The left-wing ratchet of intellectual life

The left-wing ratchet of intellectual life
Bari Weiss on Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) in 2018. YouTube video

O’Sullivan’s law says that “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” The reason for this is the different way people view those to their left and right. Conservatives tend to view progressives as naive. Progressives tend to view conservatives as evil. It is easy to work, and get along, with someone you view as naive. It is much harder to work with someone you view as evil. So people are more willing to hire people to their left, rather than their right. Over time, media organs become so liberal, that even centrist journalists who oppose Donald Trump get driven out.

Recently, New York Magazine parted ways with Andrew Sullivan, its most conservative writer. His periodic dissents from progressive dogma were so mild that he has supported Democratic presidential candidates for years, including John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. But his centrism was too conservative for the magazine to tolerate. And one of the New York Times’s few non-liberal writers, Bari Weiss, recently quit her position, citing harassment and bullying from more left-wing New York Times employees. Her harassing colleagues were in no way appeased by Weiss’s liberal stances on various issues or her opposition to Donald Trump. (The Urban Dictionary argues that while conservatives are willing to hire people somewhat to their left, “Left-wingers, utterly intolerant, will not allow a non-Liberal near them, and will harass them at every opportunity. The result over time is that conservative enterprises are infiltrated by leftists but leftist enterprises remain the same or get worse.”)

O’Sullivan’s Law also explains why publications that were once pro-free-market, like The Economist, have become left-leaning and progressive over time. The people who used to run The Economist, many of whom had libertarian sympathies, hired people mildly to their left: libertarian/progressive hybrids (“liberal-tarians”). Those libertarian/progressive hybrids in turn hired people even further to the left: outright progressives. Eventually, notes the libertarian law professor David Bernstein, The Economist ended up almost as progressive as The Huffington Post, albeit with a “more erudite” quality.

Libertarians pride themselves on being “neither left nor right.” In reality, most libertarians actually do lean either to the left or the right. The ones further right — who often vote Republican — view those to their left as naive. The ones further left — who often vote for the Democrats — view those to their right as morally defective, complaining that they are racist, lack compassion for others, or don’t care enough about minority rights. I can say this having worked at a libertarian think-tank for 13 years.

Libertarianism’s left flank — the liberal-tarians — increasingly tend not to cite the scholarship or research of right-leaning libertarians, who they sometimes deride as “odious right fusionists.” By contrast, right-leaning libertarians tend to cite liberal-tarians’ research when it is relevant to the topic they are writing about.

Trending: Media bury mass shooting because the shooter was black (but so were his victims)

I have been labeled as right-leaning libertarian. But I have cited the work of liberal-tarian professors and journalists. For example, see my citation in this article and this one to a liberal-tarian professor and political theorist, even though he voted for both Obama — whom I voted against — and Canada’s left-leaning Prime Minister. In a 2015 think-tank study, I quoted a liberal-tarian criminal-justice writer about the use of junk science by Mississippi’s attorney general.

The cleavage didn’t used to be as big. Liberal-tarians used to cite my writings when it was convenient (such as my criticism of a Supreme Court ruling by Chief Justice Roberts restricting the free-speech rights of K-12 students. I did that in a  law review article that has been cited dozens of times in law reviews, including those written by well-known First Amendment scholars).

But that changed for me after I went to work in the Education Department during the Trump administration. I had been urged to do just in early 2017 by “Never Trump” law professors disturbed by the Obama administration’s attack on their free speech and due process rights in its Title IX “Dear Colleague” Letters. The professors hoped the Trump administration would withdraw those “Dear Colleague” letters — as it in fact did — and replace them with a regulation less hostile to their free speech and due process rights (which it did).

But no good deed goes unpunished. “Never Trump” Liberal-tarians came to resent the fact that I worked in the Trump administration. They resented it even though I was doing so to promote values they claimed to support (free speech and due process), and even though I did not pave the way for the Trump presidency. (I repeatedly told readers at Liberty Unyielding not to vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries. I deleted most of those blog posts after the election, but a few remain, because they had been reproduced by Tea Party Express, making it impossible for me to purge them from the internet. I did not contribute to the populist strain of politics that spawned Trump. I had supported free trade — which  Trump opposes and his 2016 primary opponents supported — in many letters to the editor and blog posts. For example, I had discussed in many newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how the Smoot-Hawley Tariff helped deepen the Great Depression. And I largely kept silent in the 2016 general election, since I viewed Trump as being nearly as bad as Hillary Clinton).

As I left the Education Department in mid-2018, I was bashed in a book by an anti-Trump liberal that falsely depicted me as a racist. What was particularly distressing about this is that the author of that book apparently got the idea for attacking me from a liberal-tarian who worked at a think-tank for which I had written two articles, and which had received tens of thousands of dollars from my family. For example, my brother Lars gave that think-tank $10,000 in 2004.

People tend to be more tolerant of those to their left than their right. As I noted in 2016 back when I worked for the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

Over the years, progressives who disagreed with my writings have told me repeatedly that I should die, and that my wife and daughter should be raped. By contrast, when I published five blog posts in March that weren’t complimentary of Trump, no Trump supporter said anything mean to me at all, even though one of them was read by thousands of people.

When I wrote two blog posts at Liberty Unyielding — a rather conservative web site — saying Trump should be impeached, conservatives merely told me that I was naive.

But when I took issue with Obama administration policies while working at CEI, progressives told me that I was evil, and that my wife and daughter should be raped.

Progressives claim that Trump is “authoritarian.” But I was hired by the Trump administration with full knowledge of the fact that I had publicly told Republicans not to vote for him in the 2016 primary. That is hardly a sign of “authoritarianism.” Whatever Trump’s shortcomings (which are legion), he is not a “dictator” (as signs in my progressive neighborhood claim — one near my house reads “Overthrow the Dick-tator.” If he really were a “dictator,” such signs would be prohibited, not celebrated.).

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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