Debate on power should continue.

Author:DeRosa, Marshall
Position:Further Thoughts on Power - Response to Claes G. Ryn, Humanitas, vol. 14, p. 100, 2001, and Paul Gottfried, Humanitas, vol. 14, p. 96, 2001

Professors Gottfried's and Ryn's dialogue on power(1) is significant for a variety of reasons. When two intellectual titans engage in debate over the essence of political legitimacy, the contest in and of itself is intriguing. But more importantly these exchanges provide a unique opportunity to trace the fissures within conservative thought, and anticipate the direction which serious scholarship will take in moving from the realm of theory to the arena of political action. This is not to say that scholars should or need to become politically active. But ideas have consequences, and those consequences may be eventually manifested in political action. I suspect that a protracted continuation of the themes addressed in the the Gottfried-Ryn dialogue on power will attract attention from a variety of philosophical, theoretical, and ideological quarters, thereby shaking the foundations upon which political power rests. The purpose of this brief essay is to encourage these two gentlemen to continue their dialogue.

The differences of position taken by Gottfried and Ryn appear to be subtle. Ryn acknowledges as much by conceding that "Professor Gottfried may actually be more receptive to my general argument than appears from his explicit comments on my article" (BSV, 107). However, an attentive reading of their respective positions makes clear that the differences are substantial, and in some aspects mutually exclusive. The contrasts in their respective positions on power need to be drawn out.

Political power is neither monolithic nor static. This is especially the case in the United States, with its system of separation of power, checks and balances, federalism, the rule of law, and elections. These dynamics do affect the distribution and locus of power. Consider the manner and extent to which the U.S. Supreme Court exercises power. In high-conflict/high-salience cases, m what manner and to what extent does the Court's power stem from the U.S. Constitution, the Congress, judicial moral authority, the executive branch, the electorate, and/or the litigants involved in the case? If the Supreme Court's power is grounded in its moral authority, does that authority wax and wane in accord with changing circumstances? A survey of its decisions makes clear that the Supreme Court functions with a wink and a nod from the U.S. Congress. So, in the final analysis, is the locus of power in the Congress, which institutionally manipulates the Court to achieve...

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