Published On: Tue, Sep 29th, 2009

Their Own Words: Cass Sunstein

Let’s examine the Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein.

In this 2003 book, “Why Societies Need Dissent”, Cass Sunstein welcomes dissent and promotes openness, attacking “political correctness” in various forms. Sunstein explores how terrorism and violence arises many times from the failure to tolerate dissenting views.

“Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech”, from 1995, we find a different tone. Sunstein suggests the First Amendment protects many forms of speech that should never be protected: commercial speech, libelous speech, speech that invades privacy, and certain forms of pornography and hate speech. Sunstein doesn’t seem to address defamation and supports the government gaining power over speech.

2008 photo/ Matthew W. Hutchins, Harvard Law Record published by Harvard Law Record via wikimedia commons

2008 photo/ Matthew W. Hutchins, Harvard Law Record published by Harvard Law Record via wikimedia commons

Dissenters are often portrayed as selfish and disloyal, but Sunstein shows that those who reject pressures imposed by others perform valuable social functions, often at their own expense.

“It is usual to think that those who conform are serving the general interest and that dissenters are antisocial, even selfish. In a way this is true. Sometimes conformists strengthen social bonds, whereas dissenters (endanger those bonds or at least introduce a degree of tension. But in an important respect, the usual thought has things backwards. Much of the time, it is in the individual’s interest to follow the crowd, but in the social interest for the individual to say and do what he thinks best. Well-functioning societies take steps to discourage conformity and to promote dissent. They do this partly to protect the rights of dissenters, but mostly to protect interests of their own.” – page 212, “Why Societies Need Dissent”

Sunstein is difficult to encapsulate as he supports the State intervening in Free Speech to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention to public issues and greater diversity of views” but we have to wonder why he’s not spoken to support dissent at Townhalls or Protests around the country.

Maybe his pro-government beliefs are deeper than we realize.

In this 1999 article (http://home.uchicago.edu/~csunstei/celebrate.html) he tells us how we should celebrate tax day.

“Do not get up tomorrow and drape your house in black! For tax day is not a day of national mourning. Without taxes there would be no liberty. Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending.”

This is a disturbing perspective on freedom and the government’s role in our lives. Sunstein doesn’t seem to support private ownership of property without contributing to the good of the collective.

To Sunstein: what good is free speech if we’re talking about all of the wrong things and NOT the public good, diversity etc…?

From Cass: “There is no liberty without dependency. That is why we should celebrate tax day. as Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great Supreme Court justice, liked to say, taxes are “the price we pay for civilization.”

I personally find Holmes to be a “moral relativist” and concerning that Sunstein looks to quote him.

In this interview Sunstein expands and introduces “Libertarian Paternalism” (http://www.grist.org/article/2009-green-nudges-an-interview-with-obama-re)

“The price system can be used in a way that fits with people’s moral obligations.”

Hence the reason we will see a flurry of vice taxes. Nudges: is this codeword for taxes and penalties?

This “Regulatory Czar” has some very concerning outlooks on how the government interacts with our daily lives. I like to delve into their works, especially interviews, to better understand where these leaders come from, how they’ll views will shape their role as a public servant and execute the President’s policies.



Wikipedia: soft paternalism aka libertarian parternalism: a political philosophy that believes the state can “help you make the choices you would make for yourself—if only you had the strength of will and the sharpness of mind.”

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