Sanchez or Mansfield: Who's Manlier?


It's not getting a ton of attention, but Harvey Mansfield's essay on the founders and their desire to make the president all-powerful is the kind of apologism that was getting creaky two, even three years ago. Blogging at The Economist's "Democracy in America" blog, Reasonoid Julian Sanchez picks up a Mansfield-shaped pinata and gives it a good thwacking.

Even taking into account that intellectual history is Mr Mansfield's bailiwick, the entire discussion feels airily disconnected from the contemporary wrangling over the scope of presidential authority that he purports to address. It is as if Mansfield, in the desultory manner of the muttering, slightly batty uncle who makes family reunions so awkward, had taken a discussion of tax policy as an occasion to launch into an extended discourse on Hobbes' account of the emergence of political authority from the state of nature. Aristotle's rather abstract critique of the rule of law may be as insightful as his analysis of eudaemonia, or (as it will doubtless seem to Hayekian eyes) as naive as his theory that birds can be impregnated by the wind. But it is not enormously helpful when it comes to resolving particular questions about the scope of executive authority in the contemporary American context: May the president unilaterally declare certain persons "enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely? May he bypass the ample emergency procedures written into the law itself in order to authorize wiretaps without judicial oversight? I can imagine Machiavelli's answer; I doubt it should also be ours.

Sanchez is guesting at the blog all week.