yet more on the "a" word
allan.ides at LLS.EDU
Wed Oct 23 12:04:06 PDT 2002
Thank you. And I find nothing in your response with which I would
object. I especially appreciate the nuanced approach you take in the
"Volokh, Eugene" wrote:
> I much appreciate Prof. Ides' thoughtful post on this. He
> proposes an interesting definition of authoritarian, though still one
> that strikes me as pretty broad.
> But at least it's evenhanded: For instance, under his
> definition, the New Deal's shift of power from 50 states to the
> federal government is authoritarian, because it tends toward a
> centralization of power in the institution of the federal government
> (of course, not the creation of absolute power, but the definition
> only calls for "tends toward a centralization"). Likewise, the
> movement to create a larger government at all levels, and to have it
> regulate the economy and raise more money in taxes, is authoritarian,
> because it tends toward a centralization of power in the institution
> of the government generally, via a diminution in the relative power of
> other sectors. The movement to implement private school choice would
> be highly anti-authoritarian, and the movement to block private school
> choice and protect government-run schools would presumably be
> authoritarian (though in the sense of preserving relatively
> centralized power rather trying to increase it).
> Similarly, the Supreme Court's federalization of criminal
> procedure was authoritarian, because it centralized power to dictate
> criminal procedure in the institution of the Supreme Court. Similarly
> as to Roe v. Wade, which centralized power to set abortion policy in
> the Court; similarly as to many of the Court's constitutional
> decisions (many of which I agree with), from Baker v. Carr to Schempp
> and on.
> Of course, one can also argue that these decisions had both
> authoritarian and anti-authoritarian effects, because they centralized
> one sort of power in one institution and diffused another sort of
> power among many. One can, for instance, say this about Roe, which
> centralized the power to make national abortion policy, and diffused
> the power to make individual abortion decisions. One can of course
> also say that about Morrison, Lopez, and such, which in some measure
> centralized power in the Court, and to a different extent diffused
> power among the states.
> But the funny thing is that somehow people who are generally
> on the Left almost always apply the label "authoritarian" to what the
> Right does, and not to what the Left does. Prof. Ides may not have
> done this, but I've seen many posts that have. That, I think, is part
> of why so many people bristle at the use of the term: It seems not to
> be a tool of evenhanded analysis, but rather a political device that
> is used to attack conservatives.
> Prof. Ides surely does not intend it this way, and if people
> agree to evenhandedly use his admirably balanced definition, that
> would be great -- for instance, if people from the Left start saying
> that Roe v. Wade was (at least in large part) an authoritarian
> decision, but was good despite (or because of) that, or that the New
> Deal was an authoritarian movement, but of course that not all
> authoritarianism is bad. I'm not sure that this will happen, but if
> that becomes the way the term is used (both about the Left and the
> Right), then I will withdraw my objections to it.
> Allan Ides writes:
> > Out of respect for those who took offense at my use of the
> > word "authoritarian," I write briefly to explain my intended
> > meaning. In reference to government practices, I take
> > "authoritarian" to describe those practices that tend toward
> > a centralization of power in a single person or institution
> > which may then exercise that power with relative impunity.
> > That's it. Describing an administration as having such a
> > tendency is, as someone else pointed out, not the same as
> > saying that this or that person is a jerk. Rather, it
> > suggests that the the actions undertaken by the person or
> > administration in question may pose a threat to the
> > constitutional balance of powers by aggrandizing power in a
> > particular branch. I can see how people would disagree with
> > such a description as to the Bush Adminstration, but I
> > shouldn't think it would be taken as a personal insult.
> > As to whether authoritarianism is a trait of the right or
> > left, I would simply observe that the Constitution presumes
> > that all persons, regardless of political creed, have the
> > potential to seek and abuse power.
> > Allan Ides
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