The radio talk-show host Glenn Beck has named Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, “the most dangerous man in America.” Given the number of men currently serving life sentences or sitting on death row for serial murder or terrorist acts, not to mention the fugitives on the FBI’s most-wanted list, this is quite a charge. In his own defense, Sunstein, undoubtedly the most prolific legal scholar in the United States, has collected 11 of his most controversial articles—on subjects as diverse as conspiracy theories, climate change, same-sex marriage, animal rights, and “new progressivism”—in one volume, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas. The first sign that these writings might not be so dangerous is their provenance. They originally appeared in such journals as the Stanford Law & Policy Review, The Journal of Political Philosophy, the Harvard Law Review, and The Journal of Legal Studies. Then again, one is drawn from a book titled The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy.
What could have inspired Beck’s assessment? Sunstein served in the Obama administration, but he’s not especially liberal. In Conspiracy Theories, he defends free markets and criticizes “command and control” planning. He favors soft government interventions like warnings and default rules, which leave people freedom of choice, over outright bans on dangerous behavior. He questions minimum-wage laws and argues that the United States has no particular obligation to enter into climate-change agreements that might impose domestic burdens even if such moves were to benefit the rest of the world. He does call for a social safety net for the poor, protections against animal cruelty, and, disturbingly, government subterfuge to counteract conspiracy theories. But if this is the most dangerous man in America, we can drastically reduce our homeland-security spending right now.