Political Constitutionalism

In “Restoring the Constitution,” James Ceaser has presented a new teaching on “political constitutionalism” (Spring 2012). Now that the Supreme Court has spoken on the Affordable Care Act, I wonder whether he wants to embrace Chief Justice John Roberts as an adherent to this new kind of constitutionalism. But let me put off that question and start by explaining why I don’t believe the Constitution’s framers or previous generations of American statesmen subscribed to this version of Ceaserism.

The Philadelphia Convention remained preoccupied, down to the last weeks, with such seemingly picayune issues as whether or not Congress should have the power to tax exports (finally deciding not: Article I, Section 9, Clause 5) or whether states should or should not be allowed to collect any sort of fees for the use of their ports (yes, but only with severe limits: see Article I, Section 10, Clause 2). The Virginia delegates originally proposed that Congress be authorized “to legislate in all cases to which the separate states are incompetent”—as Ceaser would perhaps have preferred. The Convention actually settled on a fairly detailed enumeration of federal powers—on the assumption that a more open-ended grant of powers would be abused. In Ceaser’s view, the framers should have indicated in general terms that the principal federal officers should be “reasonably mature” and “reasonably well-informed about their constituents.” Instead they stipulated precise (but varying) age and residency qualifications for representatives, senators, and presidents. In Ceaser’s view, the framers should have included a general admonition for cooperation between the branches. Instead, they stipulated in pedantic detail exactly which measures passed by the House and Senate would need presidential approval to take effect and which would not, which officers could be appointed by each chamber, which officials would be appointed by the president (or by others, answerable to the president). And so on.

From Ceaser’s perspective, the actual text of the actual Constitution may seem excessively “legalistic,” preoccupied as it is with “formulas and rules.” But the fact is, most of the delegates at Philadelphia were trained lawyers. And most had been involved, only a decade earlier, in mobilizing a revolution against Britain on the rather “legalistic” or “procedural” ground that the British Parliament was not authorized to impose “internal taxes” on Americans—not even the sort of modest excise taxes that Americans were quite willing to impose on themselves.

Nor is it true that great party debates thereafter eschewed legalistic wrangling in favor of Ceaser’s version of “political constitutionalism.” Perhaps the early debates between Jeffersonians and Federalists—with their clause-by-clause parsings, to determine the validity of Hamilton’s Bank or Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation—don’t count, because the participants were too close to the actual founding. But there was quite a lot of parsing of constitutional clauses and Supreme Court doctrine and procedure in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The ensuing national Republican Platform in 1860 not only affirmed—against the contrary doctrine of Stephen Douglas Democrats—that Congress had power to prohibit slavery in federal territories: it also insisted that the language of the 5th Amendment required Congress to avoid giving any protection to slavery in federal territories.

True, there were ultimate winners and losers in these disputes. Over time, the country has embraced different understandings of what the Constitution does actually allow or require. Ceaser, himself, however, condemns those “law professors” who claim that “the public” can decide each dispute as it pleases, making the Constitution whatever the prevailing majority wants it to be. But Ceaser remains opposed to precedents and rules as a guide to what the Constitution means. If the broad ends of the Constitution don’t imply limiting rules and formulae, how does the Constitution constrain anyone from introducing new exceptions for particular favored measures?

I take the point that we can hope to change predominant opinion and prevailing practice, by repudiating past practice in the light of later (hopefully better) understandings. President Harry Truman claimed that a resolution of the United Nations Security Council gave him authority to commit the United States to a full-scale war in Korea without any separate authorization from Congress. That stand provoked so much controversy that none of Truman’s successors has reaffirmed the argument. President Obama’s Justice Department insisted the war in Libya was lawful without congressional authorization, not because it was authorized by the U.N. but because it was meant to be very brief and involve only a very peripheral American commitment. I hope our next president will try to limit the force of that precedent, too.

But the next president won’t still be fighting Truman’s war in Korea or Obama’s war in Libya. Ceaser’s notion seems to be that you can repudiate a past mistake without committing to a rule that excludes it—and so without actually repudiating the current legal validity of that supposed past mistake. For Ceaser, the real argument against Obamacare must turn on the net sum of effects of ordinary policies across all policy fields. Ceaser’s “political constitutionalism” does not, as he tells us, require leaders to “undo every past obligation that has been voted into law, but to chart a course from where we are now.” Unless I’ve misunderstood, that constitutional standard seems to invite proponents of Obamacare to say, “Well, yes, let’s respect the Constitution from here on…and let’s especially restrict federal authority for President Romney. But let’s keep this last great Progressive measure in place.”

Or else, Ceaser seems to think we can say, “No, Obamacare is too recent to qualify as constitutional, but don’t worry about Social Security, even if it rests on the same constitutional mistakes—we’ll grandfather that one into our restored Constitution.” How do you distinguish those programs that should be allowed to remain and those that must be repudiated under the imperatives of “political constitutionalism”?

Critics of Obamacare offered an entirely serious legal argument, one so easy to grasp that even a number of federal judges embraced it, before five justices of the Supreme Court finally endorsed it in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. The argument boils down to this: if someone sitting at home doing nothing whatever can be forced to participate in a federal mandate—on the grounds that his failure to conform is a threat to “commerce among the states”—then the congressional power over “commerce” has no limits whatever. The proof that Congress never previously imagined it had this power is that, in all the vast accumulation of federal legislation now on the books, no previous law attempted what Obamacare does—imposing new personal obligations on those not engaged in commercial activities nor engaged in any identifiable activities of any sort.

The problem is that, as even Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged, the taxing power is not unlimited, either. It would have been quite odd for the framers to limit the reach of some powers and then insert a catch-all power to accomplish all the forbidden objects by simply fashioning controls as prohibitive taxes. Apart from implied limits, one limitation is stated quite explicitly: “No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census [of population in each state]” (Article I, Section 9, Clause 4). Viewed as a tax, the Obamacare mandate looks very much like a “capitation”—a head tax—on those heads harboring bad thoughts about participating in a federal program, who then are taxed for…the non-activity of declining to buy health insurance. If that is not a prohibited “capitation,” what could be? If that restriction has already been repealed by “political constitutionalism,” why is there no precedent of any kind for such a head tax on soreheads? To his credit, Roberts did try to counter this argument. But he could cite no precedent for approving a federal tax on non-activity by distinguishing it from a “direct tax” on ownership (or on having an intact head). As the dissenters pointed out, Roberts’s argument rested on a “fly-by-night…argument” leading to “lick and a promise” conclusions.

I don’t think Chief Justice Roberts will have the last word in this debate. Perhaps he did not even expect to have the last word. I think the objections posed by the dissenters are worth pursuing precisely because they do draw some basic lines and because they are lines we might still insist upon. Obamacare crosses lines that are not obscure or arcane. That won’t solve our budget crisis in itself. But it will remind our elected representatives that their power is subject to limits.

By insisting on respect for those boundaries that can be formulated as rules, we don’t reduce the whole Constitution to rules. But we show that constitutional claims must be taken seriously. Even if you hope to appeal to the “spirit of the Constitution”—as opposed to the letter—you had better hope you still have some definite lettering to start your argument. Then you might hope to show that a questionable proposal is at least analogous to something clearly forbidden (as overly invidious laws have at times been compared with prohibited bills of attainder, though technically they are not bills of attainder if they do not impose explicit criminal penalties).

Thomas Jefferson said, “Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.” Let me say to my friend and colleague from Mr. Jefferson’s university: Jefferson did have a good point there. We may not now accept all of Jefferson’s particular constructions, but we can’t embrace even the general idea of a limited constitution if we can’t specify some limits. Limits that depend on calculating the net sum of all the laws and regulations on the books may be “political” in some technocrat’s understanding of “politics.” If that is the meaning of “political constitutionalism,” I don’t see how it ever can engage an ordinary citizen and I don’t think it is a safe replacement for our traditional version of constitutionalism.

Jeremy Rabkin
George Mason University
School of Law
Arlington, VA

James W. Ceaser replies:

My good friend Jeremy Rabkin has grown more sensitive to legalities since he became a law professor. It is therefore not surprising that his commentary is critical of the concept of political constitutionalism. Rabkin claims that it is inaccurate and dangerous.

On the first count, he contends that when the Constitution has been debated in the public arena in the past, most of the arguments have in fact been legalistic. The term political constitutionalism, he argues, contributes to a distortion of the historical record. Political debates are filled with lots of “parsings.”

Any disagreements Rabkin and I may have about the historical record could not be settled without a long, detailed discussion, which is impossible to undertake here. But as the reader of my essay should be able to see, I never sought to exclude legal reasoning from expressions of political constitutionalism, any more, I hope, than Rabkin would ban lawyers and judges from referring to general constitutional principles. Both have been used. But discourse in programs of political constitutionalism tends to be different, not just because the public has a limited interest in lawyerly parsings, but also because the purpose of political constitutionalism is often different from that of legal constitutionalism.

Political constitutionalism is usually less interested in settling a specific case than in enacting a whole agenda or preventing an agenda from being enacted. When, for example, Thomas Jefferson spoke in his First Inaugural of “support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies,” he was invoking a general theme of political constitutionalism that his party had vigorously defended during the previous four years. He was not seeking a specific legal ruling in a case of law. Similarly, when President William Howard Taft in his 1912 presidential campaign sought to defend constitutional government against the “political emotionalists and neurotics” [read: Theodore Roosevelt], he was launching a program of political constitutionalism: “The real usefulness of the Republican Party consists in its conservative tendencies to preserve our constitutional government and prevent its serious injury.”

Rabkin relents somewhat on his first criticism in order to transition to his second and more important point. His charge here is that the concept of political constitutionalism can only do harm. It opens the floodgates to a sloppy way of thinking that undermines the legal articulation of clear lines, lines that alone can provide real constitutional protection.

The important distinction for Rabkin—the one he believes can guide us—is between legalistic reasoning and constitutional bombast. Political constitutionalism embodies and encourages constitutional bombast. But Rabkin is so much in the thrall of legalistic discourse that he ends his essay by indulging in a bit of bombast of his own, wrapping himself and his cause in the mantle of Jefferson.

Rabkin has fun at my expense by elevating me to the imaginary status of framer-for-a-day. In my Constitution, the qualifications for holding office would be the simple statements that elected officials should be “reasonably mature” and “reasonably well-informed about their constituents,” rather than the legal language we find in the Constitution that stipulates age and residency qualifications for representatives, for senators and for presidents. Since Rabkin has extended the bait, let me swallow half of it. Let the founders’ legal language stand, but there is nothing wrong in inferring from it the reasons and principles behind the words. Not only does an articulation of these principles aid in understanding the document and cultivating attachment to it, but it can serve to help guide a program of political constitutionalism. We know, for example, that the goal of representatives being “reasonably well-informed about their constituents” was important enough to George Washington that it precipitated his only comment at the convention, when he asked for change in language to ensure a broader initial representation, on the grounds that the existing language might offer “insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people.” The purpose is important, and it figured in debates in Congress about whether or not to enact a statute requiring representatives to be elected in individual districts, rather than selected at large by general tickets for the whole state. The letter of the law is only part of the Constitution. It bids us to try to recognize its spirit, so that we might know how to proceed to promote its objectives.

The sparring here opens up to a larger point. The aim of my essay was not to replace legal constitutionalism with political constitutionalism, but to revive political constitutionalism. The two are mechanisms that often proceed on different planes. Only sometimes do they overlap and it is rarer still that they directly conflict. Courts, as I see it, can continue doing all that they do legally, only we should not ascribe more authority to that function than it is supposed to have. Besides, courts and legal line-drawing are ill-equipped to promote constitutionality in some of its most important respects. There is often more constitutionality in the sum of legislation and of administrative rules than in much of the corpus of court decisions. If one is speaking today of a concern for federalism and for maintaining a federal government of enumerated powers, the protection of these ends will come from judging the implications of a statute like No Child Left Behind, which risks, under the guise of testing standards, transferring effective control of large parts of the curriculum in our schools to federal authorities. If one is concerned with the constitutional issue of excessive administrative discretion and delegation of authority to administrative bodies, it will be necessary to look at the net effect of many statutes and formulate new legislative measures to address these problems.

Solutions can only come from a political party that articulates a full program of political constitutionalism. Constitutionality is not always a matter of setting a legal line, but often advancing in a direction according to political judgments. One will not see the whole Constitution unless one knows where to look for it.

A revival of an understanding of what political constitutionalism is, which is a precondition to adopting any intelligent program of political constitutionalism, is now essential. It is essential not chiefly because political constitutionalism was once robustly practiced (though it was), nor because political constitutionalism connects political leaders and the public more closely to the Constitution (though it does), but because it is the constitutional position that retains the proper balance among our institutions.

Jefferson for a time held that no written constitution would be able to sustain itself—hence his proposal that each generation write and ratify its own constitution. In response, different methods were proposed or developed for maintaining a written constitution. One was a reliance on courts to settle the meaning of the Constitution by judicial determination. Another was to give sufficient power to different parts of the system to protect and defend their respective powers. Finally, there was political constitutionalism, political leaders and parties sustaining the Constitution through the political process. It is no disparagement of judicial review to point out that courts were never intended to be the sole mechanism for settling constitutionality. Such a role would give them more authority than they could safely exercise.

What about the relations between legal and political constitutionalism? In what areas and in what ways do they intersect with one another? There are a few different categories. First are the instances of direct conflict. The Supreme Court may hold that a law or action violates the Constitution in opposition to what a program of political constitutionalism supports. Under the system of judicial review, the Court’s view must be legally respected. Political constitutionalism is not a doctrine of lawlessness or disobedience. It does not derogate from the legal powers of the Court. A second category consists of the instances in which the types of constitutionalism function in harmony. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in a manner favored by a program of political constitutionalism. There is a third area in which the two kinds of constitutionalism barely touch one another. A program of political constitutionalism succeeds in passing legislation and enacting measures that are never subject to litigation or challenge in the courts. The final category is one in which the two forms of constitutionalism embrace opposed positions intellectually or theoretically, but in which there is no legal conflict. When the Supreme Court holds a certain law to be constitutional, i.e., not in violation of any constitutional provision, it does not follow that a party, following a program of political constitutionalism, must recognize it as constitutional. A party can continue to seek to repeal the law based on its own view of constitutional standards.

Thus today, while the Court has judged Obamacare to be constitutional, there is no legal reason why the Republican Party must follow suit. The Court may control actions, it does not dictate thought. It is in this area today, however, that the public and parties increasingly accept the Court’s opinions as definitive. Here is where the ascendancy of legal constitutionalism is so evident. Some blame this development on the arrogance of judges, an arrogance we have come to accept. It is more correct to attribute it to a grave error of political scientists, who have failed to make clear the character of our constitutional system. People will only challenge this outsized view of the Court if they understand what political constitutionalism is and why it is a legitimate part of the political system.

It is true that a program of political constitutionalism would be at its strongest, so far as public presentation is concerned, if it had a perfect rule it could articulate and stick to without deviation. But political constitutionalism operates in a realm in which success is achieved by winning a majority and pushing forward an agenda. Perfect consistency can sometimes be an impediment to popular support. A party is answerable to the public, not to judges.

If it were a matter of strict legal reasoning, I would clearly wish to have Rabkin as counsel. We had a colloquy about Obamacare in October, before it was even clear that the case would be heard in this session. Fearing that the law would not be struck down, I tried to rally the case against it by urging recourse to a program of political constitutionalism. I tried to minimize the legal weight of what the court was doing, arguing that the act would have easily passed muster if the exact same law had been passed under the tax provision rather than relying, implicitly, on the Commerce Clause. My source for this claim was the consensus of legal experts, not a study of the Constitution. Rabkin not only took me to task for my laziness, but he presented for the first time a compelling legal argument for why the individual mandate was just as unconstitutional under the taxing power as under the commerce clause. Parsing Article I, Section 9, Clause 4, he wrote “Viewed as a tax, the Obamacare mandate looks very much like a ‘capitation’—a head tax—on those…declining to buy health insurance.” He goes on, “If that is not a prohibited ‘capitation,’ what could be?” Of course, as we know, the Court answered: almost nothing. I hope that Jeremy Rabkin pursues his legal line of reasoning and that at some point, by the power of his argument, he succeeds in forcing a change. In the meantime, however, the battle will need to move to the political arena. In the belief that the public might have some difficulty with his legal argument, I propose that he relax his standards a little and join with me in sounding the call: “No capitation without representation!”

Rabkin at one point seems to offer a concession to me, on the condition that I offer one to him in return: “Even if you hope to appeal to the spirit of the Constitution—as opposed to the letter—you had better hope that you still have some definite lettering.” I endorse the spirit of this comment. So it may be that we are not so far apart after all, though, to paraphrase a fine legalistic distinction, it all depends what the meaning of “some” is.

For the full exchange between Jeremy Rabkin and James Ceaser, and for more discussion of the CRB‘s Spring 2012 cover essays, visit our online feature, Upon Further Review, at www.claremont.org/ufr.

Democratic Capitalism

In his classic essay, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” Irving Kristol argued that the libertarian case for free markets urged by F.A. Hayek was insufficient. It was not enough to show that capitalism produces prosperity and leads to greater individual freedom, defenders must also demonstrate that “the system” is just. Kristol published his essay in 1970, at the height of the Cold War, when Americans, having vanquished fascism, still faced an existential threat from Communism. Now comes William Voegeli to argue that, paradoxically, the task of defending capitalism became more difficult after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 (“Reclaiming Democratic Capitalism,” Spring 2012).

Across the political spectrum, Americans may be resigned to capitalism, but they are hardly committed to it. They may not want the European social democratic model here at home, but they are not exactly terrified of it either. This strikes me as a tad too optimistic. Especially since the election of President Obama, elites in the Democratic Party continue to be seduced by visions of state-subsidized childcare, generous maternity and medical leaves, national health insurance, state-run railroads, long summer vacations, and languorous lunches. Not only do they not fear democratic socialism, they positively yearn for it, and are doing all that they can to bring it about. Meanwhile, ordinary Americans, laid off from their jobs, stripped of their health insurance, and in danger of losing their homes along with their savings, may be excused if they fail to embrace the beauties of “creative destruction.” For good reason, they are no longer convinced that what has benefited giant corporations, investment banks, and the political classes, is also good for them.

In this moment of economic peril, Voegeli explores what candidates and policymakers can do to cement the loyalty of American workers to the free enterprise system, while at the same time shoring up the political virtues necessary to sustain a self-governing republic. He begins with Thomas Jefferson, emphasizing the connection between agrarian life and the broader political virtues that are necessary to preserve republican self-government. But that link is now broken; the independent yeoman has long ago passed from the scene. Today, the vast majority of Americans in the labor force are wageworkers, dependent for their livelihood on economic and political forces beyond their control. This raises the question that Voegeli explores in his essay: how can wage earners cultivate the virtues of free men and women when they are so economically dependent?

Working at the intersection of political theory and public policy, Voegeli sees the need to connect economic capital with social and political capital, or to put it another way, to show how free markets can help to foster free men and women. As things stand now, too many workers see themselves as idle spectators, watching passively from the sidelines as liberals make the case for more regulations and “fairness,” while conservatives, especially those of a libertarian bent, counter with a defense of “spontaneous order.”

Although the best solution is a thriving economy and a tight labor market that will enable workers to tell their bosses to “take this job and shove it” if they are unhappy with their prospects, Voegeli makes a couple of other suggestions as well. One of these is to give workers some “skin in the game,” that is, to tie their individual economic fortunes to the overall performance of their employer. In place of—or in addition to—a salary, workers might be given an equity share in the company. By rewarding them in good times, and spreading out the losses in downturns, he suggests it may be possible to obviate the need for layoffs and financial catastrophe. This sounds promising on paper, but I’d like more details. Does he see this primarily as a way to connect the economic interests of the individual worker to his employer, or does he think that workers should also be given a share in workplace and management decisions? And if the latter, how much power should they be granted, and what would ensure that the decisions of labor were sound from a management or larger economic perspective? Compounding the problem, worker participation has long been a goal of progressives, with Theodore Roosevelt first proposing that workers share power with management. From the brief sketch that Voegeli offers, it is not immediately obvious that these proposals would strengthen the free market system; they could just as easily promote the peaceful transition to democratic socialism, which is what T.R. came to favor.

Elsewhere in his essay, Voegeli observes that the principal challenge ahead is to turn Americans into a nation of savers, so that they have the economic resources to provide for themselves, rather than having to rely on government. But this suggestion seems to be quite independent of whether we are wage earners, small businessmen and women, or self-employed. Here again, Jefferson can be helpful because he did not rely exclusively on agrarian virtue to keep civic spirit alive. He also stressed the importance of a certain kind of education. Jefferson’s emphasis on political history, on how liberty is preserved and lost, remains essential to the perpetuation of our political institutions, and we should do all that we can to restore it. But this must also be supplemented by elementary instruction in economics (something Jefferson himself never quite grasped). At this time, especially, we cannot afford economic illiteracy. Citizens should be familiar with how capitalism works; they should also have some understanding of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and the like so that they can plan intelligently for their futures. It would be good too if they grasped how Social Security works, and what part of their extended retirements they will realistically have to cover. And finally, taking one more leaf from Jefferson’s book (if not his personal life), they should cultivate the virtue of frugality both for themselves and in their government, so that they do not wind up as the Europeans have, bankrupt and working half of the year to pay the taxman. If they can master these lessons, the future may not be so bleak.

Finally, I’d like to suggest that in future essays Voegeli return to the question that Irving Kristol earlier raised. Where is the justice of a system that has shifted the burdens of this recession to ordinary Americans, some improvident, but others not, while letting those at the top of the economic and political ladder get off relatively unscathed? Voegeli could do readers an invaluable service by exploring the connection between the growth of the regulatory state and the crony capitalism that feeds on it, distinguishing this corrupt mutant from the free enterprise system it is so vital for Americans to preserve.

Jean M. Yarbrough
Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME

William Voegeli replies:

I agree with Jean Yarbrough that a central challenge of turning a nation of employees into a republic of capitalists is that employee/investors have conflicting interests. Changes that might make a business more profitable and sustainable, such as greater automation or outsourcing, could also lead to laying people off. We see this tension at work in the recently reconstituted General Motors, where the biggest shareholder is the United Auto Workers pension fund. Since retired autoworkers’ central concern is to keep the firm that pays for their pensions and medical benefits solvent, they have set aside the solidarity of laborers to accept a two-tier wage system at GM, where new hires make much less than the older workers next to them on the assembly line, and probably will for as long as they work there.

This leads to another important question: to what extent is participatory capitalism about sharing the financial burdens and benefits of private enterprise, and to what extent is it about the democratization of decision-making? In Were You Born On the Wrong Continent? (2010) Thomas Geoghegan praises the German approach, where labor unions are represented on corporate boards, and worker-management councils collaborate on macro and micro decisions about how a business will operate. He’s a fine writer, but I found it difficult to believe that many American enterprises could operate on this basis. Either it would take up too many evenings, or customers would be waiting at unattended cash registers while employees were in back debating vacation schedules and merchandising strategies.

That said, my inclination is that sharing financial burdens and benefits is a more important goal than inclusive decision-making. If groups of people—labor unions, but also associations with a religious, fraternal, or political basis—had equity stakes in private firms and industries, they could express their concerns and be affected by the consequences of their agendas. Old-fashioned shareholders are, for this reason, preferable to new, nebulously defined “stakeholders.” The problem with the latter is that they’re at liberty to advance their agendas—more generous employee benefits, for example, or workplace diversity programs—secure in the knowledge that all the costs of their pet causes will be passed onto customers and real—that is, “mere”—shareholders. I suspect, further, that widely shared ownership would usefully guide the question of how extensively workers should participate in management. A market test, that is, would lead firms toward the sweet spot beyond which the blurring of the distinction between labor and management becomes counter-productive and unprofitable.

Heidegger and Strauss

In his review, Steven Smith neglects to state the central argument of my book Heidegger, Strauss, and the Premises of Philosophy (“Being and Tyranny,” Spring 2012). Strauss faults Heidegger for ignoring the political and not treating “the tension between philosophy and the polis” in his account of human openness to Being—a failure evident for Strauss in Heidegger’s redemptive conception of philosophy and in his related proclivity for extremist politics. For Strauss the stated tension is the starting point for Socratic, non-historicist insight into fundamental problems relating to the duality of the human as political and transpolitical. Furthermore, Strauss finds roots of Heidegger’s conception of philosophy in the earlier German philosophic tradition. My book maintains that Strauss clearly denounces Heidegger’s engagement in visionary politics, and that Strauss’s thought does not just inherit the German philosophic tradition but responds to it critically. “It is as important for Strauss to reject the German metaphysical approach to history as a meaningful process as it is for Heidegger to endorse a version of it,” and, in Strauss’s judgment, “the appeal to History has the effect of concealing the skeptical and aporetic nature of philosophy as the critique of custom and law. This is the real meaning of Strauss’s claim that Heidegger’s thought has no room for political philosophy” (from the Epilogue). There are profound differences between the two thinkers even as they both undertake to recover and reexamine the premises of the philosophic tradition.

Richard Velkley
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA

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Good Vibrations, Better Lyrics

Michael Anton mistakenly writes in his essay that Tony Asher “penned most of the words for Pet Sounds and also for the single ‘Good Vibrations'” (“Paradise Lost and Regained,” Spring 2012). It’s true that Asher penned a set of lyrics, but then the Beach Boys (wisely) replaced them with Mike Love’s elegant poetry. Love’s lyrics are on all Beach Boys versions of “Good Vibrations,” and the song is attributed to Wilson and Love. Only on Brian Wilson’s 2004 solo release of Smile do we hear Asher’s inferior offering.

Michael Calabrese
California State University, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA