Essays & Reviews

Executive Authority and the Constitution: Reflections by Owens and Knott

Mackubin T. Owens and Stephen Knott have published a monograph in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Philadelphia Paper series, The Evolution of the Executive and Executive Power in the American Republic.  They consider the role that a republican executive has, and ought, to play in domestic affairs – (what James Ceaser terms “the zone of law”), as compared to that concerning foreign and defense policy (a “zone of ‘high’ discretion”).  They trace the evolution of thinking about the executive, from Machiavelli through Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and the American Founders, following Harvey Mansfield’s Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (1989).

For our purposes, dealing with the Classics of Strategy and Diplomacy, they cite extensively the argument in the Federalist Papers concerning national security and the executive, especially Hamilton’s discussion in Numbers 67-77.  (Numbers 1-22, dealing with the necessity of Union, consider the defense and foreign policy challenges facing the new nation.)  The Founders were not exactly united on how much authority the executive ought to command even in the zone of high discretion – a matter debated extensively by Hamilton (writing as “Pacificus”) and Madison (“Helvidius”) in 1793-1794, in the wake of President Washington’s decision, without consultation or authorization by Congress, to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality in the war between Revolutionary France and Britain and its continental allies.  See a précis of the context of this debate here.