Two comments on Pedro Caminos’ essay on Vermeule normative framework. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a forthcoming dossier on “common good constitutionalism” at the journal of the Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires), edited by the good offices of Guillermo Jensen, there is a featuring essay, “El concepto de marco normative en la obra de Adrian Vermeule”, by Pedro A. Caminos that makes an original attempt to read Vermeule’s legal theory from strong jurisprudential position, and it does so by suggesting that the ‘marginalization’ of the judiciary and the transformation of the administrative state (the Chevron paradigm) implies a normative framework, analogous to Martin Loughlin’s superlegality or Fernando Atria’s common norms (I would be tempted to also add to this list Scott Shapiro’s conception of law as planning). Although I agree with the normative framework in both scope and design of the constitutional theory, there are two underlying elements that I would slightly challenge for further discussion. The first element concerns the notion of tyranny, and the second one to the allocation of “politics” in administrative framework

First, towards the end of the essay, Caminos cites Robert Alexy’s rendition of the Radbruch formula in which no positive law can be tyrannical (or unjust) or it ceases to be legitimate law from an external perspective. For Alexy the conditions of intelligibility must answer not only to internal rules of recognition as positivism would have it, but, more fundamentally, to the challenge of the participant perspective, which is external to the rule of recognition. The problem with the Alexian antipositivist stance in Vermeule’s normative framework is that it would seem to come to a halt if the institutional design is constructed as “second best” safeguards for administrative decision-making. Indeed, the second-best optimizing rule is the same thesis defended in The Exeuctive Unbound (2010), which suggested that ultimate concerns for tyranny (trypanophobia) could ultimately serve the master that it seeks to prevent. To some extent the administrative state – if read from the internal point of view of executive power – is best understood as the optimizing and taming of presidential power through the normative framework. Now, it is true that in “common good constitutionalism” the emphasis against tyranny is counterposed by an objective morality proper to the ragion di stato, which explains why the “second best” optimizing rule is silently replaced by the determinatio that defines the construction zone of the praetorian decision making. The nuances here are important: whereas second-best optimizing rule has no moral purposiveness; the determinatio is by nature a moral discriminatory principle (ius). Whereas the Bartolist jurisprudence aims to tame the privately infused tyrannical forces for good government; the unbounded executive does not fear tyranny as long as it controls the immanent force of administration [1].

Secondly, Caminos derives from the normative framework the construction of a common legal space in which disagreements could flourish. And Caminos sees this as consistent with Schmitt’s concept of the political as the distinction between friend and enemy. But so far as the notion of enmity in The Concept of the Political moves through different determinations, it is an open question as to which determination are allocated or relevant to the normative framework. However, if what defines the “reasonable arbitrariness” of administrative adjudication is predominantly informed by cost & benefit analysis, it would seem that it is value rather than the political distinction the distinctive feature of its logic. This makes sense given the jurisdictional supremacy of the administrative state, which subsumed the legislation into the normative framework. As Carl Schmitt predicted it in his Tyranny of Values, in this context function of the legislator becomes that of a tailor of suturing and producing new mediations for value stratification [2]. But could one conceive the concept of the political within the values of administrative rationality? At the end of his essay, Caminos himself seems to think otherwise, and suggests that normative framework allows for a new conception of political friendship. Of course, in the regime of value administration friendship is defined first and foremost by those are “valued” or “devalued”. Ultimately, this would be strange conception of “friendship”, since, as De Maistre showed, the friend is always outside the margin of utility, and thus constituted outside value [3]. Hence the difficulty for an alleged new politics of friendship: either the concrete friendship is diluted into a “fellow man” (blurring the specificity of friendship) or embracing as friends only those that share common values that can be imposed to non-friends, but who are not recognized as formal “enemies”. This second variant is most definitely the common good ideal type. In either case, friendship and politics become two poles in the procedural organization of values: a hellish reality notwithstanding appearing as a ‘friendly’ paradise of values.

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Notes

1. Adrian Vermeule. Common Good Constitutionalism (Polity, 2022), 27-28.

2.Carl Schmitt. La tiranía de los valores (Hydra Editorial, 2012), 147.

3. Joseph De Maistre writes: “¿Qué es un amigo? Lo más inútil del mundo para la fortuna. Para empezar, nunca se tiene más de uno y siempre es el mismo; lo mismo valdría para un matrimonio. No hay nada que sea verdaderamente más útil que los conocidos, porque se pueden tener muchos y, cuantos más se tengan, más se multiplican las posibilidades en cuanto a su utilidad.”, in El mayor enemigo de Europa y otros textos escogidos (El Paseo, 2020), 212.

Politics as substantive morality: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VI). by Gerardo Muñoz

In section 79 of Gramsci’s Notebook 6 we are offered a strong definition of “politics” that I think illuminates the core of the Gramscian program fundamentally as a substantive morality. Gramsci writes the following against the “particularism” of normal associations (say the aristocracy, the elite, or the vanguard): “[an universal] association does not set itself up as a definite and rigid entity but as a something that aims to extend itself to a whole social grouping that is itself conceived as aiming to unify all humanity. All these relationships give a universal character to the group ethic that must be considered capable of becoming a norm of conduct for humanity as a whole. Politics is conceived a process that will culminate in a morality; in other words, politics is seen as leading towards a form of sociality in which politics and hence morality as well are both superseded.” (30). It is an astonishing definition, given the precise way it mobilizes the content of this new politics. Of course, there is the explicit the Hegelianism of the ‘universalist’ translation through the dialectical conflation between state and civil society, which just a few sections prior to 79, Gramsci deploys in order to posit the ultimate goal of communist society. 

But in this section he goes further, since it becomes clear that the state and civil society, as they march towards an ‘integral state’, dissolves politics into pure morality. But Gramsci immediately clarifies that it is not just a “morality” of a new dominant class (which could still be contested vis-a-vis other values), but rather a “morality that is superseded”. This is an absolute morality beyond value disputes. In other words, it is an absolute morality that needs to be so because state and civil society have become a unified whole. Concretely, this means the dissolution of politics and of any concrete order of the republican tradition, which recognizes that, precisely because civil war is the latent in the social, no morality can be granted hegemonic status. At bottom, this is the reason why we need politics and institutions to mitigate conflict. The Gramscian moral universe frames a world in which the conflict not only disappears, but rather it becomes pure morality towards a “substantive common good” in which every person is obliged to participate. Indeed, one could claim that the theory of hegemony as morality has never appeared as strongly as in this fragment. I think it is fair to say that the telos of hegemony is, in every case, a drive towards the consolidation of this uncontested morality. 

Needless to say, this is a frontal assault on positive law, which aimed, from Hobbes to H. L. Hart, to clearly differentiate between politics, institutions, and morals. In a surprising but direct way, Gramsci’s definition of politics as substantive morality is closer to the tradition of “Thomism” in at least three compartments of Aquinas’ thinking. First, because it posits a substantive morality as a unified conception of aims, which negates any competing positions between values. Secondly, the substantive morality of politics informs the Gramscian theory of the state, which, very much like the Thomist subsidiary structure, understands institutions not as a concrete order of conflict (stasis), but rather as a depository for the reproduction of civil society (that is why Gramsci also in notebook 6 will speak about the “state without a state”) in the image of the state. However, if we are to be fair to the natural law tradition, I think we can claim that Gramsci is really an archaic and not a “modern” (or revolutionary) Thomist, since even John Finnis in his Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, 1980), in an attempt to square natural law with modern liberalism, countered Hart’s objection of unified moral aims in this way: “…there are basic aspects of human existence that are good leaving aside all the predicaments and implications…all questions of whether and how one is to devote oneself to these goods” (30). Finnis distinguishes between general principles and personal elaborations of aims. However, Gramsci is not interested in establishing generic “principles” for plural aims, but rather he seeks the actualization of a morality that is substantive because it is understood as “superseded as morality” as such. The kingdom of the Gramscian integral state is only realized if the heterogeneity of the social is captured by the hegemony of a supreme morality of Humanity. 

The distance between Gramscian moral politics and the modern natural law foundation (Fuller, Finnis) is driven home when later in section 88 of notebook 6 he claims that: “…one should not think of a “new liberalism” even if the beginning of an era of organic freedom were at hand” (76). This confirms that Gramsci is interested in crafting a morality tied to the efficacy of immanent individual ends and desires, and not at the level of generic principles of a common order. If one takes this moral politics seriously, then it becomes difficult (impossible, in my opinion), to square the primacy of this morality with positive law and the republican tradition at large. At its “best light”, the Gramscian absolute morality can only yield a faith in “Humanity”, which feeds from the production of enmity (turning dissent into ‘inhumanity’) in a civil war, as it cannot be otherwise.