VOLOKH at MAIL.LAW.UCLA.EDU
Mon Oct 28 09:07:33 PST 2002
I appreciate Sandy's thoughtful post here, but I think it only helps
highlight the difficulty with using the term "authoritarian," especially in
the absence of any clear definition.
If the original message that started this thread had described Bush
as tending towards "authoritarianism in a way similar to Charles de
Gaulle's," I think it would have yielded a *very* different reaction on the
part of most observers, both from the Left and from the Right. It might
have produced an interesting discussion of its own, but quite a different
one than we've had.
This suggests to me that Sandy is using a definition of
"authoritarianism" that has quite a different connotation (and perhaps even
denotation) than the term often has. For instance, as I mentioned before,
my New Shorter Oxford defines "authoritarian" as "Favouring or characterized
by obedience to (esp. political) authority as opp[osed] to personal liberty;
tyrannical, dictatorial." Now de Gaulle thought the French Presidency
should be strong than some others thought, and perhaps than many of us might
think (I'm just not sure); but I doubt that we'd call him "tyrannical" or
"dictatorial" except as hyperbole, or with a great deal of qualification.
Now I know there are indeed terms that have different meanings and
connotations in technical discourse than they have in public discussion.
And in theory, we could agree on a definition of "authoritarian" that is (1)
not highly pejorative, and (2) broad enough to include many people and
actions that we wouldn't think are tyrannical or dictatorial.
On the other hand, we also see that (1) the original use of the term
on this thread did -- unless I am very much mistaken -- try to use the term
in a highly pejorative way, rather than in the mild and descriptive way that
Sandy suggested, and (2) we have yet to see in this thread any clear
definition of "authoritarian." That, I think, supports my view that
"authoritarian" is not a terribly helpful label in this discussion, given
how likely it is that it will mean very different things to different
people, and how tainted it is with the highly pejorative connotation -- one
that goes far beyond the actions of Charles de Gaulle -- that comes from its
association with "tyrannical" and "dictatorial."
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Sanford Levinson [mailto:SLevinson at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU]
> Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2002 2:52 PM
> To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu
> Subject: Re: Authoritarianism
> Mark Scarberry writes;
> >Jack's treatment of abuses of power by President Nixon as a GOP
> >phenomenon leads me to ask whether the previous Democratic
> >President Johnson, had a better record. Is there someone on the list
> >who has followed the recent scholarship on the Johnson
> presidency and
> >who would be willing to give us a brief response?
> Let's assume that Mark is absolutely right. Might we not
> have an important discussion of the frequency with which
> presidents of the United States have adopted a variety of
> "authoritarian" postures and what this might tell us about
> the operating assumptions of the American system of
> government? I presume that everyone would agree that Charles
> de Gaulle was quite "authoritarian" in his conception of the
> French presidency. So perhaps we could do some comparative
> analysis and ask which of our presidents, including those
> termed "great" by at least some assessors, were at least as
> "authoritarian" as de Gaulle.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Conlawprof