I Debate a Reagan Administration Official about Freedom and the Workplace

Last Tuesday, February 26, I debated Mark Blitz, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College and the Associate Director of the United States Information Agency under Ronald Reagan. Our topic: the politics of freedom. Our venue: lovely Linfield College in Oregon, where they have wonderful food and excellent conversation. Our host: Nick Buccola, who’s got a relatively new book out about the political theory of Frederick Douglass. Buy it!

Anyway, the debate got into some of the thornier questions of freedom in the workplace. Heated at some points, it was interesting throughout. With great questions from our audience.



  1. jonnybutter March 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm | #

    Nice job on this prof. Robin. I wouldn’t have wanted to be Blitz, flogging the same old crap for the zillionth time; that same-old was conning people in the 80s, but I don’t think it’s doing so so much now. It’s really striking to see him, well, not ‘argue’, but just assert, things like, ‘freedom must be thought of in a general sense’ (not verbatim) in the face of all that stuff about not letting people pee, and the regulation of private life via a job ‘contract’. Just flailing. And I think you are so right to highlight the fact that probably lots of Americans have no idea how few workplace rights they have.

  2. Matthew March 8, 2013 at 2:32 am | #

    I wish you’d done some research on the Clairemont Colleges. The custodial workers there would have made a fantastic illustration of his blindness to exactly what you’re talking about when it’s happening a couple buildings down. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/us/after-workers-are-fired-an-immigration-debate-roils-california-campus.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    • Corey Robin March 8, 2013 at 2:33 am | #

      Believe me, I was kicking myself afterward. I have a very good friend who’s running that campaign, and it totally slipped my mind during the debate.

      • Matthew March 8, 2013 at 2:48 am | #

        Word. Keep fighting that good fight; I’m going to have to read your book.

  3. lizlosd March 8, 2013 at 11:06 am | #

    Wait, you were here in Oregon debating?

  4. lizlosd March 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm | #

    He isn’t ignorant about whether the support staff at his college is unionized, he just doesn’t know.

  5. ed scott March 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm | #

    I thought associating virtue with freedom manipulative. From the specific idea of Natural Rights, Mark Blitz’s general notion of Freedom was grafted onto an even more subjective quality of Virtue.
    The Declaration of Independence spoke of “inalienable rights”, not “natural rights. Perhaps Thomas Pain’s analysis of the difference between Civil and Inalienable rights could be helpful, since it’s all too mixed up today with feelings.
    At least Corey Robin has sensibilities rooted in relatively tangible argument

  6. Paul Gilmore March 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm | #

    I’ve always gotten a kick out of folks who say they can’t fire teachers or professors. I think what they mean is that they are upset that they cannot just fire people with no reason. They are upset that their judgment — and theirs alone — of whether or not someone is incompetent is not the last word. Document incompetence and follow the rules of due process and you can fire someone. If you’re upset about having to go through the process, that is another issue. Beyond all this, in the discussion of academic working conditions, it’s good to recall that even professors — most of them at many schools — are at-will employees. There’s no tenure for nearly half.

  7. Sam July 30, 2021 at 12:34 pm | #

    Does anyone know where an alternate link to this video can be found? I loved this debate and wanted to share it but can’t find an active link.

  8. Sam July 30, 2021 at 12:36 pm | #

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