Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Bolton Treatment

John Bolton, Bush’s former U.N. Ambasssador, was on the Daily Show last night—apparently Jon Stewart will eventually get around to interviewing everybody. Bolton defended the firing of the federal prosectutors and several other administration moves by referring to what he called “democratic theory.” He used that phrase several times. It occurred to me that Bolton, who certainly thinks of himself as a deep thinker, was probably channeling Carl Schmitt. Schmitt’s idea of democracy is that the leader, elected by the people once and for all, is superior to law since his authority comes directly from the masses.

By Bolton’s lights, bureaucratic resistance to elected officials goes against the will of the people and is therefore illegitimate. It doesn’t seem to bother him if the Administration uses its legal arm to persecute its political enemies and protect its corrupt supporters. That’s consistent. One characteristic of Schmitt’s reactionary populism is its tendency to collapse together party and state. Political authority is unitary and vested in the party and its leader. Since He is the State, other sources of power are mere obstacles to the proper functioning of democracy. In Bolton’s view, as Stewart pointed out, it’s hard to see what would count as a proper check on the maximum leader. In this respect, though Bolton’s version of semi-fascism is rather more highfalutin, he’s very close to another Bush courtier, Albert Gonzales, who has famously asserted the priority of the Commander-in-Chief over Congress and the courts.

There’s something to be said for plain speaking. When Leopold Bloom requested a blow job by telling a whore “there are better things to wrap your lips around than a cylinder of rank weed.” The doxy replied, “You don’t have to make a stump speech out of it.” We need to make the same kind of reply when radical authoritarians like Bolton try to retail the Führerprinzip as “democratic theory.”

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