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Harvard Law & Policy Review:
The American Constitution Society has launched an official journal, the Harvard Law & Policy Review. (This is not to be confused with the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, a journal founded in 1978 that leans conservative/libertarian and is famous for its outstanding executive editing in Volume 20.)

  The HLPR is accompanied by HLPR Online, "a forum for progressive debate about new and unorthodox solutions to the most pressing problems facing the nation." There are a bunch of interesting essays up on the site's webpage by the like of Laurence Tribe, Robert Post & Reva Siegel, Joe Singer, and David Barron.

  I was particularly interested in this essay by Ian Bassin, former President of the Yale ACS student chapter. An excerpt:
Ask a group of self-described liberal law students to articulate what they stand for and you're likely to get either rambling, incoherent replies or blank stares. Those who do answer may touch upon issues ranging from equality to opportunity to reproductive freedom, but are unlikely to be able to unite these ideas under any consistent philosophical framework. Those who have a philosophical framework are lucky if they can explain it in less than 30,000 words.

The single greatest problem of contemporary legal liberalism is that too many of us are at a loss for words to describe what we stand for. One irony is that our past success may be to blame for this current failure. Many of us grew up in such liberal atmospheres that we were never challenged to defend liberal principles or to even grapple with the difficult questions at their core. As American society has polarized over the last generation—mine is the first for whom red and blue are defining traits—more of us have grown up in homogenous intellectual spheres. Instead of having our peers challenge our ideas, we play yes men to ourselves, nodding in agreement on what we believe without ever having to utter a definitive phrase. . . .

Compare this with what a conservative at many of today's left-leaning law schools must experience. In most of her classes, the only conservative voice she hears is her own. In order to cling to her beliefs, she must defend them tenaciously with both friend and foe. Confronted with a chorus of opposing arguments, her education is an intellectual boot camp. She's been tested, her positions forged in fire, and she's emerged a refined soldier for her cause. The liberal, on the other hand, has spent his period of intellectual maturation on the couch so to speak. Every once in a while either throwing or receiving that knowing look, but never having to exert too much effort to get it right. While the conservative emerges muscular and defined, the liberal is paunchy and a bit slow.
  I wonder, do law students (on the left or the right) agree that this is true?

  For a reaction to the new journal posted at the conservative Weekly Standard, click here.
evening3L (mail):
to a certain extent it is true. for instance, in con law II class you feel like everyone thinks you are racist if you think that affirmative action should not constitutionally fly b/c you don't think that racial diversity in law schools is a compelling enough state interest to justify discrimination on the basis of race.

in other instances it is more difficult to take the conservative/libertarian stance b/c it often sounds heartless. when you make an argument that there shouldn't be welfare or a minimum wage, what do you say when somebody replies with something like "but what about those less fortunate?"

i'm a full fledged capitalist, but i do agree that it can be difficult selling the position to others.
10.3.2006 8:07pm
Southern in the City:
As a recent (conservative-leaning) grad of the uber-liberal NYU Law, I'd say that's pretty true. The liberal students were 75% of the class, moderate were 20%, and conservatives were maybe 5%. Classes were effectively echo-chambers for liberal dogma. If anyone expressed conservative views, especially conservative social views, they reaction from the class was vocal, but typically lacking in reason. Perhaps this was just my experience at a particularly liberal law school, but the excerpt you provided rings true.
10.3.2006 8:10pm
Dave Turner (mail):
As a 2L, my experience is that my peers have never been exposed to any sytematic political philosophy of any rigor. As a result, they do not understand that the terms "conservative" and "liberal" as used today in the media, blogs, and politics are empty, facile, and sloppy. These labels allow them to dodge any meaningful philosophical examination of their own views and the views of others. I would trace the problem to a post-secondary educational system which has abandoned its previous role as a place of higher learning. College in the 21st century is simply an extension of high school and is valued purely for the piece of paper that says you wrote your papers on time.

Why should it be surprising that law students, who are a product of a post-secondary environment devoid of intellectual and philosophical rigor, are unable to put forward a short, coherent explanation of their political views? They've never been asked to explore politics. If they have, it's been through the distorting lens of vapid media soundbites and a politician's spin.

Conservatives do not emerge muscular and defined; they emerge calcified. The popular conception of conservatism has no consistent philosophical tradition to draw upon which would lend the proper musculature. There are nods to Locke or Hobbes or even Nozick, but they sound the names in the hope of borrowing the reputations of those authors rather than their ideas. How many alleged liberals have read Rawls or Bentham?

I majored in philosophy and spent more than a few classes and evenings discussing proper political philosophy. I consider myself a classical liberal, which today's audience knows as a libertarian. But until the modern liberals can appreciate the difference, I won't hold out much hope that the latest crops of law students will display a true political philosophy, which is what Mr. Bassin was lamenting.
10.3.2006 8:12pm
Sebastian Holsclaw (mail):
I agree. It tends to show up most in medium to long arguments in which an early rationale undermines a later argument, but pointing it out draws blanks stares.

A typical example is Social Security discussions:

A: It is to keep old people from poverty.

B: Discuss that for a while.

C: The idea of means testing to exclude the rich comes up.

D: Social Security is an old-age pension so you can't means test.

E: It gets a really crappy return for a pension

F: The return doesn't matter, it is to keep old people from poverty.

G: Sigh.
10.3.2006 8:14pm
Nodolf (mail):
As a 2L, and this essay depicts what generally occurs. While I'm generally argumentative to find out what is really behind people's thoughts, I've often had no problem trying to argue my points because there are plenty to argue against. Liberals really do seem to be in argumentative stasis.
10.3.2006 8:16pm
JRL:
The liberal, on the other hand, has spent his period of intellectual maturation on the couch so to speak, engaging in such rigorous intellectual pursuits as replacing the generic "he," "him," and "his" with "she," "her," and "hers."

He's mocking himself and doesn't even realize it, but that's what liberals do.
10.3.2006 8:16pm
Colin (mail):
As a liberal HLS grad, I also agree. Regretfully. I think that Bassin's explanation is quite accurate, and an excellent explanation for why so many liberal lawyers haunt blogs like the VC. It allows us to refine our own ideals by examining the ideals of others. Which are shamefully wrong, and should be more like our ideals.

(And apropos of nothing, hurrah Prof. Singer! An excellent professor among excellent professors.)
10.3.2006 8:19pm
AF:
Bassin's observations seem true enough. What isn't clear is how the launch of yet another liberal law journal is going to solve the problem.
10.3.2006 8:27pm
josh:
i'm not sure i agree with bassin, but i can't explain why.
10.3.2006 8:27pm
josh:
avctually, i was kidding. for a well reasoned view of liberal's current legal-political philosophy, i would point the author to prof kerr's temporary colleague at the u of c, cass sunstein, who argues, effectively, I think, for a government that properly balances rights through regulation (for his best work, see "Free Markets and Social Justice," 1999) His balance of the need for rational markets with the need for regulation I think sums up quite nicely why Bill Clinton was such a popular president for liberals (recognizing that, like conservatives, liberals comes in many stripes)

I would add to that (at least from a philosophical perspective) the liberal view of an expanded 14th amendment. To me, the only mistakes of Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, etc., is the misplaced focus on privacy. Again, we're talking philosophy here -- "what the law should be" and not "what the law is." In that regard, I think liberals simply disagree with the several recent states' S Ct opinions rejecting, for example, the application of Loving v Virginia to the right for homosexuals to marry.

Those two topics -- (1) free markets v. social justice and (2) realistic equality -- I think provide a substantial base for a liberal philosophy.
10.3.2006 8:41pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
I had a lot of fun making trouble in undergrad. I would purposefully attend all the meetings and panel discussions on affirmative action, the war in Iraq, sweatshops, (insert liberal cause here) hosted by some liberal student group. It was a lot of fun ruining their liberal love fests. Many appreciated the fact that someone would stand up and make intelligent counterarguments. But, there were always those who could brook no dissent. The affirmative action panel discussion hosted by the school's black student groups were particularly fun. Lol.

I definitely agree that this insular community that is created does prevent their ideas from being properly challenged. I could go and on with examples, but i'll save you all.
10.3.2006 8:42pm
JR WATSON (mail):
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a nice fellow law student who, from what I could gather, was very politically active and was a "big-time Democrat." She got a very odd look on her face when I casually mention that I was a Republican while we were having a very nice conversation over a beer. She suddenly became very interested in how I could be "one of those people." So we talked about the big issues. Gun control, abortion, etc. I painstakingly made my arguments, using as much sound logic and appealling to evidence as possible. At least trying to get her to admit that the truth in many situations is subtle.

Her response was, "Basically everything you just said, I believe the opposite."

Well...why? Can you explain?

"No, all I really heard was right-wing blah blah blah wah wah wah blah blah blah."

How do you have thoughtful discussion with that? I think the author of the quote is mostly right. The liberal students can take the correctness of their politics for granted and most of the professors they encounter will do nothing to make them question that moral certainty. Arguments are unnecessary. There is also a sense I get from true believers on both sides that holding passionate beliefs, even those not really supported by any evidence, is somehow admirable. That as long as the person really believes it that fact somehow insulates him from criticism.

But I also think that, inasmuch as the liberal mindset is anchored in the holder's sense of his own compassion and inherent goodness, argument is unnecessary because he CARES. He feels passionately, so what if the facts don't exactly line up neatly with his political world view? And, again, this moral preening isn't really called into question in the normal course of a legal education.

I made a joke to my new friend that she was the first real live Democrat I had ever met. She said the same thing about herself and Republicans and I don't think she was kidding.
10.3.2006 8:48pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
Most of the liberals here seem to come up a bunch of syrupy moral arguments that are thin on law, thin on mathematical viability and thin on logic. There is no coherent philosophical system underlying what they seem to beleive in. Once you get past the same superficial reasons every liberal has learned to parrot by the end of high school, it becomes a jumble of conflicting arguments.

I wouldnt be so bothered by it if even 10 percent of them could make compelling arguments for why their way of doing things isnt horribly broken. Sadly, it always seems to come back to the moral arguments for the welfare state and how their vision can trump math, economics and the constitution. More often they dont even consider it and just get annoyed if you try to muddy the waters with silly questions like "how will you pay for it without destroying the economy?"
10.3.2006 9:02pm
UVA Law Alum (mail) (www):
I am guessing noone above attended UVA Law. The experience there is reversed. Based upon what I've heard, but I don't know first-hand, I think Chicago has a similar dynamic to UVA.
10.3.2006 9:04pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
And yes, libertarians and conservatives have to constantly defend their ideas in law school. It's healthy, I enjoy it and I beleive I'll graduate a better lawyer for it.
10.3.2006 9:04pm
JPS3L (mail):
I attend an exceedingly liberal law school in New England; one liberal enough that not a single faculty member feels comfortable serving as a faculty advisor to our chapter of the Federalist Society. Generally speaking, I agree with Ian's assessment of classroom dynamics. While we are fortunate to have a few professors who don't mind playing Devils Advocate from time to time, this is not common amoung our faculty. Given the emphasis in law school of learning to argue both sides of each issue, I wonder why more faculty don't challenge more often viewpoints with which they personally agree?
10.3.2006 9:12pm
FlimFlam:
This is how you explain yourself without sounding heartless.

When you take from people that have, they produce less. And when you give to people that have less, they also produce less. Indeed, they have a disincentive to produce at all. So, you have a govt that shifts money around and makes just about everybody worse off by destroying wealth.


That's the basic difference between Libertarians (and some conservatives) and Liberals. The former believe that doing something that feels good but produces nothing or produces less than cost, is not good enough. Liberals just go on their motives, regardless of the outcome.
The majesty of magical thinking.
10.3.2006 9:27pm
Constantin:
ACS : LAW SCHOOL :: AIR AMERICA : RADIO

Seriously, good for Mr. Bassin for offering that analysis. He's exactly right, and the sooner others realize it the better off liberal law students will be. As he and others like JR Watson point out, there's no doubt they're in a hole (as a whole) due to collective atrophy.
10.3.2006 9:50pm
Justin (mail):
I don't think I agree. I agree that liberals make up a majority of the student based of my old law school, but they did not make up a majority of the ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS in legal discussions. Of those that actively participated and were passionate about their ideology in law school, I found that there was about an equal representation of (neo and economic) conservatives, liberals, and apolitical gunners. And the professors, though generally liberal, would (with a few notable exceptions) be sure to play devil's advocate and challenge even those students they agreed with.

Now, this may have been a combination of tuning-out to some degree my 1L year and taking hardcore-legal classes (neither corporate classes nor "law and basketweaving and puppy dogs" classes) with carefully selected professors my second and third year. But I found my views sufficiently challenged by a range of professors and peers, both conservative, "liberal", and leftist.

That's a second note: "liberals" make up a majority of law students, but only in the sense that "liberals" equal the modern centrist establishment of the modern Democratic party - these people are globally pretty centrist or even center-right. Actual leftists, in my view, were as persecuted as conservatives - even more so, as while conservatives have tended to be well-organized and politically motivated, with basic (if simplistic and generally wrong) mantras, leftists faced much more criticism and rarely got the time to put together the type of nuanced response that their forms of critical legal studies, legal realism, and socialism required.

But ACS doesn't represent that third group - NLG does, and NLG suffers from being a bit wacky.
10.3.2006 10:14pm
Avatar (mail):
Frankly, I use the "larger pie" argument instead.

At base, the problem is that the -world- is full of suffering. There's a tremendous amount of it. You could give away every dollar you have, immediately, in the most efficient manner possible, and there'd still be tremendous suffering - the difference would be minimal. The US could utterly impoverish itself overnight giving away charity, and there would be a marked reduction in starvation and want among the recipients, but even that wouldn't be enough to stop suffering - it'd just shift cheap suffering to expensive suffering (starvation to cancer from industrial pollutants and heart disease from high cholesterol, by way of example?) Naturally, it'd also bankrupt us in the process, increasing the amount of suffering significantly.

In the long run, reducing suffering requires scientific advances. The more we learn, the more resources we have available and the more efficiently we can alleviate suffering with those resources. Take the problem of world hunger. There were not a few people in the 1970s who were of the opinion that there was a worldwide food crisis - that food would be so scarce in the future that it would become itself a strategic resource. In fact, the world population does continue to increase, but we're no longer worried about the supply of food, because science kept up - we have advanced agriculture techniques, new and better strains of staple crops, better fertilizers, what have you, and we produce enough food that nobody HAS to go hungry. In fact, it's cheap enough that the cost of food aid to counter the occasional drought isn't even significant anymore. Because of technology, food shortages are now almost entirely a product of political decisions at the local level, and many fewer people are starving to death. This is good, no?

EVERYTHING in society is like that. Medical care is getting better, so we can live longer and healthier lives. Industrial production is becoming more productive, so that less effort is needed to make goods, meaning more of us can enjoy those goods. I don't think anybody here is prepared to say that we haven't advanced culturally - the internet is a good enough argument of that...)

But to get all this advancement, you have to keep society up and running - in other words, you have to say "I cannot solve the world's problems today, I -must- accept that no matter what I do, people will suffer," and furthermore work to make that society a better place. Yes, that might mean comforting the afflicted - but every improvement still counts, even if it's just making people that much more comfortable or happy. Shoot, being polite to people is part of it.

If you've accepted that society cannot end suffering now, but can reduce suffering and provide better lives if it's left to run and advance, then you can answer the "but what about the people that are hurting now?" It's a little cold, sure, but pretty rational.

And that's the kind of argument you learn to put together if you're a conservative in a university. Fortunately, it's not as bad as it used to be - I recently went back to round out the degree, and you'd be surprised how many conservatives are running around. On the other hand, it -is- Houston...

My younger brother and I get into political discussions all the time. He's the kind of liberal that reads more Marx than Adams, I'm a Republican who'd be a Libertarian if they got past Lyndon LaRouche. Our family has learned to duck and cover when we get going. But he's a hell of a lot sharper on several issues than "the liberal average" because he has to cut his teeth on me, and vice versa. (The fact that we're both pretty far up the bell curve, intellectually speaking, doesn't hurt here.) We're also a lot more moderate on certain issues than average. He's a nuclear power advocate, I've voted in favor of gay marriage.

It's tough to talk about "the average" of somebody, because if we're going to be frank, the average of ANYTHING isn't going to be able to hold up the philosophical underpinnings. There are lots of liberals who've never been challenged about the central themes of their philosophy, but there are also a number of conservatives for whom thinking starts and stops with the Bible (or, more often, with what their preacher told them was in the Bible... I've had my share of arguments on that end too!)

I do find that people don't give you much flak for being opposed to them politically if they understand, at the same time, that you're a lot smarter than they are. Not exactly a solution available to the general public, but I admit that I take shameless advantage of it...
10.3.2006 10:16pm
Like I'm going to tell my name for THIS...:
Absolutely correct. it's not just the students, though, it's the faculty, too. I recall having one professor look at me in horror and say in an agitated, slightly loud tone of voice, "You don't really think that, do you?"

It was everything I could do to keep from laughing. I just said, "I wouldn't have said it if I didn't think it."

After he recovered his composure, he and I fenced at it for about three or four minutes before the rest of the class came to his rescue.

I wasn't really winning, mind you... the philosophical differences were too extreme to allow for "victory" of any kind in that debate. But the rest of the class (really about twelve people out of sixty) decided I was wrong, and proceeded to pretty much just form the consensus that I was evil and bad and not worth listening to.

For the record, this was Crim Law and had to do with the handling of a hypothetical "untreatably insane, highly dangerous convict who cannot function in society or be held responsible for his actions." Hey, it was the professor's hypo, not mine. I said that the proper thing to do with rabid dogs is to put them out of their misery.

Maybe I'm wrong, but this doesn't strike me as a particularly revolutionary idea... nor a particularly illiberal one, but what do I know?
10.3.2006 10:18pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
I've actually found law school much better in these respects than college, but I went to one of the really bad colleges in this respect.

Basically, an unprincipled faction of '60s and '70s liberals took over the US campus culture and robbed the next generation of liberals of the intellectual diversity necessary to develop actual ideas. But at least they all spent 4 years feeling really good about themselves, so I guess it's a wash.
10.3.2006 10:21pm
Justin (mail):
PS The Weekly Standard's tongue in cheek response, I will take, as a sign that the ACS is doing something right. If all their opponents can do is mock, and I don't get the joke, then I'll take the ACS's building blocks as a decent start.

However, I'm not sure another journal is the answer - liberals, for all the problems they have this day, have no shortness of places to publish, including the very ACS friendly Harvard Journal of Legislation.
10.3.2006 10:34pm
RMCACE (mail):
I am a 3L attending law school in a liberal state school. I consider myself libertarian, leaning toward the liberal side. I have not noticed any systematic indoctrination of political philosophy. For most of my professors, the only way to figure out their political leanings was to track down articles that they had written.

Someone above mentioned debates over Affirmative Action. We had several heated debates in class, but the majority was clearly anti-affirmative action. This may have been because many white students in the room felt cheated that they didn't get into a better school or get more scholarship money. But it was up to the minority of the class to defend Affirmative Action.
10.3.2006 10:40pm
CrimsonGuest:
As a conservative 2L at Harvard, I completely agree with Mr. Bassin's analysis. Liberal ideas have been drilled into students' minds for so long, many liberals can't even recognize the existence of an opposing viewpoint, much less fathom that the opposing viewpoint has merit.

A key example from this year: the Federalist Society's first event - a panel discussion - put forth the competing ideas of Professor Charles Fried, Professor Steven Calabresi, and (liberal) Professor Larry Tribe. The first ACS event? A lecture by Professor Tribe. While liberals are busy preaching to one another, conservatives and libertarians are engaged in meaningful debate that challenges the full political spectrum.

What remains to be seen is whether the Harvard Law &Policy Review will actually engage opposing viewpoints in order to strengthen liberal ideals, or if the journal will be yet another avenue in which liberals pat each others' backs.

In the meantime, I remain grateful for my liberal education, which has taught me to challenge liberal and conservative ideas alike, and in the process has made me a better conservative and lawyer.
10.3.2006 10:46pm
ThirdCircuitLawyer (mail):
Justin, sorry you don't get the joke.
10.3.2006 10:48pm
Justin (mail):
I got the joke, but I don't find it clever, at all. ACS has been pretty open about trying to create the type of structures that the Federalist Society has, and clearly disagrees with the Weekly Standard's absurd assertion (but obviously not the last annual Federalist Society movemetn) that they ("liberals")are the "ruling class" of legal ideology.
10.3.2006 10:59pm
anonVCfan:
I think that Mr. Bassin's observations are largely correct, but I think he exaggerates the extent to which one's political preferences matter in law school. As a conservative/centrist, and member of the Federalist Society, I can say that the draw of the FedSoc for me was about finding the other people on campus who cared about the issues the Federalist Society discussed (judicial philosophy, separation of powers, etc) than about finding the other people who were embarrassed by the protest against the JAG recruiters. Any law student can be intellectually "paunchy and slow" if he wants. Most of my classmates were, and were interested in learning the black-letter law and being good practitioners. Perhaps I had to argue in our social conversations about affirmative action that I wasn't the voice of evil, but that rarely happened in class.


I don't think it's fair to say that liberals are intellectually "paunchy and slow." To the extent that the commentators suggest that liberal law professors have no ideas or intellectual rigor, I think that's a mistake. They merely outnumber the conservative professors with ideas and intellectual rigor. One seeking to find the good conservatives needs to expend more effort to do so, and the Federalist Society is a great help in that regard.

I think that the ACS's practice of emulating the Federalist Society is a great thing. Both organizations encourage people to think more seriously about issues that--I think--are important to think seriously about. So good for them for recognizing the traps into which liberals often fall and for trying to learn from their enemies. If the ACS is actually going to promote honest debate in the way that I think the FedSoc has (though some may disagree with me on this), good for them, and may the best ideas win.
10.3.2006 10:59pm
Rich B. (mail):
While I agree that law school students and faculty tend to skew liberal, I object strenuously that Conservatives are somehow in the single-digit percentages and cowed into silence.

My law school classes had a vocal minority of Conservatives who were willing to speak up for the "cause" and present the "other side."

I object, furthermore, to the implication that Conservative students DO have a "consistent philosophical framework". The same students who were taking the right-wing "economic analysis" approach (never mind corporate responsibility) in tort law were taking up the "personal responsibility" talking points in criminal law (never mind economic analysis of the criminal justice system.)
10.3.2006 11:05pm
anonVCfan:
I'm with Third Circuit Lawyer. I don't think Justin gets the joke. Tongue-in-cheek stuff aside, though, I found this quote interesting.


The Federalist Society was founded to promote respect for the rule of law as set forth in the written Constitution. The ACS should consider identifying a foundational document for its own reference. As they already have the word "Constitution" in their name, they could pick whichever constitution they find most compatible with their legal theories


While the tone is a bit disagreeable, the piece raises a good point. A "progressive vision of the law" is little more than "results we like." Dahlia Lithwick makes a similar point here, and I think Ian Bassin recognizes that the ACS has its work cut out for it along these lines.
10.3.2006 11:06pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I absolutely agree with the thesis. (For the record, Mickey Kaus calls it "cocooning.") It's not that liberals are (unusually) dumb so much as that many of them have never been exposed to conservative ideas (at least outside the realm of "This is what evil dead white european males used to think before society evolved"), whereas conservatives live every day in the liberal world.

Tell a conservative or libertarian that health care is a "right," and he'll have heard it a million times before, and will know the arguments on each side. Tell a liberal that antidiscrimination law is a violation of property rights, and he'll stare at you, shocked, and think you're a member of the KKK. It's not merely that they think it's wrong, but that they think it's so beyond the pale that they've never even considered it. Tell a conservative or libertarian that free trade doesn't work and he'll have heard the debate. Tell a liberal that the New Deal did not save the economy and he'll look at you like you just announced the earth was flat.


Justin illustrates the cocooning perfectly:
That's a second note: "liberals" make up a majority of law students, but only in the sense that "liberals" equal the modern centrist establishment of the modern Democratic party - these people are globally pretty centrist or even center-right.
He lives in a world where even conservatives support a massive expansion of Medicare and the Department of Education (a quarter century after Reagan proposed abolishing the latter), and he thinks that the "modern centrist establishment" is "center right."

Bassin had it right: liberals won all the battles -- at least all the domestic policy battles -- from the 1930s on, and so they don't know what to do with themselves now.
10.3.2006 11:09pm
blackdoggerel (mail):
How on earth is this journal going to be any different than any of the other specialty journals at HLS, save the Journal of Law &Public Policy, given that all of the other specialty journals lean liberal as well? The answer coming from ACS (I have many friends who are adherents) is likely that the Law &Policy Review will be the first specialty to address "policy" ideas, in addition to law, which makes it more of a counterpart to the JLPP than the other journals. But they're kidding themselves if they don't think that, for example, the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review doesn't already advance policy, even if it purports only to be advancing law. The only difference is that the L&P Review will contain articles by policymakers, not just academics, much like the JLPP does. But, again, the JLPP is the *only* specialty journal at HLS to publish *any* conservative/libertarian writing, law or policy related. That the L&P Review distinguishes itself by offering liberal policy, as opposed to only liberal law, is not going to be enough to differentiate it from the other journals.

Not to mention, there is going to be a serious bidding war between the L&P Review and CR-CL. Respected academics will more likely want to publish in CR-CL, because it is older and has a lot of cachet. This means that the L&P Review will get the lesser legal articles and be stuck mostly with policy articles. Which, I fear, will turn it into basically a screed for the left. Sure, some might say the JLPP is the same for the right, but at least there, it has a monopoly on conservative *law* at HLS, not just policy -- something the L&P Review *won't* have on the left.
10.3.2006 11:11pm
Justin (mail):
anonVCfan, nice to pat yourself on the back, but your simple assertion is not true. Or I should say, it is equally true about conservatives as liberals. Liberals have global ways of looking at the law, even in ways that have nothing to do with policy - had you read a range of authors from Charles Black to Michael Dorf to Cass Sunstein, you'd know that.

Furthermore, conservatives (Kozinski, Scalia, Randy Barnett, amongst others, I'm looking in your direction) tend to think that the Constitution just happens to textually (or, if that fails, originally - or if that fails, they'll think somethimg up) embody their own political values.

This type of haughty, bland assertions that their side is simply right and their opponents are not only wrong but simply disingenuous seems to be en vogue amongst the "patriotic" right of the blogosphere today, but that neither makes it so nor makes it on point in this discussion.
10.3.2006 11:12pm
Justin (mail):
David, that's not what I said. The conservatives in my law school class, of course, did not support the Medicare prescription plan - nor did the liberals or the leftists. Your conflation of your own preconception of the spectrum and what I actually was talking about is striking.
10.3.2006 11:13pm
Justin (mail):
"But, again, the JLPP is the *only* specialty journal at HLS to publish *any* conservative/libertarian writing, law or policy related."

I call shenanigans.
10.3.2006 11:14pm
Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka (www):
Ian Bassin is right on the money. The other day I was having an arguement about same-sex marriage with a classmate after class. 3 minutes into the conversation he said "You know, I never really had to argue with a conservative back in college!"
10.3.2006 11:25pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
It's correct as far as I've seen: the majority are basically liberal, but most of all they value consensus and sensitivity. Don't rock the boat, and don't be a bigot. That sounds simple enough, but gays define who is an anti-gay bigot, blacks get to define who is anti-black, La Raza (the Race) defines who is anti-Mexican, etc. Most people are happy to offload their critical thinking to others.

I'm keeping my mouth shut, and I'm going to stay "in the closet." I don't see "coming out" at all--what do I get out of it?

And poor Richard Posner. He gets no respect whatsoever. People say he has a cruel heart because he uses economic formulas. That's what the mushy middle is all about: showing you've got "heart" rather than ideas. Maybe that's why Bush chose to call himself a "compassionate conservative." I'm thinking Karl Rove figured all of this out a long time before anyone else.

I'm a compassionate law student. And a quiet one.
10.3.2006 11:31pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Justin, you weren't talking merely about people in your law school class -- and hence, neither was I. You were broadening the discussion to "the modern centrist establishment of the modern Democratic Party."
10.3.2006 11:31pm
Fern R (www):
"I agree that liberals make up a majority of the student based of my old law school, but they did not make up a majority of the ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS in legal discussions."

Justin, aren't you proving the author's point by suggesting that the majority of liberal students don't participate in serious intellectual debates about the issues of our day?
10.3.2006 11:34pm
Kate1999 (mail):
Justin,

It's true that the Harvard Law Review will occasionally publish articles by conservatives/libertarians. But at HLS, there is the HLR and there are all the other journals, and the HLR isn't in the same camp as them from the standpoint of student decisions of which journal to join. The other journals all have a left-of-center bent (except JOLT) which doesn't have a lot of political stuff. Here's the list:

* Black Letter Law Journal
* Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review
* Environmental Law Review
* Human Rights Journal
* Harvard International Law Journal
* Journal of Law &Gender (formerly Women's Law Journal)
* Journal of Law and Technology
* Journal on Legislation
* Latino Law Review
* Negotiation Law Review
* Unbound: Harvard Journal of the Legal Left

So for left of center students, this is simply one more left of center HLS journal to pick from.
10.3.2006 11:42pm
Justin (mail):
David, I was comparing the "liberals" in law school to that approximate bandwidth. I was not focusing on anything particular to Congress. Context, even if it means having to read a whole second sentence, does help.
10.3.2006 11:52pm
Debauched Sloth (mail):
I spend a fair amount of time on law school campuses speaking to Federalist Society Chapters. Unfortunately, Mr. Nieporent accurately describes what I have seen on most campuses.

As a libertarian, I have strong disagreements with liberals and conservatives both, and no particular affinity for either. From that somewhat objective standpoint, I have noticed some distinct trends with liberal-leaning students.

First, they seem far less inclined than conservative students to attend events featuring speakers or perspectives with which they disagree. Thus, while many conservative students seem eager to duke it out with invited speakers, most (but by no means all) liberals tend to simply boycott the event instead. Second, it has absolutely been my experience that liberal students tend to be much less knowledgeable about the basic arguments that have been made on different sides of a given issue.

While liberals certainly don't give anything away to their conservative classmates intellectually (to the contrary in many cases), their tendency to be less well-versed on the issues they espouse does tend to leave them looking somewhat "paunchy" by comparison.
10.3.2006 11:52pm
anonVCfan:
Justin... maybe once your intellectual movement progresses along the lines Mr. Bassin suggests, you won't need to resort to knocking down strawmen. The Weekly Standard isn't the best out there, and certainly not the argument that needs to be refuted to "win" an argument.
10.3.2006 11:53pm
Debauched Sloth (mail):
I spend a fair amount of time on law school campuses speaking to Federalist Society Chapters. Unfortunately, Mr. Nieporent accurately describes what I have seen, including two trends in particular.

First, liberal students they seem far less inclined than conservatives to attend events featuring speakers or perspectives with which they disagree. Thus, while conservative students are typically eager to show up and "duke it out," liberals seem more inclined to simply boycott speakers whose message they don't like. Second, it has definitely been my experience that liberal students tend to be less knowledgeable than conservatives about the basic arguments surrounding any given issue. Certainly there are exceptions to that rule -- sometimes quite notable exceptions -- but the general trend is unmistakeable.

While I don't believe liberal students give anything away to their conservative classmates intellectually (to the contrary in many cases), their tendency to be less well-versed on the issues they espouse -- together with their greater willingness to play the moral-outrage trump card in order to shut down debate that has become uncomfortable -- does leave them looking "paunchy" by comparison. I find that particularly unfortunate because what passes for conservatism these days is becoming an increasingly rich source of truly appalling ideas and policies.
10.4.2006 12:14am
Debauched Sloth (mail):
(Apologies for the double-post -- the second one was the version I meant to post.)
10.4.2006 12:19am
therut:
Well the thing I noticed first about what this guy wrote is his obvious sexism. It is glaring and almost blinding. Of coarse he probably does not notice his institutional sexism. Made it hard for me to stop laughing to give anything else he wrote any attention. I guess only a woman would notice his sexism. I think he needs to be looked at critically and see if he adequately reflects liberal thinking on sexism.
10.4.2006 12:21am
Thomasly (mail):
I can say that it isn't true at Chicago. Enjoy your time there. It's a very special place.
10.4.2006 12:32am
AustinCityLights:
I agree in large part with Bassin. I graduated from the University of Texas Law School, where affirmative action was a hot topic on campus. (Remember Hopwood?) I had disagreements with affirmative action, but rarely felt comfortable expressing myself because there was a liberal consensus among most of the law students that affirmative action was valuable and worth defending. But that liberal consensus was a barrier to critical thinking. I do distinctly remember telling a Hispanic classmate that I disagreed with affirmative action, as it existed. He accused me of being a racist.
10.4.2006 12:33am
Justin (mail):
Thanks for the advice, anonVC. I do just fine for myself. One day, though, I'll reach the intellectual level to be able to haughtily criticize others without presenting either ideas or arguments.
10.4.2006 12:36am
Lev:

The single greatest problem of contemporary legal liberalism is that too many of us are at a loss for words to describe what we stand for. One irony is that our past success may be to blame for this current failure. Many of us grew up in such liberal atmospheres that we were never challenged to defend liberal principles or to even grapple with the difficult questions at their core. As American society has polarized over the last generation—mine is the first for whom red and blue are defining traits—more of us have grown up in homogenous intellectual spheres. Instead of having our peers challenge our ideas, we play yes men to ourselves, nodding in agreement on what we believe without ever having to utter a definitive phrase. . . .

Compare this with what a conservative at many of today's left-leaning law schools must experience.


Not that it matters any, but Rush Limbaugh has been saying that over the airwaves that for years.
10.4.2006 12:44am
AustinCityLights:
One other thought, from the conservative side. Because I was fed up with the liberal consensus, I decided to take Lino Graglia's "From Brown to Bakke" con law class. Graglia is a politically conservative law professor at UT Law and an outspoke critic of affirmative action. Well, as it happened, I was the only person in class who disagreed with Graglia's take on Brown and the subsequent busing decisions. The overhwhelming majority of the students were conservative from what I gather. (There's was a great deal of self-selection going on.) Anyway, I finally stopped questioning Graglia's views in class because I was the only student who disagreed with him, and he was unwilling to concede that there might be competing interpretations, say anti-subordination, of Brown. So, in the end, it was not a great experience.
10.4.2006 12:48am
amused 3L:
as someone who would define myself as something of a progressive populist (think FDR or RFK Jr. rather than Clinton or Marx) who attends a pretty decent state law school in the mid-atlantic region, I'd have to disagree with just about all of you and say that probably the most common political belief I see argued by law students is libertarianism, just like many of your own beliefs. Sad to say, it's also a poorly-thought-out form.

To start with, I'll offer a representative anecdote like many others have earlier. In my 1L Torts class (taught by a right-wing-off-the-cliffer), even the professor was shocked by how many students disagreed with his devil's advocate suggestion that perhaps doctors receive unfair special treatment in negligence standards (for medical malpractice), compared with other individuals who have life-and-death jobs, like say aircraft mechanics. Of course, that was easily followed up by asking how many students' parents were doctors or similar medical professionals. The answer: a very large number of them. Surprise! To think that law students aren't the sons and daughters of janitors and coal miners....how could it be!

It's just simple self-interest. Higher income parents ==> Higher educatioms ==> More likely to go to law school, and the end result is a plurality of self-interested young libertarian zombies spouting Ayn Rand-like screeds against regulation and all other things that just coincidentally might interfere with their own wallets and their rationalizations of their positions of power and privilege.

Of course, affirmative action is solidly despised at my school, as others have noted. It's hardly stereotypical liberal heaven. Of course, to again agree with previous commenters, I'm sure it's also self-interest, since even the white liberals probably feel like they got screwed out of some of the elite schools by undeserving minorities.

I would also add that after the libertarianoids, the loudest groups are centrist limousine libs, followed by the apathetics, and trailing behind would be the social conservative/true right-wingers and the true leftists would be way behind. Shockingly, the two ideologies you might expect to be most common among the "working-class" segement of the population (left- and right-wing populism) are both exceedingly rare.

But then again, maybe my school is just weird. (and it's not George Mason!)
10.4.2006 1:27am
David Hecht (mail):
I didn't go to law school, but I think I can say that the atmosphere you describe was--if anything--more pronounced when I was in school back in the 1970s.

Not to sound like one of those tiresome old-timers, but in those days conservatism barely even registered on the scope: the prevailing atmosphere of liberalism was so omnipresent that you really did feel weird dissenting from it in class.

Ironically, I felt I had more in common with some of the real left-wing radicals than I did with the instructors. And the feeling was to some degree mutual: I knew one hard-core leftist who approvingly quoted Reagan on tax withholding, and how it anaesthetized the people to the rapaciousness of government.

During the 1976 presidential campaign, when I supported Reagan, the guy whom I had the most in common with was a supporter of Fred Harris (!).

Bottom line: if as a conservative on the campus in the 1970s you weren't prepared to articulate a comprehensive defense of the conservative position, you might as well not bother to make the argument.
10.4.2006 1:39am
amused 3L:
ack, strike the "Jr" part from RFK. Junior is a bit of a hack. I'm more about daddy, circa 1968.
10.4.2006 2:35am
Kevin P. (mail):
amused 3L:


as someone who would define myself as something of a progressive populist...

...taught by a right-wing-off-the-cliffer...

...self-interested young libertarian zombies spouting Ayn Rand-like screeds...

...their rationalizations of their positions of power and privilege. ...


Thanks for proving the point!
10.4.2006 4:52am
o' connuh j.:
I agree. Just observe the difference between the CrookedTimber comment threads and the comment threads at VC - which one is more of an echochamber?

Oops, rhetorical question.

Here everyone gets fair dibs at comment without being confronted by a sea of hostile, dismissive co-commenters: argument is taken seriously, and my sense is that on most threads, liberals and conservatives get equal screen time.

On CrookedTimber? You're lucky if you don't get treated as a pariah/condescended to/assumed to be an idiot for daring to question the prevailing orthodoxy.

It is an accurate reflection of Bassin's underlying point.
10.4.2006 8:30am
Plato:
The undefined, unarticulated undercurrent that provides the underpinnings for contemporary bourgeoise leftism is an unsophisticated, economically-illiterate, crude utilitarianism. What's tragic is that leftist policies ultimately immiserate the populace.
10.4.2006 9:49am
Atomic:

The liberal, on the other hand, has spent his period of intellectual maturation on the couch so to speak.

For a moment there, I thought you said "intellectual mastrubation". It seems to fit the general liberal ideal.
10.4.2006 10:26am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Furthermore, conservatives (Kozinski, Scalia, Randy Barnett, amongst others, I'm looking in your direction) tend to think that the Constitution just happens to textually (or, if that fails, originally - or if that fails, they'll think somethimg up) embody their own political values.
Randy Barnett is a libertarian, not a conservative. (Look at Raich, for example.) That you don't recognize the very substantial difference seems to prove the point about cocooning.

I agree that Scalia is a conservative, and like Barnett, seems to sometimes read the text of the Constitution as embodying his political views. This problem, unfortunately, is widespread across the political spectrum. A bit more seriousness about original intent would solve this problem.
10.4.2006 10:31am
Mr. X (www):
My younger brother and I get into political discussions all the time. He's the kind of liberal that reads more Marx than Adams, I'm a Republican who'd be a Libertarian if they got past Lyndon LaRouche. Our family has learned to duck and cover when we get going. But he's a hell of a lot sharper on several issues than "the liberal average" because he has to cut his teeth on me, and vice versa. (The fact that we're both pretty far up the bell curve, intellectually speaking, doesn't hurt here.) We're also a lot more moderate on certain issues than average. He's a nuclear power advocate, I've voted in favor of gay marriage.


Lyndon LaRouche is and has always been a Democrat. He has never been a Libertarian.

Cling to the party of Foley, Abramoff, DeLay, and Bush if you want, but don't blame it on LaRouche.
10.4.2006 11:03am
Houston Lawyer:
I attended UT Law beginning in 1982. We had about 60 faculty members, 2 of which were self-described conservatives. Mr. Graglia, listed above was one of them and he was the faculty sponsor when we started a Federalist Society chapter. At that point in time, minority students were allowed to opt out of Mr. Graglia's first year con-law class.

The professors were all quite open to conservative or libertarian arguments, even if they openly disagreed with them. The professors kept tabs on who the conservatives were so that they could be called out to present the other side of an issue. The liberal students, however, were so obnoxious that they would hiss fellow students making conservative points.

Moral posturing was often substituted for logical reasoning.
10.4.2006 11:08am
Colin (mail):
Liberal ideas have been drilled into students' minds for so long, many liberals can't even recognize the existence of an opposing viewpoint, much less fathom that the opposing viewpoint has merit.

A key example from this year: the Federalist Society's first event - a panel discussion - put forth the competing ideas of Professor Charles Fried, Professor Steven Calabresi, and (liberal) Professor Larry Tribe. The first ACS event? A lecture by Professor Tribe. While liberals are busy preaching to one another, conservatives and libertarians are engaged in meaningful debate that challenges the full political spectrum.


I agree with Bassin's general point, but CrimsonGuest, that's baloney. Liberals in law school get good exposure to conservative theories, whether or not they're forced to refine their own. What do you think the Federalist Society and Fellowships do all day? If you haven't been getting enough exposure, then get out more often. And your example hardly proves your point; the first events of the year? Why is that relevant? The ACS hosts discussions as well as lectures, just as the FS does.

o'connuh, j:

Here everyone gets fair dibs at comment without being confronted by a sea of hostile, dismissive co-commenters: argument is taken seriously, and my sense is that on most threads, liberals and conservatives get equal screen time.

On CrookedTimber? You're lucky if you don't get treated as a pariah/condescended to/assumed to be an idiot for daring to question the prevailing orthodoxy.


I think you're more or less right about the VC, but it's not because of the politics of the blog. There are echo chambers on both the left and the right; probably the majority of both. See, i.e., LGF.
10.4.2006 11:35am
chris s (mail):
"conservatives (Kozinski, Scalia, Randy Barnett, amongst others, I'm looking in your direction) tend to think that the Constitution just happens to textually (or, if that fails, originally - or if that fails, they'll think somethimg up) embody their own political values."

I don't buy this. It's undercut by Texas v Johnson, or Hamdi (I think that was the detainee case where Scalia dissented with Stevens), by the dissent Morrison v. Olson. by Kozinski's vote in the Seattle deseg case now before the S Ct.

by contrast, I can't think of one S Ct case in which a liberal leaning justice voted vs his presumed policy preferences, save maybe Tex v Johnson, when Kunstler apparently so angered Stevens that he went with the dissent. point some out to me if I'm wrong though.
10.4.2006 11:57am
o' connuh j.:
Colin,

Ah, but do consider like with like - CrookedTimber likes to think of itself as the intellectual liberal-left equivalent of VC. Bassin's point is reflected by the relative 'openess' of the comment threads in either blog.

If we agree that CrookedTimber is more of an echochamber, shriller, more dismissive, less intellectually serious (sorry, but snark/posturing is not a replacement for reasoned argument), the question is - why the contrast in attitudes?

The salient difference is politics (not because liberals are inherently uncritical, but because of the reasons Bassin talked about).
10.4.2006 1:10pm
o' connuh j.:
Further, the LGF isn't an academic weblog, nor are its readers academics. Bassin's point relates to insitutional academic attitudes, so citing LGF or indeed, any other non-academic weblog is quite beside the point. A better comparison would be to conservative weblogs like say, TheRightCoast - is it an echochamber? Last I checked, no. Compare with, say, The Leiter Reports - now THAT is an echochamber par excellence.
10.4.2006 1:20pm
Sigivald (mail):
...and is famous for its outstanding executive editing in Volume 20

This sounds like it ought to be some sort of joke.

Is it? If so, why is it funny, for the edification of us non-lawyers and non-law-journal-readers? Is it mere poking fun at it not being famous at all? Or being poorly edited?
10.4.2006 1:25pm
Colin (mail):
If we agree that CrookedTimber is more of an echochamber

We don't. I don't read the blog, much less its comments, and don't have an opinion as to their quality. I'll start following, so as to form one, I suppose. But I'm very dubious of your claim that dissent isn't allowed there; I skimmed the comments on the front page and didn't find any beat-downs. Do you have examples?
10.4.2006 1:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Not to keep beating this dead horse, but here's another anecdotal data point:

I participate in political discussions in many internet mailing lists, discussion boards, usenet groups, blogs, etc., (too many, in point of fact) which were not specifically established around one ideology or the other. Some are aimed for fellow alums of my alma mater, others for fellow attorneys, others around some other common interest.

Inevitably, in any such forum where liberals predominate, the minority conservatives or libertarians will remain and debate (and incidentally will often be admonished by the administrators of the forum for being too argumentative). In any forum where conservatives or libertarians predominate, the minority liberals will quit and go form their own group, for "progressives" (the new euphemism) only.

Now, I look at that as an example of cocooning -- liberals being unwilling or unable to debate those with whom they disagree, and being more interested in receiving validation of their own views, while conservatives relish the intellectual debate. An alternative explanation (which you can believe if you choose) is that conservatives/libertarians are nastier than liberals. But regardless of whether that explanation or the cocooning one is accurate, it reflects a real difference between the sides in their approach to political debate.
10.4.2006 1:38pm
LAS (mail) (www):
AustinCityLights,

What I found interesting about Hopwood: There were white students with lower scores than the minority students. Nobody argued about it. No press, no nothing.
10.4.2006 1:46pm
Still Learning:
...and is famous for its outstanding executive editing in Volume 20

This sounds like it ought to be some sort of joke.

Is it? If so, why is it funny, for the edification of us non-lawyers and non-law-journal-readers? Is it mere poking fun at it not being famous at all? Or being poorly edited?


My guess would be that Orin was the executive editor, but that's just a guess.
10.4.2006 1:47pm
LAS (mail) (www):
Avatar wrote: 'I don't think anybody here is prepared to say that we haven't advanced culturally - the internet is a good enough argument of that...)'

I don't know if this is liberal or conservative (labels). I'm prepared to say that the internet has helped us to produce the same old cultural activities, over and over and over, faster, more aggressively, and so on. When it comes to culture, our behaviors have not advanced very much and the internet is a more convenient way to reproduce the same old behaviors, i.e., rob, cheat, steal, educate, learn, love, marry, hate, make money, etc.

Advanced? If you mean the 'integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon our capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations, I tend to agree.

Yes, the internet has helped us advance. But if you mean as Americans, (customary beliefs, social forms, material traits), I tend to disagree. Here's a bold statement: Historically, the internet has not helped us advance beyond what we've always been.

Avatar continues: "But to get all this advancement, you have to keep society up and running - in other words, you have to say "I cannot solve the world's problems today, I -must- accept that no matter what I do, people will suffer," and furthermore work to make that society a better place." I tend to agree with your view, but it's a cop out.
10.4.2006 1:53pm
o' connuh j.:
Oh, "dissent" is allowed - but only a little. After all they have to appear to be fair. However, get too frisky and the blog authors will do everything to stop you commenting on any pretext (from taking mock offense and deleting your comments, to interpreting arguments in as uncharitable a light as possible, to employing personal attacks and being snarkily dismissive - see e.g., the case of one Dan Simon in most recently, a thread on the Lebanon ambulance incident). But that's just one example. VC contributors have had plenty of joy looking through the comment threads there as well (for example, the amount of ad hominem hostility directed towards David Bernstein and Eugene Volokh is remarkable for its animus). And so on and so forth - one gets the tenor of the attitudes there after a while: an inclination towards dismissal, rather than intellectual engagement.

Bassin's essay captures the gist of these attitudes very well.
10.4.2006 2:05pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
mused, that's a pile of crap. Most wealth in this country isnt inherited. I was very poor growing up and only a modest number of my fellow students seem to come from anything other than normal working class backgrounds.

Contrary to socialist belief, "poverty" and "wealth" are mostly a function of age in the US. People tend to start off with modest income and few assets, gaining more as they grow older.

Due to the fact that we often measure wealth by income in this country, many of the "poor" at any given time are people like me who are taking a break from their careers to do other things. Others are college students and graduates beginning their careers. Even out of a prestigious private university, starting salaries arent exactly sky high- you still have to pay your dues.

Yeah, having money helps, but I dont think it has as much affect on your life outcome compared to innate ability, work ethic and the other cultural traits passed on from your parents. As long as you have the ability, you will get ahead in this country.
10.4.2006 2:38pm
Anon 3L:
Chris S —

Arguably, Stevens voted against his policy preferences in Raich. He referred to the "unfortunate facts" of this case or something to that effect, implying that his heart was with the terminally ill patients, but he felt bound by statute and precedent to rule against them.
10.4.2006 2:50pm
Elliot Reed:
As a Stanford Law student, my experience has been that the students tend to be left-of-center, but not very far left of center. This place feels like a Federalist Society convention relative to my undergraduate alma matter, where left-wing opinions were far more dominant. I felt like a conservative in college; relative to Stanford Law I'm part of the radical left-wing fringe.

The faculty seem mostly to be left-of-center in their political views, and classes on "social issues" (family law, sexual orientation law) seem to select for students who are left of the median here. A notable contrast is business law: every business law class I've taken has been taught by a fairly hardcore law &economics professor, and few members of the class are ever interested in challenging that point of view. The idea that law should be sensitive to distributive consequences is very difficult to get out, because the business law classes are taught on the conservative assumption that Kaldor-Hicks is the baseline by which all things must be measured.
10.4.2006 3:35pm
luagha:
Watch Stephen Colbert's interviews sometime.
I am especially fond of those times when he invites some liberal type on the show for an interview, and wham - he hits them with, seriously delivered, the totally obvious conservative counterargument to their whole thesis.

It's like a slow pitch. You would think that going into an interview with someone who's faking being a conservative that you would be ready for the most obvious conservative line to be tossed at you and you would have your ready counter to demolish it... but many aren't. They fumble when they realize that they either have no rejoinder or their rejoinder is politically inappropriate... and Colbert has to back off and give them an out.
10.4.2006 5:57pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):

The idea that law should be sensitive to distributive consequences is very difficult to get out, because the business law classes are taught on the conservative assumption that Kaldor-Hicks is the baseline by which all things must be measured.


I love the socialist assumption that a bureaucrat in a central office is the best decider of what things I need to become happiest and most productive.

Leaving aside the obvious argument that courts are an inefficient means to accomplish redistribution of wealth, lets focus on the obvious faults of redistribution itself.

In capitalism, there is exploitation to the extent that one person will get more value out of another person than he gives. But the reason it works is that every person values things differently. A person with no money will value money over his labor. A wealthy person may forgo some of his money and conserve his labor for recreational use. In the end, each person has traded away the things he values least for the things he values most. Even the poorest people in America can achieve wealth or happiness if they are willing to trade away enough of their time to gain valuable skills and then trade away enough of their labor to purchase their dreams. And all along, they will produce things that others value, working diligently towards the rewards they have chosen as most compelling.

What possible improvement upon this could socialism ever accomplish? A central planner cannot motivate or reward the average person- or should I say, they can reward ONLY the average person- one size fits all. Take everything people have and then give them back what the government wants them to have, and you will make everyone miserable and unproductive and society will be poorer as a result. Every redistributive path leads to a society dominated by force, for without force, you cannot extract wealth for redistribution. The government eventually discovers it can extract wealth and retain much of the value for its own use. In the end, the government ceases to deliver value to the people, and they no longer bother producing wealth for it to extract. Havent you seen this failure mode enough times yet?
10.4.2006 6:50pm
AustinCityLights:
LAS: I didn't know that, but it doesn't surprise me. Perhaps these students received preferential treatment because they were legacies?
10.4.2006 7:55pm
TomHuff (mail):
As one of three libertarians in my law school class (that I knew of, anyway), I think Bassin might be on to something.
10.5.2006 12:46am
A.C.:
One thing I learned in law school is that upper middle class liberalism isn't the same as the liberalism I learned growing up. I always thought of the political left as being the group that tried to give working people more political heft and economic bargaining power. In law school I met a very different type, and as far as I can tell their ideas are based entirely on the following two notions:

1) I don't like it. Daddy, fix it!
2) How many people can I patronize today?

The first comes up whenever people argue in favor of nationalizing the entire medical industry and paying for everybody's health care by taxing "the rich." The second is bound up with the whole political correctness problem.

What bothers me about this isn't the leftist aspect so much as the breathtaking elitism. It presumes that somebody, somewhere can fix any problem named (details tend to be left conveniently vague), and it presumes that the speaker is allied with that somebody.

I'm not sure if anything can be done about the "Daddy, fix it" problem among people who are actually adolescents. That's a natural way for kids to think, at least if they have grown up with daddies who are in a position to fix anything. The trouble is people who don't grow out of this mindset, especially when they end up teaching. They can do real damage.
10.5.2006 12:23pm
josh:
David NM

"Inevitably, in any such forum where liberals predominate, the minority conservatives or libertarians will remain and debate (and incidentally will often be admonished by the administrators of the forum for being too argumentative). In any forum where conservatives or libertarians predominate, the minority liberals will quit and go form their own group, for "progressives" (the new euphemism) only."

That certainly has not been the case in forums such as this. I have read comment threads in which the arguments posed by you and several other angry conservatives have been quickly dispatched by liberals not shirking from the discussion.

Let's look at how this thread started: OK asked whether readers agree with a Yale student's view that liberals have trouble enunciating their philosophy. A number of commenters have set forth that philosophy, which contradicts the Yale student's assertion.

In response conservative commenters have fairly stuck to ad hominem attacks against liberals in general. They confuse disagreement with liberal principles on the merits with the original subject of the post -- have those principles been adequately communicated. During a discussion about the economic effects of the New Deal, when a liberal looks at you like you just said the world is flat, it's not because the liberal is "cocooning" or unable to articulate a reasonable position, it's because perhaps your position is just wrong. If not wrong, perhaps your liberal counterpart simply disagrees with it. That says nothing about liberalism at its core, or liberals' ability to communicate what they believe. You simply don't agree with what they believe. That's your right.

I think the real "cocooning" is far greater on the Right. As I stated in an earlier post, the real, modern liberal philosophy is best articulated now by the likes of Cass Sunstein at U of C. His (now dated) book Republic.com addresses this very subject, and points out the Right has sought out its own echo chamber far more than the Left has. For example, even if we accept as true that there is a liberally biased media (which I don't), the stated desire has been for objectivity. It is the Right that expressly feels the need to set up media that reflects its viewpoints.
10.5.2006 1:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
That certainly has not been the case in forums such as this.
Josh, I would in any case dispute the notion that you've "quickly dispatched" anything, but that isn't what I said.

I said "such forums," referring to forums "which were not specifically established around one ideology or the other."

That is, places like the VC don't qualify, because liberals who come to VC know what they're getting into, and the ones who come are ones who are interested in discussing with (or at least snarking at) non-liberals.

even if we accept as true that there is a liberally biased media (which I don't), the stated desire has been for objectivity.
But that's the point: liberals think their political views are "objective." That's the very essence of cocooning. It's true that there are some conservatives who only want to interact with media that agree with them, but (a) they realize that they're doing so, so they aren't fooling themselves in the same way, and (b) because the liberal media is so ubiquitous, they encounter liberal views anyway. Unless you go hide in the Unabomber's shack in Montana, you're going to be exposed to the views of the MSM, whether you want to or not.

Whereas many liberals really have never been exposed to conservative or libertarian ideas at all.
10.9.2006 6:44pm