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7 principles of a strong executive, according to Harvey Mansfield

On Wednesday, after political philosopher Harvey Mansfield mounted the dais at Utah Valley University, he said he and his wife were from Massachusetts, but declared Utah their favorite state to audience applause.

Mansfield, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of Government at Harvard University, gave a lecture to faculty and students as part of the Center for Constitutional Studies’ ongoing American heritage series.

A conservative political philosopher, Mansfield has influenced sitting U.S. senators, political commentators and a generation of fellow scholars and academics. He spent over six decades at Harvard publishing more than a dozen books, including a translation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and authoring a philosophical history and commentary of masculinity entitled “Manliness.”

His remarks at UVU focused on executive power— a topic he’s written about in his “Taming the Prince,” a reference to Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous political treatise “The Prince.”

There are great presidents that most Americans like, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, he said. Other presidents like Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt have strong support from their respective political parties, Mansfield explained. Regardless of a president’s popularity, the nation’s founders sought to create a strong executive branch.

“For the American president to avoid being the errand-boy of Congress, the American president would be given extra powers besides the power to execute the law,” Mansfield said. Though the idea of a strong executive seems antithetical to democracy, the Founding Fathers had come up with a novel and important idea around executive power.

He quoted from The Federalist Papers and said a man with executive power is expected to “undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit.” While Congress has the task of making laws, the president has to respond in emergencies as well as exercise power for the long-term.

Former President Roosevelt’s New Deal is an example of this. “This was started in 1932 and when Roosevelt died, Harry Truman took over and he called it The Fair Deal. More recently, we had Obama with the Green Deal.” All these deals were connected to Roosevelt’s long-term use of power, Mansfield said.

Americans aren’t satisfied with mediocrity, he contended. “We’re not satisfied with being average or small, and so the greatness of the American people was shown and led by its presidents in the 20th century.”

Utah Valley University professor Verlan Lewis introduces Harvey Mansfield.

Hank McIntire, Utah Valley University

After explaining how the executive, Congress and Washington D.C. bureaucracy interact, Mansfield laid out his seven principles of “how to be an executive.”

1. The “executive is punishment.”

“The executive, in order to be effective, needs to draw attention to himself,” Mansfield said. “If there is too much routine, people become complacent. They don’t need to obey laws, they don’t remember who is in charge. But a sensational punishment makes everyone look at you, respect you and fear you.”

Mansfield cited the instance where the air traffic controllers went on strike. Then president Reagan had warned if they did this, he said he would fire them. After they went on strike, Reagan fired the workers. “Everyone looked at Reagan differently after this event,” Mansfield said.

2. War impacts the nation.

Wartime and emergencies have the ability to unite the country. When president Joe Biden was elected, the people were trying to restore “peace” and “normalcy” to the country, Mansfield argued. But now president Biden is becoming a war-time president because of what’s going on in Israel and Ukraine.

“If the government wants to take something seriously, it uses the terminology of war,” he said as he listed examples like the war on poverty, war on crime or the war on drugs.

3. The executive uses secrecy.

“Secrecy is necessary to the police, to the military, to politicians, to all of us, athletics and football, the offense keeps its plays secret. In baseball, the catcher gives secret signs to the pitcher.”

“You have to be secret in order to surprise, you have to surprise in order to succeed,” he said.

4. Suddenness can be a powerful tool.

Suddenness can make a secret sensational. “There are two kinds of human beings, those who make sensations and those who react to them, like Taylor Swift,” he said, eliciting laughter.

5. Strong executives “go it alone.”

“You need to make yourself by yourself. You need to separate yourself from those whom you are governing.”

“People depend on you and you don’t depend on anyone,” he said. Giving former President Donald Trump as an example, Mansfield said “he’s impulsive. That means he’s got an advantage.”

6. Executives “use the party.”

“You are one alone because only you represent the people, all the people. Being alone is not inconsistent with democracy, it’s the fulfillment of democracy,” he continued. “Use the people in your program, use the party.”

7. Make the executive “a universal office.”

“Use the executive as something universal,” Mansfield said. He advised strong executives to think of it as “a universal office” and help other groups see common ground with the executive.

“My lesson is this: a course on the American presidency is a course on human life.”

After Mansfield concluded his lecture, he told Deseret News that what we are not understanding now in American politics is “the importance of argument and communication. We’re always thinking of argument as winning and losing, but argument makes you think, it makes you see first where you are weak and second where the opposition is strong.”

“Argument, therefore, can make you more willing to compromise and that’s what we need.” Good argument, he said, is important to the executive branch’s success.



https://www.deseret.com/2023/10/25/23932490/harvey-mansfield-strong-executive-power 7 principles of a strong executive, according to Harvey Mansfield

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