Saturday, May 12, 2007

Executive Power is Unmanly

Commentators have been giving themselves hernias trying to see a connection between Harvey Mansfield's interest in executive power and his interest in manliness. (See this Andrew Sullivan post, and follow the links, for example.) In an interview with Bruce Cole, Mansfield provides the connection, but it turns out to be different than what most people think. Basically, Mansfield says that executive power is unmanly because it isn't rule in one's own name. When you execute (as opposed to rule in your own name), there is at least an element of doing someone else's bidding (Congress's, the people's). Someone else makes you do it, when you execute. In fact, that's why we call our president an executive; it's less threatening to people who view all rule as unjust than to simply say that he rules. Anyway, here's the relevant exchange:

MANSFIELD: Well, I talk about this in my book Executive Power, which looks at the influence of Machiavelli on modern politics. I argue that executive power is power that exercised in the name of someone other than yourself, so it’s a kind of indirect government. It’s a way of acting without taking responsibility for your actions. In that sense, executive power is something weak or it’s something that you present as, “I’m sorry, I would like to help you, but the law says I can’t” or “I’m sorry, we need to do this because the people have spoken.” You always find some other authority besides yourself in which to supply clothing for your own actions. This is something that had not been thought of or invented by the ancients, by Plato and Aristotle, it’s a modern idea.

COLE: This discussion seems to be heading towards manliness. That’s the title of your most recent book, right?


COLE: At first sight, Manliness seems to be a departure from your earlier work, but it really isn’t, though.

MANSFIELD: Manliness, you could say, is the opposite of executive power. Manliness, instead of being indirect, is very direct. It’s frank and open, and, therefore, somewhat oblivious to one’s surroundings and not, as we say today, sensitive. I’d say the present day opposite of a manly man is a sensitive male.


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