Trump and the Norm of Presidential Dignity

The contretemps over a White House aide complaining anonymously in the New York Times about an erratic President of the United States puts into sharp relief the political chaos of the moment. According to the aide, inside the administration there are “adults in the room” saving President Trump, and the country, from “his worst inclinations.” Outside the administration, we have seen conservative intellectuals bending their principles in the name of justifying the Trump presidency.

Charles Kesler’s recent op-ed in the Times in defense of the President’s “norm-breaking” is a case in point. Kesler, the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, has done more than almost anyone else over the last 20 years to restore the meaning of the constitutional tradition. Prior to the intervention of the Harry Jaffa-inspired “Claremonsters,” the constitutional tradition was waning in the face of a progressivism that spurned it and a conservatism that theretofore did not know how to defend it. Beginning in the mid-20th century Herbert Storing, Martin Diamond, and Harry Jaffa were all, in their different ways, critical to the restoration of the meaning of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Claremont Review has been one of the principal instruments of this restoration ever since. Kesler and those around him reminded the American political culture of the importance of the Constitution for preserving a working democracy. Their rescue of the Founders’ ideas was sorely needed because democracy needs more than just democratic sentiments to survive; it needs a constitutional order that controls by moderating the democratic excesses of the people. That constitutional order requires, as Kesler points out in his Times article, well-structured institutions and a set of norms that support those institutions. Although an essential part of the equation, the Constitution was not sufficient on its own.

His description of the Founders’ understanding of all this is acute. He writes that our “terse” basic charter “left it largely up to our politicians, by a combination of written laws and unwritten customs and habits, to develop the culture of constitutionalism that it needed to endure and to fulfill its promise of good government. The resulting formal and informal norms helped both to grease the wheels of government and to legitimate them over time.” Said like a student of the Founding and a crucial player in proving its relevance to the present. And it is well and good to distinguish, as he does, important norms from less important ones. “The crucial question,” he writes, “is how the norms in question stand in relation to the Constitution and the common good.” Are the “norms President Trump is accused of breaking vital to American democracy and constitutionalism, or are they vital rather to the way government operates in contemporary Washington?”

President Trump is defensible, then, insofar as the norms he has broken are not vital to American democratic constitutionalism. Kesler mentions two that it would be defensible to break: “disturbing NATO’s slumber” and “choosing from a list of potential Supreme Court nominees prepared by outside experts.” If these were actually the most grave of the norms that Trump has been accused of breaking, Kesler would be right. There is no necessary reason why the President cannot unsettle the alliance with NATO or choose Supreme Court nominees from a list.

The problem is that these are not prominent in the serious criticisms of the President. Perhaps I do not pay enough attention to what is being said about him, but I can’t remember any one complaining about his picking his Supreme Court nominees from a list prepared by experts. So, it seems odd to defend him for an attack that has not been made and, even if were being made, would be rather stupid.

The NATO issue is weightier, although I am not sure that the Atlantic Alliance’s defenders ever couch their criticism in the form of a norms violation. Instead, they protest that it is unwise and imprudent for the American commander-in-chief to disturb NATO. They don’t tend to attack him because they think the norm itself upholding NATO is inherently good. To the extent they do—this does apply to some of them—Kesler’s defense of Trump is useful and legitimate. We should not continue our commitment to NATO for little reason other than that we have always had one.

These are “picayune” instances, as he says. Which is not to say that all of the charges leveled against Trump are insubstantial; it is only to say that the ones Kesler has chosen are. As he  himself indicates, there exist more serious charges. He alludes to them right off the bat: “He tweets. He runs down the F.B.I., the intelligence community, his own attorney general. He makes fun of other politicians. He hires and fires cabinet secretaries, lawyers and communications people with abandon. He revokes a former C.I.A. director’s security clearance. He fails to disclose his tax returns.”

A persuasive defense of Trump’s norms-breaking would revisit these further down in the piece. They aren’t mentioned again, though. Nor is it clear which would be more problematic: defending Trump at a constitutional level for breaking these more serious norms or engaging in the “bait-and-switch” that we see here. At least the former would be an attempt to use Trump to create the kind of constitutional dialogue in which, seemingly, Kesler would be among the best to lead us.

Seeming to promise a defense of all of Trump’s norms-breaking, Kesler gives us a defense of inconsequential ones but leads his readers to think he has given a defense of all of them. It is a classic example of the ways of “artful men” to which the Founders drew our attention. Perhaps at best this could be said: By defending Trump only for breaking norms that are picayune and leaving others undefended, Kesler has unintentionally led us to think hard about the non-picayune norms Trump is accused of breaking. If this question-raising were actually Kesler’s esoteric intent, the article would still be bizarre, but it would at least have that redeeming quality.

Ultimately, though, this cannot be Kesler’s intent. The disapprobation of his unseemly tweets, his continuous campaign through angry rallies around the country, his attacks on members of his own administration, and his making fun of other politicians point to Trump’s undermining of the norms surrounding the presidency. I can’t imagine that Kesler would want to defend Trump for violating these. If he does, he should do so forthrightly so that the public can judge—by the very same Founding standards Kesler himself was so critical to restoring—whether he is right.

By constituting a strong presidency, the Founders aimed to create a path for constitutional leadership that could avoid the dangers of demagoguery (demagoguery being a subject of the very first essay in The Federalist). Their constitutionalization of a strong executive within a republic, despite the historic republican aversion to it, is perhaps their most important invention. As Publius recognized, republics, just like any other form of government, require a strong executive. Better to put one in the Constitution than to allow, as so many republics had before, a demagogue to arise outside of and against the Constitution.

The presidency requires more institutional independence than the other two branches of government. To understand and act upon the things necessary to preserve the Constitution against those exigencies that might arise requires more prudent statesmanship than legislators require. Moreover, the genius of the Founders’ invention is that the presidency embodies the sovereignty once embodied by monarchs. Although monarchies might sometimes have been corrupt, their very existence provided the ballast necessary for healthy government. The people could feel stable and confident that the government was working because there was a clear representative of its sovereignty. The President is meant to play that same role in the constitutional order.

Understanding that the constitutional nature of the office required gravity and dignity, George Washington both invested it with his own personal dignity and consolidated these virtues into the office itself by carrying himself with a certain bearing. The first President set a precedent that he hoped would continue long after him. The fact that we typically equate “presidential” behavior with “Washingtonian” behavior says a great deal about Washington’s success in this regard. And, if we think through what we mean by both, we can learn a great deal about what’s wrong with Trump.

Washington thought the presidency required dignity because it represented something other than mere partisanship. Embodying the unity of the nation rather than merely the victory of one side, the President makes, or should make, the citizenry feel they have a representative even (or especially) if their side didn’t win. The Founders understood the President as comparable to the captain of the ship. That is to say, the norms surrounding the office expect Presidents to unify rather than divide, and to represent all of us at our best. Those who occupy the office are expected to guide the nation calmly through still and rocky waters alike. If the captain of the ship is unstable, the boat starts rocking even in still waters.

What is striking over the course of American history is how consistent this norm of presidential dignity and unification remained despite other dramatic transformations of the office. Even as the President became more “rhetorical” in the wake of Woodrow Wilson and ever more partisan as the political primary process pushed Presidents in the direction of their more extreme electoral bases, they still aimed at unity and carried themselves with dignity once in office. Although they might, at times, become more aggressively partisan or less aware of the constitutional norms, both the political culture and their own understanding of the office pulled them back from the brink. As Washington hoped, the norms of the office shaped the behavior of its occupants. Without those norms, the national government seems to lose much of its dignity and unity, and, without these, it loses its strength.

This captain-of-the-ship norm is the one Trump should not be breaking. We as a people almost instinctively, as though it’s part of our constitutional genome, know that. The positive reactions to his first State of the Union address, which was tempered and gracious, indicate how much we want him to act better. We want him to represent all of us at our best. Even those who hate him, I suspect, would prefer it if he just carried himself with more dignity. Many might have supposed he would act on the lesson that was there to be learned from that first State of the Union address: he would enjoy much more political authority if he leveraged the distinctly presidential authority of the office.

We can only hope that the norms surrounding the presidency will bounce back in the wake of Trump. Unfortunately, however, as Charles Kesler recognizes, mere norms do not hold up under wear and tear. As constitutionalists who understand the critical importance of presidential norms, we should repudiate rather than implicitly applaud Trump’s departure from them.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on September 07, 2018 at 10:46:12 am

This is a very well-done and thoughtful response to Kesler. While Kesler's principle bending machinations in defense of President Trump are indeed troubling, they pale in comparison to those of "conservative" evangelicals who regularly cast aside core beliefs, convictions, and Biblical teaching in order to defend behavior that is 100 percent antithetical to their professed Christian values--undermining, perhaps irrevocably, their witness and credibility in the process.

read full comment
Image of David Jenkins
David Jenkins
on September 07, 2018 at 10:50:38 am

Would it be too much to suggest that most of what are referred to above as concepts of "Norms," and as expectations of executive conduct, have been formed around the assignments (and arrogations) of functions of the executive office as a "Manager of Managers" in the ever expanding Federal Administrative State as it has been built (often "Jerry-Built") legislatively over the past 100 years?

Some of the conduct described as norm departures may be closer to denigrations of the FAS and of certain levels of its operatives (with vulnerabilities disclosed - and high lighted).

After all, the whole "structure," "Constitutional" and/or "Administrative" is nothing more than just individual human beings and the results of relationships amongst them.

read full comment
Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on September 07, 2018 at 11:49:00 am

Ah, those unmanly men, those bitter Never Trumpers, clingers to their vanity of personal hatred and hating Trump because he's not one of them, because he bested them and because in his manly pride he abjures their scornful approval and ignores their gratuitous advice. There is no wrath like that of a politician scorned at the ballot box and then ignored by the victor.

These Never Trumpers are the real bitter clingers of Republican politics, sour for their loss, grasping to return to power, fired by the destructive malice of unbridled envy. Among them lurk "conservative" writers like Will and Kristol traitors to their cause, elected Republican leaders like Flake, Corker, the three Bushes, Romney and, yes, McCain, all failed aspirants to power who once sought and got Trump's support then turned on the man with a fury; men so petty in their spite and blinded, Lear-like, by their tempestuous rage of loser tantrums that they actually abandoned their Party's code of honor, shirked their professional duty of Party loyalty, and, lacking the courage of Henry V to "pay the debt I never promised," pretended instead as if they need not pay their public debt because it was never promised and, shirking both responsibility and honor, refused to give back in gratitude what had been given them in service by the Republican Party and by hundreds of millions of Republican voters who had elevated them to national prominence, who had made them both famous and powerful, who had enriched them and who made them who they are, which is far more than they ever were or ever could have been or ever would have been but for the Republican Party and its voters. And we must remember that these unprincipled Never Trumpers, those who were first in public to declare their moral principles but last in war to preserve them are cowards who abandoned their Party in its hour of gravest need and did so solely out of personal spite and resentment and solely because Trump was now the Party's leader, against their mountains of money, their incessant resistance, their unceasing verbal assaults and their dying wishes.

Such unmanly men and their apologists (like Mr. Kleinerman) constitute, now, the "yon Cassius" of "lean and hungry" Republican politicos, so jealous of the leader they never crowned that they work tirelessly to render his victory a "hollow crown;" so resentful of his ascension to the throne which they never bestowed that they seek to strip Trump's authority of its constitutional power, subvert the election and drive him from office; so envious of his historical achievements to which they contributed nothing and which they could not match that they deny the truth of Trump's accomplishments. But there's more: these unmanly men are not just cowards and shirkers, they are deceivers who posture among us as Uriah Heep's, mere "humble men," self-effacing servants of the public weal. Yet they are Iago's in our midst in deadly pursuit of presidential destruction.

And, as here with Kleinerman, when these Never Trumpers can't argue with the man's stellar record they niggle about his manners and pettyfogg about Trump's style: if only the Donald were more like those Yale-taught, Skull and Crossbone Bushes of Kennebunkport, Yalies all, ever in search of a better resume; or more like that mild-mannered family man, the verbally meek Mormon, publicly diffident but privately treacherous; or more like the "Maverick" who for all his vaunted courage was afraid to attack Obama for fear of being called a racist and who was ever-ready to sell out conservatism in order to please his mainstream media admirers and Democrat buddies; or more like those commonplace All-Americans, those Country Club hypocrites, the Old Boys of Big Corporate who get along by going along; or more like those Ivy-polished, blue-blooded, Big-Bottomed Bankers from Wall Street and the Upper East Side rather than what trump is, a crass, self-made, nouveau riche real estate dealer from Queens who boasted his way into a tawdry showboat gig as a tacky game-show host and who talked to not down to the common man and woman.

Having in this particular comment characterized appropriately the psychological origin, substantive nature and political purpose off this (and most other) Never Trump commentaries, in my next comment I will address the particular charges levelled by Mr. Kleinerman against Charles Kesler and Donald Trump.

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 07, 2018 at 18:13:02 pm

What an unadulterated batch of horse-puckey!!!!

Does the essayist have it within his cognitive abilities to recall one "Give 'em Hell Harry" S. Truman who as President threatened to punch a music critic in the head - Ooops, that's right, Harry did it in a dignified manner.

No, what this all comes down to is the Washington / Academic / pundit establishment cannot abide a fellow who (rightly, I think) is unwilling to allow others to constantly savage him AND those who voted for him.

HOW bloody *dignified* was it for the Great Obsequious LightBringer, Obama to refer to those who disagreed with him as *bitter clingers*? How bloody dignified was it for The Fat (Lying) Lady in a Mao Pantsuit to castigate GOP working class voters as a "batch of deplorables?" How BLOODY dignified was it for The Lying Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy to claim that the nomination of Robert Bork would bring a new Nazism (paraphrasing here) to the USA?"

No, my Never Trump essayist, for almost my entire adult life I have had to listen to the Leftist lunatic fringe, i.e. the Democrat Party heap invective, lies, slanders etc upon good and decent political opponents while academics / pundits/ think tankers such as yourself have turned not just your other upper cheek but your lower cheeks as well. And what has it garnered for you.
Perhaps, during your eulogy you will be treated to the same hypocritical "praise" by the leftists that they showered upon the corpse of Sen McCain - after having spent years decrying him as a racist, misogynist, capitalist etc. etc.

Now comes to the Oval Office a man who will give as good (or better) than he gets. and you are offended by it.
Simply more evidence, if any were needed, that within the walls of your own bubble, you are unable to perceive the realities of everyday life and how the average person responds to slander and invective. Finally, after all these years, those *right* thinking individuals no longer feel as if they must "grin and bear it."

I have further news for you - it is not just a matter of a "Queens" vernacular. It is far more widespread than that. One could almost say that it covers all flyover country and anywhere where right thinking people have had their views / opinions suppressed or denigrated for over three decades.

So powder your irritated little nose now, Dear Boy; return to your bubble. As it is quite probably impossible for the likes of one such as yourself to even consider that The Trumpster may be acting both properly and tactically correct, I would not deign to ask you to be a little more understanding of The Trumpster and his "vile" supporters (such as I).

And all of these hundreds of words designed no doubt to mask the real successes that this President has achieved.
Let's re-write NY Yankee baseball history because Mickey Mantle told me to "go away, kid. I don;t have time for an autograph." Yep, The Mick was a bum who could not hit a fastball - or so such as Kleinerman would have us believe.

I'll let Pukka cover the accomplishments as he says he intends to do.

BTW: Nice title for Kleinerman's book. If you want to see a President who exercised "discretionary" power, look not to this President but rather to his predecessor. It would seem that The Trumpster is in the process of undoing many of those "discretionary" moves by the LightBringer.

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 07, 2018 at 18:38:23 pm

And just how dignified was this? Obama with training wheels.


too bad The Trumpster did not tweet this out.

While I am at it:

How dignified was it for Bill Clinton to engage in sexual relations in the White House?
How dignified was it for JFK to "conquer" numerous interns in the white House?
How dignified was it for LBJ to force subordinates to take dictation while he was defecating?

Perspective, Dear Kleinerman, perspective.

What you have on offer is a shallow and hollow critique deployed to mask your real disagreement with Trump, and one that was made plain in the Op-Ed by Anonymous:

"He is a conservative ideological heretic."

I would only add that perhaps that is precisely what was needed - a heretic to the usual GOP / conservative Establishment Gospel of "free trade" (such as our trading partners are empowered to define it), unlimited / illegal immigration, outsourcing of American jobs and a monolithic Federal Administrative State that now has little girls arrested for selling lemonade and deems it within their purview to mandate how we live, what we shall believe and threatens us with jail time for disobeying thier new morality.

And lastly, how dignified ought one to be when even prior to his election the Democrat Party and the bureaucrats within the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc sought to undermine his campaign and once elected forced a veritable plague of investigations upon him, covered him with all manner of salacious slanders, while protecting the rear ends of those who initiated the abuse of power / agency and destroyed the careers and reputation of good men such as Flynn, etc.

How, Dear Boy Kleinerman, would you respond to that?

Oh, let me guess. You also use training wheels on your bike.
The Trumpster doesn't but you would have him do so, wouldn't you? - by ever so gently navigating around the incessant stream of hysterical abuse and unfounded allegations.

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 07, 2018 at 19:11:54 pm

Mr. Kleinerman's article is really small fry because what he says is patently silly, badly reasoned and poorly written. What speaks for itself needs no rebuttal, but I'll write more for fun.

What's important is L&L's ongoing if modestly concealed "Never Trump" attitude, which is now coming out of the closet, I'd say.

May have to start treating L&L like I have treated the Washington Post and the New York Times since 1988, like I view NR's Jonah Goldberg, like David Letterman viewed Fox News and the Bill O'Reilly Show, like Billy Martin viewed Jim Bouton's book, "Ball Four": "I didn't like it; I didn't see it; I didn't read it!"

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 07, 2018 at 19:44:18 pm

And here is something just for fun wherein we find just what "dignified" means according to Michigan State University:


read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 08, 2018 at 10:20:29 am

I have said elsewhere and often that the unprecedented (and I was there for the then-unprecedented Reagan hysteria) opprobrium heaped upon Trump by the academentsia since even before he was elected is entirely an aesthetic reaction, entirely grounded in aesthetics. These "norms" we now constantly hear of that Trump is said to trample upon have only just been discovered, the natural and necessary excrescence of the subconscious aesthetic agitation roiling the psyches of our intellectual class. They can no more give a convincing account of these norms than Potter Stewart could of obscenity; they only know it when they see it, and the circumstances enabling their newfound perception are such that one suspects they will never again recur. What a time to be alive!

As for "unity," whenever I hear that word I want to release the safety catch on my Browning. This rhetorical device of the President as unifier-in-chief has somehow detached from its speechwriter's binder and now floats around masquerading as a substantive idea. The President is not the moral leader, guide or conscience of the nation, nor should academicians in their efforts to disguise their aesthetic revulsion urge such an absurdity on us. We will stipulate that Trump is no Washington. So what, exactly, has been demonstrated?

And I am always suspicious of those urging a President-as-unifier-in-chief. The society of the United States is an aggregate, and the only way to "unify" an aggregate (aside from those rare instances, such as WW2, where events provide a centripetal force) is by constraint, the way a hand "unifies" pebbles in its grasp. And I very much doubt that the exhorters to unity, such as this writer, imagine that is is they themselves who require uniting to their fellow citizens, but rather their fellow citizens who must be united to them. They see themselves always as the string, never as the salt solution.

read full comment
Image of QET
on September 08, 2018 at 14:38:14 pm

Excellent assessment.

Let me add just one thing:

It would appear that Kleinerman, et al, are once again succumbing to the dynamic, successfully introduced and repeated ad infinitum, of allowing the Democrat Party DEFINE the terms under which debate shall proceed.
The Dems put on offer the historically incorrect concept of an elevated level of dignity alleged as a precondition of effective Presidential leadership; they then proceed to *demonstrate* that the incumbent (and lo and behold, it is ALWAYS a GOP incumbent) fails to meet that elevated standard. Ronald Reagan was a dunce according to the narrative; conservatives then expend time and energy countering this narrative. Yet, the proposition having been put on offer, we then skillfully avoid any talk of the many successes that Reagan achieved. So too, with The Trumpster. He is vain, shallow, angry etc. And once again, we must argue against that as if it was the only parameter upon which to measure Trump's performance.

Moreover, many of the Kleinerman types *willingly* accede to the narrative as, perhaps, it allows them to distance themselves from the "obvious" cultural shortcomings of this flawed man from Queens who ought not to be permitted in decent, genteel Establishment Society WHILE simultaneously allowing the Kleinermans (and Kristols, Goldbergs, Frenchs, etc) to demonstrate to their Establishment think tank / political / media friends that unlike The Trumpster they do possess all those qualities and attributes the modern mindset imposes upon those who would seek to be part of the establishment.
It also means that they may still be invited to various cocktail parties, soirees, etc.

Cowardice and hypocrisy is the hallmark attribute of these types.
As a fellow native of Queens, we neither fear nor succumb to the perfidious pronouncements of the "genteel."

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 08, 2018 at 18:35:03 pm

I just spent 4-5 hours writing a response to Kleinerman, the most well-thought out and best writing of its kind of which I am capable, and when I posted it these incompetent bastards at L&L deleted my work and sent me this:

"This comment is longer than the maximum allowed size and has been dropped."

All my work just flushed! No way to retrieve it; no opportunity to preserve and rewrite it after a warning of their word limitation. Inexcusable stupidity on their part. Makes me sick!

To hell with them; I'm done with Liberty and Law's editorial blandness, their intellectual foolishness and their bloody managerial incompetence. They need me a helluva lot more than I need them.

See ya! give 'em Hell.

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 08, 2018 at 19:05:08 pm

To LLB and it's overseers.

While I understand the need to limit the length of comments, I do not understand why posts by competent and responsible parties are sent, for all intents and purposes, down the memory hole.

Is there not available to the webmasters the option of sending (even an automated) reply informing the poster that the comments is of excessive length and should be shortened. This would permit the poster to edit the comment AND NOT LOSE the post.

It is at best annoying and at worst disheartening to see ones efforts casually discarded for violation of a *rule* which is unpublicized, never apparently promulgated, seemingly arbitrary (observe the lengthy posts of The Beaver and nobody.really) and thus impossible to comply with.

Both Law and Rules ought to be generally known and understood amongst the citizenry - even the citizens of this virtual domain - if they are to be adhered to and respected.

Publish the dang rules.
Retrieve Pukka's comments and allow him to edit it for brevity.

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 08, 2018 at 19:47:37 pm

That was very kind; thank you.
It's not like I wrote "too much." I probably wrote less than half the length and 30 times the value of that stupid commentary by Kleinerman which L&L published, probably unedited, which I would never allow such a limited writer and unimaginative scholar.
Can't believe L&L would lend credence to what many would consider intellectual tripe.

And as for length, I was not unbounded in my enthusiasm as were Tolstoy, Proust and America's force of literary nature, Thomas Wolfe, who, after "Look Homeward, Angel," spent several years writing his next novel, handing Max Perkins a finished manuscript of near 5000 pages. Perkins cut it down to a few hundred pages, named it "Of Time and the River," which was more financially successful but not nearly the literary powerhouse of Angel.
Wolfe was right, but Perkins was on the money.

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 09, 2018 at 12:18:09 pm

I note with some interest that while many in the media are excoriating Trump, Brother Obama, who just couldn't retire and have various slugs do his thinking and writing for him, re-enters the lists and does combat, the media , doubters, few of which would dare naysay the forever youthful hero of "our" dreams. Such are is the vagaries of todays politics.

read full comment
Image of johnt
on September 10, 2018 at 10:47:23 am

I replied to the unintelligent clap-trap of Kleinerman's anti-Trump rant, and L&L refused to print my reply. You, Gabe, requested that L&L reconsider and print my reply to its anti-Trump Kleinerman essay, and L&L has apparently ignored your request. (So much for L&L's loyalty to or respect for loyal, knowledgeable readers.)

Perhaps the ever risk averse but often politically biased L&L will print this defense of President Trump written today by Victor Davis Hanson (realizing that Dr. Hanson lacks the special Kleinerman-like historian's credentials for evaluating Trump, animus for the man.)

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 10, 2018 at 12:19:02 pm

At his blog, Arnold Kling stresses taking the "most charitable view" of those we disagree with.

Most (of us) who read and comment here @ L&L probably would not want to undertake maintaining a site originally created (and for years functioning) to meet a narrowly focused set of objectives; finding contributors for essays on Law or on Liberty as affected by Law -or any other such connection. Keeping such a blog "filled" has to be a challenge; keeping it to its "objective" is even harder. So it is the objective may "slip," or be "expanded," because the purposes of those doing the maintaining turn toward gaining or keeping a readership.

What we may be observing here (@ L&L) is a microcosm of the “institutionalization” of a social “instrumentality” as noted by Carroll Quigley in his classic “The Evolution of Civilizations” (pp. 101-103).[Reprint available at Liberty Fund]

“Instrumentalities,” include those generated by society for the dissemination of information, analysis and learning.

Quigley notes: ” Every such instrument consists of people organized in relationships to one another. As the instrument becomes an institution, these relationships become ends in themselves to the detriment of the ends of the whole organization.”

He also observes: “But every such social instrument tends to become an ‘institution.’ This means that it takes on a life and purpose of its own distinct from [its originating function]; in consequence, the purpose of that [function] is achieved with decreasing effectiveness. In fact, it can be stated as a rule of history that ‘all social instruments tend to become institutions’ ” (bracket text added).

The excoriation of contributions, or of the manner of their presentation (and especially the manner of the excoriations) may very well deprecate the relationships necessary for objectives such as obtaining contributions from writers. The worst effects of that might be mitigated by limiting the trends toward contributions of political and social essays and articles unless their content shows some nexus to impacts on individual liberty or on Law or on the two, in concert; all of which is very, very difficult to do,; and may not be possible daily.

What now are the “ends” of what seems to be developing as as a micro “institution” within the relationships that make up what Liberty Fund has become?

read full comment
Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on September 10, 2018 at 14:55:31 pm

Thoughtful comment which deserves a thoughtful reply, which might normally have been provided on this site by three or four people of your quality (at best,) one of whom (me) now permanently declines the opportunity of commenting because a) comments require thought and effort, yet pose the occasional risk of wasting one's time and effort because of L&L's mishandling of the comment (whether intentionally or incompetently) or deleting it for political motives or out of pique and b) increasingly L&L's commentaries are of a modest if not inferior caliber or so politically motivated as not to warrant the effort of commenting on them.

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 10, 2018 at 15:06:55 pm


Quite true as to institutionalization and the nexus with 'expanding" readership, or in modern digital vernacular - *hits*

It is understandable one supposes given the multitude of competing sites, yet to the extent that such "expansive" efforts / undertakings undermine the original focus it is problematical. However, I am (apparently) less concerned over the political essays than are you. We both share an aversion to the social / cultural / movie essays on offer here at LLB.

Yet, I must admit to a certain enjoyment with the recent series of essays on "de-manufacturization" of the US. I ONLY wish that in those essays a clearer sense of how such a process and its attendant consequences may bode ill or well for the enjoyment and exercise of liberty within these (oft) United States.

Now for a mea culpa from me:

"The excoriation of contributions, or of the manner of their presentation (and especially the manner of the excoriations) may very well deprecate the relationships necessary for objectives such as obtaining contributions from writers."

This is also spot-on and to the extent that my recent outburst of *agita* over Mr Kleinerman's essay may deter others from "contributing" I apologize. As there is a word limit on posts by commentators, I at times sacrifice nuance for brevity. I suspect that others do the same.

But on the whole, I do not find that any other site offers the variety of intellectual / thoughtful commentary / debate.
Let us then simply skip that which we find to be of no interest; rather. let us relish those solid offerings from thoughtful, learned men and women brought to us by LLB.

Then again, a monthly does of MICHAEL GREVE and PHILLIP HAMBURGER would not be unwelcome.

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 10, 2018 at 15:18:44 pm


Per Richard Reinsch:

It is not LLB doing the rejection EXCEPT when something is offensive. Apparently there is some software controlled (imposed?) limit on the length of replies / comments that is seemingly out of the control of LLB and its editorial staff.

I just wish that the Webmaster would post what those limits were. Is it 500 words, 1000, 5000?
Is it one embedded link or two embedded links?

Wazzup wid dat?

But don;t despair. We like your stuff.
I mean who else gets my take off on your Rose Garden theme?

jus' anudder Goodfella

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 10, 2018 at 16:32:32 pm

Schweitzer speculates that certain commenters (of whom he disapproves, no doubt) may be guilty of the heresy (for him) of dissuading commentary by force of their intemperate tone. Here is how he makes his accusation, “The excoriation of contributions, or of the manner of their presentation (and especially the manner of the excoriations) may very well deprecate the relationships necessary for objectives such as obtaining contributions from writers.”

I say that is commonplace nonsense expressed through an academic's verbally-opacity. How's that for "agita"?

And Gabe confesses error, "Now for a mea culpa from me: This (Schweitzer's unfounded speculation) is also spot-on and to the extent that my recent outburst of *agita* over Mr Kleinerman’s essay may deter others from “contributing” I apologize."

Good Lord, man, do not accept as true what is sheer self-serving speculation (and what is also inexcusable intellectual-condescension and moral-pomposity) as having been based on a scintilla of fact or logic! You've fallen victim to an old rhetorical ploy wherein the one on the wrong side of an argument accuses his opponent of what is either false or unfounded and does so in such a high-toned, accusatory manner as to create the false appearance of wrongdoing and to elicit an unwarranted apology and confession of error.

Dem's do it all the time, and I fear the shabby tactic is spreading to circles which should know and act better.

Your "agita" and others' are most of what makes this site worth reading at all. Even "nobody.really," the verbal provocateur par excellence, made in his replies for better, more thought-provoking reading than the typical commentary by this site's most frequent writers (with numerous but sadly infrequent exceptions.)

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 10, 2018 at 16:47:28 pm

One more thought: I would note that, besides his self-appointed role as L&L's "tone editor" (Mr. Civility, we might say,) I've personally been the target of another of Mr. Schweitzer's apparent proclivities to lecture others, that on their reading habits and interests (Mr. Omniscient, we might say.)

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 10, 2018 at 17:32:55 pm

Finally (and then I REALLY am done) re your "Per Richard Reinsch:"

I don't buy it!

First, Mr. Reinsch himself deleted two of my comments in reply to his unimpressive podcast re "Mere Civilty." Second, while I have not kept a count, I recall five other occasions in which I posted replies that were never printed, two of which had nothing to do with a so-called length restriction and three of which were apparently longer than allowed (according to rules which are unpublished and therefore unkown to me and which, were they laws, would be unconstitutional.) In neither of the latter three episodes was I given an opportunity to retrieve and edit my comments (the results of hard work and much time) so as to fit them into the apparently arbitrary and inexplicably unpublished word limitation.

Hence, I can reasonably conclude that the motivation on 7 occasions for "deleting" my comments was very probably political. The deletions were disguised either as unpublished word limitation rules or considered ''offensive" to someone in authority, albeit I was not told that.

''Agita" perhaps, but my deleted comments were not "offensive" except insofar as to one who brooks no crtiticism criticism is agitating and, thus, "offensive." Of such logic is the thought police imbued

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 10, 2018 at 17:42:01 pm


1) Richard and I are friends and communicate on at least a weekly basis.
2) Based on my experience, I do not believe that Richard's "excoriating" comment is aimed at only those whose writings he disapproves of as he and I share many of the same understandings differing only in "tone."
3) Richard's take on things is profoundly influenced by the writings of Carroll Quigley AND (I believe that) the thrust of his above commentary had more to do with that vision / understanding of institutions, LLB being just one amongst many, and how they come to be something other than their origins would indicate AND that this, as in all manner of human interactions, is a function of relationship dynamics; further that as a result of the actions of those human participants, the INSTITUTION may change.
4) He goes on to express dismay (perhaps) at how the institutionalization of LLB has resulted in a pronounced move away from its originally stated mission of studying / presenting topics on Law and Liberty, substituting some cultural pap for a more general audience. In this I agree.
5) The seemingly contentious part of his comments, i.e., "excoriation" I believe arises out of a concern (lament?) that given the move toward "popular" cultural topics / essays, the likelihood of continued substantive Law & Liberty essays / debates, already diminished by the "cultural" shift, may be further diminished by harsh commentary directed at certain essayists.
In this he may be right. I should hope not but......
6) Richard's style is different, evocative of an earlier era. I rather like it. Indeed, in its insistence upon structure and rigid analysis around a central unifying theme, it is educational even if, to some, it strains the ear.
7) In short, Richard and you have gotten off to a bad start. A pity, as both of you bring much insight to the LLB table AND such insight as may, if shared, benefit both of you.

that's enough from me.

take care, both R. Richard and Pukka

read full comment
Image of gabe
on September 10, 2018 at 18:19:33 pm

Thanks for that. Your insight is typically thoughtful, commendably generous and personally beneficial.

I'm the product of myriad generations of self-reliant, self-willed, proud men and women of strong, independent mind and spirit who do not "truck" with being lectured down to.

read full comment
Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on September 11, 2018 at 12:56:11 pm

Would I wish Trump for a partner in business, my father-in-law, my son-in-law, a friend, or simply a fellow at the table during a dinner? No, I wouldn't. And do I aprove of his tweets, his speeches, his rallies and his antics? I don't. And yet, if I were American, I would vote for him. Because he's got instintictively two or three things right regarding the economy, international politics and mores. Precisely the things lefties get wrong. That' what really counts: basic choices, not subtle reasonings. If he had the looks and manners and orator capabilities of Obama he would be perfect. But one has to settle, regarding presidents, to the lesser evil. So far, Trump has talked a lot of nonsense and made the right political choices of policies (not necessarily of persons, but then again the staff is merely instrumental). Trump is a nightmare in what he says and looks. Obama was a nightmare in what he did. Live with it.

read full comment
Image of José Meireles Graça
José Meireles Graça
on November 19, 2018 at 12:07:22 pm

[…] Read more: lawliberty.org […]

read full comment
Image of Trump and the Norm of Presidential Dignity - Trump Gawker
Trump and the Norm of Presidential Dignity - Trump Gawker
on December 13, 2018 at 10:10:11 am

[…] thanks to Benjamin Kleinerman for the kind things he said in these pages about my work and about the Claremont Review of Books. I reciprocate his expressions of esteem. But […]

read full comment
Image of Trump’s Norm-Breaking: Real or Imagined?
Trump’s Norm-Breaking: Real or Imagined?

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.