From the category archives:

Teles Seminar

Law and Economics

by Henry Farrell on October 18, 2018

I’ve been waiting for this paper to drop, ever since Suresh told me about it last year. It’s groundbreaking. What it does is to take Steve Teles’ qualitative work on the conservative legal movement, and then ask a simple question: if we start with the qualitative evidence about the program’s intentions, then FOIA the hell out of George Mason University to find out which judges attended the Manne seminars, and then apply cutting edge econometrics and natural language processing to their decisions, what are we going to find out?

Some selected quotes (as well as one quote that isn’t in the current version, but will likely be in the next) under the fold, for those who are interested in the headline findings. [click to continue…]

Welcome to a new Crooked Timber seminar, this one on Steve Teles’ recent book _The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law_ (Amazon, Powells). This has already become a landmark book in the burgeoning literature on American conservatism, charting out the organizational strategies through which economic conservatives and libertarians (as the book notes, it doesn’t have much to say about religious conservatism) sought to respond to the liberal legal culture of 1960s America, and to turn it back. It’s a great story, not least because Teles talks about the mistakes that the conservatives made as well as their successes. There is a tendency on the left to see the conservative movement as an incredibly efficient institutional Borg that adopted a masterplan in the 1960s, implemented it through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and then saw it all collapse in the last couple of years. Teles gives this account the lie, showing us the organizational false starts as well as the success stories.

We have a great series of responses to Teles’ book – see below for links to all of them. Those who prefer to read this seminar as a PDF can find it “here”:

As with other seminars, all the contents are made available under a Creative Commons With Attribution Non-Commercial Sharealike license. To make it easier for people to remix the content as they will, we are making the TeX file for the seminar available “here”:

Our contributors this week:

“Jack Balkin”: is Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment. He blogs at “Balkinization”: His contribution – “What Teles Can Tell Us About Constitutional Change”:

“Tyler Cowen”: is professor of economics at George Mason University, and author of the forthcoming book “Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World”: He blogs at “Marginal Revolution”: His contribution – “One Economist’s Perspective on the Law and Economics Movement”:

Henry Farrell blogs here. His contribution – “Fabians and Gramscians in Law and Economics”:

“Kimberly Morgan”: is associate professor of political science at the George Washington University. She is author of “Working Mothers and the Welfare State: Religion and the Politics of Work-Family Policies in Western Europe and the United States”: Her contribution – ”
Legal Conservatives as Closet Gramscians”:

“David Post”: is I. Herman Stern Professor of Law at Temple University. He has just written “In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace”: He blogs at “The Volokh Conspiracy”: His contribution – “Living Life Forwards”:

“Rick Perlstein”: is author of _Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus_ and _Nixonland_, which has “just come out in paperback”: His contribution – “What Liberals Shouldn’t Learn from Conservatives”:

“Fabio Rojas”: is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. He blogs at “OrgTheory”: He is author of “From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline”: His contribution – “The Failed Conservative Revolution”:

“Mark Schmitt”: is executive editor of _The American Prospect._ He previously has been a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Director of Policy and Research at the Open Society Institute, and a speechwriter for Senator Bill Bradley. He was also the author of much-missed blog, _The Decembrist._ His contribution – “Bunglers, Egos, and Law vs. Politics”:

“Aaron Swartz”: co-founded Reddit, and is now an activist, writer and hacker. He is involved or has been involved in Change Congress, the Open Library project, the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Congress project, and other stuff too multitudinous to list. He blogs at “Raw Thoughts”: His contribution – “Political Entrepreneurs and Lunatics with Money”:

“Steve Teles”: is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. His response to all the above is “here”:


by Steven Teles on May 1, 2009

Chapter One of The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement opens with a quote from Stephen Skowronek, which I think sums up much of what I was trying to argue in the book: “Whether a given state changes or fails to change, the form and timing of the change, and the governing potential in the change—of these turn on a struggle for political power and institutional position, a struggle defined and mediated by the organization of the preestablished state.” In writing this book, Skowronek’s words haunted my own attempt to make sense of what was going on so many decades later. As Skowronek so powerfully argued, politics never starts from zero—it always starts somewhere . In order to make sense of what conservatives did, therefore, I needed to start with “the organization of the preestablished state.” [click to continue…]

Political Entrepreneurs and Lunatics with Money

by Aaron Swartz on May 1, 2009

One of the interesting things about capitalism is that, if you have money, people seem to just magically appear to meet your needs. When it rains in New York City, vendors materialize to sell me an umbrella. When I was walking to the inauguration, the streets were lined with people selling hats and handwarmers. I certainly didn’t ask anyone to bring me a hat; I didn’t even realize I would want one, or I would have brought it myself — but people predicted that I would and brought it for me.

[click to continue…]

The Failed Conservative Revolution

by fabio_rojas on April 30, 2009

This essay is cross-posted at, the social science and management blog. For earlier discussion of this book, with Steve’s responses, click here.

Steven Teles’ The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement (RCLM) is an important book. It is one of the few studies to thoroughly address the institutionalization of conservative politics. It’s also a well motivated account. Using ideas from contemporary sociology, Teles frames the conservative legal movements as an example of resource mobilization. Winning elections isn’t enough to implement conservative policy. One must create conservative networks and organizations that can be used to fight and win court battles. [click to continue…]

Fabians and Gramscians in law and economics

by Henry Farrell on April 30, 2009

One important part of Steve Teles’ story is the rise of law and economics as a major approach to understanding how the law and regulation does (and should) work. Steve has a nice discussion of how law and economics became institutionalized, despite the opposition of various law professors, in two key ways. First, rich donors (and especially John M. Olin) helped support law and economics programs in a variety of law schools around the country (including non-conservative schools such as the Boalt school in Berkeley). Second, Henry Manne built up George Mason University’s Law School as an explicitly libertarian institution.
[click to continue…]

Legal Conservatives as Closet Gramscians

by Kimberly on April 29, 2009

The first thing to be said is that Steve Teles has written a terrific book.  The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement tackles a topic of vital importance, is exhaustively researched and documented, and offers thoughtful and nuanced arguments that, for the most part, persuade.  The book also achieves the rarely achievable: it bridges the divide between academia and, for lack of a better term, non-academia, offering a theoretically rich account that draws on historical institutionalism, organizational theory, and the sociology of knowledge, while also supplying much red meat for political columnists and combatants from across the ideological spectrum.  I especially appreciated his desire to pry open the black box of organizational dynamics, looking not only at why the conservative legal movement has had many successes, but how it has done so, with attention thus to the crucial ingredients of money, leadership, luck, and learning that contributed to these successes.  I also learned a great deal about both the conservative legal movement and American politics in the late 20th century. [click to continue…]

Living Life Forwards

by David Post on April 29, 2009

“Life must be lived forwards, but it can only be understood backwards.”1

“One of history’s uses is to remind us how unlikely things can be.2

I have considerably less to say about Steve Teles’ book than the other participants here. That should not be taken as criticism of the book – indeed, I think that The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement is a terrific book, scholarship of the highest order, and I learned a great deal from it – about the rise of the “LLN” (Liberal Legal Network) in the 1960s and 70s (and in particular about the role that the Ford Foundation, under its then-President MacGeorge Bundy, played in developing that network, about which I knew very little prior to reading this book), about the early failures of the counter-revolutionary attempts (by groups such as the Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Center for Constitutional Litigation), about Henry Manne, and Richard Mellon Scaife, and the Olin Foundation, about the rise of “law and economics,” and about many other people, events, institutions, and ideas that played an important role – at least, Teles has persuaded me that they played an important role – in the rise of the conservative legal movement. [click to continue…]

Bunglers, Egos, and Law vs. Politics

by Mark Schmitt on April 28, 2009

“When we care about something, we waste money on it,” the political theorist Benjamin Barber once told me, an aphorism that came to mind frequently as I read The Conservative Legal Movement in America several months ago. On one level, sure, the book chronicles one of the most successful social and intellectual transformations in American history, and perhaps the only one that did not involve a mass movement. The Law and Economics project in particular had an influence far beyond the legal world, bringing the tools and priorities of neoclassical economics to bear on any question of policy, so that questions such as the appropriate level of regulation in financial markets were answered by the very framing of the question. It was an oversimplification, but not crazy, when someone said to me recently, “I want someone to write the whole story of everything that led to the financial crisis, starting with that whole Law and Economics thing.” [click to continue…]

Law and economics has done well for some straightforward reasons. Most of all, law schools have become more research-oriented over the last twenty years. Publication is more important and word-of-mouth about the quality of publication is more important. Law and economics, which draws so much of its method from economics, has been ideally positioned to benefit from this trend, albeit by a kind of historical accident. [click to continue…]

What Teles Can Tell Us About Constitutional Change

by jack_balkin on April 27, 2009

Because constitutional change is a focus of my research these days, I thought I might say a few words about how Steve Teles’ book The <a href=”″>Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement</a> is important to contemporary theories of constitutional change. Teles’ book discusses how competition between different ideological groups occurs outside of the electoral process: through institution building, norm development and norm proliferation. These mechanisms are quite important to understanding constitutional change, and legal change more generally. [click to continue…]

What Liberals Shouldn’t Learn from Conservatives

by rick_perlstein on April 27, 2009

One of the impressive things about Steven Teles’ book is that it helped orient me better about the apparent implications of my own work. When I wrote Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, the notion that, in narrating the capture of the Republican Party by the conservative movement, I was offering advice to progressives (like me) about how to seize national power themselves, was distant in my mind if it was present at all. The exigencies of commercial promotion (a perhaps over-glib framing of the book as an allegory for liberals) and an accident of history (the cult-following the paperback developed among progressives wrapped up in the nascent Netroots and Howard Dean movements) led to the book being read rather narrowly: as a universally applicable “movement” blueprint.  Not infrequently I would receive phone calls and emails from avid left-insurrectionists for practical advice as to how a “progressive infrastructure” to match the conservative one built through and after the Goldwater campaigns. Not infrequently I would convince myself I had plenty to say on the subject—though not without ambivalence. When, of all extraordinary things, I was invited to address the Senate Democratic caucus on “building a progressive idea infrastructure,” I said what I pretty much still believe: interests, not ideas, have much more motor force in politics. Ideas are fine, but if anything progressives have too many ideas. But deliver some more middle class entitlements like free healthcare, I argued, and Democrats will really be on their way to a restored hegemony. [click to continue…]