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Posner you old devil you! Bring that funk, baby!


A well argued mea culpa, Judge Posner, but for the following --

"I do not think there is much doubt that carbon emissions generated by human activities increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and by doing so raise surface temperatures. How much they raise them and with what consequences remain uncertain. I merely think that the risk of catastrophic global warming is sufficiently great to warrant more vigorous remedial efforts than have been attempted thus far by the United States.

On its face, your position rests on sheer conjecture, not science. Please, Judge Posner, you are of an age to remember when kids in this Nation were taught science rather than environmentalist propaganda. You certainly are free to cast aspersion on persons who doubt the sort of environmental junk science that poses CO2 as a pollutant, but in doing so you attack all who live by reason, not conservatives alone.

Roy D. Schickedanz

Dear Judge Posner,

No doubt, clarifying positional positions on global warming, abortion, and gun ownership fronts understanding and interpretation of our Constitution to the right to bear arms with the American Revolution clearly in the minds of the participants in its writing of this magnificent document.

The ambiguity would find a review by a society and government changed in the set of circumstances, making the constitution as flexible as it can be made possible.

Thus, our Constitution is truly a work-in-progress, projecting itself in its universal values and truths, but provides ability to change with new directions of a society and the government it has created ever evolving.

Here, global warming and abortion were the furthest from the minds of anyone at that time, fronting only contemporary issues of society today.

The values belonging not to one group or another having sole possession and authority.


Roy D. Schickedanz

The Conservative Movement under the Republicans represents travesty of a golden opportunity to show all the integrity of such values leading to honesty solutions to problems we now face.

Instead it promoted a group of criminal rogues and thugs whose actions and deeds speak for themselves with unprecedented flag waving as patriotism of fear of fear itself.

Under the conservative flag we almost lost our country.

Here, we must be always be weary of anyone flying such a flag thinking they have our right to do anything they want jeopardizing our civil liberties and freedom as real and necessary.

Instead of taking the high ground as set our by the Declaration of Independence, we find ourselves in conflict with those values, rendering neoconservatism.

Additional thoughts by Thatguy

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Hi, interesting post. I have been pondering this topic,so thanks for writing. I'll probably be coming back to your blog. ...

Ed Lynch

It seems to me that national debates on the social issues you discussed are always conducted on the fringes. I believe most Americans, conservative and liberal, can find common ground on these issues if they approach them with a fresh look and open mind.

Thank you for reminding everyone that these social issues have nothing to do with conservatism (or liberalism). These wedge issues were successful, for a time, in galvanizing certain groups in the Republican party but this strategy may have backfired in the long run. The wedge may have removed too many core conservatives from their party.


The abortion debate highlights extremism on the left.

The latest gallup poll suggests the overwhelming majority of this country wants some limitations on abortion. And what do we get from the left? Only more of the same carte blanche policies. These are bad policies that lead to tragedies like infanticide and birth control abortion. Americans want better than this. But what do we get from Mr. Obama...? Tax dollars going overseas to fund abortion? This is a childish partisan tactic from a man who campaigned as something above the games in Washington. The abortion issue highlights the fact that he is nothing but the same old partisan hack in Washington. Americans are turned off by this and it illustrates yet another bogus campaign promise made to win an election.

The democrats could forward reasonable bans on abortion tomorrow. They could end partial birth abortion and even add in exclusion's for mother's health. Pelosi could put this on Barack's desk tomorrow. BUT THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN because the people in charge are extreme. Republicans should highlight their extremism at every opportunity.

Those who think this isn't an intellectual debate are wrong. Republicans, conservatives, and Americans should be discussing rationale policies for abortion - ALWAYS! But even more so when the opposing party in charge represents carte blanche extremism that Americans don't want.

We will have time to rip apart current economic policies. We will be able to make so-called "traditional" arguments when Barack's bill is handed off to our children. For now, it is perfectly appropriate to highlight extremism on the left.


Not all scientists are convinced of the inevitability of catastrophic global warming caused by human activity.

Still, I agree that Republicans often dismiss government attempts to deal with legitimate environmental externalities as unwarranted intrusions on individual liberty or as just a way to increase tax revenues.

Jonathan Sprague

With respect to Judge Poser's "killer" final paragraph:This time there shall be no "triumph" of the Will.


1. Abortion is an issue mostly because of the "slippery slope" issue around the sanctity of life. How can it be legal when murder is illegal in the face of uncertainty when personhood begins?
Conservatives want to be on the side of caution and liberals want unfettered freedom. We need Solomon!!!

2. Conservatives want guns because they feel that the police cannot protect them in a still violent society (by the time the police arrive, you are already dead) and the gun makes them feel as though they are in charge of their own security. The liberals don't like guns because they consider them unnecessary in a "civilized" society. As one conservative wag put it to his liberal friend, "I promise not to use my gun to defend you if you are attacked.". Since there are as many privately owned guns as there are folks in the USA, stop arguing about gun control but enforce severe penalties for the commission of a crime using a firearm, fired or not.

3. There are some serious academic scientists who take issue with global warming and its causes. No one yet has explained how the last ice age ended in global warming when there were very few people around. Was it dinosaur flatulence? The conservatives don't believe in man-caused global warming because they doubt the integrity of the proponents of that theory or perhaps of academia in general (another subject). Liberals accept the academic more easilly and believe that government can take a problem and design a solution effectively (the civilized approach).

To say that one or the other of these approaches is more "intellectual" than the other is to mis-state the analysis. It is more a value system that underpins the debates since neither approach has all of the answers. There is no question that the issues will not be solved without a continuing conservative-liberal dialectic and political power struggle. One thing is for sure---history as in economics is cyclical.



Here is the gallup poll. 22% of Americans want abortion for any reason whatsoever. Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama are ruling for this extreme minority. They currently have a veto proof majority, or essentially something close. Instead of forwarding reasonable policy on abortion that 80% of the Country wants, they are sending our tax dollars overseas to fund abortion. They are childish partisans and Americans are realizing it each day we have to deal with them.

Roe vs. Wade is illegitimate law based on a scientific fallacy. It was judicial activism. It has lead to extreme policies that Americans don't want.

We need reason. We won't get that from the Democrats in control. All we get from them are the same partisan tactics of OLD WASHINGTON.


Thanks for your thoughtful posts on conservatism. I consider myself a (moderate) libertarian, but I am not a Republican for a number of reasons - including the party's stance on issues like guns and climate change. The NRA, evangelicals, Limbaugh should not be in the party's driver seat.

Prof. Becker is right that economic and social conservatism conflict with each other. I wonder if the neocons' push toward social conservatism (regulated morality) has moved the Republican ideology away from economic conservatism...

I'm also surprised by the comments (especially from last post). I guess it shows how much "conservatives" have changed. (Or, rather, some conservatives haven't changed, but many have become neocons.) The party of Reagan was not consumed with worries about guns, etc.


While my own conservatism leans towards that of Dr. Becker, and a bit away from the pragmatic conservatism I see espoused by Dr. Posner, I can certainly appreciate both views. Regarding the three points brought up in this post, I find the arguments about global warming, abortion and gun control, in order, interesting, compelling and a complete cop out. Mind you that I reject the last as a "conservative" who has no use for, nor love of, guns. Basically, the argument that we should not use complementary texts to understand the wording is bizarre. The intent was quite clear, and one only needs to read the second half of The Second Treatise on Government, the second half of the Declaration and Madison's notes on percentage of those who could be drafted to understand it perfectly. The point is that the measure was put there for defense against tyranny, and nothing else. Is that important today? Probably not, but the contract includes an out clause, and modifying the document through amendment is the best solution.

Anyway, that isn't my main complaint. I think the greater issue is the argument against intellectualism, and while I find it odd, I think it is presented on this blog both incorrectly, and incompletely. First of all, the history of conservative dislike of intellectualism among "conservative" intellectuals dates back millenia. One need only be familiar with Plato (arguably conservative,) St. Augustine, Dostoevsky and Hayek, to name just a few, to understand that there has been a long term rejection of what these writers have seen as rank sophistry among the intellectual class. Some, Dostoevsky in particular, almost mimics the current "return to common values" tactic of the Republican party. What makes them different is the willingness to argue on an intellectual level, rather than to simply dismiss intellectuals as ivory tower heathens. As you said in your last sentence, anti-intellectualism is not extolled on the left, and it really has not been for much of history. The tool of the left has always been sophistry, and I would argue that, in many ways, it continues to be. What the right, and the intellectuals of the right, must understand is that a strong position against the current sophistry of the left is necessary in order to carry on the intellectual tradition I mention above.


Thank you for the clarifications. I share many of your opinions: with regard to the market, I support limited government; with regard to social issues, I support limited government. So why do I cast myself as a liberal, whereas you cast yourself as a conservative? Perhaps because, currently, Democrats are more sympathetic to social issues (eg, abortion and gay rights) ; and because I believe that social freedom leads to economic freedom, and not vice versa. I suspect that you believe otherwise. Regardless, it's an interesting question (debate, problem, etc.).


The litmus tests are indeed there as you say and are confirmed by most of the comments from obviously far right conservatives.


Well the opposite force by your own formula-would be the current Liberal goal- which looks a lot like replacing our will with what they believe to be their superior intelligence, which given the Liberal bent of the media should rarely be effectively questioned.


I do this often but it is a mistake to base a lot of conclusion on internet comments. The distribution of people who comment on the internet I don't think is a fair representation of the American public as a whole-particularly Conservatives.

If that were the case Fred Thompson should have ran away with the Republican Primary-he barely finished above write -ins in the last state primary before he dropped out.

I think one huge factor that you seem to be ignoring is the immigration debate-again the media gave a huge horn to hateful groups on the Republican fringe to serve their own purposes-and bloggers did the same.

Mickey Kaus being a Liberal and huge influence over supposed Libertarian intellectual "constitutional law " professors.

Again leaders of the Republican party-most of the legitimate ones did their best to stop that.

Bush, and McCain being primary examples.

The deficit-that's another area being alluded to -America had back to back natural disasters of historical proportions, and a lot of intellectual budget hawk Libertarians like to criticize Bush for the prescription drug benefit.

Well with a burgeoning Baby Boomer generation-that looked pretty practical and in the end it looks a bit like complaining about the cost of a prescription drug that would effectively save you the cost of putting your grandma and the economy in the hospital.

Now having lost that political compromise we have the default of that-the looming cost of nationalized health care.

Again talk about the limiting of choice, in subordination to the politically appointed wiser.


The increasing Republican tendency towards bellicose authoritarianism is driving the former Reagan Democrats into rank and file Democrats.

I really don't think it is ultimately a wise move for conservatism to become a pro-torture party that is neurotically obsessed with the sexual activities of consenting adults for no other reason than religious bigotry.


After reading a few comments, I have a few of my own to add:

1) The abortion Gallup poll, quoted a few times already, proves that the waters of the issue are muddied. Pro-life folks keep quoting the thin majority who state they are Pro-Life, but not the 53% who approve of abortion with conditions (as well as the 22% who want no restrictions). Obviously, what conditions they would attach is the reigning controversy (like, say, allowed only in the first trimester... like it already is). But Obama playing to the 22%? Try 75%. Or more to the point, people shouldn't use statistics that don't support their position. Here's the poll as a reference.


There's also a Quinnipac Poll, which should muddy the waters even further.

2) I don't even know how to begin addressing gun control. Seriously, even if I thought removing the majority of guns in the USA was a good idea, it's certainly not a feasible one. However, I will ask that it be explained to me how increasing the penalty for illegal gun use will stop someone swept up in a suicidal blaze of anger from gunning down a dozen people at a mall. Such a person isn't interested in repercussions.
(And no, I don't support everyone carrying guns - that's throwing more gasoline on the fire.)

3) The issue isn't that conservatives don't have some valid points in places. The issue is that most (not all) of the current pundits, bloggers, and politicians who call themselves conservatives are all loud, bombastic, name-calling blowhards who treat the opposing side like Nazis, shove out anyone not following the party line, and act like the last eight years didn't happen. Until the public face of the conservative movement resembles a grownup once more, the American people won't be listening.


But it is only at the Right, at present, that anti-intellectualism is embraced and extolled.
Palinism, or more properly, Kylonism, after Kylon of Croton.
Here is the Future of the Republican Party.
The idea that all men are created equal, without reguard for either memetic or genetic inheritance. That will is a substitute for intellect and skill, like you said.
The difference between liberals and conservatives, is that conservative elites must pretend to be noble yeoman farmers to their base, while liberals just have to bribe theirs.


Anon: You seem to be misrepresenting or misunderstanding the data from the Gallup poll which indicates approximately 20% favoring abortion being illegal under all circumstances. The vast majority favors a combination of "on demand" or with some limitations. The law of most states have some limitations. Of course, the individual is free to travel to other venues.

Wouldn't you expect any ban or further limitations to have about the same effect as outlawing marijuana but with more deadly and damaging results??


And like RTKguy says, PEW doesn't ask the right question.
"Do you support overturning Roe" is that question.
In the 2006 Hamilton study of high school seniors 70% of the respondents said that they would not personally have an abortion while 60% of the same respondents are against overturning Roe.


I would like to address quickly two points that were made above. But first, I would say that I Posner's comments this week and last show a great deal of thoughtfulness, and are quite instructive.

1. Global Warming. A poster above suggested that no one really knows why ice ages come and go (specifically how the last ice age ended without humans around). That is actually not true. Now I am not a scientist, but there is a consensus in the scientific community. While atmospheric conditions certainly play a role, the cycles are mainly caused by the changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun known as Milankovitch cycles; the motion of tectonic plates resulting in changes in the relative location and amount of continental and oceanic crust on the Earth's surface, which could affect wind and ocean currents; variations in solar output; the orbital dynamics of the Earth-Moon system; and the impact of relatively large meteorites, and volcanism including eruptions of supervolcanoes. It is clear that the cycles are still possible without human involvement; we just happen to be heavily affecting the process in a way that is detrimental to the life of our species and others.

2. Abortion. There is a Gallup poll that has been receiving a lot of attention in the comments. This poll has widely been accepted as an outlier, with a good explanation of why posted here: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/05/abortion-poll-roundup.html.


"It is apparent that global warming, abortion, and guns, in approximately that order, arouse particular emotions among many passionate self-described conservatives."

What do you mean 'self-described conservatives'? This stuff IS what the conservative movement is about and has been about for years and years. That, and homophobia and xenophobia and bigotry.

Begging your pardon, Judge Posner, but where the heck have you been in the past three decades?


Insofar as today's conservative movement prefers perfection and attempts to impose a dogmatic discipline, it eschews even disparages, moderation. Which is one main reason why Moderate Republicans cannot be tolerated within the GOP fold. Moderation is the polar opposite of perfection, says Aristotle, and it rejects the vice of hubris.

The immodest & excessive pretensions of the principal voices of movement conservatism, the loudest ones I mean, make them essentially incompatable with a good swath of the American voters, be they Moderate GOPers, centrist Dems or independents, who would otherwise favor a Republican Party rooted in thoughtfulness, pragmatism and the defense of individual liberty.

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