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Monday, May 12, 2008

A Poor Prognosis for Rationality at the Volokh Conspiracy

The Volokh conspiracy is a blog established by Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law and a member of the UCLA Law faculty since 1994.

The blog entries can generally be regarded as Libertarian to conservative. What’s interesting are the comments. Generally (and I am generalizing), blogs attract comments that are ideologically congruent with the orientation of the bloggers. Volokh’s blog is an exception and I am beginning to draw conclusions regarding the political orientation of law school graduates as a result. It’s not a pretty picture.

Today’s exhibit “A” is a post about Phyllis Schafly. Written by David Bernstein, it concerns an honor being bestowed on Schlafly by Washington University. I quote it in part:

Guest-blogger Kathy G. at Crooked Timber, protesting Washington University's plan to award an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly, manages to express a certain academic mindset (all emphases added):
Nor do I believe that conservatives should never receive honorary degrees. There are conservative scholars who do work that is respected within academia—many economists, for example—and they would not be inappropriate candidates for such an honor. Nor would I have a problem with conservative pundits, so long as they’re sane and genuinely distinguished (which these days admittedly narrows the field to practically zero), such as the late William F. Buckley. I’ll even grudgingly accept the reality that conservative Republican elder statesmen are regularly awarded these things. Though even here there are limits—while personally I wouldn’t protest the awarding of a degree to George H.W. Bush, even though I find him pretty hateful, far-right lunatics like Cheney, Dubya, and Jesse Helms should be entirely out of bounds.... as much as conservatives may whine and scream to the contrary, liberalism and conservatism are not moral equivalents. Because, on the one side you have the thinkers and activists who have advanced freedom, social justice, and human rights, and on the other, you have those who have attempted to thwart all those things.

Phyllis Schlafly was a long and honorable record of advocacy for Conservative values. To be judged insane by an academic who does not mind having her views expressed on a widely-read website would seem to call for condemnation by rational people, especially by responsible members of the legal community.

But that does not seem to be the case. Over two hundred comments follow the posting of this article. Some don’t see anything objectionable in Kathy G.’s remarks.

This is one of the more temperate remarks by a Liberal:
Is the problem that you think there's no such thing as a "far-right lunatic"? Presumably you would object to a school presenting an honorary degree to Farrakhan (as would I). Wouldn't you also object to giving David Duke, or any other overt neo-Nazi, an honorary degree? And if so, what's wrong with a person's objecting to giving an honorary degree to someone that person classifies in the same category as Farrakhan and Duke?

I agree that the moral distinction between liberalism and conservatism is drawn too starkly, but it's not an entirely false distinction -- liberalism is animated by the desire to help the weak; conservatism is animated by the desire to let people sink or swim on their own. That's just true.
Here the commenter equates Schlafly to a Nazi and a racist; then pats himself and other Liberals on the back for their idealism while describing Conservatives as selfish misanthropes. And according to this lawyer, that’s the truth.

And Randy R. summarizes the comments to a point:

I can't believe that anyone would actually defend Schafly's receiving an honorary degree, and thankfully, no one has. Instead, this thread to a turn to discussing whether conservatives oppose liberty.

But what has this woman done to deserve this honorary award? Just because she is famous? She's a crackpot and a looney tune, and frankly, if I were a conservative, I would be embarrased to call her one as well.

So far, I haven't seen anyone defend her -- thank goodness. So I guess we all agree that she doesn't deserve it?

And Randy R. has a point. To that point (and the thread runs for over 200 comments, read for yourself) no one really defended the honorary degree to Schafly. I suspect that few people knew much about her despite the fact that she has had a meaningful impact on politics and culture. I suspect that’s because she does not get much press in the MSM, and what she gets is negative because she stands for everything the MSM hates.

Some later comments flatter the Volokh Conspiracy by stating that it has an elevated discourse. I read it often because the articles are interesting. But if the comments are representative of the legal community, I prefer the comments at FreeRepublic. There, at least the comments are brief, pithy, mostly rational and tend toward the patriotic. Not the case at Volokh.

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