In This Review

Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas
Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas
By Cass R. Sunstein
Simon & Schuster, 2014, 288 pp.

This book brings together a collection of what Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor and former Obama administration official, calls his most controversial academic essays. The intellectual thread that runs throughout the essays, and the likely source of the controversy that surrounds Sunstein’s work, is a kind of moral monism at the core of his thought. Unlike liberals of earlier generations -- say, Isaiah Berlin -- who believed that people prefer many different things and will never agree on what the good life is, Sunstein is committed to an almost Rousseauian idea of the general will. It is the job of intellectuals to discover the “right” answers to policy questions, to persuade the unenlightened to see things the correct way, and to develop laws and institutions to realize the general good. Reflecting an attitude that defines the Obama administration, Sunstein values liberty for heuristic purposes; he believes that free inquiry and debate help elucidate the correct solution to social issues. He does not have much sympathy for the belief that the diversity of human preferences makes liberty and pluralism ends in themselves rather than means to forging a consensus.