Wednesday, May 02, 2007

WSJ Op-Ed Piece by Harvey Mansfield Calls for One-Man Rule

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Harvey C. Mansfield, advocating one-man rule over the rule of law, in -- where else? -- the WSJ Opinion Journal:

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.

Glenn Greenwald notes the true significance of Mansfield's piece:

The Wall St. Journal online has today published a lengthy and truly astonishing article by Harvard Government Professor Harvey Mansfield, which expressly argues that the power of the President is greater than "the rule of law."

The article bears this headline: The Case for the Strong Executive -- Under some circumstances, the Rule of Law must yield to the need for Energy. And it is the most explicit argument I have seen yet for vesting in the President the power to override and ignore the rule of law in order to rec[ei]ve the glories of what Mansfield calls "one-man rule."
... reading Mansfield has real value for understanding the dominant right-wing movement in this country. Because he is an academic, and a quite intelligent one, he makes intellectually honest arguments, by which I mean that he does not disguise what he thinks in politically palatable slogans, but instead really describes the actual premises on which political beliefs are based.

And that is Mansfield's value; he is a clear and honest embodiment of what the Bush movement is. In particular, he makes crystal clear that the so-called devotion to a "strong executive" by the Bush administration and the movement which supports it is nothing more than a belief that the Leader has the power to disregard, violate, and remain above the rule of law. And that is clear because Mansfied explicitly says that. And that is not just Mansfield's idiosyncratic belief. He is simply stating -- honestly and clearly -- the necessary premises of the model of the Omnipotent Presidency which has taken root under the Bush presidency.

This is not the first time Mansfield has expressly called for the subordination of the rule of law to the Power of the President. In January of 2006 -- in the immediate aftermath of revelations that President Bush had been breaking the law for years by spying on the telephone conversations of Americans without warrants -- Mansfield went to The Weekly Standard and authored a truly amazing article, which I wrote about here (see item 2).

Unlike dishonest Bush followers who ludicrously claimed that Bush's eavesdropping was not illegal, Mansfield embraced reality and candidly argued that President Bush possesses the power to break the law in order to fight The Terrorists. The headline of that article presented the same mutually exclusive choice as the WSJ article today: The Law and the President -- in a national emergency, who you gonna call?

In that article, Mansfied claimed, among other things, that our "enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force"; that the "Office of President" is "larger than the law"; that "the rule of law is not enough to run a government"; that "ordinary power needs to be supplemented or corrected by the extraordinary power of a prince, using wise discretion"; that "with one person in charge we can have both secrecy and responsibility" ...

Read Glenn's entire piece, here.

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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