guayiya at BELLSOUTH.NET
Thu Oct 31 22:40:40 PST 2002
> I would like to offer some reflections on the extremely interesting
> authoritarianism thread. So far there has been little reference to the
> substantial political science literature on this topic, nor to Joseph Vining's important study, "The Authoritative and the
> Authoritarian." While some rhetorical uses of 'authoritarian' may be idle, it does not follow that the term itself is useless.
> For one thing, in focusing on current issues, policies and
> leaders, we seem to have avoided facing a crucial question about the
> authoritarian strands in the Constitution itself. This reminds us, among other things, of the early contest between
> Federalist/Antifederalist and, later, between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian readings of the document.
> It is hard to deny that the political culture in the Founding era was far
> more authoritarian than it is today. This accounts for both some of the
> language in the text and, even more crucial, some of the language
> missing from the text. There is no guaranteed right to vote, direct
> election for only one body, no reference to equality, little protection
> against abuses by States, etc. In addition, what we now regard as
> fundamental rights were, in general, far more narrowly construed than today.
Thus, there were many eventualities the Founders did not contemplate as well as existing practices they did not object to--many of
which are, to say the least, highly controversial by current standards.
> Moreover, the provisions for dealing with threats to national security were framed in a context largely irrelevant to our current
> concerns. We argue over 'unlawful combatants,'
> while they addressed letters of marque and reprisal.
> Nevertheless, from the outset there has been contestation over the scope of executive power, which in my view amounts to struggle over
> more versus less authoritarian readings of the document. The main motive for creating an independent executive was a perceived need
> to strengthen the authority of the central government. In addition, from the outset, authoritarians have leaned toward order and
> energy in government in balancing those values against the (potentially) opposing ones of personal liberty and equality. They have
> also seen the powerful and propertied as the chief supporters and beneficiaries of the constitutional order.
> I think it proper to label 'authoritarian' any argument that would grant immunity or privileged status to a claim of power by either
> governmental or nongovernmental elites. This applies most of all to claims of executive prerogative, because the executive, with its
> 'sword', is the most dangerous branch. It applies also to a Court that will seldom resist stretches of the
> executive power, and that systematically sides with the State over individuals, with owners over workers, with whites over minorities,
> and in general with haves over have nots.
Of course, one cannot assert that these days the underdogs never win. It is, however, pretty clear that the Rehnquist/Scalia/Thomas
triumvirate, at least, is far more concerned to support the authority of prison wardens, school principals, or police and military
officials than it is solicitous of those who complain of abuses by any of the above. Their jurisprudence in many dimensions has also
been aggressively active on behalf of the rights of the propertied, non-minorities, the non-disabled and so forth.
> These days even the so-called 'liberal' politicians, especially in the South, need to pledge
> allegiance to the large parts of the conservative agenda in order to have any chance of electoral success. This, in conjunction with
> the prevailing judicial trends and the role of money in politics, seems to guarantee that our highly--indeed increasingly--
> authoritarian system will thrive.
> The seemingly permanent state of quasi-war is, of course, part of the problem, because of the support it lends to 'judicial defernce,'
> --whether or not that is a conscious goal of our current foreign policy.
> It is striking that those most fond of literalist and originalist readings of the Constitution are the least apt to acknowledge that
> we are not literally at war and that the extraordinary measures now in place or contemplated are not explicitly provided for in the
> text. The argument that self-declared and unreviewable 'necessity' empowers the president or his minions to do as they like is the
> epitome of authoritarianism.
The practice of judicial review, taken out of context, is a red herring in this debate. The proposition that unchecked
power--governmental or not--is the essence of tyranny goes to the heart of the matter.
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