The "living" law

To ask for a concise explanation of what these new sorts of laws do would be futile, because the only meaningful answer is that they give the president the scope to run certain parts of the economy the way he wants. And what he wants is what Woodrow Wilson wanted in The Study of Administration: a means by which to “open for the public a bureau of skilled, economical administration” that is filled with the “hundreds who are wise” and that thwarts the “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.” Government of the expert, by the powerful, and for the unworthy, in other words.

This, it should not need saying, stands in diametric opposition to the underlying principle — the “all-important English trait,” Orwell called it — that made the Anglosphere exceptional in the first place: that the law is regarded as “something above the state and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible.” “The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power, has never taken root,” Orwell claimed of his native England. It has not quite taken root in America, either. But even here, the law, which should be firmly and beautifully dead, is in danger of taking on a life of its own. If it is allowed to do so, Americans will invite in caprice, the half-brother of whim, which, as Christopher Hitchens astutely observed, is the “essence of tyranny.”