Last month, The Federalist Society sponsored a debate at Harvard Law School between Professors Eugene Volokh and Noah Feldman on the topic of slippery slopes. Harvard has now posted a video of the event, which drew an audience of over 200.
The inspiration for the debate was "Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope," a paper in which Volokh analyzed the common metaphor, including its proper and improper uses. Volokh told the crowd:
A classic slippery slope argument is, "If you take Step A, you will soon find yourself taking step B, and we can all agree that B would be bad. We can avoid the bottom of the slope by avoiding the first step." When people say that, they’re making an exaggeration, and that gives slippery slope arguments a bad name...
Slippery slope arguments are actually about looking at public policy in a dynamic way, and recognizing that every decision changes the political and economic conditions under which future decisions are made.
In his response, Feldman distinguished traditional conservatives, who he accept the status quo and are afraid of change, from contermporary conservatives, who use the language of cost-benefit analysis. He claimed that slippery slope arguments properly belong to traditional conservatism:
The one word that captures traditional conservatism is ‘cautious'... By contrast, contemporary conservatism has no a priori commitment to caution, just to figuring out what the most rational way to do something is. What’s striking about that in historical terms is that it’s close to the position of the Enlightenment, which is that the idea that just because something has happened previously isn’t a reason we should care about it.