Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

The Modern American Right's Thinking About Expertise: Taxonomy and Reflections

Ken I. Kersch

Boston College (Political Science)

April 9, 2014, 4:30pm-6:00pm
Wasserstein Hall, 2004 Classroom


Traditional understandings of conservative political thought emphasize its diverse premises and divergent theoretical commitments (e.g., libertarian versus traditionalist versus neoconservative), which, from the vantage point of ideas, render the movement’s strength and longevity a singular accomplishment and puzzle.  In recent work, Kersch has sought to demonstrate the ways in which modern American conservatism’s cultivation of a core set of symbolic commitments (e.g., the U.S. Constitution) and historical narratives (e.g., about the meanings of the Founding, the Civil War, and the Progressive Era) bridge these divides, unifying and motivating the movement in ways missed by political theory’s standard analytic frames.  In this talk, he considers the possibility that critiques of, and stories about, science and experts and their role in the modern regulatory/administrative/social welfare state – what others have variously called the “statutory,” “legislative,” or “policy” state – have been a critical component of this set of unifying narratives and symbols.  He will survey contemporary conservative thinking from diverse theoretical starting points -- Neo-liberal (including Public Choice economics and Hayek), Traditionalist (including Evangelical Christian, the Catholic Right, and Straussian), and Neoconservative – about the nature and purpose of law, implicating fundamental questions of the role of science and expertise within U.S. constitutional government.

About the speaker

Ken I. Kersch is Associate Professor of Political Science, History, and Law at Boston College, where he teaches courses on American political and constitutional development and American political thought.  He is the author, with Ronald Kahn, of The Supreme Court and American Political Development (Kansas, 2006), Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law (Cambridge, 2004), and Freedom of Speech (ABC-Clio, 2003) and many book chapters, articles, and reviews.  Kersch’s work has won the Edward S. Corwin Prize from the American Political Science Association, the J. David Greenstone Award from APSA’s Politics and History Section, and the Hughes-Gossett Prize from the Supreme Court Historical Society.  He is working on a book entitled Conservatives and the Constitution: From Brown to Reagan (Cambridge University Press).  He received his B.A. from Williams, his J.D. from Northwestern, and his Ph.D. (Government) from Cornell.