Friday, January 13

Mansfield, Hamilton . . . and Maher?

The invaluable Harvey Mansfield, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of Government at Harvard, provides a thoughtful and historically grounded extension of my observation in an earlier post that "Authority should follow responsibility. This principle does not support a boundless grant of power, but . . . even if he does push the boundaries, a president should receive the benefit of doubt in waging war, because he certainly won't receive any benefit of doubt once the ground is littered with U.S. corpses."

The article is bluntly provocative in its endorsement of a flexible balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, which ebbs from the president to Congress in times of peace and flows in the opposite direction during times of war or emergency. Prof. Mansfield alludes to Hamilton's belief in the necessity of a strong, unitary executive by citing Federalist 70. He might also have discussed Federalist 23, also authored by Hamilton, which my post unconsciously echoed:

the persons from whose agency the attainment of any end is expected, ought to posses the means by which it is to be attained.

Other of Hamilton's writings also support of a vigorous executive prepared at all times for war and to do what it takes to repel foreign threats, a view at first resisted but later grudgingly accepted by his philosphical adversaries Jefferson and Madison. Hamilton's arguments served Lincoln well during America's greatest crisis, and contemporary leaders could do worse than avail themselves of the same counsel.

In related news, I nearly fell off my sofa a few minutes ago when I heard Bill Maher, guest hosting for Larry King, say that he supported the NSA warrantless wiretaps on the "better safe than sorry" principle. Good for him.

(By the way, Prof. Mansfield's A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy* is a great refresher for non-students as well, and I recommend America's Constitutional Soul to anyone interested in U.S. constitutional law.)

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*Strangely, the cover of the book on this Amazon page says "Student's Guide to Political Theory," but when you click on the book, the blown up picture substitutes "Philosophy" for "Theory.")