Dictatorship, in the form of Caesarism, is in the American air. I have recently written on what, in practical terms, an American Caesar would do; I will soon tell you how likely our Caesar is, and why. As it happens, I am at the same time working my way through all the books of Carl Schmitt, in their order of original publication, and his next book up, Dictatorship, published in 1921, clarifies the historical and legal-analytical part of what is unspooling before our eyes. We cannot be better informed, analytically at least, than by pondering this work of the peerless German, whose book, as always, puts to shame today’s mostly insipid political and constitutional analysis.
Ah, Carl Schmitt, Carl Schmitt! No man like him exists today. Political philosophy in our time is, and for many decades past has been, largely the domain of intellectual pygmies and outright morons; the age of gold has degenerated into the age of brass, or of plastic with yellow paint. Schmitt is dead, but his work is not, and this, one of his series of books published during the early Weimar period in Germany, illuminates much of our own present condition. That’s not to say The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is an easy read. Like much of Schmitt’s writing, it is somewhat elliptical, alternating great insight with moments of “where are we going with this?” But the payoff is worth the effort.
On January 6, several thousand men and women made their voices heard—first around, and then some in, the United States Capitol. This event has received vast attention and been assigned many meanings. But only one meaning, one interpretation, of this Electoral Justice Protest matters; the rest are ephemera or lies. It was the first time in the modern era that the great mass of non-elite Americans, suffering actual oppression for decades (as opposed to the fake oppression falsely claimed by the various elements of the Left intersectional coalition), voiceless and endlessly hectored that they should hate themselves and fear their masters, realized they have power and can actually change the course of history. From this flows everything that will determine our future.
You know what America needs? More mirrors for princes—the Renaissance genre of advice books directed at statesmen. On the Right, we have many books that identify, and complain about, the problems of modernity and the challenges facing us. Some of those books do offer concrete solutions, but their audience is usually either the educated masses, who cannot themselves translate those solutions into policy, or policymakers who have no actual power, or refuse to use the power they do have. Scott Yenor’s bold new book is directed at those who have the will to actually rule. He lays out what has been done to the modern family, why, and what can and should be done about it, by those who have power, now or in the future. Let’s hope the target audience pays attention.
America was, for much of its existence, defined as a nation of laws, not men, in the famous phrase of John Adams. No more. Now men, but only some men, rule. They rule as they please, in arbitrary, selective, self-benefitting fashion. Thus, what we live under is a tyranny, a system without rule of law. Unlike a traditional tyranny, though, our tyrant is not one man, but rather a compound being. Think the classic picture of Hobbes’s Leviathan, one giant and powerful undying creature, whose body is composed of the hive members of our rotten ruling class. But look more closely—our Leviathan is giant and powerful, yes, but is also drooling and imbecilic.
In Conformity, Cass Sunstein takes common sense about how decisions are informed, and distorted, by social pressure and makes it both better and worse. Better, because he shows why common sense is confirmed by logic and experiment. Worse, because he makes it feel pedantic. But if you reflect on the discussions in this book, and apply them to current events and your own thinking, you can get some interest and excitement back into your brain, and maybe benefit yourself and society as well.
Glenn Reynolds, the famous “Instapundit” and a law professor at the University of Tennessee, offers a short book about social media and the problems it brings. He frames his analysis and argument as a parallel to James C. Scott’s Against the Grain, which valorizes Mesopotamian hunter-gatherers. Reynolds’s point is that just as when hunter-gatherers became city dwellers they also became more susceptible to disease, so when we submitted ourselves to living on social media, we also became more susceptible to disease. That is, to diseases of the mind, and he offers some possible cures and vaccines.
Conservatives have long complained about the administrative state, the monster that swallowed America. Many complaints focus on the end result: how the administrative state is a tool of the Left, that accomplishes innumerable Left goals, all destructive. Other complaints, more technical, focus on how crucial elements of the American constitutional system, such as separation and enumeration of powers, have vanished, destroyed by the Blob-like growth and flailing tentacles of the administrative state. John Marini steps back even further, to show how the administrative state is utterly incompatible with the philosophical vision of America’s founding, and is rather the fruit of poisonous modern philosophies, deadly to any society based on natural right and reason.
It has long been an article of faith on the Right, including for me, that the Left has undemocratically imposed its views on the country for decades by using the Supreme Court as a super-legislature. I had a discussion with a friend of mine this past weekend, an actual centrist (bizarre, I know), who suggested this view is wrong, or rather exaggerated. He challenged me to demonstrate my position, stipulating that it is obviously true with respect to abortion. For the most part, I failed his challenge, but today we will explore to what degree and why it matters.
[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who has a tendency to drift between British and American spellings, but who has recently been trying to standardise (ha ha) on the former.] One of the most interesting topics to me, a total neophyte in the field of law, is the comparison between civil law (i.e., law decreed by a sovereign), and common law (i.e., law constructed by judges in the Anglo-American tradition). The topic is deep and weighty, and one in which it’s hard to cleanly resolve a question along the lines of which might be “better.” Everything is subtlety and nuance, comparison of principles and implementation, and a noting of the successes and failures of each in history.