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Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and[…]

Harvey Mansfield argues for a strong executive because law cannot prescribe every situation in advance.

Question: What is the case for a strong executive?

Harvey Mansfield: The case for the strong executive rests on the fact that America is the first republic that was formed with a strong executive. Previous republics had executives who were at the bidding of the legislature, or who rebelled against that – like Oliver Cromwell – and became tyrannical. So how do you . . . how do you make an executive that’s strong enough and yet remain Republican or obedient to law? The difficulty is that law cannot prescribe in advance every situation that’s going to arise. Nor can any general principle. So you will always need to rely in government, or have a way of relying in an emergency. Or maybe also even – also for the long term – a single mind who can decide without infringement or hindrance. Of course you can make him accountable afterwards, as our president is. But there needs to be someone who’s looking at the whole and who can react in the name of the whole. And that’s what our constitutional executive power is. It’s a power even, I think, to go against the law when the law would bring disaster, as might happen.

Recorded on: 6/13/07