JohnLocke.org closing for maintenance

No, the flurry of activity within the N.C. General Assembly hasn’t scared us away. Before state lawmakers started their push to end this year’s legislative session, the John Locke Foundation already had scheduled some maintenance for JohnLocke.org for this holiday weekend.

If you try to access the site and experience some technical difficulties over the next few days, rest assured that it’s us and not your computer. We think you’ll like what you see when JohnLocke.org is back up and running at full speed.

In the meantime, you’ll find the latest legislative developments at CarolinaJournal.com.

Thank you for your continued interest in the work of the John Locke Foundation.

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Learning from Locke

Libertarian Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett‘s latest book, Our Republican Constitution, faces scrutiny from Jeremy Rozansky in the latest Commentary magazine.

Barnett frames American legal history as a contest between a small-r republican right and a small-d democratic left, and urges conservatives and libertarians to recover what he calls a “republican” theory of jurisprudence. That recovery would be a sea change, requiring that conservatives abandon the theory of “judicial restraint” that has been at the center of conservative thinking about the courts for nearly half a century.

Who, Barnett begins by asking, is sovereign in the American system? The answer, of course, is “We the People,” but that immortal phrase can be interpreted in several ways. The one Barnett prefers is rooted in the writings of John Locke. In this view, the individual is sovereign—he has natural individual rights and gathers with others to form governments to protect those individual rights. The efficacy and morality of these governments, therefore, should be evaluated based on their ability to secure and sustain those rights. This is the Republican Constitution. The Democratic Constitution, rooted in the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, embraces an idea of the collective as sovereign and sees “We the People” as the whole that rules the whole. The will of the majority is the ultimate governing force.

The Republican Constitution originates in the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. These paragraphs explain the sources of individual rights in the laws of nature and Nature’s God. When the time came to create a national government in line with this theory that individuals are sovereign, the framers believed that the greatest threat to this new order based on natural law was tyranny. So they set up structural stumbling blocks to the tyranny of the majority and enshrined in both the Constitution and its amendments explicit limits on federal power and explicit acknowledgements of individual rights.

The negative impact of smarm

Christine Rosen‘s latest Commentary magazine column spells out the problems related to smarm, “a form of extremely ingratiating behavior — unctuous attempts to curry favor while remaining insistently ‘positive.'”

In a therapeutic culture such as ours, which is focused on personal well-being more than personal responsibility, it’s not surprising that we find smarm so compelling. We seem to worry less about the state of our souls than we do the minimalism of our closets or the carbon footprint of our last vacation.

But smarm is thriving for another reason as well. A culture that values sensitivity and diversity without figuring out how to adequately define either needs ways to monitor the behavior of others. Smarm has emerged as a kind of coping mechanism for a world beset by trigger warnings, safe spaces, and hypersensitivity to gender, race, and ethnic differences.

Or, as [Tom] Scocca noted, in words that could be used to describe contemporary student activists on campus, “It is scolding, couched as an appeal to goodness, in the name of an absent authority.” If you can’t say something nice—or, more to the point, if can’t figure out if something you think is nice might be misconstrued as transphobic, racist, or sexist—just favorite that kitten video!

Smarm also provides an ersatz feeling of community. Today, more people are living alone than ever before, but at least they are all on Facebook. Why fret about a fractured nation bowling alone when you can read this or that “powerful story” on Upworthy? In the vacuum left by traditional behavioral norms and mores, smarm has emerged as our common cultural currency.

As for disagreement? Criticism? Smarm culture tends to call out as “haters” anyone who disagrees with liberal mainstream views. Do you have a problem with the government’s policy on transgender bathroom access? You’ll be dismissed as an extremist ranter with that favorite smarm catchphrase: Haters gonna hate. In a culture where being liked and followed and pinned and retweeted is the most important currency, saying something disagreeable (that is, out of the liberal mainstream) isn’t just curmudgeonly; it can be career-threatening. This is why the Internet, which promised to give authentic voice to the previously silenced, has instead given us a world in which mommy bloggers spend their days curating upbeat posts about the challenges of potty training in order to get kickbacks from diaper companies.

Blocking VA reform

Morgan Chalfant of the Washington Free Beacon documents disturbing developments for those who would like to see better health care for the nation’s military veterans.

An official at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is helping the largest federal employee union oppose efforts to reform the agency’s network of hospitals.

The public affairs officer at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center in Wyoming has advertised a rally organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) next week to protest recommendations made by members of an independent commission that would overhaul VA healthcare, according to internal communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

“I wanted to make sure you were aware that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is planning a ‘Keep the Promise to Veterans Rally’ outside the Cheyenne VA gates, on July 6 from 0700-0900 to protest the Commission on Care’s proposed recommendations,” Samuel House, public affairs officer at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center, wrote in a “message to Cheyenne VA partners” last Friday sent to an unknown email list.

AFGE has organized more than three-dozen rallies outside VA hospitals across the nation in recent weeks to protest efforts to “privatize” veterans’ healthcare. The union has taken issue with proposed recommendations from members of the Commission on Care, a 15-member independent panel convened to examine VA healthcare and propose ways to fix it. The commission was established by Congress through legislation enacted following the 2014 wait list scandal.

Advocates for reform at the VA pointed to the email as evidence that VA officials are advancing the interests of government unions while ignoring the needs of the nation’s veterans.

“It is no secret that the VA works hand-in-glove with government unions like AFGE,” Dan Caldwell, vice president for legislative and political action at Concerned Veterans for America, told the Free Beacon. “What is unfortunate, however, is the VA’s clear commitment to advancing unions’ interests even at the expense of veterans.”

Astrophysicist windbag taken to task

Kevin Williamson‘s latest column at National Review Online reminds us that Neil deGrasse Tyson is full of it.

Being an astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson is familiar with event horizons. He needs a refresher on epistemic horizons.

An event horizon (the term is generally associated with black holes) is a boundary in spacetime surrounding a massive object exerting gravitational force so great that nothing that happens within the borders of the event horizon can ever affect anything outside of it. Which is to say, the escape velocity is equal to the speed of light, meaning that you could spend an eternity staring into it and never see what’s happening inside. If you got close enough to take a peek . . . the result would be what British astrophysicist Martin Rees calls “spaghettification,” and nobody wants to suffer that.

An event horizon is something you cannot see into. An epistemic horizon is something you cannot see out of. …

… Professor Tyson, who may be the dumbest smart person on Twitter, yesterday wrote that what the world really needs is a new kind of virtual state — he wants to call it “Rationalia” — with a one-sentence constitution: “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This schoolboy nonsense came under withering and much-deserved derision. Conservatives, who always have the French Revolution in their thoughts, reminded him that this already has been tried, and that the results are known in the history books as “the Terror.” Writing with a great deal of reserve in Popular Science, Kelsey D. Atherton notes:

Rationalia puts a burden on science that it cannot bear: to work, it must be immune to the passions of the day, promising an objective world and objective truth that will triumph over obstacles.

That’s true enough, but it shortchanges the scientific objection to Tyson’s Rationalia pipe dream, which is that it implicitly presupposes quantities and types of knowledge that are not, even in principle, available, even if the scientists in question were the dispassionate truth-seekers of Atherton’s ideal.

The epistemic horizon is not very broad. We do not, in fact, know what the results of various kinds of economic policies or social policies will be, and there isn’t any evidence that can tell us with any degree of certainty. The housing projects that mar our cities weren’t supposed to turn out like that; neither was the federal push to encourage home-ownership or to encourage the substitution of carbohydrates for fats and proteins in our diets. A truly rational policy of the sort that Tyson imagines must take into account not only how little we know about the future but how little we can know about the future, even if we consult the smartest, saintliest, and most disinterested experts among us.

This weekend on Carolina Journal Radio

A Wallace couple recently admitted guilt in a case involving $12 million of tax refund fraud. Rick Henderson discusses the case and the larger nationwide problem of Stolen Identity Refund Fraud during the next edition of Carolina Journal Radio.

Roy Cordato explains why N.C. policymakers should focus their next round of tax reform on capital gains taxes. Incoming UNC system scholar Andrew Kelly highlights challenges linked to college value and student debt.

John Kane of Kane Realty Corporation discusses the recent revitalization of Raleigh’s North Hills. Plus you’ll debate about the long-awaited resolution of a boundary dispute between North Carolina and South Carolina.

New Carolina Journal Online features

Carolina Journal Online reports that a bill nullifying North Carolina’s Map Act is heading to the governor for his signature.

Jon Guze’s Daily Journal laments the left’s lagging interest in protecting basic constitutional rights.

Pointless stadium project of the moment

Rebuilding Charlotte’s ancient Memorial Stadium as a soccer stadium. As the Charlotte Observer reports, the estimated cost is $22 million for a facility that would hold 10,870. I saw “hold” because about a third of the “seating” capacity would be on a big grass berm. The report doesn’t layout who would pay for the project.

Leaving aside the usual economic development wishful thinking, putting a stadium of any sort on that site is simply not the best use of the land. Memorial Stadium sits smack in the middle of Central Piedmont Community College’s main campus; giving the land to the college makes much more sense.