Kleiman argues (brilliantly) that Mansfield fears that an open statement of his views might lead Republicans to sin once more against philosophy so he (still more brilliantly) presents his refutation of Republican authoritarianism under the guise of a defence.
with a broad wink, Mansfield signals that arguments of the very type he purports to make are necessarily partisan and insincere. But he does so in a way that demands the "close reading" Straussians teach. Early in the essay, he writes:
In other circumstances I could see myself defending the rule of law.
Hmmm … just what might those “other circumstances” be? A hint is given in the middle (where Straussians argue that the truth is most cunningly hidden):
The American Founders heeded both criticisms of the rule of law when they created the presidency. The president would be the source of energy in government, that is, in the administration of government, energy being a neutral term that might include Aristotle's discretionary virtue and Machiavelli's tyranny — in which only partisans could discern the difference. (Emphasis added.)
And, just in case the reader is especially dense, Mansfield frankly provides the answer to the riddle near the end of the essay:
Democrats today would be friendlier to executive power if they held the presidency — and Republicans would discover virtue in the rule of law if they held Congress.
So, Mansfield, in his adopted character of an apologist for Bushism, reveals the Bushite project of ruling in defiance of the law as fundamentally tyrannical, fundamentally unlimited, and defensible only from a position of partisan bad faith.
I must say that Kleiman's exegesis is convincing. It is widely agreed that Mansfield is extremely intelligent, and it seems odd that he would let make even one reference to partisanship by mistake. It is impossible that he has forgotten the contempt Republicans had for the rule of law last year when they held congress. Only an idiot could write that an mean it, and Mansfield (I am told) is no idiot. The clause only makes sense as a reference to the impeachment of Clinton when Republicans appealed to l'obligatoriatà dell'azione penale come aspetto dello stato di diritto which they imported from over here and mistranslated as "rule of law" doing violence (as usual) to the legal traditions of the English speaking peoples. This is a datum which I can not explain without agreeing with Kleiman, although it is, to quote Machiavelli "uno solo."
As I have not read Mansfield's op-ed (and don't intend to) I can not argue with Kleiman so I will instead paraphrase Hilzoy
Mark Kleiman has written one of those posts in which the writer's elegance, erudition and stylistic flair make an abhorrent position sound halfway reasonable. One lovely sentence follows another, and if you aren't careful, they lull you into overlooking the fact that he is defending Harvey Mansfield.