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The cognitive infiltration of Adrian Vermeule


Here’s a truly fantastic discovery, courtesy of Andrew Gelman.

Adrian Vermeule is a right-wing nut case, who wants to transform the Americas and eventually the whole world into the Empire of our Lady of Guadalupe, as required by the dictates of the voices in his head natural law, as interpreted by the Venerable Doctors of the One Holy and Apostolic Church (that’s the Catholic church for those of you not scoring at home).

Vermeule is also a professor at Harvard Law School. This means his ideas must be taken Very Seriously, including one he had a few years back, along with his co-author Cass Sunstein:

Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. . . Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational
influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a “crippled epistemology,” in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups.

Vermeule and Sunstein go on to argue that the “cognitive infiltration” of extremist groups by the government would not be for the purposes of prosecution, like in the bad old days when the FBI infiltrated the Black Panthers etc., but would rather be more in the way of covert education mission, that would bring an ideologically destabilizing diversity of views into the otherwise crippled epistemology of the group.

Speaking of crippled epistemology, here’s Adrian Vermeule just a few years after he and his co-author unleashed this bright idea upon the world:

Vermeule is a true believer in the wildest conspiracy theories about how Joe Biden and the Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election (while neglecting to give themselves a functioning majority in the Senate, which seems like a massive oversight, but no doubt that was just a clever ruse to cover up the enormity of the main crime).

This would seem to make him less than an ideal candidate to lead a government campaign of cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, given that he himself belongs to two such groups himself: Trump supporters and Catholic integralists. (As Gelman notes, both Vermeule and Sunstein have held federal government positions in the past).

I’ve written much more than I would have in a saner world about Vermeule. Here I’m just going to limit myself to noting again something I remarked on last summer:

The liberal legal blog Balkinization, run by Jack Balkin of the Yale Law School, is holding a symposium on Adrian Vermeule’s new book.

Vermeule is a radical reactionary theocrat of the Catholic integralist variety, who is working to transform the US government into a radical reactionary theocracy of the Catholic integralist variety, because Vermeule, unlike apparently a lot of liberal legal bloggers, considers politics to be an exercise in practical power as opposed to say some sort of amusing intellectual game. . .

What interests me about all this is that in July of the Year of Our Lord 2022 a lot of liberal elites are still behaving as if a call to resist the rise of fascism in the United States is some sort of hysterical over-reaction by people who don’t understand that a tenured Harvard Law Professor who has been to The Best Schools and publishes articles in The Atlantic etc. must be treated as a serious and most of all respectable intellectual, whose ideas therefore deserve a respectful and prominent hearing. Failing to do so would apparently violate some sort of basic neutrality principle of academic life . . . OK I just can’t do this any longer.

What is wrong with these people? Look I get that firing Vermeule from his sinecure because he’s at best a fascist fellow traveler would be a tricky thing to do for all sorts of reasons. But you don’t have to give him and his ideas a megaphone!

In the end I don’t think Jack Balkin et. al. take the idea that this country is rapidly going fascist at all seriously, which means that on some level they don’t take ideas seriously, which on another level means they don’t take their jobs seriously.

At least Adrian Vermeule doesn’t make that particular mistake.

Nobdy in comments gets at the heart of the shall we say sociology of knowledge at work here:

If you’re a hyper-elite law professor one of your most deeply held beliefs is that hyper-elite law professors should NEVER be ignored. After all if people start to question Vermuele’s intellectual credentials despite his position just because he’s a raving lunatic and theocrat why they might start to judge you on your ideas rather than position, and that’s surely a more horrible possibility than a little light fascism and a few gentle purges of undesirables.

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