Peter Berkowitz on Ted Cruz and ‘Progressive Intransigence’

Count me among those who are deeply wary of the Republicans’ latest antics–this time to defund Obamacare by threatening a partial government shutdown.

Obamacare is bad law, and, given the right public leadership, will be partially or wholly repealed in time. But Republicans cannot significantly dismantle the law when they control only one half of one third of the federal government. Sen. Ted Cruz’s grandstanding and demonization of other conservatives as members of the “surrender caucus” has fractured Republicans. Moreover, Cruz has distracted the public from President Obama’s bungling of the Syria crisis, the weak economy, and still-unanswered questions at the IRS.

The inflexible Ted Cruz
The inflexible Ted Cruz

Peter Berkowitz ’81, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has an interesting theory to describe our Congressional woes: “Progressive Intransigence.” By that, he means the uncompromising worldview of the Left, coming mostly out of academia. Berkowitz fashions himself as a Constitutional conservative, who recognizes that a “defense of liberty requires balancing the competing claims of democracy, the rule of law, free markets, family, faith, national security, and more.” In contrast, Berkowitz writes:

Legions of university professors provide the theoretical perspective that legitimates and camouflages progressive intransigence. Sometimes it goes by the name of ‘public reason.’ Sometimes it flies under the flag of ‘deliberative democracy.’ Sometimes it is couched as an expression of empathy. It is promulgated in the social sciences and humanities, in law schools and at popular interdisciplinary university centers on ethics and the professions. Its main idea is that moral public policy can be derived from dialogue constrained by reason.

In reality, however, the theory favored by progressive professors redefines dialogue as that which people would agree to if they were emancipated from their actual desires and opinions and instead guided by morality and reason progressively understood. By this ruse, the scholarly community — under the cover of dialogue, morality, and reason — banishes from the conversation those who contest progressive premises and policies.

In Berkowitz’s view, people like Cruz, who is himself a product of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, have internalized the uncompromising agenda of academia and harnessed it for their own conservative ends.

No doubt, Berkowitz overstates things slightly. Not all scholars who belong to the Left are quite as dogmatic as he lets on. But Berkowitz’s basic premise does say a lot about our failing national discourse, which can, in part, be traced back to academic close-mindedness.

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