Our Professors Shouldn’t Engage In McCarthyism

Professor Cass Sunstein engaged in a blatant display of McCarthyism in his op-ed for Bloomberg View this week, in which he accused politicians to both the left and the right of him of Marxism.

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are using Marxist strategies, he argued, because their rhetoric “heightens the contradictions,” a quote directly from (dun dun dun) MARX!

Of course, when Marx talked about “heightening the contradictions” he meant that the contradictions inherent in capitalism must worsen in order to provoke the working class to rise up in revolt. In his view, small reforms that blunt the edge of capitalism would only prolong its existence.

Sunstein, on the other hand, has decided that this phrase fits any time a politician points out something they don’t like. Donald Trump is a Marxist because he despises Colin Kaepernick, he focuses on supposed crimes of Hillary Clinton, and he says Democrats want to take your guns. Bernie Sanders is a Marxist because he thinks it is unjust that massive corporations and the super-rich have an outsized influence on our political life. Simply being opposed to things is equated with Marxism.

The thinking here fits with a certain worldview that does have resonance at HLS. This centrist “end-of-history” outlook asserts that politics is not about competing powerful forces, but simply about smart and dumb. No need to be opposed to anything, just pick the smart guys to run things and everything will work out fine. The BLM activists, white supremacists and the rich bankers aren’t opposing forces to choose between—they just need smart folks to find the perfect policy solution to meet everyone’s needs.

But regardless of how much it upholds their worldview, Harvard Law professors should not engage in this type of McCarthyism. Its only purpose is to stifle disparate points of view. As shameful as it is that Bloomberg would publish this, it is doubly shameful that it came from a professor at my school. Interesting that Sunstein isn’t a bit more wary of throwing around these accusations—after all, he worked in the Obama Administration, which was repeatedly called socialist for backing the market-based Affordable Care Act. 

Fortunately, this red-baiting likely doesn’t have much effect in 2017. In a time when a socialist is the most popular politician in America and the majority of americans favor a socialist single-payer healthcare system, it appears that not everyone is as scared of the “reds” as Professor Sunstein seems to think.

Martin Drake is a 2L at Harvard Law School.

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