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Adrian Vermeule

  • We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers.

    June 25, 2019

    The gravediggers of liberalism believe that their moment has arrived. Hungary’s prime minister — who condemns “shipwrecked” liberalism — has weakened his country’s courts, changed the electoral system to favor his party and cracked down on universities. Poland’s Law and Justice party has followed suit. On the home front, President Trump openly praises strongmen, disparages judges and the free press, and disdains institutions like NATO that many people view as pillars of the postwar “liberal order” uniting Western democracies. Conservative intellectuals in this country don’t praise all these moves but have suggested they result from genuine frustration with the current political order...The current debate in the United States over liberalism’s worth might be traced to Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” an unlikely bestseller last year. The Roman Catholic right, to which Deneen belongs, has long been skeptical of liberalism. But while Deneen counseled that the faithful should drop out of national political life and focus on local communities, Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, a Catholic convert, advocates for a more aggressive approach. He has expressed the hopethat “nonliberal actors” could “strategically locate themselves within liberal institutions and work to undo the liberalism of the state from within.”

  • What Are Conservatives Actually Debating? What the strange war over “David French-ism” says about the right.

    June 11, 2019

    In March the religious journal First Things published a short manifesto, signed by a group of notable conservative writers and academics, titled “Against the Dead Consensus.” The consensus that the manifesto came to bury belonged to conservatism as it existed between the time of William F. Buckley Jr. and the rise of Donald Trump: An ideology that packaged limited government, free markets, a hawkish foreign policy and cultural conservatism together, and that assumed that business interests and religious conservatives and ambitious American-empire builders belonged naturally to the same coalition...Then alongside these practical power plays and policy moves, the post-fusionists want something bigger: A philosophical reconsideration of where the liberal order has ended up. How radical that reconsideration ought to be varies with the thinker...Maybe it means reinventing the Catholic anti-liberalism of the 19th century, and embracing the “integralism” championed by, among others, Adrian Vermeule of Harvard Law School.

  • Supreme Court Ready to Grant GOP’s Wish to ‘Roll Back the Administrative State’

    March 27, 2019

    This week the Supreme Court will hear a case that could hamstring how the federal government regulates everything from water pollution and organic tomatoes to overtime pay and veteran’s benefits. The case, Kisor v. Wilkie, concerns, on its surface, a Vietnam vet trying to get medical treatment from Veterans Affairs for PTSD, and whether a particular incident in his service is relevant or not to his medical condition. ... Trouble is, that doesn’t happen much either. An exhaustive study by two law professors yielded no evidence that agencies more often wrote vague regulations after Auer than before. In the words of one of them, Adrian Vermeule, “Let us pause to absorb this: Much of the clamor against Auer has been premised on an empirical claim about agency behavior now shown to lack any discernible factual basis.”

  • The White House with waving American flag

    Video: Sovereignty and the New Executive Authority

    March 22, 2019

    The Harvard Law School Library recently hosted Claire Finkelstein, professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, for a discussion on "Sovereignty and the New Executive Authority," a volume of essays exploring the growing struggle to maintain the legal and ethical boundaries surrounding executive authority in the post- 9/11 United States.

  • This big Supreme Court case has united business, labor and immigration groups. But some see a right wing attack on government regulation

    March 21, 2019

    An unusual coalition of business, labor and immigration rights groups wants to change the way federal regulators interpret their own rules — but that effort has sparked fears that consumer and worker protections could be gutted in the process. The fight is due to play out in a Supreme Court argument set for Wednesday. The case involves James Kisor, a Marine veteran who is demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs provide him with retroactive disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder he developed while serving in brutal battles in Vietnam. ...And they say that, because much of the law that applies to regulation is interconnected, any broad ruling striking down Auer could have unintended consequences. "Cooking up a new approach to precedent yields a toxic brew that can be harmful even to its creators," wrote Adrian Vermeule, a professor at Harvard Law School.

  • RAO Nomination Exposes Fissures Within Conservative Legal Movement

    March 3, 2019

    The nomination of Neomi Rao to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit exposed oft-ignored fissures within the right-wing legal establishment, aggravating social conservatives who feel their priorities have been unfairly eclipsed. ... Professor Adrian Vermeule of Harvard Law School agreed that social conservatives are becoming less interested in legal method and more interested in pure results. He cited growing skepticism of free market ideology and a feeling of betrayal on issues like abortion as driving the religious right’s reorientation. “I think the real reason social conservatives are becoming more oriented to results is simply mistrust of the corporate, libertarian wing of conservatism,” Vermeule told TheDCNF. “And that mistrust emphatically extends to judicial nominees.”

  • No Wall, No Peace

    February 7, 2019

    President Trump lost a big one when he caved to Nancy Pelosi’s demand on the spending bill. Does that mean that “it’s all over for Trump,” as headlines have regularly blared? No. But it does mean that until he reasserts his authority, the locus of power is with the speaker and not with the president. Power unused is power lost. It’s a political truth that Democrats understand and Republicans pretend doesn’t exist. What is frustrating about this for supporters of border integrity is that the defeat was entirely self-inflicted. It didn’t have to happen at all. In fact, the president had the whip hand — if he had only recognized it and chosen to use it. Adrian Vermeule, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, noted on Twitter that “Trump’s advantage in various negotiations, for a time, was that he seemed crazy and capable of doing something genuinely rash if he didn’t get his way. Lately he (or his advisers) have become excessively rational, and they’re getting slaughtered.”

  • Who Read What in 2018: History and Journalism

    December 10, 2018

    ...Randall Kennedy: The most memorable book of the year for me was one I have read and reread at least annually over the past few years: Lee Baer’s “The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts.”...Adrian Vermeule: I’m somewhat at a loss, because I rarely read new books, on principle. Most are bad. Time, that piercing reviewer of books, relegates so many to obscurity; and time’s judgments often take decades to ripen. Two old books I’ve read in the past year have deepened my understanding of sovereignty—the concept from high political and constitutional theory that is much in the news and that underlies issues of elections, populism, borders and European Union membership.

  • Book Review: Mind, Heart, & Soul

    November 27, 2018

    The Catholic Church in the United States has received staggering blows of late. The sinful and criminal behavior of a former leading prelate, the statewide investigations into clergy sex abuse across the country, the Vatican’s confused and vapid response – all have left many of the faithful in despair. Some American Catholics are even questioning their fidelity to Mother Church. It may seem curious, therefore, that comes now a new book recounting the conversion stories of sixteen leading intellectuals. Of course, there are no coincidences in the often-charming world of God. In Mind, Heart, & Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome, Robert George and R.J. Snell offer a refreshing and inspirational reminder from some of today’s greatest minds of the many splendored reasons to be Catholic...Harvard Law Professor Adrian Vermeule matter-of-factly remarks that “the depths of the Church are not disturbed by the storms that pass to and fro on the surface.” Rather, he says , “the Church seems to me an institution whose foundations are as strong as iron. The turmoil will pass away; episodes, scandals and debates will come and go; but the line and witness of Peter’s successors will never fail.”

  • Empirical SCOTUS: With a little help from academic scholarship

    November 1, 2018

    Judges’ citations tell a lot about their dispositions. We can glean relationships between cases, judges’ perspectives on these cases and judges’ relationships with other judges based on case citations. For this reason, empirical scholars have spent much time and energy analyzing judges’ citation patterns. A slew of Supreme Court researchers have written fascinating pieces about the justices’ case citation...Professors at the University of Virginia were cited in the most observations with 13. Most of these cites were driven by UVA professors Caleb Nelson and Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash, who was cited in four observations (twice by Thomas and twice by Alito). The justices cited an assortment of Harvard Law professors, who accumulated 12 opinion-cites, with only one professor, Adrian Vermeule, cited in more than one observation. Following Harvard Law, University of Chicago Law’s faculty tallied 11 opinion cites, while faculty from Georgetown Law, Stanford Law and Yale Law each accumulated nine opinion-cites.

  • Christianity and the Common Good

    Christianity and the Common Good

    October 31, 2018

    A panel of legal and theological authorities recently gathered at Harvard Law School to discuss “Christianity and the Common Good” at a conference presented by Harvard with the Thomistic Institute, an organization that aims to promote intellectual Christian thought at universities. Conference guests included Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch ’91, who delivered the keynote.

  • How Identity Politics Can Lead to Violence

    August 28, 2018

    ...It’s true that “identity politics” are to some degree inherent to all politics. Adrian Vermeule, a constitutional-law professor at Harvard, recently said, There is nothing that isn’t “identity politics” of one sort or another, including the identity of “one who stands above tribalism.” The legitimate objection isn’t that “identity politics” is bad, but that it is an inescapable and therefore vacuous description. Vermeule is correct — even a belief in God or in the rule of law is an aspect of one’s personal makeup and identity, and allows oneself to be classified in a particular political or social category.

  • Twitter’s CEO doesn’t get how conspiracy theories work

    August 14, 2018

    ...In 2008, Harvard Law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule penned an article on conspiracy theories and how they work. They argued that conspiracy theories — which they define as “an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role” — are, in their own way, quite rational. “Most people are not able to know, on the basis of personal or direct knowledge, why an airplane crashed, or why a leader was assassinated, or why a terrorist attack succeeded,” they wrote. As a result, they search for information that fits what they already believe about the world and is confirmed by people they trust. Conspiracy theories, Sunstein and Vermeule argued, spread in a variety of ways. One of these pathways, called an “availability cascade,” happens when a group of people accept a conspiracy theory because their preexisting beliefs about the world make them likely to believe it.

  • Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and the Woke Post-Liberals

    July 31, 2018

    Contemporary liberalism holds itself aloof from the deeper sources of human flourishing in religion, family, tradition, and culture and has become a fideistic dogma of choice and autonomy for their own sakes...The brilliant Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule tells us that liberalism is sacramental in character, and is a public ritual of overcoming superstition and bigotry in the name of reason and rationality. It needs a villain, someone to publicly condemn as a defeated enemy on its unending path to progress. Vermeule says liberalism needs enemies and voraciously — that is, rationally — searches for and destroys them. Liberalism’s gallows are always swinging.

  • “According to Truth”

    July 24, 2018

    An essay by Adrian Vermeule. One of the most curious features of life under political liberalism—for present purposes, the doctrine that the central task of politics is to promote individual autonomy and to secure its preconditions—is that all politics and political conversation happens at one step removed, one meta-level up. Instead of pursuing substantive excellence and justice, we have circuitous conversations about statistical properties like “diversity”; instead of deciding what ought to be permitted, what condemned, we debate “civility”; instead of discerning truth, we quarrel over “religious liberty”; instead of protecting the most vulnerable, we conceal our vices and crimes under the rubric of “choice,” in both market and non-market spheres (although to be fair there are almost no non-market spheres left any more). When we ask about Truth, liberalism answers “What is ‘Truth’? Your truth is not someone else’s truth, and it is no more legitimate to make your truth into public policy than it would be to force your taste in ice cream upon everyone else. All this is solely of private concern.”

  • Elite colleges are making it easy for conservatives to dislike them

    November 30, 2017

    An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith and Adrian Vermeule. Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, has been lobbying in Washington against a Republican proposal to tax large university endowments and make other tax and spending changes that might adversely affect universities. Faust says the endowment tax would be a “blow at the strength of American higher education” and that the suite of proposals lacks “policy logic.” Perhaps so, but they have a political logic. We hope that Harvard and other elite universities will reflect on their part in these developments.

  • Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries 4

    Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries

    November 29, 2017

    Mentorships between Harvard Law School professors and the students who followed them into academia have taken many forms over the course of two centuries.

  • How Have Harvard Scholars Shaped the Law? 3

    From Law’s Boundaries to the Law and Justice Gap

    November 29, 2017

    A sampling from the Harvard Law Review Bicentennial issue

  • A Christian Strategy

    October 12, 2017

    An op-ed by Adrian Vermeule. The problem is the relentless aggression of liberalism, driven by an internal mechanism that causes ever more radical demands for political conformism, particularly targeting the Church. The solution is an equally radical form of strategic flexibility on the part of the Church, which must stand detached from all subsidiary political commitments, willing to enter into flexible alliances of convenience with any of the parties, institutions, and groups that jostle under the canopy of the liberal imperium.

  • Fears of anti-Catholic bias rise on both left and right

    September 13, 2017

    In a judicial nominee hearing last week, Senator Diane Feinstein questioned whether the nominee's adherence to Catholic teaching should prevent her from a federal appointment. Less than twenty-four hours later, former White House strategist Steve Bannon lambasted the Catholic bishops for their support for DACA. Some have wondered if the two incidents indicate an uptick in anti-Catholic bias in the United States...These two cases - which happened in the span of one, shared 24-hour news cycle - have prompted some to wonder if anti-Catholic bias on both the political left and the right in America is on the rise. According to Adrian Vermeule, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, “hostility comes in different varieties.” “Feinstein’s hostility is a kind of myopia, blind to the fact that liberalism is itself a structure of dogma,” said Vermeule.

  • The Catholic Constitution

    August 15, 2017

    Adrian Vermeule is Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, where he writes and teaches on administrative law and constitutional law and theory. He recently spoke with "First Things" assistant editor Connor Grubaugh about three books on constitutionalism from a Catholic perspective.