Elana Kagan’s Senior Thesis

A few points on Elana Kagan’s senior thesis:

One would be that Princeton is being insane with this business of sending takedown notices to bloggers who want to post the thesis and discuss it. Apparently their idea is that people ought to be buying the thesis from Princeton at $57 a pop. I’m not even sure why Princeton would own the copyright at all.

The other would be that based on Brad DeLong’s extensive excerpts, Kagan’s thesis seems to me to be mistaken. If you look at the fact that there are successful avowedly socialist or social democratic parties in essentially every European country (with even Ireland’s Labour Party being wildly more successful than U.S. socialists) then I think it becomes clear that you can’t attribute the failure of American socialism primarily to contingent poor decision-making by U.S. socialists. It’s not that each and every European had brilliant socialist political leaders, it’s that structural conditions were one way in Europe and another way in North America.

Third, I really have no idea what the probative value of this thesis is supposed to be. I wrote a senior thesis back in 2003 and already by 2010 I don’t think the stuff I argued was right. More generally, if I told you a story about a middle aged woman who used to have some political opinions when she was eighteen but thought different stuff by the age of 50 you’d think I was telling you the most banal story of all time.


Fourth, in the Obama era conservatives have watered the concept of “socialism” down so much that it’s now completely impossible to say who is and isn’t a socialist. By whatever standard Barack Obama is a socialist, then I’m sure Elana Kagan is one too — lots of other people to boot. But the “revelation” that Kagan and Obama have similar political opinions is silly.