Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule is capo di tutti capi of the mob calling themselves Integralists. The Integralists argue that of the two powers that rule man—the temporal and the spiritual—the temporal must be subordinate to the spiritual because political rule must be ordered to man’s final end. Therefore, according to Vermeule, man’s final end must somehow be connected to the deep state.
They met recently at a conference organized by my friend Anne Hendershott of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and intellectual pilgrim Sohrab Ahmari.
Vermeule told the Steubenville gathering, “There is no alternative to the administrative state. There is no dismantling of it. To dismantle it would be to dismantle the American constitutional order.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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This comment puts me in mind of raisins.
In his masterful book about citizenship, Victor Davis Hanson tells us about his family farm where, for five generations, they have grown Thompson seedless grapes that are dried into raisins. They have done this on a small, 120-acre plot of land. But “when prices crashed during the national recession of 1983, many raisin farmers contemplated not delivering their near worthless crops to packers to be sold.” The reason is that the contracted price paid by the packers was far below the cost of growing the grapes and drying them. Hanson said many farmers contemplated selling their crop directly to farmers’ markets, local bakeries, and small stores. Alas, the administrative state, the beast that Vermeule lauds, would not allow it. In fact, it was illegal. In fact, it was a federal felony.
Farmers rediscovered they did not own their own crop. Hanson explains that the federal government owns the nation’s annual raisin crop even before it is harvested.
It seems there is a depression-era Raisin Administrative Committee operating under the Agricultural Agreement Act of 1937. Each year, this body determines what percentage of raisin crops can be sold within the United States. The government then confiscates the remaining tonnage, upward of 50-75 percent of the total crop. This confiscated tonnage is often sold below market prices or given away abroad. It is illegal for farmers to hold back any of their crop without telling the feds.
Welcome to the administrative state.
You say you are not a raisin farmer and need a better example of the administrative state in action?
How about the “guidance” letter handed down by a bureaucrat in the Obama Department of Education that said high schools had to allow gender-confused students to use the bathroom of their choice. This led to a girl who thinks she is a boy named “Gavin” to invade the boy’s bathroom. Gavin would not settle for a bathroom dedicated to her own use. She, and the administrative state, insisted she could use the boy’s bathroom.
Here’s at least one of the problems. If this had been decided by the legislative process, it would have been possible to throw the rascals out at election time and change the law. But this was decided by a low-level bureaucrat in a federal agency. Put aside that this was merely “guidance” and could have been ignored; but it was received by ideologues on the ground as a royal degree that they had to accept. And how does one begin to find and then change the mind of a low-level bureaucrat. This is a profound democratic deficit.
In an alarming piece published in The Atlantic two years ago, Vermeule calls for “common good constitutionalism” that includes “strong rule [emphasis added] in the interest of attaining the common good.” Lest you miss the point, he goes on to cite certain principles of his regime, including “respect for the authority of the rule and of rulers.” He says we must “ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” As for Americans, we have tended to reserve the right to spit right in the ruler’s eye.
Part of Vermeule’s pitch for the strong rule of the deep state is health. Like all good Schwabians, Vermeule cites the pandemic, “…it has become clear that a just governing order must have ample power to cope with large-scale crises of public health and well-being….” He defines health “in many senses.” If there is a difference between Vermeule and all the Great Reseters, I don’t know what it is.
Woodrow Wilson created the deep state. He was frustrated in having to persuade “Irishmen, Germans, and Negroes,” so he created a bureaucracy of experts who could decide things free from political pressure. In a powerful First Things article, Columbia Law professor Philip Hamburger makes the strong case that Catholics and other faithful Christians are the target of the administrative state. It seems that today we are Woodrow Wilson’s “Irishmen, Germans, and Negroes.” Instead of persuading us that boys ought to play girls’ sports, the administrative state will simply order us to accept it. Not having this power, according to Vermeule, would be to dismantle the constitutional order.
Vermeule is alarmed the deep state is being unspooled. A federal court just determined that a meddlesome agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau no longer gets automatic funding free from meddlesome politicians. Funding for the bureau had been severed from Congressional approval. If this sounds vaguely unconstitutional, I agree. We shall see if this holds up in the Supreme Court.
Also at issue is whether the deep state gets to set its own rules without Congressional approval. The Chevron case is the one to watch. In 1984, the Supreme Court decided that federal courts had to defer to any federal agency’s “reasonable interpretation” of an ambiguous statute. What this means is that the deep state gets to set its own rules and then interpret them on its own. The taxpayer and his political representative be damned. Professor Hamburger sees Chevron on its last legs. Integralist Vermeule would see this as the end of the republic.
If all of this is integralism, most of us would say—paraphrasing Flannery O’Connor on if the Eucharist were merely a symbol—“to hell with it.”
[Photo Credit: Raisin Administrative Committee]