For decades, conservative defenders of the prerogatives of state governments have warned that modern theories of "cooperative federalism" are just veils for a vast expansion of federal power at the expense of the states. Today, progressive legal scholars increasingly voice the same view, if with approval rather than concern. This newfound honesty about the condition of American federalism should help conservatives — and the courts — revive the case for the genuine dual sovereignty envisioned by our Constitution.
The school-choice movement has grown dramatically in recent years, and has vastly improved the prospects of underprivileged students in many parts of the country. But for all its achievements, it has not launched the kind of transformation of American education its champions have hoped for and promised. To allow school choice to live up to its potential, policymakers must recognize that a vibrant marketplace in education requires more than good intentions and vouchers. It requires serious thinking about how competition works and how innovation happens.
Government regulations, while sometimes needed to ensure competition or protect the public, can stifle the economy and hold back innovation. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration tried to rein in regulation by subjecting federal rules to cost-benefit analysis, and Reagan's successors of both parties have largely kept that process in place. But state and local governments have the capacity to cause a great deal of harm with regulations too, and they should learn from the federal experience and create their own regulatory review processes.
The Social Security Administration and several important-sounding retirement studies have used unreasonable calculations and overly rigid standards to deem the majority of Americans at risk of being woefully unprepared for retirement. Despite predictions of doom, however, Americans by and large are not facing a retirement crisis. In order to allow workers to prepare for retirement, we would serve them best by providing them with more reliable, relevant information.
Despite the strict-scrutiny standard required for cases that involve race, the Supreme Court has clearly failed to hold affirmative-action policies to the necessary level of review. In its recent affirmative-action decisions, the Court has reinforced precedents that enable the continuation of a policy that essentializes race, perpetuates and reinforces harmful stereotypes, and sets minority students up for failure. American students deserve better.
The minimum wage is bad public policy rooted in bad economics, but it is also a powerful political weapon for the left. Rather than lose debates over it at great cost every few years, conservatives should consider indexing the wage to inflation — which would keep increases below their historical trend, take the weapon out of the hands of liberals, and open the door to more constructive efforts to help the working poor rise.
The stability of society and individual success are largely dependent upon some key character traits. Thus, the development of character — and especially self-discipline, prudence, and resilience — among its citizens is one of the most important functions of a society. If we are to address social ills like inequality and the lack of economic mobility, we must first focus on strengthening institutions that help form strong individuals.
At its core, conservatism is not a particular political agenda or even quite an ideology. It is an orientation to political and social life that seeks to build on the best of what we have inherited from our forebears. It is therefore a disposition especially well-suited to societies that have much worth conserving yet face a real prospect of dissipating their inheritance through wrong-headed sweeping changes or stubborn inaction — in other words, societies much like contemporary America.
Profiles of Irving Kristol have long focused on his personal qualities and unusual political evolution, but there is far more to be learned by studying his ideas. Kristol's teachings about the deep links between politics and religion, in particular, hold valuable lessons for us today, as we struggle through a succession of divisive cultural conflicts that at their core reflect a deep tension between Gnosticism and orthodoxy.
Nearly everyone in American civic and political life considers himself a champion of liberty, but different people hold very different beliefs about what liberty really means. By delineating the five distinct if interconnected conceptions of liberty evident in the history of American political thought, we can begin to look beneath the bubbling surface of our politics and better understand the deep disagreements that may shape our future.