Politics

Alito’s Italian Roots

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Conservatism: It’s an ethnic thing? Todd Zywicki speculates.

I think that the demographic fact of the make-up of the conservative Justices (Thomas, Scalia, and Alito) is a remarkable statement on the nature of modern conservatism (I’m frankly not sure where Roberts fits in this). I don’t know Alito, but I feel like my background growing up is similar enough to his that I will hazard a few speculations on what this says about the nature of modern conservativism. For those like myself (and I hazard to guess Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) conservatism is attractive because it now seems to be the party of meritocracy where one is judged on your character and ability, and not on your connections or demographics. As the doors of schools such as Princeton and Yale Law School (in Alito’s case), and the professions themselves have been thrown open to Italians, Poles, Irish, etc., individuals such as Scalia and Alito have had the opportunity to prove themselves. All that is asked is the opportunity to take advantage of the blessings of a free society and to compete on the merits.

Among other things, I think this cultural upbringing reflects itself in a skepticism about racial preferences in college admissions and hiring. It is difficult to say, from what I can tell, that Sam Alito’s ascent to the Supreme Court came about through some sort of unfair advantage, money, or family connections. In the legal arena, I think this cultural temperament may reflect itself in a anti-elitist streak rebelling against the arrogance of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary and a humility in the face of the common-sense of citizens as reflected through democratically-elected legislatures. These old rules and elitism historically were used by the WASPs to discriminate and exclude ethnic Catholics. From all reports I hear about Alito, he also is a genuinely human, nice, and down-to-Earth guy, or, in other words “a regular guy.”

Of course, I’ve read (in Paul Johnson, and others) that a similar sort of ethnic-rooted anti-elitism may have been the real motivation behind McCarthyism.