5.08.2007

one-man rule? that's called dictatorship

Friend of wmtc James sent me an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Unclaimed Territory, now writing for Salon. Greenwald is a lawyer, writer and expert in First Amendment and Constitutional issues, and the author of How Would A Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok.

In this recent Salon post, Greenwald dissects an article by Harvey Mansfield, a right-wing Harvard professor.
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." [WSJ essay here.]

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 receive the glories of what Mansfield calls "one-man rule."

That such an argument comes from Mansfield is unsurprising. He has long been a folk hero to the what used to be the most extremist right-wing fringe but is now the core of the Republican Party. He devoted earlier parts of his career to warning of the dangers of homosexuality, particularly its effeminizing effect on our culture.

He has a career-long obsession with the glories of tyrannical power as embodied by Machiavelli's Prince, which is his model for how America ought to be governed. And last year, he wrote a book called Manliness in which "he urges men, and especially women, to understand and accept manliness" -- which means that "women are the weaker sex," "women's bodies are made to attract and to please men" and "now that women are equal, they should be able to accept being told that they aren't, quite." Publisher's Weekly called it a "juvenile screed."

. . .

But 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 Mansfield explicitly says that. And that is not just Mansfield's idiosyncratic belief. He is simply stating -- honestly and clearly -- the necessary premise of the model of the Omnipotent Presidency which has taken root under the Bush presidency.

. . .

I just want to add one related point here. Much of the intense dissatisfaction I have with the American media arises out of the fact that these extraordinary developments -- the dominant political movement advocating lawlessness and tyranny out in the open in The Wall St. Journal and Weekly Standard -- receive almost no attention.

While the Bush administration expressly adopts these theories to detain American citizens without charges, engage in domestic surveillance on Americans in clear violation of the laws we enacted to limit that power, and asserts a general right to disregard laws which interfere with the President's will, our media still barely discusses those issues.

They write about John Edwards' haircut and John Kerry's windsurfing and which political consultant has whispered what gossip to them about some painfully petty matter, but the extraordinary fact that our nation's dominant political movement is openly advocating the most radical theories of tyranny -- that "liberties are dangerous and law does not apply" -- is barely noticed by our most prestigious and self-loving national journalists. Merely to take note of that failure is to demonstrate how profoundly dysfunctional our political press is.

Read it here. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Many thanks to James for doing my work for me. I'm feeling very time-pressed these days, and I know wmtc is suffering for it. Feel free to email me anything you'd like me to share. I may not post it but I will always consider it.

14 comments:

James said...

I'm feeling very time-pressed these days, and I know wmtc is suffering for it.

I doubt any of us mind -- we all know that RL comes first. In any case, unless you're being paid to blog, it should never be "work", it should be fun. The worst thing for a good personal blog like wmtc is for it to become a chore.

As for the article -- well, Bush was absolutely correct when he said that a dictatorship would be much easier to run. Dictatorships are always easier to run that democracies. That's why democracies have been so rare, historically. That's why the US is (or should be) remarkable -- it's a 200+-year-old democracy.

The Rule of Law is also hard, since it always puts the "good guys" at a disadvantage. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a huge impediment to tossing people in jail -- as it should be.

But Bush-types want easy solutions. They want you to do as they say, regardless of how sensible it is, and they want to be able to shut you down if you don't. That's what everything from Plamegate, the DoJ purge scandal, through the Patriot Act, all the way up to the invasion of Iraq are all about.

James said...

This is another important part of the Salon article, from the update at the end:

[The media] write[s] about John Edwards' haircut and John Kerry's windsurfing and which political consultant has whispered what gossip to them about some painfully petty matter, but the extraordinary fact that our nation's dominant political movement is openly advocating the most radical theories of tyranny -- that "liberties are dangerous and law does not apply" -- is barely noticed by our most prestigious and self-loving national journalists. Merely to take note of that failure is to demonstrate how profoundly dysfunctional our political press is.

Daniel wbc said...

I found myself getting sick reading this.

I'm not sure this really "works," but part of this reminds me of "The Handmaid's Tale."

And James's quotation of the update of the Salon article explains why I scream when people talk of the "liberal media."

L-girl said...

You know, I meant to include that at the end, but it got dropped by accident. Thanks for that, James, I will add it now.

And James's quotation of the update of the Salon article explains why I scream when people talk of the "liberal media."

Liberal media - the biggest hoax this side of the moon landing.

Just kidding about the moon landing. Not about the media.

Note, too, that Mansfield is from Harvard, that supposed bastion of the Eastern Liberal Elite.

L-girl said...

I doubt any of us mind -- we all know that RL comes first. In any case, unless you're being paid to blog, it should never be "work", it should be fun. The worst thing for a good personal blog like wmtc is for it to become a chore.

Thanks for that, too. :)

It's true, I agree. That's why I almost ended this blog once or twice. It turned out all I needed was a little break (very little, IIRC!) to get a second or third wind.

L-girl said...

That's why democracies have been so rare, historically. That's why the US is (or should be) remarkable -- it's a 200+-year-old democracy.

Yup. And as you know, I think it's ending. The country will continue, and it might appear to be a democracy, but the experiment in people's representative self-rule has fallen apart.

M@ said...

I read Greenwald's column, and it's not always easy -- he's sometimes really long-winded and pedantic. But he's also right on the money most of the time. (His book is the same way, but it's got the added advantage of being quite cheap. I recommend it.)

But this one was really something. He's right both in his assessment of the situation, and his indictment of the media for giving it absolutely no attention.

It's astounding that all this has happened in a mere six years. I know that it's not just Bush, but there seemed to be reason to hope in the past. It's a strange thing, to be witness to the part of the history where the nation goes over the edge of a cliff.

And people are worried about Muslims and Mexicans getting into the USA -- I wonder if they should be more worried about getting out themselves.

M@ said...

By the way, I'm always looking forward to new WMTC posts, but I don't think there's anyone here who would begrudge you a break. We'll be here when you're posting -- Google Reader never sleeps...

loneprimate said...

It's hard not to be reminded of the end of the Roman Republic. Never a real democracy as we'd think of one, they did at least for a while attempt to give the people some power commensurate with that of the aristocracy. One thing I can say, though, is that when it over, more or less from the time of Julius Caesar onward, the men who would eventually be styled after him were careful to maintain the fiction of the republic for many generations... keeping the powers in separate offices (which they all just happened to hold simultaneously), having the power voted to them by the Senate, continuing with show elections for essentially hand-picked consuls, tribunes, etc. For someone in the United States, of all places, to come right out and roll the local branch of Anglo-American constitutionalism right back to King John before Runnymede, and this abruptly, is truly shocking. If we've reached the point where this makes sense to the American people, or even if they're willing to greet the idea with a shrug, then it truly is the end of the experiment. And look what's coming out of the test tube.

loneprimate said...

It's a strange thing, to be witness to the part of the history where the nation goes over the edge of a cliff. ...people are worried about Muslims and Mexicans getting into the USA -- I wonder if they should be more worried about getting out themselves.

There's a moment in an episode of TLC's show Collapse where a woman named Sherry Kline, recalling the failure of the Schoharie Creek bridge, remembers thinking,
"God rest your souls, people, I'm sorry... there's nothing we can do for you." They rescued the people they could; the water took the rest.

I wonder about us. How many might we provide some kind of shelter for? And are we safe? Safe from the Americans for whom these ideas make sense? Safe from ourselves? Our democracy isn't perfect but at this juncture of history, I feel it's more robust. We have to speak out now while we can to make sure it stays that way.

M@ said...

It's hard not to be reminded of the end of the Roman Republic... careful to maintain the fiction of the republic for many generations.

The parallels with the Roman Republic are quite close, but it's almost like Godwinning a discussion to bring them up, in my experience. It doesn't make them any less correct, as you pointed out. I entirely agree with all you've said here.

Our democracy isn't perfect but at this juncture of history, I feel it's more robust. We have to speak out now while we can to make sure it stays that way.

We're lucky. The big problems will come if a major collapse occurs south of the border, and suddenly they need our oil and fresh water. It's impossible to predict what we'll see two generations from now, but the likely scenarios are all too chilling.

I had my name in a database as a haven for Katrina evacuees because I was so distressed at the state of things then. I'd be on a list if things got really bad in general, too. I have some relatives in the USA who I'd be urging to take our futon if push came to shove, no question.

L-girl said...

It's astounding that all this has happened in a mere six years.

You're right - and I think that is itself another sign of what's going on.

One of the big points Jared Diamond makes in Collapse is how societies that fall tend to do so when they appear to be at the height of their power and prosperity. This pertains to climate change issues, of course - but also issues of politics and governance.

And people are worried about Muslims and Mexicans getting into the USA -- I wonder if they should be more worried about getting out themselves.

You can imagine how many times I've thought this.

Your comments about people sleeping on your futon resonate deeply for me. We have five nieces and nephews of draft age, and they'll all be living here before they march off to kill and/or die for someone else's profit. And since I'm already predisposed to think in those terms (also having had pregnant women sleeping coming to NYC for abortions sleeping in my home), I can easily see opening my home to refugees for "some other" reason.

That's very cool about being registered for Katrina victims, by the way. I didn't know there was such a thing. (We were literally moving to Canada when it happened.) (That "literal" is alright, as we were literally doing that.)

More from me in comments soon. Now I must make our weekly vet visit. I swear, we've been there almost weekly for the last few months!

L-girl said...

Oops, not done yet...

Lone Primate, I agree with you completely.

If we've reached the point where this makes sense to the American people, or even if they're willing to greet the idea with a shrug, then it truly is the end of the experiment.

Or if it doens't make sense but they either (a) know little to nothing about it or (b) dislike it but have no control over it. If democracy is crumbling, at some point - by definition - the people are no longer in control. If indeed they ever were.

I wonder about us. How many might we provide some kind of shelter for? And are we safe? Safe from the Americans for whom these ideas make sense? Safe from ourselves? Our democracy isn't perfect but at this juncture of history, I feel it's more robust. We have to speak out now while we can to make sure it stays that way.

Well said. Very true. Very scary.

L-girl said...

By the way, I'm always looking forward to new WMTC posts, but I don't think there's anyone here who would begrudge you a break. We'll be here when you're posting -- Google Reader never sleeps...

Thanks for this. :)

Blogging for me is never a chore - if it ever comes to that, I'll know it's time to stop or at least take a hiatus. But it's also good to know that if I did want to take a break, wtmc would still have readers when I returned.

A few, anyway. ;-)