Tag: eric posner

Law Professors against “Tyrannophobia”

Over at the American Conservative, I have a review of Eric Posner and Adrian Vermuele’s new book Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic. Funny enough, the working title for my book on presidential power was “Executive Unbound,” but P&V have a very different take on the dangers of concentrating power in the executive (they coin the term “tyrannophobia,” for irrational fear of executive abuse).

From the review’s intro:

The New York Times book editors assigned their review to the Straussian political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, the self-styled expert on “manliness” who’s as rabid a supporter of the imperial presidency as you’re likely to find. In the late Bush era, Mansfield wrote a 3,000-word Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The Case for the Strong Executive,” arguing that defects in the rule of law ‘‘suggest the need for one-man rule.”

Yet even Mansfield blanched at Executive Unbound’s case for unbridled presidential power. He began his review by noting indignantly, “Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule, law professors at Chicago and Harvard, respectively, offer with somewhat alarming confidence the ‘Weimar and Nazi jurist’ Carl Schmitt as their candidate to succeed James Madison for the honor of theorist of the Constitution.”

Gott im Himmel! A book that embraces a leading “Nazi jurist,” applauds the American presidency’s liberation from law, and is apparently hardcore enough to scare manly Harvey Mansfield? What sort of work is Executive Unbound? A Satanic Bible for worshippers of the strong presidency? The black-metal version of John Yoo?

As I dug into the book—while Tomahawk missiles rained down on Libya in yet another unauthorized presidential war—that’s what I was expecting. But Posner and Vermuele have produced something very different and, quite to my surprise, I liked it.

You can read the rest here.

‘Is Obama Punting on Human Rights?’

That’s today’s Arena question over at Politico.

My response:

This morning, both Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal, and Mona Charen, at Real Clear Politics, catalogue Obama’s silence on human rights – China, Tibet, Sudan, Iran, Burma, Honduras – and his backpedaling from his campaign rhetoric. Meanwhile, Eric Posner, at the Volokh Conspiracy, rightly credits Obama for, among other things, not backing the Goldstone Report and pressuring Spain to water down its undemocratic “universal jurisdiction” statute, even as he condemns the administration, again rightly, for its decision to join “the comically named U.N. Human Rights Council,” bastion of some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

What’s missing, it seems, is any coherent and systematic approach to those matters. During the Reagan administration I served for a time at State as director of policy for the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs – now called, interestingly, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Things were simpler during the Cold War. We focused on totalitarian regimes, somewhat less on authoritarian regimes, since people were allowed to leave those. And, yes, realpolitik played at least a part in our thinking, as inevitably it must. But the basic principles were clear: If human rights were to be respected, not simply behavioral but systematic change would be required. And Reagan kept the pressure on, publicly. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, millions saw that kind of change, in varying degrees. But the contrast between totalitarianism and democratic capitalism is less clear today than it was then, and the Obama administration, in both its foreign and domestic policies, is doing little to clarify it.

The promotion of human rights starts at home, with allowing people to plan and live their own lives, not with vast public programs that compel people to live under government planning. And in foreign affairs it requires both private and public diplomacy, quiet and not-so-quiet attention to the conditions that give rise to human rights abuses. That doesn’t mean military intervention to change those conditions. But neither does it mean remaining silent, as the Obama administration too often has. Countless victims of abuse, from Cuba to China and far beyond, have written about how important it was that they knew that the world knew about them: When America speaks, the world listens. But equally important, history demonstrates that regimes that respect their own people respect other people as well. It’s time for Obama to speak out.