The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century HistoryBy Emma Rothschild (Princeton University Press, 483 pp., $35) BY A RURAL SCOTTISH river on an early summer’s day in 1771, someone makes a catch: a package wrapped in cloth, and inside the cloth, a baby boy, and on his tiny sodden body “the marks of violence” that may have caused his death. It does not take long to identify a suspect, the infant’s mother, who works in a nearby household. She is brought to the local sheriff’s court, interrogated, and charged with the murder of her son. Every suspect, by definition, invites doubt.
In an appearance last week on NY1, a 24-hour news network in New York City, police commissioner Ray Kelly claimed to be proud of the city’s record as a bastion of civil liberties. “We probably have more free speech in this city than any other place in America,” he said.
The imperial presidency in the United States has staged a comeback some 13 years after the fall of Richard Nixon. Both the recent renewal of presidential aggrandizement and the reaction against it recall the latter days, hectic and ominous, of the Nixon presidency, when I wrote The Imperial Presidency. My argument then, as now, was that the American Constitution intends a strong presidency within an equally strong system of accountability.
The next battlefield over the so-called Regan Doctrine is the decade-old consensus that America should stay out of the civil war in Angola. Based on the belief that the United States should assist anti-Communist freedom fighters everywhere, elements within the Reagan administration and in Congress are urging that the U.S. supply as much as $200 million in aid to Jonas Savimbi's anti-Marxist guerrilla group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).