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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Joyce Appleby on Bush

Via Josh Marshall, I see that Joyce Oldham Appleby, author of one of my favorite early modern history books, has co-written with Sen. Gary Hart a piece for the History News Service that she co-directs, called "The Founders Never Imagined a Bush Administration." It's a good piece, for a general audience, especially with the Hamdan case being argued today in the Supreme Court, a case that raises questions very much related to early modern constitutional history (see this excellent ACLU summary of the issues in Hamdan).

When they wrote crucial parts of the Constitution--the power of the purse, the habeas clause, the impeachment clause, the advice and consent clause, the Third Amendment, the Eighth Amendment--the founders had in mind the Five Knights' Case (Darnel's Case), the Ship Money case, the Petition of Right (text), the Grand Remonstrance (text), and other elements of what used to be called the "road to Civil War" (even if modern historians don't believe there was such a high road to war, the founders may well have), as well as the later Stuart history culminating in the 1679 Habeas Corpus Act (text) and the 1689 Bill of Rights (text). Now that Bush has claimed emergency power to suspend or abrogate the law (see here as well), to use war powers on US citizens, to determine alone and without Congress when a state of war exists, to suspend habeas corpus (without the "invasion" or "rebellion" that the Constitution demands), to detain and try US citizens by martial rather than civil law, this early modern history seems more important than ever. (The only thing we haven't seen yet, by my count, is a forced loan, but give him time, that Iraq war costs a lot more than he thought it would ....) I wish some eminent historian of the early modern Atlantic world like Appleby or J.G.A. Pocock would write an op-ed on the subject to remind us of this constitutional tradition and its stakes. Or is there already something like this out there that I've missed?

  • At 3/28/2006 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Exactly. I've had the Charles I--G. W. Bush comparison kicking around my head for over three years now, mainly because of Glenn Burgess. He argues in, I believe, Absolute Monarchy that the legal crisis of late 1630s England that led to the Ship Money trial and then the Grand Remonstrance was largely provoked by Charles I repeatedly invoking "necessity" in order to justify extra-Parliamentary taxation (I need money to build ships to protect us from foreign invasions). I'm not sure Burgess is completely right (I haven't seen lots of references to Charles I actually making this claim and he was clearly cozy-ing up to Spain, which seems like it would make it hard to claim he needed money to defend against a Spanish invasion), but the historical parallels are clear: if a king or a president invokes necessity and national security, then he can justify almost any extra-legal action (at least in his own mind). It's almost as if Bush has patterned his administration on that of Charles I--religious polarization and extremism, foreign wars, legal crises, an emphasis on manners and decorum (with Clinton functioning as a heterosexual James I), hated favorites. Now we just need Canada to revolt, followed by Mexico, and we can re-enact the complete Caroline experience.


  • At 3/28/2006 11:34:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    On the issue of "necessity" and the "state of exception" or "emergency," Carl Schmitt certainly had the early modern period in mind when writing Political Theology, and Schmitt influenced the neocon movement at U Chicago, which then makes its way into the Bush administration. So the connections are not purely coincidental or accidental.


  • At 3/29/2006 03:43:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    I have this not very useful but perhaps amusing addition:

    When Bush flew to Iraq under double-super-secret cover to celebrate Thanksgiving with the troops a couple of years ago--not having told even Laura about it, and sneaking off the ranch in the middle of the night--I called up a friend and said, "Omigod! It's Charles and Buckingham running off to Spain to woo the Infanta!"


  • At 3/29/2006 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…


    Good point, and if I remember correctly, I once saw a little-examined manuscript in the British Library manuscript room--I think it was in the Additional MSS--written by a member of Charles and Buckingham's retinue on that trip; at the bottom was scrawled the mysterious words: "preznit giv me turkee".


  • At 3/29/2006 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    won hee turkee, twoo shees; won elefant for yr mjsties dogges; and c.


  • At 4/05/2006 06:41:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Giorgio Agamben's little book States of Exception lays out a very interesting history here, arguing (as I recall) that we're dealing here not simply with the acts of a rogue administration, but with a history that has been unrolling within democratic regimes especially since the second world war, but also really even since the French Revolution: constitutional rule has been increasingly absorbed within the state of exception, and sovereign power increasingly understands itself from the standpoint of the suspension of all norms and juridico-legal processes. But it seems to me that we would have to take this back to the early modern period, and that in some way we're looking at a weird recursion to a moment before the full establishment of modern constitutional processes, when it was the possibility of those processes themselves that was being fought out: the political questions these days are precisely the same kind of ground-up, foundational questions -- questions that can't really be answered within any legal framework, because they concern the possibility of existence of any legal framework. I can just imagine Cheney the First being put on trial, and refusing to answer any questions because he doesn't recognize the jurisdiction of the court. We basically already have that spectacle in all of the various senate confirmation hearings we've been seeing, where the questioning has become a sham because the administration's line is effectively that Congress has no right to ask any real questions: the administration's take is clearly that Congress is there merely to ratify the administration's own decisions. Anything more is an infringement of executive privilege.

    The Appleby / Hart article is interesting. What's appalling is the firestorm of enraged commentary in the responses. Also appalling -- how much time some people spend plotzing online.


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