Eugene Meyer is executive director of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a group of conservatives and libertarians who support "limited government, separation of powers and the other principles of the Founding Fathers. " He tells Insight that the Washington-based organization, with chapters across America, has a lawyers' division and a division for young people, and publishes newsletters including The Federalist Paper and ABA Watch. What is important to members, Meyer explains, "is a legal system that places priority on traditional values and the rule of law."
If there's such a thing as a red-diaper baby, Meyer is its opposite. According to family legend, says Meyer, his father, Frank, a former Communist who left the party and became one of the leading lights of the American conservative movement during the 1950s and 1960s, wrote one of his influential books, The Moulding of Communists, while carrying the recently born Eugene around on his shoulder
Insight: What's the future of the American legal system?
Eugene B. Meyer: Well, it is a very interesting question, and like so many things in life, not preordained. The rule of law is about providing a neutral and knowable and predictable set of rules for everyone. Once you have established the rule of law and have a neutral and knowable set of rules for all, you then have done a lot of what law can do.
When you try to have law make men good, which is what has been happening to the legal system, it doesn't work very well. It's too great a burden. Some of what I think has happened in recent times is law is trying to substitute a vaguer corporate responsibility for individual responsibility.
The law has attempted to make -- through regulation, through all kinds of various sorts of bureaucracies -- people behave as some wish they would behave, and it is very hard to make that work. Society takes a vague, general responsibility for people. You don't expect them to be responsible for themselves.
Now, through liability law, you have a situation where a business with deep pockets is held responsible for something which wasn't really its fault, and the person who may have been injured 95 percent through their own fault is still able to collect significant sums of money. If you take any aspect of the lan, where it becomes deeply involved with society, that same pattern follows.
Insight: How do we extricate ourselves from this pattern?
EBM: Bit by bit. You first try to talk about what some of the problems are. The welfare debate has been a good example of how something like this might occur. A few years ago the idea of really seriously changing welfare would probably have been politically unthinkable.
Now there is a serious discussion going on. I think the reason for that is because people came to understand that welfare was far from unmitigated good for the recipient. This may not have been the intention, but they were losing control over their own lives because of getting into the welfare trap.
Insight: Your father and mother home-schooled you and your brother in the 1950s and 1960s long before home schooling became the trend it is today.
EBM: I was home schooled. I was country when country wasn't cool! [Laughs.] I was home schooled until college, so it's very hard for me to contrast my experience with going to a standard school. Educationally, I certainly think it works extremely well.
Some people say, well, it may work fine educationally, but you didn't have the experience with your peers that you needed. I would just say throughout much of history people have been brought up by tutors, and they didn't have experience with their peers, either. It's not as though this is the first time that has ever occurred. I never thought boy, I wish I'd gone to high school!
Insight: How did your parents divvy up the teaching responsibilities? …