Thunder on the Mountain

For reasons I don’t quite understand myself, the current controversy at the American Political Science Association brought to mind this Bob Dylan song.

The APSA meets this week in Seattle with many members attending remotely online. Among the panels on the preliminary schedule are some sponsored by outside organizations given affiliated status. For many years the Claremont Institute has been among these groups. This year Claremont advertised a panel that included the insurrectionist and vile minor league law professor John Eastman. As readers of The Constitutionalist will know, Eastman delivered an incendiary speech at Trump’s insurrection rally, and had planned the political and faux legal strategy to overturn the results of the election. John Eastman actually wrote down his blueprint for a coup. Now the world knows what leading constitutional scholars have always known — the man is not very bright. In Laura Field’s recent intellectual expose of the Claremont Institute Eastman is evidence of just how low that organization has sunk below any minimal standard of academic respectability.

Now a debate has ensued whether the American Political Science Association should take measures to distance itself from Claremont and from Eastman, including banning Claremont from participating in the APSA convention. This controversy raises wide ranging issues of free speech and association — though as far as I can tell — most objective observers see no serious free speech problem due to the fact that Claremont has been selling sponsorships of its panel slots to political ideologues for fundraising purposes and that fact alone is enough to sever ties with that organization. In the midst of this controversy, the Claremont Institute appears to have canceled its own panels and withdrawn from the meeting, rendering the issue moot as a practical matter.

The Claremont Institute remains a cancer in the body politic, however. And the issue of Eastman using the APSA to legitimize his aspirational fascist views remains a topic relevant to constitutional studies.

An interesting and probing analysis of this episode is the current lead essay at Duck of Minerva. Perhaps I now have the answer to why I somehow thought to introduce this post with a song as the author is a terrific musician as well as leading political scientist and occasional contributor here — Jeffrey Isaac.

This piece is well worth reading. It offers a concrete example of the profound argument made by Corey Brettschneider that one can and should conjoin condemnation and free speech in a well ordered democracy. Isaac’s piece may prove to be the best political analysis written on this disturbing political/academic episode.

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