Legitimacy and the administrative state. By Gerardo Muñoz.

To follow up on my previous responses (that can be read here and here) in conversation with José Luis Villacañas’ lecture on Weber and populism, I want to return one more time to the question of legitimacy. I do not want to repeat what I have already said in the other commentaries, rather this time I want to specify the nexus between the administrative state and legitimacy. That is the purpose of this commentary, anticipating a more elaborate presentation of this problem in an upcoming conference at the University of Rome.

The heart of the problem can be laid out in a straightforward manner: is the administrative state legitimate? And if so, from where does the administrative state derive its legitimacy? For a moment I’ll leave aside the fact that for a wide range of legal scholarship, bureaucratic order itself is a material source of legitimation, in part because administration purports separation of the private/public spheres, and deters corruption, thus upholding the well-being of the social. But this answer is in itself tautological and needs of descriptive substance.

Here I find Adrian Vermeule’s typology of the legitimatization of the administrative state helpful and pertinent for a number of reasons. For one, it allows me to affirm my position in this debate [1]. As Vermeule fleshes out, the question of legitimacy of the administrative state is not new, and only recently – that is, the post-Reagan period, once the Federalist Society began having effective impact in the wake of the Neo-Conservative movement – has the legitimacy of the administrative state been challenged on the basis of it being inconsistent with the separation of powers (Epstein 2008, Hamburger 2014).

I cannot go into details about the reason of this development in the space of this commentary. Let me jump right into the analysis. Vermeule notes that the way in which the legitimacy of the administrative state has been posited – from the New Dealers of the 1930s to the current Supreme Court – takes different paths to understanding the core problem of “independence”. This is of no minor importance, since independence of the legislative deference and execution of an agency statute, has everything to do with what Moreiras and Villacañas understand as the reduction of the factual condition of domination. This is also a crucial premise as to move in the direction of a posthegemonic democracy, regardless of how it is defined and developed in each case.

Vermeule insists that “independence” has a heterogeneous form of legitimation of the administrative state in three main tracks (it does not mean that there are only three, but at least these have been highly influential): 1. the one posited by James Landis in Administrative Process (1938) who sought to provide independence of the administrative agency from the executive power; 2. Louis Jaffe’s formulaic deference of a strong position of independent judicial review of agencies; 3. Kagan’s inversion of Landis, who in the early 2001, interprets “independence” of the President against interests groups, or crony interest-restricted legislators. Regardless of the different premises and relational valences of these forms of administrative law, I agree with Vermeule that they affirm a common and perhaps dual legitimization value: to establish independence and internal legal pluralism.

There is good and bad news here for Republicanism. First, the bad news: the forms of legitimization of administrative law emerge in the wake of the crisis of the traditional Madisonian division of powers. However, the crisis of the archaic formulation should not produce neither horror nor nostalgia. In any case, this is an aspect that must be discussed after Villacañas’ own philosophical defense of the division of powers in genealogy of the Western tradition in his Teología Política Imperial (Trotta, 2006). As for the good news: the hermeneutics of administrative legitimation are affirmed on the ground of the equilibrium and an internal pluralism, which is how Vermeule establishes his stance against contemporary anti-administrative libertarians. This entails that the administrative state is not the abdication of the rule of law in a drift towards tyranny or unpopular rule, but rather part of an elastic historical development in a complex field of tensions [2].

Why is this important for thinking populism today? For one, because Villacañas’ Weberian position even when placed in the “factual grid” of the administrative state, perfectly convergences with Elena Kagan’s position (the third path of legitimation). In fact, Vermeule describes Kagan’s most important and enduring contribution in a way that we could also ascribe to Villacañas:

“A constitutional vision that attempt to combined two intellectual and constitutional strands that had often been assumed to be in tension with one another, or even outright contrition. The first strand was technical administration, whose major tool is quantified cost-benefit analysis; the second was Hamiltonian political leadership by an energetic elected President, who hallmark is accountability to a broad national public” (Vermeule 18).

This is precisely what Villacañas’ response to me meant regarding the potential dismissal (in Castilian: “la patatada en el culo”) of the charismatic leader when he fails to meet the material needs of the People. In effect, this is completely consistent with Weber’s defense of presidentialism in “The Reich President” (not really the same as “charismatic leadership”), as a form of the checking the bureaucracy in line with the Hamiltonian vision of the modern state [3]. So, here is the big picture: whereas Landis favored anti-Presidentialist stance during New Deal legislation, in the case of Kagan it is the figure of the President that can advance the needs of the People in any given circumstance. It is interestingly enough that President Obama (who was a constitutionalist) followed more the track of Landis and not that of Kagan.

It is clear why Kagan needs to embrace a thin margin of presidentialism as a process of legitimation, since to do so entails reducing the ascending problem of factionalism, narrow interests, bad administration, or even more recent problems such as big financial conglomerates (Vermeule 23). Here the contending debate between populism as charismatic leadership (Villacañas), and an anarchic populism (Moreiras) on the other is also properly defined. Whereas I agree with Kagan and Villacañas that presidentialism could buffer certain corporate interests (“la casta”, in Podemos is a perfect example) and the weight of agencies, I also agree with Moreiras that then this could only mean that the “President” is no longer a political figure, but rather a mere administrator, a gestor [4]. The President becomes the perfect justification of an Enlightened monarch (in a phrase revered by Peterson in his response against Schmitt’ political theology): the King rules but does not govern. But I would add, he does function as a filter for what Vermeule calls “accountability to a broad national public”, which is synonymous with what Villacañas calls the “material interests of the People”.

I end with a question to align a few problems for further investigation: if the President is a mere filter in a complex structure that is the political fabric of the administrative state today, isn’t he already a sort of de-centralized and an-archic figure? Also: can there be, for instance, a concrete moment of demand of the People if there are only administrative agencies? Only placed in this backdrop does posthegemonic populism becomes clear: neither effective administrative law without the expansion of the democratic demand, nor effective or defective presidentialism. After all, no threat of factionalism has been tamed from a secure position of leadership without, at the same time, necessarily bending towards the expansion of its own (imperial) hegemony, which always amounts to the phantasm of a corrupted legitimacy.





  1. Adrian Vermeule. “Bureaucracy and Distrust: Landis, Jaffe, and Kagan on the Administrative State”. Forthcoming, Harvard Law Review, 2017.
  1. For Adrian Vermeule, the crisis of legitimacy is actually is greatest strength. See, “What Legitimacy Crisis?” CATO UNBOUND (May 9, 2016). https://www.- cato-unbound.org/2016/05/09/adrian-vermeule/what-legitimacy-crisis
  1. Max Weber presents in “The Reich President” (Social Research, 1987) a defense of presidentialism that is the principle to both Villacañas and Kagan: “For the great movement of democratic party life which develops alongside these popular elections will benefit parliament as well. A president elected by means of particular constellations and coalitions of parties is politically a dead man when these constellations shift. A popularly elected president as head of the executive, head of office patronage, and perhaps possessor of a delaying veto and of the authority to dissolve parliament and to call referenda, is the guarantor of true democracy, which means not feeble surrender to cliques but subjection to leaders chosen by the people them.” 132 pp.
  1. Alberto Moreiras: “Este es por lo tanto un populismo sin líderes (o sin líderes en función hegemónica), es decir, un populismo en el que la posición de líder—el notorio “significante vacío”—está ocupada por el gestor de la radicalidad democrática, y solo por él o ella en cada caso, a cualquier nivel administrativo (seguir llamando a ese “gestor de la radicalidad democrática” líder, o jefe, o caudillo, sería un capricho arbitrario).”. “La hipótesis Podemos”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/la-hipotesis-podemos-borrador-por-alberto-moreiras/

Presidencialismo y liderazgos. Una pregunta para José Luis Villacañas. Por Gerardo Muñoz.


En los buenos talleres siempre pareciera que nos traiciona el tiempo. Y el congreso “Populismos”, que tuvo lugar el pasado viernes en Princeton, no fue una excepción. Hubo tres excelentes ponencias que darán mucho de qué hablar y pensar, aunque en este comentario solo quiero atenerme a un aspecto que quedó colgado del intercambio con el Profesor José Luis Villacañas.

José Luis leyó un magnífico texto sobre Max Weber, Ernesto Laclau, y la actualidad de la crisis constitucional de Weimar para pensar nuestro tiempo. Implícitamente estaba en juego una hermenéutica relativa a la interpretación de la crisis democrática alemana de los treinta, y aunque no fue nombrado, se podía escuchar cierto eco de Helmuth Plessner, cuya Nación tardía: sobre la seducción política del espíritu burgués (1935-1959), acaba de aparecer por el sello Biblioteca Nueva en una magnifica edición y estudio crítico del propio Villacañas. No quiero intentar hacer un resumen de la charla de José Luis, la cual puede escucharse aquí. Me sumo al gesto de Alberto, y tan solo quiero dejar por escrito un comentario para avanzar en la discusión.

En el tiempo que tuvimos de preguntas y comentarios, yo le preguntaba a José Luis cómo pensar la “actualidad” de Weber en un momento como el nuestro (al menos en EEUU, que es donde vivo), dominado por lo que los constitucionalistas norteamericanos (Posner 2008, Hamburger 2014, Vermeule 2016), han venido llamando la expansión del estado administrativo. Sobre esto y la conspicua frase de Steve Bannon, ya hemos comentado en este espacio [1]. La cuestión es relevante en la medida en que el problema del administrative state y la burocracia es central en el propio pensamiento de Weber. Pero también es fundamental si aceptamos cierta irreversibilidad del derecho de los estatutos de las agencias gubernamentales administrativas cuyo peso ya han desplazado lenta pero decisivamente el centralismo de las cortes.

Si esta es la realidad fáctica, entonces no es posible ni deseable, volver al centralismo jurídico, en la medida en que volver al centralismo jurídico no sería más que volver a re-inscribir las condiciones que en un primer momento hicieron posible la expansión del estado administrativo. Lo que hay es lo que hay, como a veces se dice desde cierto “realismo”. Esto es, un estado administrativo que solo puede ser más o menos democrático. Pero el estado administrativo no solo desplaza lo que Dworkin entendió, en el que quizás sea el más influyente libro del derecho norteamericano del siglo veinte, el ‘Imperio de la Justicia’. En la última sesión de debate con Moreiras y Svampa, Villacañas retomó el tema de Weber ahora visto desde la rama del executivo. Quiero citar a Villacañas, y luego pasar a mi pregunta:

“….por eso el carisma anti-autoritario es específicamente democrático, puesto que el carisma es delegado en la medida en que responde a los intereses de los dominados. Cuando Weber establece esa diferencia está pensando en el Presidente de los Estados Unidos que es para él es el prototipo del carisma antiautoritario que tiene que defender los intereses de los dominados si quiere ser reconocido como tal. El líder anti-autoritario es quien está en condiciones de representar intereses que no son los suyos. Pero que los mira con una objetividad que está en condiciones de producirles la pasión…”

Seguido de este comentario, Moreiras le preguntó a Villacañas si esa descripción aplicaba a todos los líderes norteamericanos, o si era una especie de “tipo ideal”, pinchando una categoría medular del pensamiento sociológico de Weber. Lo que yo quisiera anotar es que si asumimos la realidad fáctica del estado administrativo, entonces quizás el “principialismo” (¿es principial?) del líder anti-autoritario en Weber, quizás ya no tenga tanto efecto como lo pudiera haber tenido, digamos, durante Weimar o durante período de Woodrow Wilson (quien además es una figura admirable, puesto que escribió una de las mejores defensas del cuerpo legislativo que hay en la tradición política norteamericana titulada Congressional Government, de 1885). ¡Y no olvidemos que el Congreso de EEUU no aprueba una ley en el Congreso en casi una década!

Villacañas diría, y en efecto, dijo: “el líder anti-autoritario es aquel que está en condiciones de recibir una patada en el culo…en caso de no cumplir las demandas materiales de la sociedad”. Y estoy de acuerdo con este razonamiento. Y hasta ahora Trump ha sido eso. Pero el problema es que si aceptamos la condición del estado administrativo, tal vez solo un nuevo parlamentarismo se adaptaría mejor al tejido de nuestras sociedades poshegemónicas. Al fin y al cabo, el sistema norteamericano es presidencialista, y como ha visto Bruce Ackerman y antes el gran historiador Arthur J. Schlesinger, desde hace décadas está en ascenso hacia una metamorfosis imperial. Me pregunto si el anarco-populismo de Moreiras, o el énfasis en los movimientos propuestos por Svampa, serían más susceptibles a un nuevo parlamentarismo, incluso a un federalismo, que es por otro lado lo que a mí me interesa, para un futuro democrático y democratizante [2]. Pero si es así, tendría que ser necesariamente anti-presidencialista, esto es, sin líder.






  1. Gerardo Muñoz. “An explaination for deconstructing the administrative state”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/an-explanation-for-deconstructing-the-administrative-state-by-gerardo-munoz/
  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Republicanismo arcaico”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/republicanismo-arcaico-por-alberto-moreiras/

*Foto, de Pablo Dominguez-Galbraith. 7 de Abril, Princeton University.