Category: Reflection

We Live in Strange Times

By William Galligan
A reflection on a talk with Dr. Steven Hayward about the rise of socialism.

Dr. Hayward described his initial reaction to the recent revival of socialist thought around the globe as one of surprise. According to Hayward, the steady retreat of socialism, which began with the collapse of the USSR, has suddenly reversed despite the obvious failures of recent socialist experiments like those in Venezuela and China. Even in America, the label of socialist has once again become acceptable and electable. House representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has become one of the most influential politicians on the Hill. Such occurrences would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

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Reflection on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100

On November 30, 2018, the Buckley Program hosted host a lunch and discussion on the legendary Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, this event offered a discussion on his life and work. The program featured Daniel J. Mahoney and Jay Nordlinger. Mr. Nordlinger is a Senior Editor at National Review and a Fellow of the National Review Institute, and he has written frequently for National Review on the subject of Solzhenitsyn. Mr. Mahoney is a Professor of Politics at Assumption College. He is associate editor of Perspectives on Political Science, book review editor for Society magazine, and the author of the critically acclaimed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology.

By: Shaurya Salwan

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated writers and is even considered to be one of its greatest individuals.

Before this event, I had never heard of him. In fact, the first time I even saw his name was via a post that popped up on my Facebook feed. It was the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s advertisement of a lunchtime discussion entitled “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100.” A quick google search revealed that he was an author I really shouldhave known, and I had already been to a few great Buckley events, so I signed up. Thankfully, the event did not disappoint.

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Reflection on a Semester with Dr. Steven Hayward

Throughout the fall semester, Buckley fellows had the privilege of engaging with five lectures and five seminars by Dr. Steven Hayward on the rich history of conservatism and its intersection with contemporary issues.

Steven Hayward is currently a Senior Resident Scholar at the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Government. He is also the Thomas Smith Distinguished Fellow at the John M. Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. Before this work, Dr. Hayward worked as the FK Weyerhauser Fellow in Law and Economics at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Hayward has also written many books on topics ranging from the environment to President Ronald Reagan. Finally, he has been extensively published in the National Review, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. 

By: Jasper Boers

In the months leading up to his death in 2008, William F. Buckley, Jr. appeared on Charlie Rose’s PBS program. Rose asked Buckley what he thought of the modern conservative movement. Buckley’s response? That it was in need of a “repristination.” A decade later, and it appears as if the conservative movement Buckley helped create never did receive any sort of ideological dredging, much less a light touch-up. Instead, it has undergone a political factionalization. Traditional conservatism, American conservatism, libertarianism, religious conservatism, neoconservatism, paleoconservatism, populist conservatism (I daresay it)—these are just a few of the divergent examples which Dr. Stephen Hayward identified as making up the modern conservative movement, if one could even describe it with such a unified term as “a movement.”

Dr. Hayward, a Senior Resident Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, brought this fall to Yale’s campus a five-part lecture and seminar series which confronted this embattled plurality of modern conservative ideologies. Administered by the Buckley Program, each seminar involved a selection of readings, a lecture, and a subsequent lunch discussion with Dr. Hayward. Frequently during seminar, Dr. Hayward would remark that those in the seminar were, after all, “here to have fun.” While the content of the seminar was indeed serious and philosophical, Dr. Hayward combined a rigorous intellectual approach to conservatism with lighthearted discussion, the occasional joke, and interludes of commentary on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, the European Union, energy policy, and liberalism in American universities.

Hayward aptly described the conservative movement in his first lecture, terming it “the search for the unchanging ground of changing experience.” The first seminar comprised a broad overview of what exactly “conservatism” is. A reactionary doctrine? A disposition? A set of common principles? Among the authors we read for our first meeting were Thomas Sowell, Samuel P. Huntington, Isaiah Berlin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Roger Scruton. In our search to define conservatism during the two-hour discussion, Dr. Hayward stressed the question of whether there exists a conservative idea of utopia. The answer? No, probably not. After all, a utopia on principle is a rejection of prior institutions for the sake of change—a decidedly non-conservative philosophy.

The second seminar, entitled “Edmund Burke: The First Modern Conservative,” offered a historical investigation of modern conservatism’s beginnings amidst the terror of the French Revolution. Eleven readings from Burke’s enormous collection of political writings and speeches encouraged lively discussion of his ideas about religion, institutions, and liberalism. In relation to the idea of conserving institutions, Dr. Hayward emphasized Burke’s distinction between the preservative attitudes of the American Revolution and the destructive attitudes of the French Revolution.

After Fall Break, Dr. Hayward returned with a seminar outlining his views of the predominant conservative ideologies today: traditional conservatism, libertarianism, religious conservatism, neoconservatism, and American conservatism. I found this seminar to be among the most riveting, as Dr. Hayward underscored the types of people who fall into each conservative doctrine—elaborating on what professions they occupy, what books they read, and what academic disciplines they study. Among the readings for this seminar, Russell Kirk’s essay Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries, stood out as a provocative and humorous account of the libertarian movement’s occasional penchant for unreasonable individualism. A central question which Dr. Hayward raised during the course of the seminar was whether conservatism and libertarianism are compatible, seeing as they have rather opposed attitudes towards individual freedoms and morality.

Post-modern thinking, whether pernicious or innovative, dominates contemporary political thought and social science. Dr. Hayward gave an overview of the philosophy during his fourth seminar, as well as a critique of conservative-leaning intellectuals who use “post-modernism” as a buzzword for anything distasteful. Additionally, Dr. Hayward offered a criticism of “post-modern justice,” asking why any idea of justice today requires a modifier (climate, gender, racial). A central tension which our seminar discussion explored was whether or not conservatism overlaps with post-modernism. After all, both philosophies contain a skepticism, if not a rejection, of Enlightenment rationalism.

For his final seminar of the fall semester, Dr. Hayward spoke on the relationship between equality and conservatism. The seminar began with a discussion of where inequality naturally exists, and whether social policy can or should alleviate those inequalities. No discussion of equality in America would be complete without looking to Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence. This seminar examined the difficult, often controversial topics—inequality of the sexes, inequality of skill, economic inequality—that ground modern political discourse. Dr. Hayward concluded the seminar with hopes of continuing the discussion next semester, delving deeper into whether conservatives should or can endorse a grand scheme of human rights.

Dr. Hayward’s seminar offered not only an opportunity for moral and political introspection, but also a chance to understand how conservatives view culture, history, science, and reason. The spirit Dr. Hayward brought to each meeting was both open-minded and principled, serious and humorous. In searching for a definition, or rather, definitions, of conservatism, Dr. Hayward made clear that to understand the conservative movement is to discern the rich intellectual tradition behind it. Perhaps the best method of achieving a “repristination” of modern conservatism, as Bill Buckley called it, is exactly what Dr. Hayward’s seminar set out to do: read, think, debate, and, most importantly, listen.

Jasper Boers is a first-year in Timothy Dwight College.

Reflection on Dr. Art Laffer

On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, Dr. Art Laffer ’63 delivered a talk on “Trump, Taxes, and Trade.” Dr. Laffer served as a member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board for both of his terms in office (1981-1989), and was the architect of the administration’s tax cuts in the 1980s. His accomplishments have earned him the distinction of being called “The Father of Supply-Side Economics.”

By: Ward Hanser

Dr. Laffer began his talk by giving a broad overview of his personal economic philosophy. This is highlighted by his 5 Pillars of Economics, which, he explains, are the foundation we must build upon if we are to achieve sustained and reproducible economic growth. The 5 Pillars are a low rate; broad base flat taxation to minimize personal and economic negatives; restrained spending; sound money to allow for contracts and future planning; minimal regulation; and free trade.

While these are all crucial, Dr. Laffer emphasized the need for free trade. When asked about the trade war with China, India, and other nations, he re-acknowledged our need for trade but did not see much of a problem with President Trump’s brinkmanship. In his eyes, the United States is still the most free-trade nation in the world; however, he believes a world with no trade barriers would be most beneficial for economic prosperity. Other countries’ currency manipulation, tariffs, and other barriers to trade (as well as our own) prevent this goal. If countries are unwilling to meet to talk about trade, he sees no alternative in order to truly get them to agree to talk on how to reduce trade barriers.

Dr. Laffer’s favorite Beach boy’s song is Barbara Ann.

Ward Hanser is a sophomore in Pierson College.

Firing Line Debate on Gun Control: A Conversation with the Legal Minds of D.C. v. Heller

On Friday, September 21, 2018, the Buckely Program hosted Joseph Blocher and the Clark Neily for a Firing Line debate on gun control.  Joseph Blocher is a Professor of Law at Duke University and a graduate of Yale Law School. He focuses primarily on Second Amendment law and legal history. Mr. Blocher provided much of the legal thinking behind the D.C. government’s argument that their handgun ban was constitutional in the landmark Supreme Court case D.C. v. Heller. Clark Neily is the Vice President for Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute and served as co-counsel to the plaintiff in Heller.

By: Grant Gabriel

First, a formality, I recognize the elephant in the room: a “Firing Line” debate on gun control… it is hardly subtle. Indeed, given our present political climate, the proposition seems rife with peril. Invite Professor Joseph Blocher, who helped draft Washington, D.C.’s argument in defense of the handgun ban overturned in D.C. v. Heller, and the Cato Institute’s Mr. Clark Neily, plaintiff’s counsel in the same case—two leading legal voices on one of the most politically contentious topics today—and the Buckley Program might as well have countenanced a duel.

Accordingly, when I sat down across from Messrs. Blocher and Neily for our pre-debate interviews, I came loaded for bear. I was prepared to probe both sides of the decision in Heller and cover the well-trodden ground of Second Amendment interpretation. From the very beginning, however, it was clear that these two intellectuals refused to succumb to the lesser angels of our present politics. Though their legal positions in Heller might have been antithetical, the two began their interviews, conducted separately, expressing a nearly identical sentiment: litigation is not the solution.

“I think that everyone should accept the precedent as it stands….” If this opening concession from D.C.’s advocate was surprising, Mr. Neily’s was just as telling: “Up until this point, and to a pretty high degree of certainty going forward, judicial protection of gun rights has been trivial.” The two, that is, now agree on a fundamental point. The Second Amendment protects the personal right to keep and bear arms, and the courts are highly reluctant to carve out Second Amendment protections beyond that central holding.

The reality of judicial non-intervention in Second Amendment jurisprudence may very well result from Professor Blocher’s assertion that “It was a closer decision than people on either side would like to admit.” Recognizing this situation, and fearing the potential political backlash historically associated with holding large portions of party platforms unconstitutional (see e.g. Dred Scott v. Sandford and more recently Roe v. Wade), the courts may very well be reluctant to take too active a role. Indeed, while proposals for Australian-style gun buybacks may run rampant on Ivy League campuses, both Professor Blocher and Mr. Neily agreed that the majority of gun control advocates have accepted the premise behind Heller and have adapted their proposals accordingly. As Professor Blocher put it, “[Heller] is not antithetical to the Democratic Party in the way Roe has been to the Republican Party.”

Professor Blocher called for the courts to develop a more robust Second Amendment doctrine to help draw out some of the vagaries of Justice Scalia’s opinion. Namely, he hoped for more clarity in parsing the “common use” test—hinging protection on a firearm’s “common use” in society. He suggested drawing on the three-pronged Miller Test from obscenity doctrine for guidance. But ultimately, with the courts’ reluctance to test the bounds of the political acceptance of Heller, both men turned their sights to the realm of policy.

Though maintaining that he held little hope of altering his opposition’s underlying opinions about firearms, Mr. Neily seemed armed with facts tailored to create political common ground. He emphasized the disproportionate enforcement of gun regulations against African-Americans. “47.3% of federal gun convictions are African Americans, which is a greater racial disparity than with drugs,” an outcome of a criminal justice system in which “African Americans are arrested for gun crimes at a rate five times that of whites, [and receive much harsher penalties] when they are prosecuted.”

These disparities represent a cruel irony considering that the inability of African-Americans to trust their own defense to the state in the Reconstruction South played a key role in solidifying the conception of a personal right to keep and bear arms outside of militia service. Yet, Professor Blocher stressed that African-Americans, often living in the communities most heavily impacted by gun violence, are among the most likely to support stricter gun laws. Nevertheless, he decried what he considers a false dichotomy between those who support the Second Amendment and those who advocate for gun control.

Contending on opposite sides of D.C. v. Heller,these two accomplished attorneys began from opposing legal positions. When I interviewed them, they made clear that they were intent on marching towards political solutions. Later that evening, they engaged not in an antagonistic debate but rather thoughtful discussion. This “Firing Line,” hosted by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, made clear the imperative of civility in political and legal discourse. I encourage all who get the chance to watch the recording of the dialogue posted by the Buckley Program. If I could, I would make it mandatory viewing for my classmates in the law school. If these two former foes can engage in this manner, then surely, the rest of us should aspire to nothing less.

Grant Gabriel is a student at the Yale Law School. 

 

Recommendations from AEI’s Dr. Roslyn Layton

Roslyn Layton is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on digital technology industries and net neutrality. Layton develops policies for digitally connected domains and advises on government regulations. She participated in the Buckley Program’s Firing Line Debate on Net Neutrality, and after the event, Layton provided the following reading list for Buckley fellows:

“This is a reading list to help you think for yourself and push against orthodoxy. The purpose of inquiry and debate is to seek truth, engage in dialogue, and challenge opinions. Here are some resources to help you sharpen your reasoning and inspire you to make masterful argumentation.”

Blogs and Articles

  • Debatable Premises in Telecom Policy
    • This article examines 5 statements of received wisdom that underlie much popular, political, and academic support for increased telecommunications regulation. A hard copy of this article is available from the Buckley program.

Podcasts

  • EconTalk
    • Economics for daily life hosted by Russ Roberts of George Mason University and the Hoover Institution.
  • Federalist Society
    • Offers constitutional arguments and analysis of leading legal controversies.
  • HighTech Forum
    • Explaining the technology behind modern communications.

Books

  • God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951)
    • William F. Buckley, Jr. critiques his Yale undergraduate experience, saying that the university forced collectivist, Keynesian, and secularist ideology on students and ridiculed their religious beliefs. Noting that university oversight was provided by god-fearing alumni, he argues that Yale failed its students by not teaching in a manner consistent with these values.
  • What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense
    • A bold and elegant defense of an institution maligned by popular culture, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson, and Robert George critique the idea that equality requires redefining marriage.