The True Form of Governments: Plato, Persons, and Helmut Kohl

HomeArticlesThe True Form of Governments: Plato, Persons, and Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl Germany

All forms of political order are phenomena of movements.

The classic typology of political constitutions that Plato elaborated and Aristotle modified to an extent therefore represents both: a description of the different constitutions identified–monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and so forth–and the passages from one constitutional form to another, as from an aristocracy to an oligarchy, for example. In the realm of human action there is no stability, Aristotle stated–as if it were a cosmo-political law; and the constitutional forms that arise from such action are no exception to this law.1 Their status in political reality is an institutional presence between foundation and decay. They appear to be bodies of firm structures and yet, measured against the real forces in human life, they have no greater weight than that of fictional edifices.2

It should be noted that in Plato’s–as in Aristotle’s–theory of constitutional forms, the different political regimes are presented much more in a state of motion than in a state of firmness. The theoretical position that is formulated here, following the path of the clues given by Plato and Aristotle, is a radical one (“radical” in the sense of going to the “roots”):  Any regime as described institutionally is a fiction.

For it is, within the sphere of institutional attributions given to it, in a state of constant movement. We say there is a river, and for practical purposes this is sufficient. But in fact there is no river, but the water flowing along and along to whose perpetual movement we are giving the name “river.”

After Plato and Aristotle the main purpose of inquiries into constitutional forms has largely been a designation and characterization of their institutional presence. This intent led generally, presumably by way of an unintended consequence, to a certain bias in the practice of political science.

Cicero’s “Empiricist Turn”

Concerning constitutional forms one would not think that they could be in a state of movement continually and so likely to elude–in the mode of fixed and firm forms–the scientific grasp. One assumes rather that constitutional forms were naturally “there,” in the solid mode of an institutional texture, if and when practitioners of the science of politics made them the subject of their attention.

Still, political regimes fell into decay or were overthrown, and political science, while keeping up its traditional attitude as to the problem of “movement” and “form” in governmental politics, has considered and still considers indeed “movements” with respect to constitutional forms as characteristic of processes such as “transformations,” “changes,” or “revolutions” that replace one political regime by another.

The Laws (De Legibus) and the Republic (De Re Publica) of Cicero make this institutional emphasis and its fictional qualities clear. There is still the nomenclature inherited from the Greek masters, faithfully received, but philosophical sensitivity to the cosmological and existential issues is gone.

Instead, Cicero chooses a purely functional approach. For Cicero, governmental forms are to be understood numerically. There are different forms of government because of variations in the number of those who rule. Cicero based his typology of governments on the premise of such a numerical causality. In the Laws he stated categorically: “The form of a republic through its government is determined by the arrangement with respect to magistrates.”3

Seen from a historical perspective, Cicero performed the “empiricist turn,” as I would call it, by which the theory of governmental forms in political science is marked until today.

Scipio Africanus the Younger

A deliberate choice in this sense is articulated in the Republic by Scipio Africanus the Younger, the protagonist of the book.

He tells his audience that he is “not satisfied with the works” on the res publica and its forms, “which the greatest and wisest men of Greece [Plato, Aristotle and pupils of the latter] have left us.”4 What he knows about government–a knowledge Scipio is going to formulate–he has obtained, he claims, much less by books than by “tested experience” (usus) and the “maxims” (praecepta) learned at home.

However, tested experience and maxims to be learned at home relate to palpable realities of a firm and compact nature. In choosing them as ways to acquire knowledge, a state of things other than that of things in motion has to be assumed.

Cicero’s Cold Functionalism

Cicero took an approach to the study of government that necessitates a definition of governments by which they are seen as solid things in order to have them as subjects of one’s study.

In developing his thoughts on governmental forms, Cicero consequently had in his mind but a res publica diuturna–a commonwealth of which there are different governmental forms, but that, through each of these forms, primarily is “stable,” “durable.”5

The instrument for maintaining stability is government through a “deliberative body” (consilium). There is, then, a function (to deliberate) to be entrusted and, numerically, there are three possibilities for doing so. The function will, as Cicero observes, “either be granted to one man, or to certain selected citizens, or must be assumed by the whole of citizens.”6

Thus, in having performed his empiricist turn, the author of De Re Publica comes up with the view that there are three basic forms of government (genera rerum publicarum): kingship (regnum), aristocracy (dominatus optimatium), and popular government/ democracy (civitas popularis).

After Plato and Aristotle, one can hardly say this is news. The novelty is in the philosophically cold functionalism the argument displays.

It should be noted, however, that in a brief passage Cicero acknowledged the problem of “constant changes and sequences in governmental forms.”7 Scipio refers to it when he is pressed by his listeners to reveal what he thinks is the “best” form of government. He remarks that he considers a fourth form of government the most commendable–namely, a “mixture” (genuspermixtum) of the “three which I mentioned at first.” But he doesn’t take the problem as a point of departure for further reflections on a theoretical level.

When Scipio very briefly speaks again of his idea of a mixed constitution, he altogether neglects the problem with which the idea is connected.8

Government Movements Stem from the Soul

The problem of movement and form in the realm of governments contains a challenge to engage in far more detailed, more thoroughly penetrating inquiries into the world of governing.

Plato evidently was not content to explore phenomena of movements in this world with regard to constitutional forms only. He discerned governmental movements in human souls, also, and found that these movements actually cause and shape all the different types of political constitutions.

To understand the working of an aristocracy one has to understand the dynamics of the aristocratic disposition in the souls of the ruling aristocrats. A change from one political regime to another is preceded by the movements in the souls of those who have begun to desire another form of regime; within their souls forces have won the upper hand that cause a desire to live under a different political regime. To every constitution of a human society corresponds a similar constitution of the souls of those who shape this society.

Let us restate our first sentence: All forms of political order are phenomena of movements. And let us now be more specific: This is the case at the level of constitutional forms. And also at the level of the soul.

Government at the Level for Power or Creativity

And it is the case at the level of government. This level could also be called the level of power or the level of political creativity. While a constitution forms a political society, its government makes it politically present: here, through that setup called “government,” it is real, living; it is an agent of, by, and for itself.

However, the life of a society through its government does not happen by itself. A government is not a part of the physical world. It has no life of its own. It is a pure product of political creativity.9

To create it and then abandon it to itself would certainly not be sufficient. The agent needs to be agitated, by acts of creativity through which it is given the power–the virtu in Machiavelli’s language–to be a creatively operating force itself.

If no such power for being a power is produced and reproduced continually within a government, the government will inevitably–and in most cases rather rapidly–become a politically empty edifice.

There will still be the institutional complex of a government, but this edifice–however big and imposing it might be–would not deceive us. The figure of the agent originally formed by this government will have disappeared from it.

The Other Paradigm for the Study of Governments

Who, however, performs the movement of creativity that makes of the governmental edifice a government indeed? Who agitates the agent? Who executes the creativity through which the institutional complex of a government is given the power to be a creatively operating force itself?

Persons. This is the only answer. There are two ways to view a government. One may turn one’s attention to its institutional appearance, or one may scrutinize the people who alone come into view when one inquires into the working of a government directly, visiting people “at government” in their offices.

If the first way is chosen, the awareness of the observer will only float along the set of governmental institutions, and the reality of the government observed will remain opaque. And there is the fact that the reality, the activities and goals of a government never are fully transparent. There are “secrets.”

“What kind of secrets?” one could ask. In the case of a city, for instance, where a lot of redevelopment is taking place, the city government needs to be careful, “secretive,” as it were, at least for a well-considered period, in making the plan public to have a certain neighborhood redeveloped as a whole. For as soon as it became known generally, a real estate speculation concerning the neighborhood would start changing–certainly and possibly profoundly–the conditions of the plan. Hence there is the need to assure the success of the plan by keeping it secret up to a moment when its becoming public will be the least harmful.

Persons are the Only Stuff of Policies

By the second way, however, the state of movement is immediately felt. That we have entered a dynamic field becomes clear to us immediately. And the field is constituted of persons, and the empirical status of persons–with their physical life in physical reality–is beyond any doubt. Methodologically, we move on firm ground. Besides, this is a moment in our argumentation to stress again that we are arguing for a radical view: Persons are the only stuff of politics.

Governments certainly need to be known in the mode of their institutional appearance. It is through their legal, administrative, and procedural fabric that they materially exist. To know the “government” in governments–the power for being a power–however, another paradigm than the institutional one is required. This is the paradigm just expounded here. It is built on the observation of persons.

The Primacy of Persons in Constitutional Government

There is one form of government that is particularly illustrative if one wants to demonstrate the primacy of persons in politics.

That form would be constitutional government.

Why?  To begin with, the design of a constitutional government is paradoxical. On the one hand, it is meant to organize a system of government by which a rule of liberty is founded and, not merely founded but maintained.

On the other hand,  governing necessarily implies the establishment and use of power, hence a government must exercise power. A powerful government, however, is a capital threat to liberty. It cannot be reconciled with an idea of government whose purpose above all is the flourishing of liberty.

Constitutional government, therefore, must be designed in such a way that governmental power is, through a number of constitutional and institutional devices, weakened from the outset. All government institutions are divided, fragmented, graded hierarchically, and distributed spatially and thus broken up into units which mutually obstruct one another’s power.

This is the paradox at the center of a constitutional system of government: power is given to government and simultaneously taken away from it.

It was to be expected that governments within a constitutional system responded to the challenge of the paradox. Under the impulse and direction of their heads, they made of the primacy of persons in politics the principle of their mode of governing, and thereby acquired all the power that formally–constitutionally–they were denied.

This is, in general terms, the answer to the question just asked: why is constitutional government especially apt for a demonstration of the primacy of persons in politics?

The answer entails a whole program of study with respect to the historical development and the present state of constitutional governments (and for the demonstration’s logic and coherence the reasoned choice of this field of study, by itself quite large and diverse, should of course be kept in mind).

The few elements of research presented here may help to perceive some empirical elements of the program and to make out its theoretical impact.

The Government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl

If one looks for an outstanding example of a government where the primacy of persons truly was the overriding principle of governing, one should choose the government of the German chancellor Helmut Kohl.10

His government was formed and kept functioning according to the Federal Republic’s constitution (the “Basic Law”) and the statutes regulating the work of the federal government. The Basic Law gives the Chancellor a preeminent position within the federal government constituted by the council of chancellor and ministers, but on the other hand it defines the council as a collegial body.

From a reading of the Basic Law alone, one would judge that Germany was governed by the federal government, in the sense of a parliamentary democracy, centered on the concept of responsible government. The country, one would think, was led by the collegial body of the chancellor and the federal ministers; together they would deliberate and decide. (“Germany” as used here is to be understood as “West Germany” up to the unification in 1990 and “unified Germany” thereafter.)

However, under Chancellor Kohl, Germany was in effect ruled to a very large extent by the system of personal power that Helmut Kohl had built up within the German political world and that became most redoubtable when Kohl combined the office of chancellor and the headship of his political party, the Christian Democrats.

This meant myriads of political friendships and alliances, many circles of supporters, advisers, numerous informers, and Kohl agents everywhere.

At the period of Germany’s reunification, his system allowed Kohl to rule over Germany’s fate in the manner of a monocrat. He had reduced the council of the federal government–the central decision-making body in the constitutional setup of Germany–to a “notarial office.”  A long-time observer of Kohl’s system from the inside explained11 that, in fact, decisions to be made were considered and finally taken in informal circles–at meetings in Kohl’s residence or his private home.

The composition of these circles Kohl constantly and deliberately kept in a fluid state. Thus he alone remained in a position of power, sole master of the constitutional movement of power by which he had neutralized the council of the federal government.

An Intricate Complex of Circles and Personal Encounters

There was one limit, though, to all the power for being powerful that Kohl had aggregated.

Kohl was the head of a government formed not only by his own party, but by a coalition of his party with the party of the Liberals. Only through the coalition his government had the necessary majority in the federal parliament.

Hence a good working of the coalition was absolutely essential to the existence of his government. And, indeed, there was an organism under the care of which the coalition was put: the so-called “coalition committee” (Koalitionsausschuß).

Governments of the Federal Republic have mostly been formed by coalitions. In each case, the governmental machinery of a coalition consisted of an intricate complex of circles, committees (with subcircles and subcommittees), regular meetings, and personal encounters. All were meant to organize the governmental work of the coalition–while in the first instance keeping the coalition itself going–and to maintain this “organization” at the same time in such a state of fluidity that it could be adapted at every moment to the play of forces within the coalition itself.

Governments arising from coalitions, at least according to the German experience in the Federal Republic, present paradigmatic material for the study of the “true forms of government.”12

The coalition committee was the body of negotiations between the two partners, the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. Principal problems of governmental policy and issues that were controversial between the two parties were dealt with here; here decisions were made.

Of course, such decisions had still to be presented at a formal meeting of the council of the federal government. After all, the constitutional forms had to be kept. In fact, however, the council of the federal government just notarized decisions taken by the coalition committee–by an organism, it should be stated, devoid of any constitutional or legal status, but introduced into the German governmental system through a constitutional movement of power–the coalition’s play.

Indeed, according to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, head of the Liberal Party and from 1982 to 1992 Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice Chancellor in the Kohl government, Chancellor Kohl did not once in the meetings of the government during these ten years evoke or perhaps even claim his constitutional prerogative (Richtlinienkompetenz) to define the general objectives of the government’s policies.13

The Symbolic Significance of the Empty Office

The movements of power initiated by heads of constitutional governments begin prior to their occupancy of the office to which they have been elected, well before the official beginning of their government.

A look at the circumstances of this beginning reveals a lot.

The new president, chancellor, or prime minister arrives on the first day of his or her work at the office that will now be his or hers, and he or she will discover that it is–empty.

On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been inaugurated to the office of President of the United States, and in the morning of the following day he was sitting at the presidential desk in the Oval Office and wished to start with his work. But in the desk not even a pencil was left. Roosevelt had to shout across the hall so that someone would hear him and respond to his request to restore the presidential emptiness to at least a bit of power, the power to write.14

When President Mitterrand and his advisers arrived at the Elysée Palace, they discovered that all files in the presidential offices had departed with Mitterrand’s predecessor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.15 A similar discovery was made by the aides of newly elected chancellor Helmut Kohl when they moved into the chancellery: many of the former chancellor’s files were gone.16

Nor is the power the elected apparently holds recognized from the start. In his study on the American presidency from Truman to Reagan, William Leuchtenberg reported: “After FDR’s funeral at the White House, 200 FDR loyalists came together to pay Roosevelt homage. When President Truman entered the room, nobody rose.”17

The Parties of Friends

How does one feel, then, at such a beginning?

One does not feel frustrated. One feels strong.

For the beginning at the institutional level–one takes over the office to which one has been elected–is by no means the beginning of the execution of power. For quite some time already the elected has been the leader of the group of friends–his or her personal party–which has been formed as a tool in the process of obtaining governmental power and now can be used in exercising it.

The group is either a network of political friendships and alliances within the formal organization of a political party–as in the case of a Socialist or Conservative party in a European country–or a following centered upon a person–the “candidate”–and eventually recognized as the actual manifestation of a political party, as in the American case, the Democrats or the Republicans.

Such a party of friends is always a paradigmatic example of the primacy of persons in politics.

First, it is built up by the persons closely associated with the candidate: family members, classmates, loyal personal friends, trusted associates.

Second, it is this party of friends upon which the candidate will rely for the aggregation and maintenance of his or her power, once he or she has been elected and faces the task to make the position of power he or she holds, powerful indeed.

Third, and most important, organizational structures of the party of friends usually prefigure the government that eventually is formed by the successful candidate.

In the course of the ongoing constitutional movements of power, parties of friends enter and take over institutions of government and make them pliable to the “government,” which they have brought along with them.

President Barack Obama governs through the persons with whom he had preformed “his” government at the time of the electoral campaign, namely the political friends, allies, and advisers he had found at Harvard and Chicago and, in extension of these immediate circles, at other places.18

Political Friendship or True Friendship

In his contribution to this volume, John von Heyking speaks of “sunaisthetic friendship,” which is that form of friendship that, as he says, “is only possible among friends of the highest moral and intellectual character who spend a lifetime together ‘living and conversing,’ as Aristotle says.” And he wonders “whether Mitterrand [the French president whose case he considers here] had any friends like that.”

Mitterrand, one can certainly state, was a person who formed and cultivated friendships with great care and talent throughout his life. He thus built an important party of friends.

In his personal life, however, he always surrounded himself with friends–Georges Dayan, Georges Beauchamp, Pierre Bergé, Roger Hanin, Christine Gouze, for example–with whom he not only shared his political work, but also, and in particular, common experiences of the pleasures and preoccupations of life and a sharing of ideas and intellectual pursuits, in a number of cases since his youth or his marriage (and hence the enlargement of this circle of friends through the members of his wife’s family).19

Further on, von Heyking states: “World politics gets conducted amongst the reflections of sunaisthetic friendship, seemingly always aspiring to it without reaching it. For, if these friendships would reach the level of sunaisthetic friendship, creative politicians would no longer be engaging in world or any kind of politics.”

This seems to be an argument putting forward a contradiction between “sunaisthetic friendship” and “politics.” Being a creative politician in the realm of world politics is certainly not a state of leisure, permitting hours and hours of conversing without any purpose other than the experience of it.

On the other hand, a friendship like the one formed by President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl (and to which von Heyking refers) undoubtedly involved for both the experience of a blending of minds and of taking an intellectual pleasure in this above the political matters with which they were concerned.

It was this blending of minds and the intellectual pleasure arising with it–hence their form of sunaisthetic friendship–that enabled them to be as creative in world politics as they were.

The Monocratic Maximum in the U.S.

“The [American] President,” as Woodrow Wilson observed in his study Constitutional Government in the United States, “is at liberty, both in law and conscience, to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit; . . . His office is anything he has the sagacity and force to make it.”20

Where, then, are the rules for this kind of government of an American president to be found?

In the political structures, as they are defined by the American Constitution, one would assume. However, this is only the formal answer.

The real government of the American president is found in Wilson’s “anything”–that is, in the power that, under the paradoxical conditions of constitutional government, the president “has the sagacity and force” to accumulate and to which but “his capacity” to aggregate power “will set the limit.”21

Typically, in his book The Chief Executive, Louis Koenig argued that Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, and the Roosevelts interpreted the powers of the presidency with “maximum liberty,”22 and Stephen Hess stated in his study The Presidential Campaign “that presidential greatness has often been achieved by bending the constitutional mandate.”23

The Monocratic Maximum in Europe

In Europe, constitutional movements of power have dramatically changed the reality of constitutional regimes. In their study The Powers Behind the Prime Minister: The Hidden Influence of Number Ten, Dennis Kavanagh and Anthony Seldon bluntly declare that the British cabinet system is dead and has been replaced by a “bonapartist system.”24

Of Chancellor Angela Merkel it was said in 2009 that she would not mind if in the course of her governing she would expand her power as German chancellor to the far greater power of an American president.25

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, installed after his election in 2007 a “hyper-,” an “ultra-presidency.” This allowed him to control the Prime Minister, the council of ministers, the Parliament, and the majority parties and to exert, besides, considerable pressure upon the opposition, the trade unions, the media, and major companies. Apparently he had made himself the head of a constitutional government who “acts upon everything, decides everything.”26

We observe then in the contemporary evolution of constitutional government an exceedingly great concentration of governmental power in the sole person at the head of the government– the “President,” “Chancellor,” “Prime Minister.”

The French Presidency

The passage in France in 1958 from the Fourth to the Fifth Republic is a classic example. Constitutionally it was deliberately meant to replace the existing parliamentary regime by a presidential regime–a regime to which its founder and first president, Charles de Gaulle, gave this definition: “The government has no material existence outside myself. It exists only through me.”27

In an interview Henri Guaino, President Sarkozy’s speechwriter and chief intellectual in the Elysée, was asked: “Mr. Sarkozy reinforces the presidential character of the regime. Is he an enlightened despot?” Guaino answered: “Enlightened, yes. Despot, no! Politics needs to be incarnated . . . . Democracy is not only a system of incorporeal rules. It is also a visible system of power.”28

Dissolving the Constitutional Balance

In response to the paradox of power, the principle of the primacy of persons in politics has been raised by heads of governments with regard to their position to a monocratic maximum. The question arises whether the paradox at the center of a constitutional system of government–namely, that power to govern is granted and taken away at the same time–is, at the supreme level, dissolved by “monocrats.”

It seems that their personal impact upon the governmental system amounts, within the forms of constitutional government, to the fact of a monocratic regime. Manifestly, such a concentration of governmental power in constitutional regimes (while the legal conditions of the regime are continued to be observed, of course) needs to be discussed as a vital aspect of the constitutional system of government.

Constitutional governments, a democratically minded observer would say, should not be replaced by monocratic regimes, and such governments normally do resist to such an event.

Indeed, sooner or later every monocratic regime within a constitutional government comes to its end when, at the time of an election, those who have formed it are not reelected to their positions of governmental power. This is the reason general elections are so fundamentally important for a continuing existence of constitutional government–that is, for the rule of liberty.

Institutional Growth

But the tendency toward the emergence of the monocratic maximum cannot be denied. How can these contradictory forces, which characterize contemporary constitutional governments, be assessed?

The answer can be found only by a continual observation of the positions of power that political leaders have assumed respectively, in a system of constitutional government, along a scale reaching from their constitutional mandate on the one side to the monocratic maximum on the other.

The evolution of constitutional government toward a monocratic concentration of governmental power, let us reiterate, is a general and ongoing development, with its own institutional results. The most significant and evident example is given by the tremendous institutional growth and the ever greater governmental importance of the offices of heads of constitutional governments, such as the American President, the British Prime Minister, the French President, and the German Chancellor.

Originally consisting of a few collaborators and secretaries, the White House, No. 10 Downing Street, the Elysée, the Bundeskanzleramt (Chancellory) are today redoubtable machines of power through which the respective head of government can exert a greatly disproportionate amount–if one thinks of the basic constitutional provisions–of personal power.

The High Tide of Constitutional Power

The final achievement of such a concentration in the form of the monocratric maximum, however, depends much upon circumstances and the capacity of the person(s) involved to muster the necessary sagacity and force. Circumstances change, though, and a position of leadership at the level of the monocratic maximum is naturally a position at risk.

This achievement can be seen, paradoxically, in the examples of Merkel and Sarkozy. According to an astute observer of her power, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had, in September 2009, after her reelection and at the beginning of a new coalition government, reached the summit of her personal power. This degree of personal power had its price, though: Merkel had to be preoccupied with her power and its maintenance at all times.29

In June 2010 the same observer stated that Merkel had had, for much too long, “too much power”–and that, therefore, she had now “a problem” with her power.30

Since the fall of 2009, the reports on President Sarkozy’s power observe an increasing weakening of his leadership due to (1) problems with the internal organisation of the presidential staff at the Elysée; (2) a more and more critical view of the public concerning Sarkozy’s governmental action; and (3) a loss in popularity of the President, in particular after the defeat of his party (entirely controlled by him) in the regional elections on March 14 and 21, 2010.31

The Inevitable Decline

The following conclusions may be drawn regarding the monocratic maximum:

• Inevitably, mistakes will be made, minor, major, and possibly fatal ones, in the business of conserving all the personal power one has accumulated.

• Moments of fatigue will set in, and they will, most likely, become more and more frequent.

• The love of politics, the enthusiasm felt in lengthening one’s existence for being the carrier of other people’s interests and concerns, will be cruelly tested by resistance from all sides; there will be encounters with human nature that threaten to deplete it.

This is seen in the example of former Boston mayor Kevin White: “In a way, the reign of Mayor White had been at an end before it actually came to an end. A few months after he had returned to private life Kevin White confided to the Harvard Crimson that he had lost his love of people: ‘If you want to go into politics . . . you got to like people. In the end I began not to like people. It was time to get out of politics.’ ”32

The monocratic practice of governing will in time provoke the curiosity of an increasingly large public. Its constitutional significance will not be perceived from the start, since the monocratic power that is held coincides officially with a governmental position of leadership.

The phenomenon of a monocracy therefore will for a while be considered as the manifestation of good and effective leadership, until the signs of a monocratic regime become more and more visible, if not ostentatious.

Then the public will want to know. It takes the monocratic regime–or what it perceives as such–to task. This, in connection with the regime’s own logic of failings, usually is the beginning of the end (however slow the process to the end will be) of a monocratic regime within a system of constitutional government.

However, monocratic regimes within constitutional governments will be built up again and again. The constitutional movements of power with which we have dealt here do not cease as long as persons make politics. And this, we may assume, will continue to be the case.

 

Notes

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1104a5; see also Plato, Statesman 269d.

2. See Charles H. Cooley’s observation: “institutions are not separable entities, but rather phases of a common and at least partly homogeneous body of thought . . . they are the apperceptive systems or organized attitudes of the public mind, and it is only by abstraction that we can regard them as things by themselves . . . . It is in men and nowhere else that the institution is to be found. The real existence of the Constitution of the United States, for example, is in the traditional ideas of the people and the activities of judges, legislators and administrators, the written instrument being only a means of communication, an Ark of Covenant, ensuring the integrity of the tradition”; Cooley, “Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind” (1909), in The Two Major Works of Charles H.Cooley (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1956), 314.

3. Cicero, De Legibus III.5, in On the Republic, On the Laws, translated by Clinton W. Keyes, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1928).

4. Cicero, De Re Publica I.36; see De Legibus III.13–14.

5. De Re Publica I.41.

6. De Re Publica I.42.

7. De Re Publica I.45.

8. De Re Publica I,54.

9. Thomas Heilke provides a critical analysis of this phenomenon in his contribution to this volume. See in particular pages 117–25, “What Is Political Creativity?” and pages 129–38, “The One, the Few, and the Many.” The analysis includes a criticism of terminology, an essential task in the elaboration of what is here called “the other paradigm for the study of governments.” “The impression of impenetrable autocracy,” Heilke observes, for instance, “is misleading and mistaken.” In this text, indeed, it is replaced by the term “monocratic maximum.”

10. One could also choose the government of French president François Mitterrand, which presents a more complex case; see Tilo Schabert, “A Classical Prince: The Style of François Mitterrand,” in Philosophy, Literature, and Politics: Essays Honoring Ellis Sandoz, edited by Charles M. Embry and Barry Cooper, 234–57 (Columbia, MO, and London: University of Missouri Press, 2005), translation of “Ein klassischer Fürst;” and Schabert, How World Politics Is Made: France and the Reunification of Germany, translated by John Tyler Tuttle, abridged and edited by Barry Cooper (Columbia, MO, and London: University of Missouri Press, 2009); abridged English translation of the French version (Mitterrand et la réunification allemande, Paris, Grasset, 2005) of Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird.

11. Karl Feldmeyer, correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung at Bonn (then capital of the Federal Republic of Germany [West Germany]), interview by author, Bonn, February 26, 1997.

12. See, for instance, “Scharniere der Koalition: Wie die Zusammenarbeit zwischen den beiden Regierungsfraktionen funktioniert: Kleine Fachzirkel und Elefantentreffen,”Das Parlament, April 12, 1986; Günter Bannas, “Kein Mitglied der kleinen Runden,”FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung, July 17, 2006; Bannas, “Nie wieder Sonntag? Wie der Koalitionsausschuß seine politischen “Durchbrüche” erzielt,”Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 28, 2006.

13. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, interview by author, Berchtesgaden, August 1, 2006.

14. Compare Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), 2.

15. Compare Jacques Attali, Verbatim I (Paris: Fayard, 1993), 21.

16. According to Horst Teltschik, former adviser to Chancellor Kohl; interview by author, Munich, July 18, 1994.

17. William E. Leuchtenberg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 3.

18. See Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons, “Inside Obama’s Inner Circle: Ahead of Likely Presidential Campaign, Senator Relies on Core of Trusted Advisers,” Chicago Tribune, January 14, 2007; Shailagh Murray, “In Obama’s Circle, Chicago Remains the Tie That Binds,” Washington Post, July 14, 2008; Reymer Klüver, “Konzentrische Kreise,”Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 30, 2008; Lyon Sweet, “Obama’s Inner Circle of Friends: Jarrett, Whitaker, Nesbitt and Pritzker on Election Day,” Chicago Sun Times, November 4, 2008; Peter Nicholas, “A Close-knit Inner Circle: The ‘Friends of Barack’ Include Neighbors and Classmates–Some of Whom Follow Him to Washington,” Los Angeles Times, November 9, 2008; Klaus Brinkbäumer, “The Obamas’ Second Inner Circle,” Spiegel Online International, January 9, 2009; “Presidents ‘Need Somebody to Talk To,’ ” The Washington Times, February 23, 2010.

As the case of Désirée Rogers, an old friend of Obama’s from the Chicago circle of friends who at the beginning of Obama’s presidency was appointed social secretary at the White House but fell into disgrace and departed in January 2010, demonstrates, President Obama does not hesitate to ask members of his party of friends to leave their post at the White House if he deems this to be necessary or opportune; see Corine Lesnes, “La valse des hommes du président,”Le Monde, June 30, 2010.

19. See also Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand: Une vie (Paris: Seuil 1996); Hubert Védrine, François Mitterrand: Un dessein, un destin (Paris: Gallimard 2005).

20. Woodrow Wilson, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson [1908–1909], ed. Arthur S. Link, vol. 18 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1974), 116, 115.

21. In Cicero’s view, a state (res publica) needs, in order to be well organized, a “supreme and royal element” (quiddam praestans et regale) in its constitution (De Re Publica I.69). Cicero’s “quiddam” and Wilson’s “anything” are functionally equivalent.

22. Louis W. Koenig, The Chief Executive, rev. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968), 11.

23. Stephen Hess, The Presidential Campaign (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1978), 9.

24. Dennis Kavanagh and Anthony Seldon, The Powers Behind the Prime Minister:The Hidden Influence of Number Ten (London: HarperCollins, 1999); see also Bernard Donoughue, The Heat of the Kitchen (London: Politico’s, 2003).

25. See Stefan Braun, “Merkel höhlt die CDU aus,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 12, 2009.

26. See Christophe Jakubyszyn and Sophie Landrin, “Le grand Meccano de Nicolas Sarkozy,” Le Monde, December 26, 2008; Arnaud Leparmentier, “La ‘rupture’ de M. Sarkozy a cédé devant la réalité,” Le Monde, January 4–5, 2009.

27. See Alain Peyrefitte, C’était de Gaulle, vol. 1, La France redevient la France (Paris: Editions de Fallois), 116.

28. Le Monde, July 22–23, 2007.

29. See Nico Fried, “Merkel’s Macht,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 29, 2009.

30. See Nico Fried, “Die Alleinunterhalterin,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 5–6, 2010.

31. Arnaud Leparmentier, “À l’Élysée, évolution de palais,” Le Monde, December 8, 2009; Leparmentier, “M.Sarkozy recadre le travail de ses conseillers à l’Élysée,” Le Monde, April 14, 2010; Landrin and Leparmentier, “Dans la perspective de 2012, M.Sarkozy fait profil bas,” Le Monde, May 6, 2010. The monocratic maximum may also result in a “vertiginous solitude,” according to this summary of reports in the British press on Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Marc Roche, “Un Portrait Peu Flatteur Dressé par la Presse Après Un An de Pouvoir: Gordon Brown, premier ministre à la solitude vertigineuse,” LeMonde, July 2, 2008.

32. Schabert, Boston Politics: The Creativity of Power  (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1989), 209.

Also available are “The German Question is a European Question,”How the World is Made: France and the Reunification of Germany,” and “Tilo Schabert’s Lecture on Germany and France”; also see Thierry Gontier’s review available here; Timothy Fuller’s here; and Lee Trepanier’s here.

This chapter is from The Primacy of Persons in Politics: Empiricism and Political Philosophy. John von Heyking and Thomas Heilke, eds. Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2013.

Tilo Schabert

Written by

Tilo Schabert is a Board Member of VoegelinView and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg. He is the author of several books, with the latest being How World Politics is Made (Missouri Press, 2009) and The Second Birth: On the Political Beginnings of Human Existence (Chicago Press, 2015).