long American pedigree and are embraced by wide swathes of the American electorate and political class.  If support for progressive taxation, greater government regulation of health care, stimulus spending, and conservation make one the tool of the African anticolonial movement, then Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, John Kenneth Galbraith, FDR, and the Sierra Club are all Third World agents provocateurs. . . .

Even if it were the case that Obama embraces the standard liberal playbook for reasons of personal history—a position for which D’Souza has provided no evidence—so what?  If Obama were not president, millions of people would still support the policies of his presidency under a different Democratic leader, as they have been doing for decades. . . .

D’Souza’s screed is just the latest manifestation of the rebirth of the conservative hysteria that marked the Clinton era.  The fact that both

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Lithwick on Conservatives’ View of the Law

In a scathing review of the new NBC drama, Outlaw, about an ethically challenged, conservative Supreme Court justice who resigns from the bench to seek social justice, Dahlia Lithwick describes “the Supreme Court conservatives’ view of the legal system” as “the law is an airless, mechanistic set of fixed rules that privilege those who write the laws and often fail those who are weak or powerless.”  This may be the liberal court commentator’s perception of judicial conservatives view of the legal system, but I cannot think of a single conservative justice — or judge or legal thinker for that matter — who espouses such a view.

UPDATE: Some commenters have suggested that I’ve misrepresented what Lithwick wrote by pulling it out of context.  I don’t think so, but just in case (and for those too lazy to follow the link), here’s the context:

There are tiny fibers of an interesting argument here—about whether or not courts exist to protect the weakest citizens—but Outlaw’s conclusion is upside-down. Garza is so certain that the law and the courts oppress the weak, he leaves the court and goes outside the bounds of law to correct it. He is so persuaded that no judge can do “justice,” he gives up on them altogether. This is the Supreme Court conservatives’ view of the legal system: That the law is an airless, mechanistic set of fixed rules that privilege those who write the laws and often fail those who are weak or powerless. It’s a view that’s quite fashionable in some quarters, but also a view that hugely undersells both the court and Americans’ notions of justice. How liberal Hollywood presented such a deeply conservative show about an allegedly liberal hero is the real mystery of Outlaw.

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Are Right and Left Changing Where They Stand on Standing?

Traditionally, conservative scholars and judges have advocated narrow views of constitutional “standing”: the level of “interest” litigants must have at stake in the outcome of a case in order to give them a legal right to sue. For their part, liberals have usually promoted the opposite view: constitutional rights should not be denied based on these sorts of technicalities. Modern standing doctrine requires that litigants must prove that they have 1) suffered some sort of past or imminent material injury, 2) the injury was caused by the law, and 3) it can be redressed by a judicial decision. Generally speaking, Liberals have argued for a broad interpretation of all three requirements, while conservatives tended to assert that all three should be interpreted narrowly.

This ideological division has been turned on its head in the current gay marriage and health care litigation. In the former, liberal litigants and interest groups have argued that the proponents of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 lack standing to appeal the district court ruling striking it down. For their part, conservatives have claimed that they do have “standing,” applying a broad definition of what counts as “material injury.” In the health care case, district judge Henry Hudson (a George W. Bush appointee) has ruled that the state of Virginia has standing to challenge the Obama bill’s “individual mandate” even though the mandate actually applies only to individuals and not state government. The liberal Obama administration and many liberal commentators such as Jack Balkin decried this ruling and argued that Virginia doesn’t have standing. This, despite the fact that Virginia’s standing could be defended under the broad interpretation of state government standing approved by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA, the global warming case (much to the delight of most liberals).

Does [...]

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Why It’s Embarrassing to Be a “Conservative”

Professor Bainbridge lists “ten things that make this conservative embarrassed by the modern conservative movement.”  I’m not as enamored with David Klinghoffer’s lament (see also here), nor would I equate Hugh Hewitt with Michael Savage, but I largely agree.

UPDATE: Of course it ain’t so hot to be a liberal either.

SECOND UPDATE: Patterico counters that Professor Bainbridge’s reasons “turn out mostly to be reasons that conservatives should not support the Republican party — a quite different proposition entirely.” (emphasis in original)

THIRD UPDATE: Mike Rappaport comments here. [...]

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From “Liberaltarianism” to Libertarian Centrism?

Reason has an interesting debate on the question of libertarian political strategy. Should libertarians seek to forge an alliance with conservatives or liberals or neither? Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg and Tea Party leader Matt Kibbe argue for reconsituting the libertarian-conservative coalition that was badly frayed if not completely severed during the Bush years. Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey argues against that view. Although I am much closer to Lindsey’s political views than Goldberg’s, I find myself agreeing somewhat more with Goldberg’s position in this particular debate.


I. Brink Lindsey’s Retreat from Liberaltarianism.

Lindsey seems to have stepped back from his much-discussed 2006 argument for a “liberaltarian” coalition between libertarians and liberals.

Today, Lindsey argues that libertarians should instead try to occupy “the center,” because an alliance with the left is no more viable than one with the right:

Does that mean I think that libertarians should ally with the left instead? No, that’s equally unappealing. I do believe that libertarian ideas are better expressed in the language of liberalism rather than that of conservatism. But it’s clear enough that for now and the foreseeable future, the left is no more viable a home for libertarians than is the right.

It would be interesting to know what led to Lindsey’s change of heart about liberaltarianism. I suspect that the vast expansion of government promoted by the Obama administration and the decline of relatively pro-market views among liberal intellectuals were both contributing factors. Lindsey’s new view of liberaltarianism is now remarkably similar to the one I expressed back when he made his original proposal: that liberals and libertarians have much in common in terms of ultimate values, but relatively little common ground in terms of practical policy agendas.

II. What Would Libertarian Centrism Look Like?

I would also be interested to [...]

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Conservatism, Libertarianism, Civil Rights, and “Circumstances”

In a National Review post discussing the civil rights laws of the 1960s, Roger Clegg writes that “Conservatism is superior to libertarianism because it is less ideological and more readily acknowledges that circumstances matter.” Whatever the general validity of this claim, Clegg picked a very poor example to illustrate it.

As co-blogger David Bernstein has pointed out, numerous prominent conservatives, including many associated with National Review, actively defended racial segregation throughout the 1950s and 60s. They supported Jim Crow not only on “states’ rights” grounds but also because, as a 1957 National Review editorial put it, whites were “the advanced race” and could deny the franchise to blacks in order to protect “civilization.”

By contrast, as David also notes, most leading libertarian writers of the time – including Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand – were on the other side of this issue. Rand, for example, wrote that “[t]he Southern racists’ claim of ‘states’ rights’ is a contradiction in terms: there can be no such thing as the ‘right’ of some men to violate the rights of others.” She also denounced racism as “the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.”

Many 1960s libertarians can reasonably be criticized for underemphasizing the importance of ending segregation relative to other issues. But their record on these matters was considerably better than that of most conservative intellectuals of the day. Even if you think that libertarians were wrong to be skeptical of restrictions on purely private sector discrimination, the conservatives of the time were no better. And unlike in the case of the conservatives, libertarian opposition to private sector anti-discrimination laws was motivated by general support for a right of free association, whereas most of the conservative opponents were perfectly willing to support Jim Crow laws forbidding blacks from voluntarily [...]

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Affirmative Action and Racial Profiling Revisited

Back in 2006, I pointed out that most liberals and conservatives take internally contradictory stances on affirmative action and racial profiling:

I have long been fascinated by the fact that most conservatives support racial and ethnic profiling for national security and law enforcement purposes, yet are categorically opposed to the use of racial or ethnic classifications for affirmative action. Most liberals, by contrast, take exactly the opposite view. Both ideologies oppose racial and ethnic classifications as a matter of principle in one area, yet defend them on pragmatic grounds in another….

[Conservatives] say… that ethnic profiling of airline passengers is justified because, on average, a young Middle Eastern Muslim male is more likely to be a terrorist than members of other groups. This, despite the fact that not all (or even most) Middle Eastern Muslims are terrorists, and there are of course some terrorists (Richard Reid, Tim McVeigh, etc.) who belong to other groups…..

Defenders of affirmative action, of course, make a very similar argument. On average, an African-American or Hispanic applicant to college is more likely to be a victim of racism and to suffer from the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery than a white applicant is. Thus, it makes sense to give preference to applicants from these groups, despite the fact that some of the beneficiaries will be people who haven’t suffered much from racism, and some of the members of the non-preferred group may themselves be disadvantaged. Defenders of AA also claim that the average black or Hispanic applicant contributes more to campus diversity than the average white one, although there are of course many individual exceptions to this rule.

What I wrote about conservative defenses of ethnic profiling of suspected terrorists applies equally to arguments for its use in ordinary law enforcement.

The [...]

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Was the Individual Mandate a “Republican Idea”?

Many commentators have noted that the individual mandate is an idea that some Republican politicians and right-of-center thinkers used to support.  Over the weekend the Associated Press reported that many on the right once championed an individual mandate as part of a broader health care overhaul.  Not only does the Massachusetts health care reform championed by Mitt Romney include an individual mandate, but back in the 1990s , the Heritage Foundation and many Republican office-holders called for an individual mandate as part of a GOP alternative to the Clinton Administration’s proposed health care reforms.  In 1993, for example, Heritage’s Stuart Butler testified before Congress in support of a new, “more rational” social contract under which government would provide greater assistance to those lacking health care in return for greater individual responsibility. Explained Butler:

This translates into a requirement on individuals to enroll themselves and their dependents in at least a basic health plan – one that at the minimum should protect the rest of society from large and unexpected medical costs incurred by the family. And as any social contract, there would also be an obligation on society. To the extent that the family cannot reasonably afford reasonable basic coverage, the rest of society, via government, should take responsibility for financing that minimum coverage.

It’s certainly true that many conservatives and Republicans championed an individual mandate as part of a broader package of reforms (such as ending preferential tax treatment of employer-provided insurance).  But others on the Right have always been opposed.  So, for instance, when some Congressional Republicans  introduced health reform legislation based upon the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, the Cato Institute published this paper by Tom Miller (now a health care analyst at the American Enterprise Institute) attacking the idea.  Working in D.C. at the time (as one of [...]

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The Harvard Law School Guide to Conservative/Libertarian Public Interest Law

In response to my recent post on conservative and libertarian public interest law, various law students and others have e-mailed me to ask whether there is a single comprehensive list of right of center public interest firms. The closest thing I know if the Harvard Law School Guide to Conservative/Libertarian Public Interest Law, available here. It may not be 100% comprehensive, and some information may be slightly dated, because the Guide was prepared in fall 2007. But it does cover all the most important right of center public interest organizations and describes the main areas they work on. It’s a good starting point for libertarian and conservative law students looking for jobs or summer clerkships in the public interest law world.

If anyone knows of a more recent version of the Harvard guide or of a similar publication put out by another institution, please let me know. I would be happy to link to it.

UPDATE: Some commenters make the obvious point that the Guide includes some conservative groups that pursue agendas that libertarians might disagree with (and vice versa). This is true, but it doesn’t undermine the utility of the guide. Very few people are likely to be sympathetic to all the agendas of the different groups listed. Likewise, there is no need to criticize the guide for omitting liberal organizations whose agendas overlap with those of libertarians in some way. These organizations are already well-known to most law students, and law school career centers usually already have information on them. By contrast, many law schools provide less access to information about organizations that are systematically libertarian or conservative.

This is not the post to discuss the broader issue of whether a libertarian-conservative alliance is desirable in this day and age. I think it is for [...]

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