Moving from Left to Right

On foreign policy, as the cliché goes, I didn’t leave the Democratic party. It left me.

Not so on domestic policy. The Democratic party remained true to itself. I changed. The origin of that evolution is simple: I’m open to empirical evidence. The results of the Great Society experiments started coming in and began showing that, for all its good intentions, the War on Poverty was causing irreparable damage to the very communities it was designed to help. Charles Murray’s Losing Ground was one turning point. Another, more theoretical but equally powerful, was Mancur Olson’s The Rise and Decline of Nations, which opened my eyes to the inexorable “institutional sclerosis” that corrodes and corrupts the ever-enlarging welfare state. The ’80s and ’90s saw the further accumulation of a vast body of social-science evidence — produced by two generations of critics from James Q. Wilson to Heather Mac Donald, writing in The Public Interest, City Journal, and elsewhere — on the limits and failures of the ever-expanding Leviathan state.

As I became convinced of the practical and theoretical defects of the social-democratic tendencies of my youth, it was but a short distance to a philosophy of restrained, free-market governance that gave more space and place to the individual and to the civil society that stands between citizen and state.