On American Conservatism as an Esoteric Ideology


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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146 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    We should clear that up first, so we’ll start the piece proper with the true, hidden meaning of the term.

    Nicely played.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    My feeling is that the elite of American Conservatism think they can’t win an election if they ran on what they really believed in. The red meat given to the Conservatives Proles is to secure their vote in order to win elections.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Why they don’t is the thing that I simply do not understand.

    Because it doesn’t further either of their real goals: power and wealth.Report

  4. Avatar clawback says:

    I guess I don’t understand your confusion. Yes, pandering is a chore, but it’s far better than failing to do so and losing power.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I assume they want power. But so do progressives. That fact doesn’t quite get us to an explanation, and it becomes still less of one when we consider, as I do, that progressive elites have gone to great lengths to guide the lower-information voters on their side, rather than being guided by them.

      That anyway is my impression of the two parties — one has elites that lead, and the other has elites that follow. Both of course want power, but their paths to power are different.Report

      • Avatar clawback says:

        Right — and this goes right to the difference between the respective low-information voters. One side is receptive to change and improvement, the other side not.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          Also, in general, if a low-information liberal voter “gets” the argument about equality in say, health care, they’ll probably get the argument about equality in gay marriage or tax rates or even access to college education.

          OTOH, there’s really no connective tissue between high military spending, social conservatism, and right-wing tax policy. So, it’s easier to basically bang on an overarching theme (“Freedom!” for lack of a better word to use) and pick at small insignificant things, such as the War Against Christmas and funding of random scientific experiments by the NIH, than trying to convince pro-life voters why they need to also support massive increases in defense spending and tax cuts for rich people.

          Now, thirty years of propaganda via Rush Limbaugh and Fox News has convinced a certain segment of the populace that all three things are connected and important to the continued existence of America, but it’s breaking apart at the bottom end, where from my reading, there does seem to be a split between people who truly believe we’re three steps from national bankruptcy and the people who believe that gay people being married will lead to the Devil rising from hell.

          Indeed, there really is no heavy split on the liberal side, even between neoliberal hacks in the DLC and people like me. I mean, I’ll occasionally complain and whine about Ben Nelson, but I didn’t want him to be replaced in Nebraska by a Republican.Report

          • Avatar clawback says:

            Yeah, I think this is an important part of it. The liberal agenda is simple, consistent, and easily communicated: “We’re helping the less fortunate!” When something relatively new and unfamiliar such as SSM comes along even a low-information liberal can easily fit it into their worldview. On the other hand, conservatism requires an impressive amount of cognitive dissonance to stay on program: government is bad at everything, except the military; deficits are bad, except when the Republicans are in power; judicial activism is bad, except when it gives the results we like; Social Security is socialism, except when it benefits the old people who vote our way; magic Paul Ryan budgets are great even though the math is blatantly and obviously flawed; etc.

            So I think someone who can juggle all of this contradictory doctrine in their mind is a poor candidate for a leader wishing to nudge them in the direction of reality. Far easier to just pander.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Wow. Awesome comment Greg.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Hey, just because greginak and clawback are both leftie posters who use all lower case letters, that doesn’t mean they aren’t different people, Still! 😛 (Unless I’ve missed a thread where clawback revealed his first name was Greg.)Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                back off jesse….i’m marking the awesome comment down in my book even though i had nothing to do with it. its only fair since it makes up for the lack of props when i have made awesome comments.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Oh man do I feel like a doofus. That’s like the worst compliment ever, isn’t it? The comment was so good I think my mind was temporarily blown.

                Sorry Jesse.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                “never apologize mister, its a sign of weakness”
                dumb quote said by John Wayne in one of his John Ford westerns.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Now I’m even more confused if you’re apologizing to me, cause claws comment was much better written than mine and deserved the kudos.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                claw wrote a good comment, as usual, but not a mind destroyer. That was yours.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think its about numbers. The number of Conservatives Elite as you described them is very small, not enough to win a election by being more honesty about their beliefs. Even in non-democratic systems, the Elite need a broader base of political support than the Elite. Current Elite Conservatism in the United States is all about allowing the wealthy to keep more of their money, its about protecting a Rentier class almost. Its very Gilded Age. This isn’t an issue you can win elections with. Esoteric Conservatism gets Elite Conservatives the votes they need to implement their preferred policies.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          So, in a round about way you’re answering Jason’s question in the following way: conservative proles are uneducable, so the elite pander to them.

          Isn’t that a problem?Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            It’s a problem in the sense that conservative elites will never be able educate the proles to have a majority party that’s socially moderate, but right-wing on economics. That’s a perfectly reasonable third party to have in a multiparty system (see the FDP in Germany), but in a two-party system in the modern politics with a polarized party system, you can’t go against what the voting base of the party is firmly against and expect to win.

            The GOP has two choices in the long term, ignoring the fact they can probably keep the House ’til 2020 because of redistricting and gerrymandering – keep the hardcore social conservatism, but essentially become a populist party on economics or stay right on economics, but attempt to grab suburban voters by being moderate on social issues.

            Before somebody says, “Obama and drones,” the vast majority of Democrats approve of drone usage (like most Americans) and it’s not a high-level enough of an issue for a primary to even have a whisper of a chance.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            I’m not so much as saying that conservatives proles as uneducatable as they won’t like the education that they are going to get. Lets be a socially moderate or neutral, right-wing economically party is not a winning political message. It has nothing for the conservative proles whose votes are needed to win election. That means that conservatives elites have to give into what the conservatives proles want on social issues in order to get what they want on economic issues. Its give and take.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    This is a very good essay.

    The issue is that I think there have always been multiple right-wing elites.

    The essay you write describes the elite as being the classic country club Republican. Your essay describes them very well.

    However, I think that people like Michelle Bachmann and Steve King are also part of the Republican elite if only because the GOP needs them to maintain a base in the house. These people are true believers.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      There’s also He Who Must Not Be Called “Only an Entertainer”. I have no idea whether he’s a true believer or not, but he’s certainly among the elite. And, unlike a mere congressman from Alaska, wholly above criticism.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Him too. I think he is somewhere between being a true believer and a Country Club type. He is certainly a sincere sexist or very good at playing one which might as well be the same thing. He comes from a fancy background though and his family was long-involved in GOP politics. Rush is a big old Francophile though and likes to live in oppulent luxury.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          I think Rush largely doesn’t give two craps about gay people or abortions, but does care about non-white people getting stuff they don’t deserve. Where that puts him on the true believer to Rockefeller scale is to be determined.Report

          • Avatar Bob2 says:

            Elton John played one of his weddings.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              This doesn’t mean anything. Eastern European aristocracy hired bands composed either of Jews or Roma to play at their weddings and parties before modernity destroyed them and they absolutely hated Jews and Roma. Same goes with whites hiring African-American or Latino musicians.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Yeah. And I just read earlier today that the RNC tried to get Lady GaGa to play their convention; she turned down a cool million for the gig.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

                When you already have multiple millions why sellout for only 1 million.

                Not to mention the damage it would have done to her brand.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Is that why she wasn’t at the 2012 convention after her “pit bull with lipstick” speech was the biggest hit in 2008?Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            but does care about non-white people getting stuff they don’t deserve.

            Oh, I see how this game works. You don’t want non-white people rising above their place by getting too rich.

            Heh. I made it sound like you’re a racist without saying anything that isn’t technically true. Aren’t I clever?Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Xenu, the dark overlord of the galaxy, who imprisoned the souls of billions of murdered space aliens on a planet called Teegeeack (later “Earth”) 75 million years ago.

    it’s often mentioned that Hubbard was a science fiction writer, not so often that he was a complete hack. If not for Scientology, he’d be completely forgotten: not undeservedly like Eric Frank Russell and C. M. Kornbluth, but with complete justice, like Lionel Fanthorpe. So if you read what’s quoted above and think “That can’t be what Scientology really teaches; it sounds like tenth-rate pulp SF”,

    1. It is, and
    2. Precisely.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      it’s often mentioned that Hubbard was a science fiction writer, not so often that he was a complete hack.

      I’ve read some of his sci fi and I have to agree. In one story he had a race of aliens with plutonium based chemistry. Seriously.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Jason, I’m all good with the idea of elite conservatives having a different sort of agenda than the Bud-Light-swillin’-of, NASCAR-watchin’ of, U!S!A!-chantin’-of, President-Palin-fantasizin’-of unwashed masses down in the rank and file. And I’m all good with the idea of those elites pandering in public to the rank and file while quietly seeking to do stuff in the back rooms. The obstructionist and do-it-to-piss-off-a-liberal-and-no-other-reason thinking, okay, I think we all understand, or ought to, that this is a public posture and not an actual governing strategy.

    What I don’t get is what these elites actually want. Some of them seek electoral office or other positions of power, but what they want to do with it remains as much a mystery to me as do the rituals used to worship Mithras. Sure, they don’t think same sex marriage is particularly important or worth bothering over — but what do they want to do with the power they seek? Or are they all O’Briens for whom simply having the power an end in itself, an inherent value, and what is done with it ultimately irrelevant so long as it is done at their direction?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I think the answer is unfortunately the latter. If you want to find another expression, they want to find ways for the currently wealthy to stay wealthy while preventing other people from joining the club.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I think there’s a fair amount of the power purely for it’s own sake. They are mainly politicians, after all.
      But I could throw out a few ideas:
      Lower taxes?
      Aggressive expansion of political/cultural hegemony?
      Perhaps they see the “liberal” agenda as a socio-cultural threat that’s worth stopping even if they have to greatly exaggerate it’s content in order to curb itReport

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I think that’s on the right track. I’ve always justified Democrats personal power-greed by recognizing that the scattered discarded leftovers promote social justice and equality. That’s no small thing. I think the same is prolly true of GOP supporters: the scattered bits are lower taxes and smaller gummint.

        Unfortunately, for Republicans, there really isn’t any evidence of any scattering. Or of any bits.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Lower taxes?…. Perhaps they see the “liberal” agenda as a socio-cultural threat that’s worth stopping even if they have to greatly exaggerate it’s content in order to curb it

        If they want to push taxes ever lower, then at some point it’s necessary to start dismantling the military, public pensions, and health care for the poor. My own thoughts are that American conservatives ought to go back and look at Bismarck. He didn’t institute those things out of the kindness of his heart. He knew that the wealthy would get a much better deal overall if they were forced to share modestly with the proles than if they waited until the proles decided to take things on their own. At this point in time, even if we raised taxes to the point that the budget was balanced, the US wealthy have a better deal in terms of taxes and sharing than they would get in any other country in the world where they would seriously consider living. Best not to be too greedy.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Burt, fwiw the way I answer that is that rather than Elites and Esoterics, the better and more accurate labels would be Conservatives and Populists.

      The “elites”in Washington are in fact the ones pursuing conservative agendas.

      I know I am very much alone in this opinion.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      To me, all signs point toward “Lower taxes for themselves and their friends.”Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      It’s also the case that there are elite cadres of people who, as far as we can tell, are true believers on the issues we associate with the conservative proletariate – social conservatism, religious xenophobia & jingoism. Your Tony Perkinses, Pat Robertsons, and Dick Cheneys respectively. They sometimes sit uncomfortably alongside the less sophisticated expressions of the conservative impulses they’re not directly associated with (i.e. neoconservatives tend to be indifferent or uncomfortable with direct expressions of rural conservatives’ feeling about homosexuality, etc.). But in their respective substantive lanes, these kind of figures are undeniably elites within the conservative movement, and by all appearances are true believers.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        I question how much of it is True Belief. If anything these people believe were true, it would be more than mere axiomatic truth. Belief, yes. True faith? It would have to be made manifest in their lives. And I don’t see that.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          It’s about as true in these cases, I think, as it is for the average-folks whose beliefs we grant as true. Yes, Tony Perkins might be cynically exploiting American evangelical fervor, but as far as I can tell he is instead sincerely exploiting it. In my view, the idea that doesn’t sincerely hold the same beliefs as those people whom he purports to to give voice to needs evidence to support it, and I don’t see much of it. He may cheat on his wife, but so do some of the people who hold the same views he espouses. At some point, it’s unknowable how true his beliefs are. The point is that he 1) loudly espouses the kind of views that Jason associates with proletariate (i.e. non-elite) esoteric conservatism, while 2) being an elite himself. To me, this means that there is a category of elite conservatism that Jason has failed to account for here.Report

      • Yes on the first two, but no on the third example. When asked whether he supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, Cheney declared that he disagreed with George W. Bush on some things and that he supported same-sex marriage.

        The sky didn’t fall. He wasn’t drummed out of the party. His boss didn’t even lose the election.

        Acts like that are exactly what I’m asking to see more of. I know for a fact that certain people on the right believe in private what Cheney does in public. Not Perkins and Robertson, but others for sure. They’re the ones who need to speak up.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          But Cheney is a true-believing neoconservative. That was the sense in which I was citing him as esoteric – appealing to extreme jingoism, etc.Report

  8. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Just a note of caution: Your entire essay relies, basically, on “Ignore what they say and do, they really want this [insert other thing]”.

    I freely admit: It’s quite possibly true. In fact, I believe it is true far more often than it is false, at least about the GOP. But even then, again — we are having to read minds here. Divine inner truths. Peer past a reality we dub a lie, and find one we find more…suitable..within.

    So if they have one lie, why not more? What’s to say your inner reality isn’t just another lie, and you’re the rube in that one? Smart enough to see past one, but not the other?

    Or perhaps the esotetic truth is simpler: They want power, the masses give it to them, and the lie doesn’t apply to them (as it ever was, with those in charge) so there is no conservative inner truth. Just people with power and money using the rubes. Nothing conservative there, nothing idealogical there — just power.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      It’s not about reading minds. There is plenty of evidence of elite conservatives being quite embarrassed by things that play well to the base. Goldberg and Podhoretz, as I linked above. Or my many dealings with opponents of same-sex marriage.

      But it would sure be nice if it were more than just a few pained private expressions of grief, wouldn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        It seems the only reason folks like Podhoretz and Goldberg are embarrassed about the gay marriage issue is because it’s causing losses for their movement and not allowing even bigger tax cuts and wars against Iran.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Are they? Or are they merely acting that way, so smarter conservatives — and, perhaps, more libertarian sorts — might be more inclined to vote for them?

        I saw a lot of this while Romney was running, even here.

        It boiled down to “Romney said mutually contradictory things, but he’s lying to those guys and telling me the truth”. Which is exactly what those guys were saying.Report

  9. Avatar Griff says:

    Scalia seems an odd choice for your one specific example. He’s collegial and friendly with people who disagree with him (at least when he’s not actively arguing with them), but I’ve never seen any indication that he doesn’t really believe the things he says. And unlike elected politicians, he has no motive to pander or hide his true feelings, since he has life tenure at the only job he’s ever wanted.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Scalia is collegial and friendly with peers. He is not so with the rest of us.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I agree: we seem to have a cottage industry developing where people claim to know the innermost thoughts and feelings of The Real Scalia, based apparently on nothing more than a belief that some kind of innate understanding allows would-be interpreters to see meaning in behaviors that to the rest of us look like indifferent personal gestures, or to see indications of intent in writings for which there is little if any direct support.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        I am not saying that he supports same-sex marriage.

        I am simply saying that even he manages to be collegial toward people for whom there exists no collegiality among the base. He probably knows perfectly well that Obamacare isn’t a total disaster, only an expensive misstep. He certainly doesn’t subscribe to the type of paranoid fantasies so common among the populist right-wingers. That’s all.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I’m not sure where I said you said he does. I’m just pointing out that you seem to think you know a lot about what he thinks but doesn’t say. And that you’re not alone in that.Report

        • Avatar Griff says:

          I guess I just meant that Scalia sure _sounds_ like a for-real homophobe, and I’m not sure why you’d think he isn’t really one just because he goes to the opera with RBG.Report

  10. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    This is a thought provoking essay.

    They need to educate the conservative base. Why they don’t is the thing that I simply do not understand. Elites on the left take up this difficult and thankless task all the time. They educate their proles and — even if I don’t always agree with what they’re teaching — the mere effort surely counts in their favor. And the idea that one’s betters can and must show the way forward is nothing if not conservative. Isn’t it?

    I submit that perhaps the conservative elites do not want to educate their conservative base.

    Which leads to the next question: Why would they choose to do that?Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields says:

      I think John’s on to it here.

      Better educated lower-information voters, regardless of political stripe, will result in these voters wanting what the left’s elites want – equal opportunity for the proles. This is not what the right’s elites want.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Basically, this. The Elite of the right-wing largely live in California, New York, and DC for obvious cultural reasons.

        They don’t get hurt by conservative state legislatures passing anti-gay/anti-abortion/etcetera laws and in the long run, the difference between DC and Alabama taxes ain’t a big deal when it means Mallory and David can still go to the right schools, have the right extracurricular activities, and so on. They really don’t give a crap that a kid in Kansas can’t afford to go to college, a poor woman in South Dakota can’t get an abortion, or a gay person in Mississippi can legally get fired for being gay.

        So, it makes sense to push the things they believe get socially conservative voters to come out and vote while also getting the austerity/right-wing economic policies they really care about, since the modern Republican Party has only one purpose at the moment – keep federal taxes low for rich people.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Do the elite of the right mainly live in California, New York, or DC. There lots of rich conservatives in Texas and other red states and these conservative rich people certainly seem like true believers. Now you could argue that most of these rich conservatives are still proles because of the role they play in the party but they have a lot of voice for proles.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            I’m referring largely to the right-wing media machine. Fox News is in New York and not Houston and all of the major think tanks and magazines are either in DC or New York. Heck, the only major players outside of the DC/NY/LA Axis I can think off of the top of my head are Rush and Erick Erickson.

            Yes, there are a lot of Southern and Great Plains rich people spending money on SuperPAC’s, but from what I can see, Mr. Adelson isn’t changing much of the conversation about policy within the conservative blogosophere.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Ah, I get what you’re saying now. It makes sense for media and think tanks to choose NYC, California, or DC as places for headquarters though. They may not like it but thats where they can have the most influence and get the most access to important things.Report

  11. Avatar zic says:

    So esoteric = don’t do judge me by what I do, but by what I say?


    I’ll wait to judge this version of Scalia after I read his opinions. He has a blessed chance to remove the millstone from the necks of the proles.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Not exactly. For example, a crude summary of esoteric Hinduism would be less theistic, less about re-incarnation etc. Depending on how you interpret it, it might be more explicitly atheistic or agnostic about the existence of a creator / personal God. The general esoteric story is that it really is all about the human condition or something. But, the proles are not ready for this deep truth. Instead their adherence to the exoteric face of the religion cultivates the virtues in them. Some of them, so cultivated may come to a point when they could appreciate the esoteric religion better.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Yes, I was half joking; because I don’t think my friend and neighbor, an evangelical and self-proclaimed member of the Tea Party would agree that there’s some deeper meaning Republican elites hold; rather, she and others like her have the deeper meaning and it’s their job to reveal it to the elites. It’s very much a mission.

        I rather liked this take, in the book From Africa to Zen: an Invitation to World’s Philosophy; which, if the link works and takes you to the proper page, starts out with the word exoteric, knowledge that anyone can verify.

        I don’t subscribe to secret knowledge that is revealed to only some; there goes the snake oil salesmen, magic swords in stone, and both jihad and crusade; and if Jason is correct, and he might be, the GOP.

        I still think it boils down to ‘Do what I say, not what I do.’ It’s a dicey game; the proles like power and secret knowledge, too; at least if my neighbor is any indication.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          One other thing, which seems to matter (to me, anyway):

          Having worked for government in IT and reported where I depended on information collected and shared by government, there are two very different views on sharing knowledge. Democratic administrations, both state and federal, seemed to work to make knowledge available. Republican’s seemed to treat it more as a commodity to buy and sell.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Transparency advocates have been none too happy with the Obama administration, that’s for sure. Not that it’s so much better to be buying and selling what ought to be public knowledge, but still.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              I concur. State secrets and classified information that shouldn’t be secret and classified is a disturbing trend, and one I do not like. Toward the end of my reporting on small businesses doing business with the military, it had gotten extremely complicated, people often had trouble discerning what was and wasn’t classified; it might be over here but not over there. That kind of confusion indicates a system run amok.

              Though that’s not so much what I had in mind, however. There was a lot of public information, some collected by the government, some from government-funded research that was freely available, much of it on-line, at the end of the Clinton Administration that went dark during the Bush Administration. I’d presume some just wasn’t collected any more. But a lot of it was turned into commodities to sell (weather data, for instance); essentially data that the public paid for became proprietary. I’ve seen the same pattern in state governments, as well. Talk to anyone who’s been reporting since before 2000, and I’m sure they’ll have witnessed the same thing.

              It made me wonder if there was some sort of connection between the attitude toward information and your description of the GOP elites as ‘esoteric,’ hoarding information for profit and power.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          I hope you weren’t thinking that I wrote this post to try to justify their ways to you.

          I wrote it to kick them in the butt. I hope you can consider it in that sense instead.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Jason, just to be clear, what you revealed provoked my coughing-up-a-hair-ball reaction; I’m grateful for the butt kicking.Report

  12. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    No. Esoteric does not imply a public face and a private face. Esoteric implies a transmission of wisdom from master to pupil, as in Shingon Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta Hinduism.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      But Advaita Vedanta is the hidden doctrine. According to AVH, Iswara (the Godhead) is illusory. The detractors of Advaita (basically the Dvaita and Nyaya schools) basically consider the Advaita atheists. And arguably, a lot of people think that the God that pantheism denotes does not really count as God. (See Dawkins re Einstein). When you listen to how, Advaita Vedantists actually regard everyday Hindu practice, they regard such practices as just primitive stages in spiritual and philosophical development: Acceptable for the masses, but rather gauche for the initiated.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        AVH is not exactly hidden in the sense of a mystery cult. It’s sort of an equation of Hinduism, embodied in the eviction of avidya, this ruthless process of salvation by knowledge.Report

  13. Avatar North says:

    Great comment Jason, and I’m not just sayin it cause you quoted me! It definitely parses with what you can read on conservative sites, particularly the flagships like NRO. Especially older NRO when they weren’t in battle mode like 2000-2004 or even 2004 to 2006.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      The amusing thing on The Corner for about the past year has been the marginalization of K-Lo and Maggie Gallagher on their own blog, with almost every other blogger on the Corner basically saying, “look, gay marriage is going to happen. It sucks, but what can you do?” while those two (and every so often, David French) act like it’s still 2003.Report

  14. Avatar North says:

    Another question J. Have you ever hung with Maggie Gallagher? I used to comment on her Marriagedebate.com site and sometimes she’d comment. She seemed much in person like she was in public.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I have!

      In fact, I sort of thought that your comment that I quoted might have been made with a particular episode in mind. A while back Maggie Gallagher came to Cato, and I asked her the exact question that I quoted you mentioning.

      She didn’t have an answer either. She was very clear about not having one. “I don’t know,” she said. I figured that the video of that incident, which I posted at the League way back when, was what you were thinking of.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        It’s possible, though I know that wasn’t the first time I saw that question presented to anti-SSM people (though that was one of the clearest times I saw her answer “I don’t know” to it).Report

  15. It’s clear to me that you weren’t raised Evangelical.

    Your choice of SSM as the issue to highlight is particularly problematic for the prole (to use your term) vs. elite dichotomy. The opposition to any sanction of homosexuality within a specific vital segment of the base cannot be educated away. It simply cannot. It is premised on a certain literalist interpretation of holy writ, and any deviation therefrom is deeply, deeply suspect. In fact, a particular kind of epistemic closure is baked into the cake because there are scripture passages that explicitly warn against following false prophets who peddle enticing words. (I would find the passages were I not in the middle of cooking dinner while writing this.)

    The social conservatives who turn out for every election because it is an act of faith to do so cannot be educated out of their beliefs. They can simply find reason to believe differently… or not. There is ample basis within the received Word of God to question those who counsel a different value set to discard anything other than an absolute and literal interpretation of everything the Bible says. No elite can tell them otherwise.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      The opposition to any sanction of homosexuality within a specific vital segment of the base cannot be educated away.

      That’s just the sort of thing I might have said back when I was a pessimist. I’m really trying to be an optimist here… I swear, I’m trying my best. Don’t rain on my parade, man!Report

      • I would have called my position “realist,” but in any case I have little reason to hope that my quondam co-religionists will change their tune.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          They may have to leave the religion to do it. Or maybe not. The poll numbers really are encouraging, even if not necessarily applicable to specific individuals you remember.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            I think the interesting thing will be in about a decade or so what the position of the GOP caucus will be. Because, about ten years after the Civil Rights Act and fifteen years after Loving, even Strom Thurmond had made moves to at least seem like less of a total asshole racist.

            But, I can see Senator’s from Kansas and Oklahoma being total troglodytes on the issue and making the GOP look bad even twenty or thirty years from now because there still aren’t going to be a lot of gay kids in rural Oklahoma high schools.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          I thought that until I attended my brother’s wedding on Saturday.

          There were quite a few evangelicals in the crowd.

          And the wonder and awe in the room when he and his husband exchanged vows after 25 years together was palpable; one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone felt it, we all talked about it after. There were many admissions of changed minds.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

      Not a problem; just find a passage in Revelations which can be interpreted as the End Times not arriving until all the gays are married.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Why do Evangelicals fret about the rules about sex so much? Even the Ultra-Orthodox Jews fret about sex rules of the Torah less. Their attitude is that your supposed to obey them but breaking one of the sex rules isn’t treated with the level of ultra-seriousness that Evangelicals do for the most part.Report

  16. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    There is a profound difference between an esoteric religion, where doctrines are passed through generations from gurus to guru — and a mystery cult such as Scientology or Mithraism, where one must pay to achieve higher levels of attainment, a conflation which completely mars this post.

    But the difference is important. In an esoteric religion, one is guided by the example and teachings of a guru. But in a mystery cult, the mystes initiate embarks upon a search for sacred wisdom and encounters epopteia, enlightenment. Such wisdom is purposefully suppressed, limited to the designated few, tous eklektous

    The American Conservative has always been of two minds, torn between populist insularity and a strong foreign policy, going back to long before the formation of the Grand Old Party, to the Federalists. They have ever been at odds with each other. Though the populists would like small government, the Conservatives have never been able to put the Federal Government on a diet. Their strong foreign policy has been expensive, what with their bad habit of waging stupid wars abroad.

    A few interesting men have appeared to glue the two factions together. William F Buckley was one such man: while he could bedazzle the rubes and the brahmins alike with his scintillating prose (and the Cold War attenuated party differences ) the GOP could make some superficial claim to a rubric of organic moral order.

    But as Buckley’s influence waned, a crop of zealots arose. Men like Richard Nixon would seize the microphone, setting in motion what we see today, a nasty cabal of Pharisees. Reagan, that genial prevaricator, proved the American Conservative cared less for facts than rhetoric. Bush43 proved the American Conservative would not only elect but re-elect an idiot. With the election of Barack Obama, the GOP was in a barking psychotic fugue, then and now completely disconnected from reality.

    Seneca was a great moralist and the best of the Stoics. He was certainly not an elitist. Have you read his Moral Letters to Lucilius? There he is, in Letter 47

    I do not wish to involve myself in too large a question, and to discuss the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are excessively haughty, cruel, and insulting. But this is the kernel of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. And as often as you reflect how much power you have over a slave, remember that your master has just as much power over you.

    Seneca was widely admired in the Christian world for his decency and kindness. But he was a Stoic, hardly part of some secret cabal. The Stoics scoffed at such nonsense. They were men of the people, egalitarians. Read Seneca for yourself, he is no elitist.

    The Conservatives have always had their elites and will ever have them, teachers aplenty, ministers by the truckful. The reason the Conservative elites cannot teach their populist cohorts anything is clear enough: the two have nothing in common except their much decrying of Big Government. But when push comes to shove, when has a Conservative ever reduced the size of government at any time? And when has Populism ever put up an electable candidate since Andrew Jackson?

    The Powerful Men whipped the Populists up to a rageful froth, cynically backing the Tea Parties, a sordid boon. They created a monster that will not be calmed with further promises of victory.

    Now the old divide appears again. As in the days of the Federalists, the Populists and the Powerful Men stare at each other across an impassable gulf. And like the Federalists of old, the GOP will pass away in to irrelevance in a tumult of acrimonious bickering. Their last advocates will remain on the SCOTUS bench, as was John Marshall: the party which nominated him long passed into oblivion.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Your definition of esoteric is an eccentric one, but that’s neither here nor there.

      I am not calling Seneca an elitist. I am arguing that he was in many ways more enlightened than his compatriots, as when he mocked the deification of Claudius. To urge others to be humane to their social inferiors is of a piece with that, of course.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        It is the standard dictionary definition: esoterikos, within, knowledge transmitted to initiates by gurus or sages. I made my point clear enough. “Esoteric” does not mean hidden. At all. Anyone can learn it, if they go to the trouble of sitting at the feet of the guru and walking in his path.

        I can’t figure out what Seneca had to do with a Roman cult. Mithraism was a cult which didn’t appear until long after Seneca the Younger was dead — and that in the Roman military. There were the Eleusinian Mysteries but those were kept secret, to the point where we don’t know much of anything about them.

        But Seneca was caught up in the cult of the emperors. Seneca had the effrontery to mock Claudius because Seneca was at that point kissing young Nero’s ass and protecting him from the malign influences of his mother Agrippina, whom Seneca alternately fought and fucked. Nero would often joke about the death of Claudius. Later Nero would force his tutor Seneca to commit suicide. Cults do demand that sort of sacrifice from the faithful from time to time.Report

        • No, it’s not the standard definition. Sure, a hidden teaching often requires a teacher to impart it (although Leo Strauss puts his “hidden” teachings in plain view in his books, and I understand Scientology gives you a text and makes you read it by yourself), but at this point I think I should just refer anyone interested to the first preliminary note, and to dictionary definitions. Google exists. Type “define:esoteric,” and there you have it.

          Seneca was capable of being skeptical about the cult of the emperors, at least once in a while, and that was more than many could achieve. That’s why I mentioned him, nothing more.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            I made my point excruciatingly clear. There is nothing “hidden” about esoterica, any more than the binomial theorem is “hidden” from those who didn’t make it through Algebra.

            As for Seneca, we know who he was. You’ve taken him woefully out of context, saying he was sceptical of imperial power. He was waist deep in the intrigues of the courts of Claudius and Nero, a fact which completely invalidated any point you might have made to that effect.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Your repeated return to the single word “hidden” distorts the notion of esotericism beyond recognition. It’s not the definition that I used, and it’s not even part of a correct definition without a good deal of supplementing.

              Seneca was not a skeptic of imperial power, and I never wrote that he was.

              He was clearly skeptical of the religious cult that grew up around the emperors, and it seems he could be skeptical of large swaths Roman religion in general. Not power, but the official Roman religion.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The public face is always relatively easy to grasp, and the inner truth is either hidden, hard to understand, hard to accept, or some combination of the three.

                You clearly used the word hidden. If you’re willing to accept esoteric knowledge as a separate thing from epopteia, restricted to tous eklektous, that’s fine by me. Esoterica can be learned. Wisdom cries in the streets, etc.

                Seneca not only praises the emperors, he quotes Vergil on the subject of rulers and gods.

                Our philosopher will therefore acknowledge that he owes a large debt to the ruler who makes it possible, by his management and foresight, for him to enjoy rich leisure, control of his own time, and a tranquillity uninterrupted by public employments.

                Shepherd! a god this leisure gave to me,
                For he shall be my god eternally.[6]

                There you are, Jason.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                You clearly used the word hidden.

                You bet I did! And I used other words, too.

                And if Seneca seems to say different things to different audiences, then that really just proves my point.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                There is also some chance that “esoteric” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

                As for Seneca, I’ve made my case from what that worthy Roman actually wrote. You might improve your argument somewhat were you to cite him, as I have done. The Gourdification was just Seneca chortling and piling on, sniggering with Nero and his cronies — and his mother, Seneca’s erstwhile lover.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            As for poor old Leo Strauss, there was a miserable creature, a Sphinx without a riddle. Where were the “esoteric” bits of his wisdom hid? He would have done better to go into theology for here was a man with no answers, nor yet even a good question. Hearkening back to the halcyon days of yore, ( really really yore, like before flush toilets ), he was a mouthpiece for a form of elitism which he never understood and into whose smoke filled rooms he was never invited.

            Plain truth was never his strong suit and Strauss took great pains to avoid it all his life. There are limits to wisdom, yes there are, and limits to scepticism, too. As far as I can make out, Strauss presumed, like Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men, because Strauss couldn’t handle the truth — that we can’t handle the truth either.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        If there was anyone who was in a position to mock the deification of Claudius from a position of personal knowledge, Seneca was that guy.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Can you please not use Pharisee as an insult? This is a very big pet peeve of mine because the original Pharisees were not bad people. They were intellectuals and scholars debating what the Torah really meant as opposed to the more elite Sadducee faction.

      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PhariseesReport

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 23 will set all to rights.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          No, it won’t. Lee’s point (which is a good one) is that the authors of the New Testament were, for obvious reasons, unsympathetic to the Pharisees, and their views should not be taken at face value.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Josephus is hardly to be taken at face value either, as he was a Pharisee as well as a sellout. All the various sects fought with each other. If you had read Matthew 23, you would see that Jesus told the people to do what the Pharisees said, not emulate what they did, which was a fairly sordid enumeration of things that maybe religious authority figures shouldn’t oughta had been doing.

            My personal theory says the best thing to happen to Judaism since the writing of the Torah was Vespasian’s destruction of Herod’s temple. Nothing like a good solid persecution to unite people and end petty disputations.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Except that there is no evidence besides Christian writings that the Pharisees were hypocrites. The Talmud presents them as men of honor and integrity. Mostly likely some were hypocrites and others people of honor and integrity. The Gospels were written when the Nazarenes and Pharisees were fighting for the souls of the Jewish people after the failure of the First Jewish Revolt. The writers of the Gospels had vested interests in presenting the Pharisees in a bad light just as the writers of the Mishnah and Gamara had interests in the other direction.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The Talmud was written by the very Pharisees you would now tell me are men of honour and integrity: the rabbinic tradition begins with them.

                The Gospels paint their own authors as stupid, frightened men who ran away from their master when the Romans came for him — and one of them betrayed him. Given the choice of opinions, I will go with men who exhibit the brutal honesty to show themselves in a bad light. The writers of the Torah and Tanakh had just such levels of unvarnished honesty. Would that the Talmud and Josephus were a similarly frank record.

                If the Pharisees represented anything, it was scrupulous adherence to their own silly rules. Hillel the Pharisee I can respect, he saw those rules in the context of man’s relationship to his fellow man. What has become of his wisdom over time has led to the very sort of nasty insularity and sense of moral superiority we see in a modern Orthodox rabbi who clearly told me, despite learning Hebrew and being willing to convert, that I wasn’t good enough for a Jewish woman.

                The fact is, none of these pesky sects were worth a bucket of warm piss and their stock has not risen over time. Jesus Christ called them whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. It is good to see Pope Francis reaching out to the Orthodox: they share a common problem, a long legacy of covering up child abuse.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                The Talmud was not written by “these very Pharisees”; it was written in Babylonia, 500 years later. And none of them were the rabbi who didn’t believe in mixed marriage.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                500 years later? In Babylon? Judah the Prince probably wrote the Mishneh in the Galilee. Probably parts of it in Rome, too.

                I’ll leave it to you to argue the takkanot and halacha. This much we do know, Talmud can make any number of claims to historicity from what came before Hillel, but it’s Hillel the Pharisee whose imprimatur covers all that followed.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                I was referring to the Gemara, of course, and even the Mishneh came 150 years after the He died.Report

  17. Avatar Sean M says:

    That Leo Strauss line is outstanding (as is the point of this article).

    There’s a Marxian point here that you don’t make explicitly (but maybe hint at w/ elite and proles – so here’s a view into the inner gnosis of this article?): Of course there’s a reason that the conservative party elite doesn’t educate the uneducated section of their base. If they did, then that base would largely realize that the social welfare policies they oppose largely benefit their income group, and the taxes they crow against are applied to their bosses and not them. The American conservative party (and many libertarians) relies on the mythos of self-reliance to maintain their grip on power; it cannot help but be an esoteric party.

    Also, I love the anti-Straussian Straussian interpretation :). Irony upon irony, so good.Report

  18. Avatar Stillwater says:

    You’re a really damn good writer.Report

  19. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Elites on the left take up this difficult and thankless task all the time. They educate their proles and — even if I don’t always agree with what they’re teaching — the mere effort surely counts in their favor.

    Do they? Seems to me that the right sells an unpopular economic agenda to their proles by sweetening it with social populism, and the left sells an unpopular social agenda to their proles by sweetening it with economic populism.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Those things could both be true while the distinction still held true. My sense is that the Left does marginally more of it than the Right, but I agree that it’s not so extensively true as to be blindingly obvious. But you’re right that it’s not clear what folk-beliefs Jason is saying the left elites educate their proles out of believing. It’s possible he’s saying that both teams of elites are dealing with the same basic proletariat with the same indigenous superstitions, and while the Left courts them by, as you say, offering economic populism, allowing them to engage in education toward the end of advancing their coastal-elite social agenda, the Right is stuck with an unpopular economic agenda and is this left having to pander to esoteric social beliefs and other defective ideas.

      It’s also possible, though, to read Jason’s point as being that, while the center-Left elite continues to broadly offer an economic program meant to aid the vast middle class and those striving to get there (beyond the extent to which pure free-marketism offers such aid – through subsidies, directed tax breaks, a safety net, etc.), they also have done so increasing in reference to and moderated by greater reference to market-economic insights that have come to dominate elite economic thinking across the ideological spectrum. So that, while still more interventionist than doctrinaire market absolutists on the elite Right (who are for the most part, though not uniformly, mouthing platitudes and lack actual conviction to reform policy in such a way), they have slowly but surely sanded the rougher edges of populist expectations of elites (themselves) on economic policy away from the coalition’s proletariat.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I don’t think this is what Jason is saying. Lets ignore the current battles over homosexuality and go back to the battles for Civil Rights for African-Americans and other non-whites during the period after WWII. There was a lot of hostility among White Americans towards the Civil Rights movement but among the elites of both parties, a recognition that its time has come. Some of the elites genuinely believed in Civil Rights and others thought that the racism towards African-Americans and other people of color was giving the USSR an edge in Cold War in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and this was bad so civil rights had to be implemented. Regardless of their reasoning, their was something of consenus that racism could not have a place in post-WWII America among much of the political elite.

        Liberal elites and conservatives elites approached the hostility of whites towards Civil Rights differently. Liberal elites tried various means to get whites to see African-Americans and other people of color as follow Americans deserving civil rights in addition to passing legislation and engaging in activism. It started with the Gentleman’s Agreement, which argued against the casual gentle Jew-hatred that affected a lot of White Protestant society and moved on to most movies starring Sydney Poitier, whose point was depict Black men as outstanding people rather than menaces. The entire point was to show White Christians that Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians were humans to. Conservative elites went along with civil rights legislation but did not try to teach conservative proles in the way that liberal elites did. They used the racism of their proles as a means to win election albeit in an indirect fashion, the Southern Strategy, while not pushing back against Civil Rights with full force and quietly supporting it in their own fashion.

        Its the same thing with homosexualtiy now. As late as the Clintion Administration, there was widespread hostility towards LBGT people among the proles of both parties. Liberal elites have attempted to humanize the LBGT community to their proles in a similar way that they did during the Civil Rights period with non-Whites. Conservative elites mainly indulged their proles.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I think the first of the two readings I suggested were possible was approximately this, wasn’t it?Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            Yes, the first of the two readings is a close appromixmation but I’m not sure what roll economic populism plays into education for the liberal elite. Economic populism was independent of education the proleteriate into liberal social mores for the most part and the education continues despite a relative decline in economic populism.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              Ah, yes. It’s not essential. It could be otherwise, but it happens to be part of the context in which all of this is in fact happening (though as my second reading suggests, perhaps less than it might once have).Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I suppose this resolves to your definition of Elites. The Liberal elites of the 1940s and 1950s were hardly making much headway where it mattered, in the courts: for all those important cases, every important attack only produced equivalent defences from the bigots. And yes, the old Communists made much hay with America’s failures.

          Liberals weren’t doing so well in those times. There were a few religious elites who were preaching against segregation but few if any political or financial elites.

          Nor was there one single vision of what Civil Rights meant in those times. It had always been a divided effort. George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington had proposed an assimilationist strategy. BT Washington was a staunch Republican and it was his legacy which would lead to the suppression of the vote in the segregated south.

          But there were other visions. WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey said black people should do as all the other immigrant groups had done: band together, forge up their own identity based on financial institutions and their power as an independent political bloc. And it would be a black identity.

          Let us put this plainly: the Civil Rights movement arose from within the black church. It arose in two parts: an explicit rejection of BT Washington’s shuckin’ and jivin’ and hopin’ and wishin’ and prayin’ that maybe just maybe if the Negroes just worked twice as hard and grinned politely — that White Culture would accept them as dues-paying members of American Society.

          And let’s dispose of the un-historical nonsense about how Conservative elites went along with civil rights legislation. They did not: not in the pulpit, not in their hiring or financial practices and certainly not in their political elites. Nor was there any consensus among the elites of both parties or any recognition that the time for civil rights had come. The lynchings continued. Brown v. Board of Education had only kicked the hornets’ nest. Truman had desegregated the military, baseball had desegregated through the efforts of a few noble men, Branch Rickey was one, but nobody in either party accomplished anything of substance.

          If LGBT has made headway, it had learned several valuable lessons from the Civil Rights movement and followed its strategy to the letter. It made three separate attacks on institutionalised prejudice: it had voices in the pulpit, in the financial world and the political world.

          LGBT strategists approached the problem correctly and if they have won, they did not do so by appealing to the Powers That Be: half measures such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had only resulted in the Defence of Marriage Act, as Brown had resulted in even more ferocious opposition from the bigots. LGBT appealed to common human decency. It won over the next generation, not the current generation.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            I am not sure this is exactly true.

            The Democratic Party largely decided on a bath of civil rights and liberties for minorities in 1948 when it decided to go for Hubert Humphry and his call for a civil rights platform instead of Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats. There were still a lot of fights including the battle over which delegation from Mississippi to sit at the 1964 Democratic covention but civil rights ultimately wins in the Democratic Party. Perhaps late and after some embarassments (I am looking at you Bill Clinton and DOMA) but we arrive.

            If anything, it is the Democratic base that pushed the politicians towards gay marriage. Even Democratic politicians from red-states realize that they need to support it and can’t have it both ways.

            There is nothing wrong with advancing civil rights through courts and executive decisions first (Harry Truman integrating the military or Gavin Newsom telling the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples). I would argue that this is where judicial activism is necessary, to protect the minority and make sure equality happens at more than a snail’s pace. Society cannot advance at a speed that makes the most cautious members of a society feel secure. That is injustice. It is injustice to ask minorities who spent decades or centuries being discriminated against to wait until people are just a wee bit more comfortable.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Every such Judicial Activist effort has been thwarted. It’s bad strategy. The strategic goal in every such struggle is to undercut the ethical and cultural axioms which underlie the Other Guy’s Positions.

              Though HHH probably won the election for Truman, he’d divided the Democrats. Truman was a decent enough man, we both agree he desegregated what he controlled on the government payroll — but Truman squandered his SCOTUS appointments on cronies and incompetents like Minton and that vindictive coward Chief Justice Vinton. In the end, for all Humphrey had done for Truman, the Democratic Party had flinched in the face of the ethically bankrupt segregationists.

              Some years back, I was writing about the LGBT strategy, it’s preyed on my mind for some time. I wrote something to this effect: the longer the LGBT cause can stay out of SCOTUS, the better. It will buy more time for the advocates of equality to increase their inertial momentum, not via more velocity or even by more mass, but by gaining the high ground and controlling it.

              Well, DOMA has finally gotten to SCOTUS. The advocates of equality were wise enough to collect their strength. Sun Tzu:

              21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.

              22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.

              23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy.Report

            • Avatar Dave says:

              What specifically do you mean by “judicial activism”?

              I’m serious. I remember when Clint Bolick wrote his book arguing for an activist judiciary. He presented the book at The Cato Institute. By the time he presented his case and received feedback from Geoffrey Rosen and Ed Whelan, there were at least three working definitions of judicial activism being kicked around.

              I get what you’re saying and would agree with most of it, but I don’t see that as judicial activism as much as it judges doing what they are supposed to be doing.

              As it is, urging activism in some areas and restraint in others seems a bit too selective for my liking, but that’s a whole other conversation.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Ah. Yeah perhaps it is just what judges are supposed to be doing.

                I am a big proponent of the Warren Court and most of their decisions. Many conservatives label these as being judicial activism but perhaps it was not.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:

                I am a big proponent of the Warren Court and most of their decisions. Many conservatives label these as being judicial activism but perhaps it was not.

                I’ll use the term judicial activism in it’s most perjorative sense. For most people, judicial activism is defined as when the court does something you don’t agree with. 😉

                My view on the Constititution is rooted in an originalist perspective, and many of the key Warren Court rulings are consistent with where I think they should be. I wish Griswold was written with greater respect towards rights not enumerated in the Constitution.

                I think your view above about courts matches the description here under “Vision”. John Hart Ely is who I had in mind too.


            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Heh. Whichever definition of Judicial Activism is the most pejorative, Dave.

              My point is this: all these jumped-up, litigious Do Gooders aren’t willing to do their homework. They think, however correctly they may be proven in the long run — that they can point bony fingers and cast ugly aspersions at those who haven’t quite come around to their positions. Such is not the path to victory: it doesn’t convince people who might yet be struggling with the idea of LGBT rights, especially not those who resent some group getting Special Treatment at their expense.

              We’re always better off when these cases come before SCOTUS after the hard work’s been done at ground level, where it’s no longer considered polite to entertain prejudicial opinions about our fellow citizens. In this way, the Conservatives can nod their heads gravely and agree, “Hey, these people aren’t asking for some special treatment, just simple fairness.” And that’s an entirely reasonable conclusion to reach.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:

                Heh. Whichever definition of Judicial Activism is the most pejorative, Dave.

                That is exactly how I treat the term judicial restraint. Heh.

                I think you make some good points, especially as it relates to taking cases up to the SCOTUS. Going back to your use of Lawrence v Texas, by the time that case went before the court, sodomy laws were rarely enforced and not many states had them in effect. I think the same kind of situation existed when Loving v Virginia went before the court. Interracial marriage bans were mostly limited to the South.

                As such, given the realities of the Court, your opinion is pretty much on, especially in the last paragraph (I don’t know if conservatives will agree or just realize from a pragmatic perspective that there is no reason to continue fighting). I wish it wasn’t the case for a few reasons I can elaborate on later, but we’ll stick to what’s in front of us.

                That said, I’m not entirely clear that using the courts at lower levels, especially the states, is unproductive. It carries risk for sure. I really thought that same sex marriage supporters could have won the day in New York State, but they didn’t. Reading the ruling, it’s obvious that the judges wanted absolutely nothing to do with the case and thought it was best left to the democratic process. In California, voters passed Prop 8 after a court ruling.

                However, the cases in Iowa and Connecticut, the legal teams were not only successful but the cases also helped develop legal strategies that were ultimately used in Perry v Schwarzenegger and the resulting SCOTUS case. Of particular note was that the proponents for same sex marriage, at least in the Iowa case, were able to successfully convince the court that sexual orientation constituted a protected class with respect to equal protection jurisprudence (it was in my opinion a very solid argument and a signficant step forward).

                Same sex marriage bans should fail under the weight of a rational basis test (to me, they are non-starters everywhere), but as New York demonstrated, sometimes they survive (no, it’s the children!!!!). Under intermediate scrutiny, SSM bans are complete non-starters.

                I respect your sensitivity to the democratic process and I will credit you for making me consider that more than I would have in the past, but I will always have a problem with people that believe that it’s the proper role of the state police power to target groups of individuals based on who they are. As I have a healthy dose of skepticism, it is my believe that most of the people that are resentful towards those groups and claim that it is at their expense would still bristle at LGBT rights even if there was no expense to them.

                At some point, a line needs to be drawn. One of the reasons I appreciate the use of courts to enforce rights is because our constitutional framework and our courts are counter-majoritarian in nature. That balance is important, albeit it sits on a very fine line.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

      I find it strange that you refer to the lefts social agenda a the unpopular one.

      Gay rights are fairly popular. Birth control is very popular.

      The left has largely won the culture war on the ground. It is the halls of power at the state level where they lost mostly due to 2010s rather crushing defeat at the state and local level.

      What is te unpopular part of the lefts social agenda and aside from old people who is it suppose to be unpopular with?Report

  20. Avatar Citizen says:

    To choose to live a particular lifestyle — one of commitment and stability — isn’t a denial of conservative principle. It’s an instance of principle liberation.

    I think if a elite did try to preach to the proles it may end with a bible slap down. Folks believe what they believe.Report

  21. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Speaking of pandering vs.educating, the GOP in North Carolina is saying the hell with the Establishment Clause. It’s like they can’t help themselves.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        “The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people,” the bill states.

        I swear, are all the stupid sticks worn out?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          What I love about it is that you can see the conversations that were had…

          “Let’s make a law that North Carolin is a Christian state!”

          “Yeah!!! Oh, wait. It won’t work – the courts will just ruin everything and overturn it.”


          “Well, it isn’t constitutional.”

          “I’ve got that covered. We’ll also make a law that says it can’t be overturned for being unconstitutional.”

          “Brilliant! Let’s get to work on this right away!”

          Do these communities seriously not have better candidates to elect that these guys?Report

        • Avatar Dave says:

          Those are textbook nullification arguments. I have a couple of people on my Facebook feed that post them frequently.

          According to what they tell me, you take the compact theory of ratification, remove Marbury v Madison and you’re good to go. Well, I can’t say that I’m convinced.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          There is no wearing out of the stupid sticks.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Oy vey iz mir!

      Bills like this are almost certain to die in committee or get overturned faster than a New York minute but I still can’t decide whether this is symbolic red meat or a sign of true belief.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      It’s like a zombie invasion. Goddamn Tenthers at it again, everywhere you look. Ever since Lawrence v. Texas it’s been the same slack jawed, empty-eyed, hungry grunts from the same parties.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:

        Ever since Lawrence v. Texas…

        The stupidity following that decision deserves all the derision it gets, but the kind of things you mention go back to the Warren Court-era in at least three different lines of cases: civil rights, privacy and the Establishment Clause.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          So stipulated. Good point, Dave.Report

          • Avatar Dave says:

            I will willingly concede that the fever pitch that followed Lawrence v Texas rivaled that of Planned Parenthood v Casey or Roe. My point may be a technical one, but the outrage has escalated greatly in recent years, with Lawrence v Texas being a very reasonable benchmark.

            At least with Griswold v Connecticut, on constitutional law grounds, there were principled reasons to oppose the ruling based on the doctrines that were in place and used by the pre-dominantly liberal Supreme Court. Justice Black, one of the most ardent supporters of incorporation, dissented in Griswold and John Hart Ely, a liberal constitutional law scholar that wrote one of the most important books on constitutional law in his time, a book defending the Warren Court’s methods, opposed Griswold as well. It also didn’t help that Justice Douglas’ opinion was very poorly reasoned even if he reached the correct decision. Fast forward almost 40 years to Lawrence v Texas and this privacy question was a no-brainer that was unfortunately muddied by the fact that the SCOTUS made an awful decision in Bowers v Hardwick.

            The opposition to Lawrence didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t regulate behavior amongst gays and that the Lawrence decision not only overturned Bowers v Hardwick but put the consitutitionality of all morals legislation into question.

            I’m not sure about the chronology here but around the same time that Lawrence was handed down, same-sex marriage was legalized in MA via the Goodridge vs. Dept of Public Health decision. That could have also contributed to the outrage.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        More Madison less Dillon leads to more slack jaw-empty eye? damn radicals.Report

  22. Avatar Recovered Republican says:

    “They need to educate the conservative base. Why they don’t is the thing that I simply do not understand.”

    You can lead a horse to water… That’s really it. You can’t fix stupid. You can only lead them to information. I was one of those proles and I wasn’t going to be ready until the day I was ready to open my eyes.

    The scariest part of my life was waking up one morning, realizing that so much of what I had immersed myself in was complete lies. I’d spent far too much time with people who were only from one side of the discussion. They were repeating the same things I was hearing and reinforcing it. We’d forced several people who weren’t conservative enough from our social circles. I wrote quite a few apology letters to some people including a couple of my cousins.Report

  23. Avatar NewDealer says:

    James K,

    Where do you think “liberals are the real racist” comments are aimed at, proles or elites?