Religion correspondent Mark Oppenheimer mentions this site and me in a finely drawn profile of Secular Right, the website I’m involved in (it launched in 2008) which explores the theme of a non-religiously-based conservatism. Oppenheimer interviewed at length two scintillating writers who contribute much of the site’s luster, Heather Mac Donald and Razib Khan. This passage amusingly captures the diversity of views among the SR principals:
The five bloggers are like the dramatis personae of a drawing-room comedy about irascible conservatives — written by Alan Bennett but set at the Heritage Foundation.
There’s the urban pragmatist (Ms. Mac Donald, who clerked for the liberal federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt but now writes conservative essays about homelessness and policing), the data-driven scientist (Mr. Khan), and the libertarian enthusiast for tort reform (Walter Olson, also founder of the blog Overlawyered).
The other two, I should add, are John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford, both born in Great Britain and well known through their association with National Review, and both, like Khan and Mac Donald, exceptionally talented writers. The article is interesting throughout, and has already begun to provoke a variety of responses: Memeorandum, Dan Riehl (disapproving) with response from Razib Khan, Amy Alkon, Tyler Cowen, Ilya Somin, FrumForum, etc.
The founding dean of the ideologically charged new law school at the University of California, Irvine, is already taking a hand in Orange County public affairs by suing the town of Laguna Beach on behalf of homeless persons: he and his public-interest-law colleagues “want a federal judge to enjoin enforcement of Laguna’s anticamping ordinance until the city builds more no-strings-attached homeless housing.” [Heather Mac Donald, WSJ] More: Chemerinsky offers to debate Mac Donald.
I’ve been taking a hand in a new blog project called Secular Right, which describes itself as follows:
We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims. Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.
Recent writings by Heather Mac Donald and David Frum come in for attention. Amusingly, I’m the only one so far posting under his or her real name, although the identities of some of the others are not all that hard to guess under pseudonyms such as “Bradlaugh” and “David Hume”. It should also be apparent that there is a wide range of views represented, including some that are at quite a distance from my own, but that should help keep things interesting. The site has already drawn notice from Ann Althouse (and more), “Tapped”, Eve Tushnet, John Derbyshire/NRO “Corner”, and Gene Expression, among others.
Dahlia Lithwick got her start in Slate with the innovation of covering the Supreme Court almost entirely in terms of what jokes were told at the oral argument. Now, gossipy legal humor has entertainment value, and Lithwick’s essays had a legitimate role in the context of providing added value for an Internet magazine whose main advantage over competing media sources was the ability to put writing out there in a breezier and quicker fashion than a newspaper. But the legal analysis was often slipshod, and Lithwick would freely admit her ignorance and instead focus on which Supreme Court Justice she’d most like to hug or the build of the lawyers. Yet Lithwick has parlayed being the Slate “Supreme Court correspondent” into a regular gig doing serious analysis and op-eds in purportedly more serious media outlets. The results often aren’t pretty. Heather Mac Donald puts her thumb precisely on the problem and points out how vapid Lithwick’s analysis of Justice O’Connor’s career is (via Point of Law). Lithwick makes the mistake of criticizing O’Connor’s decisions as lacking sufficient empathy for the sympathetic losing party (though, as Mac Donald points out, Lithwick’s sympathy is inconsistent within the same paragraph in the op-ed). Legal reporting all too often has the flaw of describing cases as a question of picking the most deserving winner, divorcing this question from the real issue of the neutral application of legal rules; this is a problem that all too often trickles down to some judges and jury decisions. And it’s a sad commentary on the state of legal education when a Stanford Law graduate doesn’t give any signs of knowing better.