Thursday, January 19, 2006

Intellectual Activism: ‘Lost Liberty’ Lunacy

Like most of you, I was appalled at last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, where a 6-5 Supreme Court upheld a local government’s authority to use eminent domain to size private property for economic development. In the face of a patently unjust ruling, the best tactic to adopt now would be to support efforts in the states to pass anti-eminent domain legislation and state constitutional reform. That is, unless you are former California gubernatorial candidate Logan Darrow Clements.

A little bit of a Clements refresher: back in 2003, Clements ran for governor as part of California’s notorious recall election. Clements ran on the Atlas Shrugged platform (as in Ayn Rand’s epic novel was his literal electoral platform). Needless to say, Clements didn’t do to well, placing 131st out of 135 candidates and earning exactly 274 votes (out of the nine million votes cast). Observing Clements’ candidacy at the time prompted me to remark:

I do not know Mr. Clements; I can speak nothing to his intelligence or character. But as a political scientist, I can speak to his judgment: there was no point to his candidacy. It was, truly, an exercise in futility. Clements had zero chance of beating Gary Coleman, let alone winning. Yet by running, Clements made the classic libertarian error—he placed political activism before political philosophy.
After that post, Clements stopped by the Rule of Reason to denounce me as a “hater” and a “destructionist.” Oh well. One can try . . .

So now back to the Kelo decision. Imagine then my utter amusement last summer when I heard about an attempt to seize one of United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter's New Hampshire properties and turn it into the "Lost Liberty" hotel. Who was the architect of such a devilish poly? None other then Logan Darrow Clements.

Recognize for a moment that Clements has now taken his antics to a whole new level. First, Justice Souter didn’t even write the Court’s opinion. Justice Stevens did. Was Clements simply unable to locate Justice Stevens’ property holdings? Do the Court’s other eminent domain supporters get a pass from Clements’ wrath as well?

Second, when did it ever become appropriate to threaten a justice in response to a decision of theirs that you disagree with? I don’t care how bad Kelo’s reasoning is: you don’t get to play ‘lynch the Justice’ because you don’t like the way they rule.

Third, (and most importantly) Clements’ effort took attention away from the real fight, which is passing anti-eminent domain bills in the states. Clements’ visceral and mindless activism got him a heap of press—more in fact, that the Institute for Justice’s real effort to change the eminent domain laws. That’s not just bad—that’s disgusting.

Yet even these problems did not stop nationally syndicated Objectivist newspaper columnist and Intellectual Activist editor Robert W. Tracinski from noting in his e-mail newsletter that despite Clements’ Libertarian groundings, the “Lost Liberty” hotel was a “brilliantly conceived public relations stunt.” Brilliantly conceived? Clements’ plan is an utter abomination. A strategy of “just deserts” doesn’t address larger philosophic problems—it evades them in the name of 'activism.'

So now, a little more than half a year after the Kelo ruling, where does Clements’ “Lost Liberty” hotel stand? From what I was able to reconnoiter, it doesn’t stand at all. Clements’ seems to have been able to raise some money for his ploy, and he apparently has a thousand or so pledges from people promising to visit the “Lost Liberty” hotel should it be built. He’s sponsoring a ballot initiative to force the local New Hampshire town to give him Justice Souter’s property, and he even has a toady running for town council to help him along. Talk about taking a joke to its absurd extreme.

That’s not to say that they thing will ever be built though. New Hampshire is the “live free or die” state, and I suspect the locals are not going to appreciate a California activist trying to loot their neighbor’s property—not one bit. In fact, a July 2005 University of New Hampshire poll finds 93% of New Hampshire residents oppose the Kelo decision. What, is Clements’ aiming to sway that last seven percent?

Needless to say, I will not be visiting Clements’ “Lost Liberty” hotel if it ever gets constructed. Clements’ is misdirecting legitimate outrage over the Kelo decision toward what now is becoming an exercise in rank democracy. Yes, we all know that eminent domain abuse is outrageous. Those seeking justice don’t resolve the problem by joining in on the abuse though publicity stunts—they solve it by passing better laws.

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