Not long ago, I read with great interest a blog post over at the Volokh Conspiracy, which makes reference to recent comparisons between the administration of George W. Bush and the political philosophy of the Nazi-era law professor Carl Schmitt – a man whose principle argument supported that any effective government must contain a dictatorial element within the constitution, as best expressed through the seizure of “emergency” powers. Volokh cites a paper by Adrian Vermeule and a posting from Sandy Levinson – in addition Opinio Juris was all over this Schmitt stuff even earlier. Volokh writes:
The legalists in American law schools rage at the Bush administration for claiming constitutional authority to wage the war on terrorism rather than going to Congress but are indifferent when the Bush administration cites, as authority to address the current financial crisis, a statute enacted by Congress seventy years ago and a judge-made doctrine that permits agencies to interpret ambiguous statutes expansively. Is it really so difficult to see that these two cases are the same from the perspective of the rule-of-law values that the rule of law is supposed to advance: public debate and authorization of policy by a representative body for the purpose of addressing events that it is actually aware of? I say that you have to approve of both or neither.
Now that we have seen the Bush-Paulson package, which was filled with this kind of language, get shot down by mostly House Republicans, the Schmitterian legacy once again hangs predominantly over the Bush administration’s final days. But Bush isn’t the only one out there carrying the Schmitt torch. In my many years of reading and writing about Putin’s Russia, I too have developed a significant interest in this frightening brand of constitutionalism, not least because it seems that Vladimir Putin is, like Bush, an ardent believer in the Schmitt doctrine.
Schmitt’s ideas form the basis for a number of dramatic similarities and shared processes that have occurred both in the United States and Russia. A column I recently wrote for Gazeta.ru highlighted this convergence, and a chapter in my upcoming book is also going to focus on this area. However for the sake of brevity, perhaps I could just take a page from the book of David Letterman and do a “top ten list” of these similarities between Putin’s St. Petersburg clan and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.Without further ado:#10. Both Bush and Putin share a deep-seated animosity toward the free press.#9. Religion is central to both leaders’ administrations, both believe they hold messianic world views, and neither believes in the separation between church and state.#8. The curse of the Ks: from the Kursk submarine disaster to Hurricane Katrina, both Putin and Bush have proved themselves breathtakingly inept before crises, and unable to correct their view of cronyism and promoting loyalty above competence.#7. Both presidents made the energy business the center of their economic policies.#6. Neither Bush nor Putin has ever met an autocrat they didn’t like.#5. Both have used the pretext of national security for a dramatic expansion of powers – sovereign democracy for Russia, unitary executive for the United States (I wonder if John Yoo and Vladislav Surkov workshopped these doctrines together before implementation).3. Bush and Putin share an appreciation for the captivating power of widespread fear and moral panic, and have done everything necessary to ensure its promulgation and promotion. As such, both have created anti-democratic governments dependent on the sustenance of external threats and new crises. 2. Both men are ruled from the shadows by dark overlords – Dick Cheney for Bush and Igor Sechin for Putin (or is it vice versa?).#1. George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin are both desktop generals, who never having been directly exposed to any military combat, hesitate not a moment to send thousands of their nation’s sons and daughters to the front lines of war, while shrouding themselves in bellicose symbols with fighter jet press conferences and a habit of frequent photo ops while carrying firearms.If anyone can think of more, just let me know … but I continue to believe that the strongest convergence between the Bush-Putin decade lies in the Schmitterian counterfeit constitutionalism that I believe both countries will have to spend many years undoing. God help us.