YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 3, 2015

Cass Sunstein: Nudnik-in-chief

Execmed007014Before you read this blog you might want to consult these sources:

https://clarespark.com/2014/12/29/the-leader-principle/.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/cass-sunstein-top-obama-adviser-on-regulations-to-leave-administration/2012/08/03/5652b6fc-dd6a-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein (“libertarian paternalism”)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics

Harvard Magazine’s first issue of 2015 features an eight page profile of Cass Sunstein, author, Harvard Law professor, and former Obama administration official. Sunstein, who has made enemies on both Right and Left, served as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012. Lauded as “The Legal Olympian,” Sunstein remains a major player in propagandizing for the New Deal and the welfare state it spawned.

Indeed, the author of the piece, the liberal lawyer and journalist Lincoln Caplan, takes care to quote from FDR’s [populist] “Second Bill of Rights” (equated by Sunstein with The Declaration of Independence): “…rights to ‘a useful and remunerative job”; for “every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies”; to “a decent home”; to “adequate medical care”; to “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment”; and to “a good education.” “For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

Caplan assumes that Sunstein quoted from the “Second Bill of Rights” because “no one really opposes government intervention” (quoting Sunstein’s italicized sentence) but the date of Roosevelt’s fireside chat, 1944, suggests that FDR was aware that wartime spending, not New Deal largesse in the spirit of Keynes, was responsible for increased employment during the war years, and that many Americans predicted another Depression when the war was over.

But Harvard’s purpose in featuring the profile of the controversial Sunstein, seems to me to be an affirmation of typical Harvard strategies. Note that the cover photo of Sunstein shows some of his library: many books on social psychology are present. This cover article probably is intended to continue the irrationalist social theories of the Harvard social relations department; one that has been described frequently on this website as proto-fascist. A kinder term would be the continued rule of Ivy League philosopher-kings. For are they not all Olympians in their fields, now annexing the new fields of neuroscience and “choice architecture,” the better to control the masses, strategically placing food choices so that apples will be freely chosen, and not Fritos? Behind this lengthy puff piece that attempts to convince ordinary people that the biggest possible government is desirable in this best of all possible worlds, is the notion, clearly stated in the Jungian pschoanalyst Henry A. Murray’s notes to Melville’s novel White-Jacket, is that the masses are not trained to rule. Indeed, in Carl Jung’s opinion, Hitler was a guttersnipe, the man of the mob who had too much power in the modern world. Here is what Jung had to say about Hitler at the end of World War 2: mass politics had produced the modern wasteland.

[Jung:] “As I said before, the upheaval of mass instincts corresponds to a compensatory move of the unconscious. Such a move became possible because the conscious state of the people had become estranged from the natural laws of human existence. Because of industrialization, large parts of the population became uprooted, and they were herded together in large centres. And because of this new form of existence–with its mass psychology and its social dependence upon the fluctuations of markets and wages, an individual was created who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible…Germany…is by no means the only nation threatened by this dangerous germ. The influence of mass psychology has spread far and wide. It was the individual’s feeling of weakness, and indeed of non-existence, which was compensated by the upheaval of hitherto unknown desires for power…Nothing but materialism was preached by the highest intellectual authority….Hitler…was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was a highly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic individual, full of empty childish fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this is another reason why they fell for him.” C.G. Jung,”Individual and Mass Psychology,” Essays on Contemporary Events (London: Kegan Paul, 1946): xiii-xv. Originally broadcast on the BBC, Nov. 3, 1946.

And just to make sure that we get the point, the Caplan essay concludes with this adjuration derived from Cass Sunstein: “He argued that the justices of the Supreme Court should resolve questions before them as narrowly as possible, to encourage elected officials to deliberate on decisive issues and test their answers before the voters….It would energize American democracy by making it more deliberative.” Caplan goes on to defend the [living Constitution], now the preferred opponent to “tradition’s constitution.”

And so Harvard Magazine continues to leave the reader in the same old double bind: advocating for both freedom and welfare, ever the “moderate men.” We may not know what is good for us, left to our own flawed devices, but cleverly manipulated environments, arranged by nudniks, will nudge us in the correct direction, choosing apples, not Fritos.

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5 Comments »

  1. ‘Libertarian paternalism’ is an oxymoron!

    Comment by churchmouse — March 16, 2015 @ 11:39 pm | Reply

  2. I’m no defender of Sunstein, but note that Harvard Magazine doesn’t take instruction from the university’s administration as to what will be published. It would be better to address the specific bases of his arguments than to base yours on what you presume is the gestalt of the Social Sciences Dept. Clearly, if Sunstein is advocating for an enhanced deliberative process, he is prepared to entrust American voters with such capacities, and therefore Jung (and Hitler) are not relevant.

    Comment by aalasti — January 8, 2015 @ 5:58 pm | Reply

    • His philosophy is continuous with historical research I have conducted and published on social psychologists allied with the New Deal.

      Comment by clarelspark — January 8, 2015 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

  3. This puff piece on Sunstein is what political operatives call “battlespace preparation” — advance work to minimize the opposition when Obama nominates Sunstein to the Supreme Court. The networks here are conspicuous. This reporter is a Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, and I believe he wrote another puff piece on Sunstein in The American Scholar a while ago. His wife is a federal judge appointed by Obama. Sunstein wrote puff pieces about Obama during his first campaign, and was rewarded with a high level administrative position in the Obama administration. Sunstein’s wife, an aggressive anti-Hillary operative, is now Obama’s ambassador to the UN. It doesn’t get much more incestuous that this.

    Comment by Observer — January 4, 2015 @ 9:50 pm | Reply


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