Tag: Cass Sunstein

On liberals, the left, and free speech: Something has changed, and it’s not what you think it is

When I was in college and in graduate school (so the 1980s and 1990s), the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.) That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech. What’s interesting about the contemporary moment, which I don’t think anyone’s really remarked upon, is that that clean divide has gotten blurry. There were always exceptions to that divide, I know: back in the 1980s and 1990s, some radical feminists were critical of the anti-free speech position within feminism; some liberals, like Cass […]

Sheldon Wolin: Theoretician of the Present

At the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, which met in Philadelphia this past weekend, I participated in a panel commemorating the life and work of Sheldon Wolin, who died last year. Here’s my contribution. * * * * As a political commentator and witness of his moment, Sheldon Wolin is primarily identified with the 1960s. With the passage of time and recession of those years, that identification—coupled with his partiality to the local and penchant for the past—has earned Wolin a reputation for quaintness and nostalgia. Yet what has struck me most, in re-reading some of his archive these past few months, is how alert and alive Wolin was to what came after the 1960s: not only the conservative backlash […]

Scalia: The Donald Trump of the Supreme Court

Antonin Scalia has died. Cass Sunstein, one of Obama’s favorite law professors and, for a time, regulatory czar in Obama’s administration, had this to say from his perch at Harvard Law School: Devastated by Justice Scalia’s death. One of the most important justices ever, a defender of the Rule of Law, and a truly wonderful person. — Cass Sunstein (@CassSunstein) February 13, 2016 (Suddenly I see the wisdom of Bill Buckley’s famous quip about Harvard.) In the coming days, the retrospectives on Scalia’s career and predictions of what is to come will be many; they’ve already begun. But for me Scalia is a figure of neither the past nor the future but of the present. If you want to understand how Donald Trump became […]

On Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cass Sunstein, and Other Public Intellectuals

I have a long piece up at The Chronicle Review on public intellectuals. It’s an adaptation of the keynote address I gave last fall at the Society of US Intellectual History. Here are some excerpts… What is a public intellectual? As an archetype, the public intellectual is a conflicted being, torn in two competing directions. On the one hand, he’s supposed to be called by some combination of the two vocations Max Weber set out in his lectures in Munich: that of the scholar and that of the statesman. Neither academic nor activist but both, the public intellectual is a monkish figure of austere purpose and unadorned truth. Think Noam Chomsky. On the other hand, the public intellectual is supposed to […]

Reality Bites

According to Cass Sunstein, studies in psychology and behavioral economics show that 80% of the population is “unrealistically optimistic.” When it comes to their own actions and life prospects, people tend to have unwarranted expectations that things will work out well for them. The other 20%? The realists? They “include a number of people who are clinically depressed.”