Alito is a menace. Friends, this is no time to invoke the Powell Doctrine. Sometimes you have to enter a battle without overwhelming force and without the assurance of victory: that’s what’s known as “courage.” Conservatives are salivating for a reason: Samuel Alito’s succession to the court would render the Bush era permanent. Even those who have quietly abandoned their feckless leader, are thrilled that what he stands for will live in the person of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Mansfield and his school of thought deprecate liberal democracy as inherently weak and potentially self-destructive: in times of war, you want a proud leader who will circumvent the vulgar rule of law in order to act decisively, with cruel Machiavellian virtu. You want a president who is not squeamish about torturing captives, denying habeas corpus, quietly ignoring the quaint fetters placed upon the executive by the masses (read: Congress).
The Straussians, if you’re not familiar with them, stress the necessity of esoteric writing: read this article carefully, with an eye to the hidden “dark teaching.” Andrew Sullivan, who studied with Mansfield, nails the pivotal assertion (without fully taking Mansfield to task for his pernicious intent): with this ill-defined War on Terror, the state of war is now permanent, meaning that the Executive’s unrestricted power to act efficiently is now — if you believe this perverse reading of the Framers — a permanent fact. In short, the United States has become a benevolent tyranny.
(For a nice refutation of this reading — one that concentrates upon Madison’s profound fear of arbitrary powers in a time of war — read John Nichols’ superb article Samuel Alito v. James Madison.)
Alito’s confirmation is an absolutely crucial step in the completion of this new regime. (And a new regime it is: we will have passed out of an era of pure liberal democracy, into something which looks similar, but is in fact horribly different.) Mansfield does not address Alito specifically, but it is clear that the redefinition of the executive requires the Supreme Court to retreat behind a screen of quietism. As the New York Times points out, Samuel Alito’s entire career points towards a strategy of castrating the judicial branch, in favor of a Brave New Presidency. In particular, the tactic of “signing statements” — in which the president is encouraged to take acts of Congress as pleasant advice, rather than binding legal stricture — is Alito’s personal contribution to the decline of a free republic.
I want to call myself a Democrat; I really do. Decency has long pooled almost exclusively in the center; the Republicans have become as vicious and unprincipled as the far left. The problem — and Mansfield’s thesis is unfortunately dead accurate here — is that the vicious and unprincipled tend to be much more effective. I’m not calling for the abandonment of principle, of course: I’m insisting that principle be pursued, now, with ruthless conviction. Filibuster this dangerous man. Just do it. Even if you have become utterly infected by the weeping defeatists — even if you buy the (by no means certain) inevitability of failure — do not go gentle. Everything that we believe in depends upon this. And history demonstrates that many battles fought in this way — in the teeth of almost certain failure, by virtue of the absurd — prove our finest hours.