The drone policy in all of its horror is itself a reaction to and indirect consequence of previous rounds of entirely well-intentioned criticism of the same type, and represents a further, as ever two-sided, penetration of legalism and humanitarianism into the conduct of war, not some “unprecedented” departure from legality and humanity.
I suspect that Kotsko features himself an interesting radical rather than a mere liberal. It would seem that in this context, both liberals and radicals are “inconsequentialist.” The difference is that the liberals are committed to discussion (perhaps “at other blogs”) that goes nowhere, if without their knowledge; the radicals continually re-commit themselves to nothing – openly and consistently – that is, hypocritically.
We are hostages to the decision, including our own collective decision on one “decider” as opposed to another. Articles like Lewis’, if they reinforce our confidence in the existent rather than the ideal executive, help us to accommodate ourselves to a void in the law and its effects: The existence of this void can serve our needs; or it can be hemmed in politically – which is to say partially and provisionally; or it can be survived until the day it happens to kill us – but it cannot be legislated or reasoned way. So we can expand our general observation on liberalism – including the liberalism that advertises its libertarian purism or its republican virtues or its partisan conservatism, with or without the tri-corner hats and Minuteman costumes: As we know, it has nothing interesting to say about these issues. It does, however, very much like to pretend that it does.
Regardless of where we come down in the end on the wisdom and justifiability of the administration’s war policies, criticism that does not take the full debate and its real subject into consideration, that merely repeats what we already know – that war is awful and morally, culturally, and politically deforming; that it exceeds the terms of normal, lawful policy; that it makes us act like “barbarians” all on the way to Hell – does not deserve to be and likely will not be taken seriously.
If progressives believe, or know whether they believe, that exceptional measures were justifiable, but went wrong, then an entirely different replacement regime and set of reforms might make sense than if they believe common rhetoric about rule of law mattering more than all other concerns, whatever the costs or risks. On the other hand, if they believe the War on Terror was in fact a self-obviating success, then they might wish to replace the AUMF with a new legal and administrative regime that acknowledges and learns from authentic successes – successful warmaking against a real and legitimate, not simply ideologically constructed enemy – as well as from errors.
To step back from the Armageddon-level options that still follow the U.S. president around in a briefcase, there remains only a post hoc and in the highest sense political check on a president’s interpretation of Article 2 powers. In non-global-apocalyptic but merely national apocalyptically extreme cases, a president may even interpret his designated and implied powers to allow for flagrantly unconstitutional measures: We return as frequently to Lincoln during the Civil War, nullifying the requirement for writ of habeas corpus, generally prosecuting a war against insurrectionists on the basis of his own judgment until eventually recognized by a wartime Supreme Court. At such points, it is “up to history” to determine whether the executive has done the right thing – will get a monument or a tearful farewell under threat of impeachment.
The Drones as symbol refer us to a tyrannical, imperial, not merely mechanical but super-biological or super-organic, invulnerable, temporally and geographically unbounded, and most of all cruelly lethal power that has already annihilated the human being ideally before it sends its “Hellfire” missile at him to finish the job, while also morally annihilating the distant human pilots and their masters, the latter group eventually including all of us who benefit or who possess a moral share in the program as citizens of a democratic republic.
The pathos of the libertarian lament reminds us of real death and suffering, and of real failures of policy and moral imagination, but such stubborn self-insistence makes it difficult for others to speak to the would-be prophets other than as to children. Here as so often, the ideological libertarian position reveals itself to be implicitly pacifist and essentially anti-political, in a word utopian, in calling for an impossible polity, one that would be inherently incapable of defending itself or its integrity against violent opposition, whether from actual states or from so-called non-state (actually crypto- or proto-state) actors.
The overall dysfunctionality of a political discussion can be the product of countless such lesser dysfunctionalities, though the overall dysfunctionality of that discourse may in turn be what makes it manageable, or manageable enough. We dislike things the way they dysfunctionally are, and that is how we like things.
Final responsibility for the defense of the constitutional order necessarily implies the ability to dissolve the constitutional order – if not by ordering up a nuclear war or declaring a state of emergency, and so on, then by simple failure to act against a threat to it or to fulfill the responsibility of his office. The scope of presidential power is in this sense at least commensurate to the scope of the legal order.
(longer version of a comment left at a typically impossible discussion of Carl Schmitt at the Crooked Timber blog.)
the single most interesting question he raises, if not uniquely, then signally, is the constitutional paradox of the constituting/constituted power. That still deserves consideration.
I agree with this observation, and I've read all of JCH's comments on this thread with interest, while recognizing the difficulty and perhaps the impossibility of what he's trying to do here - among other things trying to defend an interest in "the enemy" to the enemy's committed enemies. (THE ENEMY was the title that Gopal Balakrishnan gave to his very useful intellectual biography of Schmitt, published in 2000[ (( The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt )) ]). Quite often, this very difficult if not impossible exercise coincides with another difficult impossibility: of trying to do philosophy on a blog comment thread.
It is just a bit more than merely ironic that those perplexed by the theory of the primacy for politics of the friend-enemy distinction so frequently and perhaps universally operate from friend-enemy presumptions in their discussion, or most typically in their refusal of actual discussion, of the same concept. That this problem would tend to recur is one strong implication of the theory underlying Schmitt's "Concept of the Political." A second or corollary implication is that this concept of the political implies a politicization of the concept, and finally collapses into or is revealed to rely upon, is an argument or the argument on, the concept of concepts at all. The question of the sovereign decision ex nihilo turns out to be a form of the more general and more basic question of existence ex nihilo - another form of the "why is there something and not nothing?" and another form of the "why am I bothering to offer a comment on a blog thread?" or "why am I declining to continue this discussion?"
(At CT I ended the comment there, but I'll choose here to continue a bit further:)
The explicability of the (any) decision (including the omission or refusal of decision) is inherent in the decision as a potential, but its not being entirely known or knowable, its character not yet having been determined, is what differentiates the decision as decision, or subjective experience/experience of subjectivity or of freedom of the will in the moment of decision (presence as self-presence at all), from that which is to be decided upon and the moment of decision, as concretely the result (result of results) of all decisions already made. "Who has not sat in suspense before his heart's curtain?"
The poet implies that we all have had that experience. One might suggest further that "to be at all as a 'who'" means to be in such suspense. It is in that moment that who one is or we are or we are/always were/are-going-to-be-henceforth is revealed to us, that we reveal ourselves to ourselves, as though from nothing - applying Schmitt's formulation regarding the sovereign decision. Only afterwards, precisely as in the judgment of a crime or in the larger "court of history," the individual's or society's or blog-thread-commenter's or the universe's true character having been revealed, does explanation including causal explanation become possible, though satisfaction, or the decision to be satisfied, necessarily and without exception takes a similar form (as necessity, as the exception). As was quite apparent to Kant and as we all know, but as we always eventually decide to suppress precisely in order to get on with life, the full explanation of the criminal's or the enemy's or our own conduct would eventually vacate the notion of any meaningful decision at all. My bad childhood produced my bad behavior. My bad education produced this incoherent blog comment. My loneliness and self-destructive tendencies explain why I am leaving why I did not leave this comment in full at this that forum full of mainly unsympathetic and even hostile interlocutors. Such totalities of explanation/explanatory totalities, or the position of complete determinism, eliminates subjectivity. They tell us that there never was nor ever is or can be a meaningful decision at all: There was the effect of causes, and the illusion of volition and meaning. Things did things to things, that is all (determinism as physicalist reductionism/eliminationism).
Naturally, inevitably, we or I refuse to accept this concept that has no meaningful spot for us or me, or, to say the same thing, we or I may at most pretend to accept this meaninglessness as meaningful: Either way, the origin of the self appears to be its own self-origination as though from nothing, in this instance in direct confrontation with the thought of its/my own nothingness: I insist on myself, on this now as not yet explicable, as still to be determined. For example, I might take the decision, and make what seems to me a fully reasonable decision, and what may turn out to be or to seem a fully explicable one, but without offering or being able to offer reason or explanation to myself or others, to stop here.
The Alt-Right is criticizeable in many ways, and is undoubtedly full of unpleasant people given to saying repugnant things and taking pleasure in doing so, but the Alt-Right is not wrong to point to a transformation whose existence is obvious, but whose significance is difficult to discuss. The denial their statements receive may in turn reflect a determination on the part of a type of true believer to accept the narrative as a kind of sacred truth, rather than as an even conceivably debatable proposition.
Since John Derbyshire brought his family into it, I feel free to imagine a response on the part of his child - in effect to mark the transition via adolescent resistance on the way to autonomous adulthood. "Why should I follow what you advise, father? So I can grow up to live a life as morally impoverished, as safe from the risky vitality of others, as immune to hope, as yours?"
TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.
For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.
The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.
Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.
[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.