The Emerging Right-Wing Vision of Constitutional Authoritarianism – The New Republic

Though Vermeule himself is not an originalist, he argues that it effectively existed only to give the conservative legal movement the intellectual cachet to join mainstream American legal thinking. This approach served legal conservatives well in the hostile environment in which originalism was first developed, and for some time afterward, Vermeule wrote. But originalism has now outlived its utility, and has become an obstacle to the development of a robust, substantively conservative approach to constitutional law and interpretation.

What, then, should replace originalism? Vermeule initially offers a vision of American constitutional law based on the principles that government helps direct persons, associations, and society generally toward the common good, and that strong rule in the interest of attaining the common good is entirely legitimate. All of this can be achieved without amending a word of the document as well. The sweeping generalities and famous ambiguities of our Constitution, an old and in places obscure document, afford ample space for substantive moral readings that promote peace, justice, abundance, health, and safety, by means of just authority, hierarchy, solidarity, and subsidiarity, he explains.

Later descriptions take on a more menacing air. At one point, he argues that the states power to compel vaccinations could be extended to combat pandemics and scourges of many kindsbiological, social, and economiceven when doing so requires overriding the selfish claims of individuals to private rights. Its never reassuring to see the word rights set off in scare quotes, to say the least. Thus the state will enjoy authority to curb the social and economic pretensions of the urban-gentry liberals who so often place their own satisfactions (financial and sexual) and the good of their class or social milieu above the common good, Vermeule concludes.

Its tempting, perhaps, for those on the left to read Vermeule as an expression of the secret desire lurking within every legal conservatives heart. He is not, however, an originalist or even a standard American conservative. He is a proponent of integralism, an arcane strain of Catholic political thought that draws upon 19th-century critiques of modernism and revolution. Integralists reject liberalism as a political philosophy, preferring hierarchy over egalitarianism and autocracy to individual rights. They eschew the modern secular nation-state in favor of something more closely resembling the confessional states of early modern Europe, or perhaps the Habsburg empires.

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The Emerging Right-Wing Vision of Constitutional Authoritarianism - The New Republic

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