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12.30.2006

So Much for An Alliance Between Liberals and Libertarians

That is, if liberal blogger Ann Althouse's hysterical reaction to libertarian ideas is any indication:

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.

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.

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.

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 sure hope that Ann Althouse's behavior at the Liberty Fund colloquium is not example how "intellectual discourse" is conducted in her law school classes in Madison, Wisconsin. In her bloggingheads.tv discussion with my friend Jonah Goldberg (who was a participant in the Meyer colloquium) she keeps telling him that he shouldn't be her enemy. I may not be her enemy, but given her outrageous behavior and completely baseless insinuations about intelligent humane people, I sure don't want to be her friend. As she said, "I need to be more vigilant."


I wonder if this is typical of lawyers rather than simply typical of liberals.

I have a law professor friend who debates endlessly about all different nuances of argument, but cannot do so through the lens of moral virtue. Right v. Wrong doesn't seem to be a precedent with which lawyers are well acquainted, at least when it comes to public policy discussions. This isn't to say this person lacks opinions; just that when they do evince them they don't argue from ideology but rather from status quo ("It has always been this way.")

This may be one more reason to beware of "stealth" Supreme Court nominees, as lawyers without a firm philosophy seem to be able to believe anything.

I bet Vigilis would be able to provide some insight here, although Althouse probably wouldn't care to hear it.

1 Comments:

Blogger Missy said...

I think it's so funny that you call Althouse a liberal! I've always seen her as being on the conservative side of things; although mostly rational.

Heh, heh. Mostly rational.

1:53 PM  

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