Friday, April 18, 2008

Another cult

The Cato Institute is promoting Gene Healy's book The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. He writes in a mass email:
Americans have come to see the president as a figure responsible for solving all our problems and fulfilling all our hopes and dreams. Is it any wonder then that the presidency has burst its constitutional bonds and grown powerful enough to threaten
American liberty?

Using historical scholarship, legal analysis, and cultural commentary, my book traces the growth of the Imperial Presidency over the course of the 20th century, showing how the Imperial Presidency has been a regularly recurring feature of American life for nearly a century. George W. Bush has, in short, followed a path marked out by history’s ‘great’ presidents.
Why pick on just the 20th century? Activist presidents like Jefferson (Louisiana Purchase), Jackson (Indian "removal"), Lincoln (Civil War), and Grant (Reconstruction) -- and their worshippers -- are all over the 19th century.

I'm curious enough to ask, but probably not curious enough to actually read the book: does Healy confront the problem that sometimes liberties conflict? The "rights" to secede and to hold black people in bondage were surely infringed by activist presidents, but allowing those "liberties" probably would have hindered the expansion of corporate capitalism across a large uniformly governed area. If Healy is expounding an actual political philosophy and not just playing ventriloquist's dummy for a certain portion of the upper crust, he'll produce a rationale that goes beyond just hating on the New Deal.


Anonymous said...


What do you mean by "corporate capitalism"? Is there any other kind of capitalism? I ask because I'm a fan of both corporations and capitalism and have been thinking about both lately as I read Brookhiser's wonderful biography of Alexander Hamilton (also a big fan of corporations and capitalism).

So-Called Austin Mayor said...


Capitalism can, and did, exist quite nicely without the legal fiction of perpetual corporate personhood.

There are numerous other business organizations that would allow investors to pool their money -- e.g. Andrew Carnegie formed his steel operation as a limited partnership, and John D. Rockefeller set up Standard Oil as a trust -- but which would not create an inhuman legal person with the rights and liberties of actual flesh and blood human beings.

Alexander Hamilton could not have been a fan of modern corporate personhood, as corporate persons did not exist at the time.

Corporations were only recognized as legal persons and protected by the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment in the wake of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886.

so-called "Austin Mayor"

Harold said...

Thanks, SCAM. You can have half of my blog revenues for today.

Anonymous said...

I too want to thank SCAM for explaining what Harold meant. Now the more important question -- given the amazing and massive increases in human wealth and prosperity over the past 100+ years in America (since the 1886 Supreme Court decision) why are corporations bad for us? Or to put it another way, why did corporations come into existence in the first place and why have they done so well for capitalism since their creation? After all, it seems like a limited partnership is just as much of a "legal fiction" as a corporation? Denouncing corporations without doing the serious (and my guess) difficult work of explaining their benefits as well as their drawbacks, seems like something Harold would normally avoid.

Harold said...

Um, read the whole thing. I wasn't denouncing "corporate capitalism," I was using it as a descriptive phrase in the course of making an entirely different point.