... Althouse bizarrely came away thinking that conservatives and libertarians were frightening "true believers." Why? Evidently because they took political and moral ideas seriously.False. I came away surprised that some people, especially the libertarians, were hardcore, true believers, wedded to an abstract version of an idea and unwilling to look at how it played out in the real world. I had come to the conference thinking I had more in common with libertarians but was quite put off by them in person. By contrast, the conservative position, because it had more to do with the real-life context, was much less troubling to me. This surprised me, because I disagree with so much of what social conservatives favor.
Much too seriously for Althouse's comfort. For one thing, there was quite a bit of discussion about the relation of virtue to liberty. Meyer's argument is that liberty is the necessary prerequisite for practicing virtue. Apparently some conservatives, such as L. Brent Bozell, Jr. (see Bozell's 1962 essay "Freedom or Virtue?" which we read for the seminar) with whom Meyer was arguing, believe that the state has the right and obligation to coerce virtue. This is anathema to libertarians. The first concern of libertarians is state power and this paramount concern for the abuse of state power means that the state should stay out of private activities that traditional conservatives might consider vicious, e.g., personal use of recreational drugs, voluntary prostitution, and so forth. Anyway, this politico-philosophical discussion apparently confused Althouse. Perhaps her skills at abstract thinking have been dulled by all the time she spends dissecting the particularities of legal cases as a law professor.False. This didn't "confuse" me. But thanks for the "apparently." I agree -- and said at the conference many times -- that the state should not coerce virtue when it doesn't affect other persons. What disturbed me was the assertion in the writings that the public accommodations provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were pernicious. And when I said that at the conference, a lot of the participates immediately challenged me. Did I think the law was right?!! This is what I mean by the excessive belief in the libertarian principle at the abstract level. These folks -- including Bailey, I think -- would have left restaurants and hotels to continue discriminating against black people as long as they pleased. Someone asserted that the free market would solve the problem better than government regulation. I said that the restaurant in the case about the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in fact made more money by seating only white customers and serving take-out to black people. One other person at the table agreed, but the point was pushed past. It didn't fit the abstraction. I thought the failure to deal with this point was very damaging to the credibility of what we were reading and talking about.
In any case, I had never met Althouse before the colloquium nor even read her blog. When chatting with her over cocktails, she seemed pleasant enough if a bit vague. In casual conversation, she made sure that I knew that she had been a "hippie" back in the day.Self-deprecation and modesty doesn't play well with libertarians. "Cocktails," by the way, was a glass of wine. Bailey -- I'll say -- wasn't pleasant or vague. Should I counter with some adjectives about him? He was brusque and didn't seem at ease chatting over cocktails. Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink, and she reveals some little fact about herself. What do you do? Smile and reveal some little thing about yourself and make connections? Or do you grunt a few syllables and decide she's a lightweight?
During the sessions when the group analyzed various texts from Meyer, she often seemed lost, not really following the discussion. As she has blogged, she was clearly out of her milieu.I was uncomfortable with the crowd I found myself in because I felt they were essentially celebrating a man who had written a slim book touting a political philosophy that was used in its time very specifically to oppose civil rights and desegregation. Too many people at the table wanted to talk -- at length and repetitiously -- about abstractions, such as the meaning of the word "virtue." I found this perverse and offensive. I may have "seemed lost" to Bailey, and I surely was not content to just "follow the discussion." I thought there were serious matters that had to be dealt with. Why should I respect this man Meyer at all to want to engage with his book? He wrote screeds in the National Review urging the southern governors to take over the National Guard and fight off school desegregation! It was simply bizarre. Yet I had committed myself to nine hours of conversation! I had to listen to everyone politely. I had no option to walk out. If that look on my face "seemed lost," then I was doing a decent enough job of concealing my true feelings. It wasn't easy.
One session at the end of conference was devoted to Meyer's defense of federalism-his idea is that the constitutional structure that divides state power among political subdivisions tends to limit the power of the state over individuals, thus enlarging the sphere of personal liberty. The tragic historical abuse of federalism was state-mandated racial segregation which Meyer defended. As I understood Meyer's argument, he believed that preserving federalism as bulwark [sic] against the growth of central government power was more important to him than vindicating the rights of black Americans.Big of him, huh? He really believed his principles, so deeply that black people were just going to have to suffer for his beliefs. What a guy! But you tell me: How do I know he loved his principles first and felt just terrible about how other people were going to have to pay the price for his lofty commitments or whether he actually came to love his ideas because of where they would lead? Why do you love the abstractions you love? To ask this question is not to fail to be an intellectual. To fail to ask this question is to fall short as a thinker.
I heard way too many people say they wanted to stay on the abstract level and then flatter themselves by saying this made them intellectuals. This did not unleash waves of admiration from me, however. It made me begin to entertain the thought that some of these seemingly normal, nice enough people really were racists. How could you tell?
Now here's where Althouse begins to get strange. During that session, as I recall, absolutely everyone around the table condemned Meyer's defense of federalism in the face of the real evil of state-mandated segregation. Everyone!Yes, state-mandated segregation. But I had brought up the subject of discrimination by private business-owners, which was roundly defended at the table in the name of restricting government to the most minimal level of intrusion on the individual, in hardcore, true-believer libertarian style. (Believe me, the readings expressed the most morbid fear of government you can imagine.)
But apparently not vigorously enough for Althouse.Because my problem was not limited to state-mandated segregation. You were very clear that that was all you opposed.
Although she did not say it during the sessions, she apparently believes that past racism means that federalism is tainted. She has not made very clear what that "taint" means for the future of federalism.I've written about this a lot, and not only did I talk about it at the conference, but I've been writing about this in law review articles for 20 years. You might try educating yourself about what I think before writing a big attack on me. Or maybe you're the one with dulled thinking skills. My point, which is quite clear, is that federalism has been associated with the evils of racism historically and that this presents a problem for those who would portray it as good thing today. There are many people who simply experience "federalism" as a code-word for racism. I have written about the positive values of federalism for a long time and have often encountered this problem. I know from long experience that it is crucial to disaggregate federalism from the history of racism to make it attractive in political and legal arguments. As long as Bailey is disparaging my intelligence, I may as well say that Bailey's inability to get this point doesn't make him look terribly smart.
However, during the session, some participants did wonder if there was a way to rescue federalism and really re-establish states as 50 different "laboratories of democracy." Contemporary libertarians strongly favor federalism because it allows some states to permit gay marriage, physician assisted death, medical marijuana, concealed carry of handguns, and surrogate motherhood contracts and other private activities without interference from the Feds. I would be even more startled to discover that Althouse opposes these and similar cases of federalism.Bailey doesn't seem to know that this is a subject I've written a great deal about in my scholarly writing. Nor does he seem to remember that I brought up this aspect of federalism at the conference. I was the main person who did! Talk about not paying attention!
Of course, libertarians who are eager to prevent the state from interfering in the lives of citizens in order to enforce its version of virtuous behavior, support this kind of federalism. This point was made repeatedly in conference sessions.Yeah, mainly by me.
As I said, if Althouse thought America's shameful racist history meant that federalism is beyond rescuing (including the "good kinds" just mentioned), she had ample opportunity to make that point during the formal sessions.Which I don't, so this is just an obtuse point.
However, she can't expect everyone in the room who have been discussing these issues for years to just roll over and agree with her. Oh, by the way, did I mention that no one defended Meyer's views on federalism and racial segregation?.Again: obtuse.
Liberty Fund colloquia strongly encourage conversation among participants outside of the formal sessions. Participants dine together every evening and are usually seated at tables of six or so participants in order to facilitate conversation. (Althouse weirdly and incorrectly refers to these rules that aim to encourage discussion as "cult-like" here.)The surly Bailey doesn't appreciate my sense of humor.
After dinner, conferees are invited back to a hospitality suite for cocktails and snacks where they can talk further with one another for as long they like. As it happens, I was sitting at a table at the dinner in which Ann Althouse had her apparent epiphany about tainted federalism and her panic attack about the racial sensitivities of conservatives and libertarians.We'll get to what he terms a "panic attack" further down.
What happened is that since she had not joined several of us in the hospitality suite the previous night, she asked what we have been discussing until 2 am. Some of my tablemates at dinner told her that I had provoked a spirited debate (lasting perhaps and hour and a half) about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I had asserted that state-sanctioned racial segregation was so egregious a violation of the rights of black citizens that it was absolutely necessary for the federal government to intervene to smash it.Again, note that he was only opposing "state-sanctioned racial segregation" and only because it was "so egregious" a violation. And apparently, it took a big one-and-a-half-hour fight even to get through that point! I'm trying to convey to you readers just how retrograde things were here. At what point would you start to wonder if this is what it is like to be with racists (of a certain level of intelligence and social class)?
The whole political point of libertarianism is to strictly limit the power of the state over individuals. Mandating racial segregation via state power (as was done in the Southern states) is precisely the kind of state tyranny what libertarians detest [sic]. In any case, I think she found my view of the Civil Rights Act agreeable.Hardly. You would have protected the individual rights of the businesses that would have gone on discriminating. You only wanted to limit the state, which is what you always want to do anyway, in service of your big idea.
During the discussion in the hospitality suite, absolutely no one defended state-sanctioned segregation and all agreed that Federal intervention was necessary to outlaw state-enforced Jim Crow segregation.Again with the "state-sanctioned"! That isn't the point. This is so obtuse!
Once the topic had been broached over dinner, I turned to another tablemate who is a fervent Catholic intellectual to discuss some bioethical stuff. We had brought up transhumanism during one of the sessions earlier in the day. The two of us were having a perfectly civil conversation about the moral status of embryos. Anyway next thing I know, Ann Althouse is shouting at two of our dinner companions demanding that they prove to her (Althouse) that they are not racists! She kept asking over and over, "How do I know that I'm not sitting at a table full of racists?" This was completely bizarre! It should go without saying, but I will say it: No one at the conference could even remotely be accused of being racist.I've already explained how I came to feel that the people I was sitting with could in fact be racists. At the table, I asked my question calmly at first, but was met with continued assertions about the rights of business owners and hypotheticals about the rights of white people. There was a long, irritating hypothetical about KKK members that I couldn't hear over the din of the restaurant. The other woman at the table who was going on in this vein was very young, in her mid-twenties, and she maintained a smug expression on her face as she talked about the rights of white people and repeatedly declined to express concern for the history of racism in the United States and the suffering of real people. It was always back to the hypos about white people. I tried very hard not to express anger at her, but finally I did: How do I know you're not a racist? It was a serious question, something I'd been wondering about all day.
Apparently, the three of them had been discussing the constitutionality of the public accommodations sections of the Civil Rights Act that forbids private businesses to racially discriminate among customers. That is an interesting issue where people ask serious questions about how to balance state intervention and individual choice. Anyway, it's an important issue over which people of good will may disagree-once state-enforced segregation is obliterated, will individual choices under equality of law and in a free market place end racial discrimination? Perhaps not. As Nobel Economics Laureate Gary Becker has argued if a minority group is a very small percentage of a population, then the costs of discrimination will be borne mainly by the minority and market forces may not be strong enough to overcome such discrimination. To me, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that compelled private businesses to serve people of all races have largely resulted in beneficial outcomes. But beneficial outcomes may not be the only desideratum of state intervention. Consider the egregious violation of property rights that took place in the Kelo v. New London case. After all, forcing Ms. Kelo to sell her house so that the city could give it to a private developer is beneficial to the city of New London's tax base. Again, people of good will can have serious disagreements on where the proper limits to state power should lie. For example, should the Feds outlaw gay marriage, medical marijuana, concealed carry, surrogate motherhood even though some states want their citizens to have the opportunity to participate in those activities? Some conservatives would say yes. Libertarians would say no.Got that? He thinks the government should have left the private businesses alone to discriminate against black people as long as they felt like it.
In trying to explain to Althouse why private discrimination might be OK, I later pieced together that my tablemates had posed the question of whether or not Althouse would want to have the right to refuse to serve KKK members if she owned a restaurant--say, the KKK members were planning to have a weekly luncheon meeting at her cafe? My interpretation of what happened is that because she didn't want to appear to be hypocrite, she refused to answer and kept asking more and more abstract questions about their example. When she was backed into a corner, she lashed out, suggesting that people who disagreed with her feelings were racists. Eventually, she was so upset that she began crying. Of course, at that point the possibility of civil intellectual discourse completely evaporated.My friends, in all honesty, what made me cry -- and I'm not too sentimental, as you may have noticed -- was the realization that these people didn't care about civil rights.
I was also astonished by the poise with which my tablemates handled Althouse. Our companions did not raise their voices nor dismiss her (as I would have), but tried to calm her down. In fact, Althouse made the situation even more personal by yelling repeatedly at one of my dinner companions (who is also a colleague) that she was an "intellectual lightweight" and an "embarrassment to women everywhere." In fact, in my opinion, with that statement Althouse had actually identified herself. Before Althouse stalked away, I asked her to apologize for that insult, but she refused.I don't think I said "embarrassment to women everywhere." That doesn't sound like my language. But I really was very angry at this young woman for her smiling and for her incessant justification of racial discrimination. I left the table because Bailey himself yelled at me in an extremely harsh way. He just kept saying "You don't know her. I know her." Basically, they were colleagues, and he was vouching for her. He didn't respond on the substantive issue. How could he? He agreed with her about private discrimination. At that point, I was so offended by these people that I got up and left. I felt terrible about causing a scene and being part of any ugliness. But on long reflection, I think I would have felt far worse if I had sat through all of that without saying anything.
IN THE COMMENTS: Ron Bailey shows up and I respond:
RON BAILEY: Professor Althouse: It is perfectly OK to complain that you think that people are foolishly adhering to principle while ignoring actual experience in the real world. What is NOT OK is for you to shout at other people calling them "racists" because they don't completely agree with your analysis. Especially when they are NOT racists.
Ron, you took the cake for shouting that night, but I agree that I got angry in the end, after much provocation and a severe lack of friendliness. I did not call people racists. I talked about how important it was to distinguish yourself from racist things that adhere to your abstract ideas. If anyone at that table had had the decency to say sincerely that they cared about civil rights and wanted to find a way to make it show that they hated racism, I would never have gotten angry like that. You suddenly became very vicious toward me, in defense of your friend. It looked really ugly. I was just begging for people to care about racism. Your colleague had an infuriatingly insolent smirk on her face for two hours. I tried very hard to deal with it, but it was just too much for me in the end. You did nothing to reach out toward me, a moderate, who came to the conference interested in libertarians. You completely alienated me and lost me as a potential ally, which was surpassingly foolish politically.
RON BAILEY: As you know calling someone a racist in America in the 2lst century is the worst epithet you can use. Deservedly so, racism is despicable. So you'd better reserve the term for people who really are racist, say, David Duke.
Oh, spare me. You're the one that just wrote a big, long post on a prominent website insulting me every which way you could think of. And yeah, racism is very bad. That's why you should try harder to disassociate yourself from it! Since it's so ugly, get the hell farther away from it. Don't attack me for saying you're standing too close to it... unless you like the impression it gives!
RON BAILEY: Finally, as much it pains me, I guess I have to spell it out for you. When I write: "To me, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that compelled private businesses to serve people of all races have largely resulted in beneficial outcomes" that means that I support the public accommodations sections of the Civil Rights Act. Now have I jumped through your racial sensitivity hoops enough?
No. You admit that there were benefits but you still stood by the principle that government should not have acted, and you're still calling my concern about civil rights "racial sensitivity hoops." It's quite absurd, really. You didn't have to make a big display today of how little you cared, and I never wrote a post about you. Go ahead and stew in your own fetid juice. You're missing a part, man.
RON BAILEY: BTW, your ad hominem, "Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink" implying that if I'm not racist, that I may be anti-feminist. Priceless.
It wasn't an accusation of sexism, Ron, as the context of my post makes pretty damned clear. It was a way of saying that you did not understand the function of small talk and were socially awkward. You still don't get it. And the only reason I went ahead and wrote it is because you blatantly insulted me. You took any number of gratuitous shots at me and that freed me to be rude right back at you.
UPDATE: Three academics respond to this post, and I fight back here. I'm not responding to everyone who goes after this post, though. There are a few people who apparently monitor this blog constantly and do dumb little posts that -- really -- I have seen. If you send significant traffic here, and I never respond to you, it's because I think you're boring, little man.