Returning to finish our series. I started this part a couple of weeks ago. The article mentioned here has already been discussed pretty widely. Still, I think you’ll find my take on it a bit unique.
EXAMPLE #4: A mind that is larger can still be deliberately ugly.
Want to read something infuriating? The court rationalizers have begun getting frantic. No longer able to defend recent power-grabs on the specifics, they are now reaching out for general philosophical justifications for Bushite consolidations of power. Moves that would have driven them into a fury, had Bill Clinton done the same - or far milder - things.
And now, they are even conjuring up John Locke - founder of the Western Political Enlightenment - by tossing carefully twisted slices of his work into a stewpot, along with Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, trying to use democracy’s greatest philosopher to justify their inherent and deeply cynical distrust of democracy:
The Case for the Strong Executive: Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy. by Harvey C. Mansfield (Harvard) Reprinted in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Go ahead and give him a chance, before coming back to my reply.
Gosh, no wonder Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the WSJ. Let me get swiftly to my overall reaction to this pile of erudite drivel.
First: I must amend my earlier missive - “Invite Them Back” - which appraised the way that leftists helped to forge today’s rabid neocons by driving many of them off campus, into intellectual whoredom for the owners of the Heritage Foundation and other aristocratic-private “academies.” Clearly, Mansfield proves that not all of the neocon monsters were driven off-campus, after all. Some stayed put, protected by tenure and by a thick enough skin to withstand sniping jabs from the PC Police.
Second: Cutting through all the convoluted horse-hocky, Mansfield has one tendentious goal, to justify the elevation, above systems of routine legal accountability, a central authority figure who stands above and beyond the rule of law. Mansfield even says this, explicitly, on several occasions!
What fascinates me is pondering why he would even try to make such an argument, so flagrantly in opposition to the fundamentals of the American social contract. Mansfield’s pile of rationalizations, so convoluted and inane, will not convince a majority of Americans - even those who never heard of Locke - let alone the scholars to whom his words are superficially addressed. Evidently, Mansfield’s arguments are not meant to convince a majority, or his peers.
Rather, they appear aimed to achieve a more modest but crucially pragmatic aim - to help stanch the hemorrhage of neoconservatism patronage by educated people in every walk of American life. His aim is not to convince many, but to offer just enough ostrich conservatives a little temporary mantric cover. Propping up some crucial Reagan Republicans, helping them rationalize, so that they may to continue supporting the insupportable for a while longer.
Mansfield does this by nursing a current of patrician fear-of-the-masses, exactly as happened in 1932 Germany, when members of the old Junkers aristocracy talked themselves into backing another “strong executive.”
Oh, Mansfield makes some good micro-points, for example describing how the American Founders wanted an executive capable of applying “energy” to the enforcement of laws - a chief of state and government who is able to take urgent action, when matters are dire and time is short.
(See below, where I discuss the distinction between “emergency room operations” and “elective procedures... an almost perfect metaphor for when the commander-in-chief override power should - or should not - be applied.)
Yes, there are some valid points. But that is Mansfield’s job, as an eloquent shill, to mix five parts reasonable with three parts questionable and one part stark-jibbering-lying-insane. After all, a spoonful of sugary validity helps the cyanide go down.
You can’t believe a Harvard Professor would spew such things? Actually dissing the very notion of the rule of law? I must be exaggerating? Let me offer you a snippet passage:
”Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."
“The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.
“The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.”
Where does one even begin, trying to answer stuff like this? By pointing out that Machiavelli was the neoconservative turncoat of his day? A once-event warrior for Florentine democracy, who only turned to flattering aristocrats and tyrants when it seemed that his beloved cause was lost? And - well - a guy’s got to earn a living?
Or reminding Mansfield what he well-knows, that the rule of law was established precisely because one-man rule has - historically - nearly always been an open invitation to outright disaster?
Or by asking him how is argument will stand up, when the towering authority figure up-high is someone from a faction he doesn’t like so much? One who doesn’t flatter him, or invite him to the right parties, or make policies that he cares for?
But I get ahead of myself. Russ Daggatt offers a clearcut rebuttal.
According to Bush, Congress doesn't have the power to condition its war funding on a directive to redeploy troops from Iraq. This is just a continuation of his practice of appending signing statements to legislation making it clear that he reserves the right to ignore any laws he doesn't like. Lately, many Administration apologists have been yapping that Congress has no business involving itself in matters like oversight or Foreign Policy at all!
In fact, and as a reminder, Article I of the US Constitution makes it pretty clear that Congress is the branch of government that sets war policy. Among the powers of Congress:
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
And if that is not clear enough, it also gives Congress the power,
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Thanks, Russ. Only I feel the best refutation to Mansfield’s screed is to reiterate the key point. One that cuts past every bit of theoretics and returns to the fundamental pragmatism that underlies our Great Experiment in reciprocal accountability as a way of life.
“Again. How will you neocon shills feel, when your words of support for unaccountable presidential prerogative are hurled back in your face by some imperial prexy who you don’t like?
“Are you really such unimaginative boors that you cannot picture your worst nightmare -- some scarecrow caricature of Bill Clinton, perhaps -- saying “gee, thanks for all the nifty rationalizations” and then using it all against you?
“Or do you already have it worked out so that (you think) the pendulum swings of American politics will stop here, with your team on top? Forever?”
That last point...
...do they really think this?
... is the one that should keep us sleepless and worrying at night.
(Return to Part 1 of this series.)