Posted by: George | April 12, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 12

It is astonishing that so simple a truth should ever have had an adversary; and it is one, among the multitude of proofs, how apt a spirit of ill-informed jealousy, or of too great abstraction and refinement, is to lead men astray from the plainest truths of reason and conviction.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 12

The central argument Hamilton advances in Federalist No. 12 is that a strong central government will promote commerce, which will in turn promote “those darling objects of human avarice and enterprise.” Hamilton was writing in the early stage of capitalism, so he intriguingly sees commerce as an unquestioned good. That’s not surprising. But he also has no problem pairing “avarice” and “enterprise” as equally good. That’s a little startling to modern readers, even serious capitalists, which points to how often arguments beyond question in one context, a historical era or culture, might seem absurd in another.

alexander%20hamilton%20the%20musicalThis is both the appeal and limitation of common sense as a mode of argument. A truth might appear to be “so simple” that it “astonishing” that anyone would have the gall to question it. To Hamilton’s credit (and the credit of his century), he knew he had to do more than say “it’s common sense.” He knew he also had to present more substantial arguments. And he did.

This not always true in our time, so it would benefit us to understand what is at work with the “common sense” argument.

In The New Rhetoric, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca write: “Common sense admits the existence of unquestioned and unquestionable truths; it admits that certain rules are ‘beyond discussion,’ and that certain suggestions ‘do not deserve discussion.’” In other words, when you make a claim and you say that it is “common sense,” you are saying this is so obvious that I don’t even need to support it with data or facts and, if you question it, . . . well, then, you’re just stupid.

Common sense arguments typically rely on cultural norms, but the application of these norms is not as simple as we might first suspect. We might say that it is common sense to get out of the rain (more convincing in Detroit in the middle of winter than in San Antonio in the middle of summer), or that it is common sense to buy life insurance (more true if you have a spouse and young children than if you are seventy without any family). When common sense emerges from ideology, it becomes even more murky. Some people think it is common sense to say that lowering taxes will create jobs or anyone who works hard in America can make it.

And then there’s the so-called Muslim ban, which was shut down by so-called judges. Here is President Trump’s justification from way back in June, 2016: “You know, I hate the concept of profiling. But we have to start using common sense, and we have to use, you know, we have to use our heads . . . we really have to look at profiling. We have to look at it seriously.”

The interesting thing about common sense arguments is you don’t even need fake news or alternative facts to back them up. They are self-sufficient and hermetically sealed, impervious to counter attacks.

The common sense argument can be an extension of power, like saying, “Because I said so. So there. Shut up, you moron.” We are going to hear a lot of common sense in the next four years.

Here is what we need to remember: If the common sense argument is self-evidently true and beyond question, as it claims itself to be, it is true for a limited segment of the world and a narrow band of history. We need to ask ourselves two questions: Is this how we want the world to view us? Is this how we want history to view us?

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | April 1, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 11

Europe, by her arms and by her negotiations, by force and by fraud, has, in different degrees, extended her dominion over them all. . . . Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America—that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. . . . It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will add another victim to his triumphs.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 11

The basic argument in Federalist No. 11 is that we need to have a strong union to have a strong navy, and we need a strong navy to protect our national interests from European influence.

To current readers, it might seem to be one of the least consequential of the eighty-five Federalist essays. We now have a strong navy. We are not so worried about being pushed around by Europe. On first reading, it seems like the concerns Hamilton expressed in No. 11 have evaporated in the last two and a half centuries.

But maybe not. I could comment on how a strong navy is not going to protect us from cyber warfare and the influence of other governments on our elections, that Hamilton’s concern, if updated and expanded, is even more real, more portentous now, at this moment. That would be pertinent and timely, but I would rather use this essay to explore the dark side of the Federalist Papers, which means also exploring the dark side of the Enlightenment and Modernism. Here, in Federalist No. 11, I would argue that we see a fear of the Other, which is as American as democracy and freedom.

In this series, I have been arguing that the Federalist Papers can teach us about important American values, which formed our institutions, like the importance of separation of powers. I have argued that our institutions were formed to prevent one leader or one group from dominating all others. Using primarily Whitman’s Democratic Vistas, I have argued that our institutions are only as good as the citizens who support them. If we hope to sustain our institutions, we must become good citizens, which must include a commitment to include others, even those we consider the opposition, so that they too can participate fully and consciously in our democracy.

The Federalist Papers, however, have a dark side, as does the constitution that Hamilton, Jay, and Madison argue their contemporaries should adopt. These figures and their writings and their constitution are products of the Enlightenment, which was a moment, the moment, within the unfolding of Modernism. We are still under the sway of the Enlightenment and Modernism, so it is hard for us to see the dark side of it. But it has been seen for a long time, repeatedly. In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel wrote,“The Enlightenment was not very enlightened about itself.” In The Dialectic of the Enlightenment (1944), Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote, “Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings.” In Shadows of Ethics (1999), Geoffrey Galt Harpham wrote about the inability of “rationality to stay rational, to avoid a moment when rationality is subjected to its other.”

Here are terms that we tend to associate with the Enlightenment and Modernism, if we look at only a thin slice its history: rationality, objectivity, freedom, democracy, humanism, equality, science, skepticism, certainty, progress, and technology. These are the hopes we have not yet fulfilled.

Here are terms that can be associated with the Other of the Enlightenment and Modernism, if we are willing to view the fullness of history: industrialization, capitalism, urbanization, fascism, hegemony, slavery, colonialism, ideology, gender/sexism, heterosexuality, alienation, dehumanization. This is what we tend to forget.

Certainly, some of the terms existed before the origins of Modernism in the early sixteenth-century and the Enlightenment in the eighteen-century, but the particularized meanings we now embrace and how these terms interact with each other did not always exist. Historically, how can we separate modern democracy from colonialism and slavery? The meaning of heterosexuality as we know it dates to the early twentieth-century. A few decades earlier, its meaning was closer to what we would now call sex addiction.

It is important, Hegel said, to negate the Enlightenment and Modernism. In the recently published Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Pankaj Mishra argues that most people, good citizens and terrorists alike, are angry at our modernist world, which “is largely one of carnage and bedlam rather than peaceful convergence.” So, George W. Bush was accidentally almost right when he said that terrorists hate us for our freedom.

It is also important, Hegel said, to negate the negation. As Michael Ignatieff wrote in his review of Mishra’s Age of Anger, “[Y]ou cannot reconstruct faith in the future if you give no credit to what political faith has actually achieved in the past” (New York Review of Books, 6 April 2017). We need to embrace contractions, and we cannot ignore that we are historical beings. It is within history that contradictions play out. We cannot be smug; we cannot be still.

We have eliminated slavery, but we have not ended human trafficking or racism. We have achieved marriage equality, but we are still troubled by where some people urinate. We now have maps without colonies, but colonialism still exists in global economies and cyberspace. Our experiment in democracy has survived for two and a half centuries, but it is under threat from within and without.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | March 16, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 10

Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

James Madison, Federalist No. 10

 

Madison is arguing that bigger is better—more precisely, that bigger is less dangerous. In consort with Hamilton and Jay, as I have remarked in posts on earlier Federalist essays, Madison assumes we humans are deeply flawed. Thus, we should expect the new government will need to guard against those who advance “unjust and dishonorable purposes.” If we adopt the proposed constitution, if we have a stronger central government, then factions will be less successful with their “wicked projects.” Interestingly, within the larger theater of a national government, with its more diverse terrain, we can find security in our distrust of each other—in other words, the factions of flawed humans will be checked by the human flaws of other factions.

This is a strikingly optimistic view of human imperfection. We will be saved from bad people by pitting more and more bad people against each other.

It is almost like Madison is taking us into the Bizarro World of Superman comics where everything is inverted. Instead of idealistically hoping for security through harmony among factions, we can add more factions and thlet them beat each other to a pulp until they are too weak to do much harm. There’s a logic here, maybe one more Machiavellian than first-century Christian, more dystopian than utopian, but a logic nonetheless.

In 1988, the Democratic National Convention was in Atlanta, and I was teaching at Georgia State University. One of the designated protest zones, the areas where protesters could legally congregate without disrupting the convention or attracting press coverage, was Woodruff Park, just a block from my office. So, I often walked down to the park early in the morning, before the protesters sauntered off to non-protest zones where they hoped to further their cause, whatever that was.

I was curious, maybe also a little bored by being enclosed in my office during the relatively cool summer mornings. And, I was feeding a vague nostalgia for the 1960s—vague because the protests seem to have no focus and the protesters little grit.

Each morning, I watched the youth of America, thirty or forty of them, who wore their anarchy on their tattooed arms and legs, make plans to disrupt the political order. Each morning, they would gather in one large group, arguing about where to go and what to chant. They couldn’t agree on much of anything, as is typical of anarchists, and other humans, but especially anarchists. Eventually, they would split into smaller and smaller groups until little protest movements of two or three people would drift off in search of oppression to press against.

Then, as I watched the artfully tattooed youth, I palpably felt myself aging, my nostalgia slowly sweating out my pores. Now, in this new Bizarro World of Trump comics, I am seeing some hope in the dark side of human nature.

Then, the young anarchists couldn’t get organized. Now, we have a key presidential advisor talking about “deconstructing the administrative state,” the Speaker of the House proposing a new health care plan that is opposed by many key Republicans and maybe even President Trump . . . Democrats and Republicans joining together to say that a Trump tweet about Obama “wire tapping” Trump Towers is pretty much a lie.

To quote Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, “Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together . . . Mass hysteria.” Yes, anarchy, factions distrusting each other . . . maybe not such a bad thing.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | February 27, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 9

 

The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices by deputies of their own election; these are wholly new discoveries, or have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times. They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 9

Much of the debate between the Federalists and the Antifederalists rested upon the same basic goal: creating a government that would ensure liberty and prevent tyranny. The Antifederalists generally argued that a weaker central government would reduce the risk of tyranny. Smaller governments, many of them, would be harder for one despot to control. The Federalists argued that a strong central government would prevent influence and threats from other countries and promote internal harmony. The way to prevent tyranny, they argued, was through checks and balances.

In Federalist No. 9, Hamilton argues that the proposed constitution did not eliminate the further check of state governments. Indeed, it made states “constituent parts of the national sovereignty” by representation in the Senate and by leaving “in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power.”

As I discussed with Federalist No. 6, the founding fathers had a dark view of humanity. Or, maybe we could just say they were realists. They knew that humans often succumbed to the “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” The balance of powers built into the proposed constitution—the separation of powers across three branches of government and between the national and state governments—is an acknowledgment of this dark side of humanity.

Many feel that we are now living out the fears of our forefathers. We are at a point in history where the foundations of our government are being tested. In earlier posts in this series, I have said that our character will also be tested. This was Whitman’s concern when he wrote Democratic Vistas. He argued that people had to develop the knowledge and character to participate fully in a democracy and we would not have a true democracy until we had people capable of participating in it.

All but the most loyal Trump supporters acknowledge that we are in unusual times. We are living alternative history. It is a history that has the power to change us—for the worse.

We might lose our sense of what is normal and support a leader who violates many of our values. Or, we might react to a threat in a way that mimics that aggression. With either option, we have lost ourselves—something of our values—and we have contributed to the loss of a national political dialogue. If we are not speaking to our neighbors, we have lost the very foundation of democracy.

Both scenarios are forms of mimesis, or imitation. Mimesis is fundamental to human nature, to our ability to make connections with others. Anthropologists have found, for example, that when people from different cultures first meet, without sharing a common language, they imitate each others gestures and make a fundamental human connection. That form of mimesis can create bonds and bring us together.

Mimesis can also have negative effects. When confronted with aggression, the actions of a bully, we can mimic that aggression, actively or implicitly supporting it. Or, we can react to the aggression with escalating aggression.

In Conrad’s Shadow, Nidesh Lawtoo discusses how Joseph Conrad’s “The Duel,” generally regarded to be a minor tale, presents a theme central to Conrad’s works. Conrad believed, according to Lawtoo’s interpretation, that the very foundation of social violence—even war—rests on our mimetic reaction to aggression. He writes: “a violent, irrational attack triggers an equally violent defense—no matter how rational the defender is—which, in turn, will continue to fuel the initial attack. And once this interplay of attack and defense, action and reaction, is set in motion between the two parties endowed with equal force, a feedback loop generates a spiral of reciprocal violence fueled by an affective, contagious, and thus highly infective mimetic psychology. The duelists are thus not in control of violence; it is the reciprocal logic of violence that controls them” (p. 18).

This is human nature, but human nature is not human destiny. Over the next four years, we cannot become Trump.

While it is not easy, the key is to step out of the cycle. This is possible. We have models. We have Thoreau, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | February 15, 2017

Lessons from the Federalist Papers, No. 8

The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 8

Hamilton continues the concern that the states, without a strong federal government, will seek their own interests, including some advantage over neighboring states. Because a “War between the States” would be likely, Hamilton predicted the rise of standing armies and strong leaders at the expense of liberty and rights.

Hamilton is writing about the balance between security and liberty. When we feel threatened, we want a strong military. Hamilton writes, “The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and preportionably degrades the condition of the citizen.” Furthermore, “It is the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority.”alexander%20hamilton%20the%20musical

In contrast to a nightmare vision of states fighting states, Hamilton argues that, with a strong federal government, we could become an “insulated” nation, protected from the dangers of the Old World by an ocean.

The concern about the delicate balance between security and liberty is as old as our nation. It didn’t appear ex nihilo in the aftermath of 9/11 with the so-called Patriot Act. Hamilton predicted it.

In these uncertain times, it does not seem we have to fear the rise of the military, but many of us are concerned about a president who uses fear to rise above the checks and balances that Hamilton endorsed.

Trump called James Robart a “so-called judge” for halting the travel ban on a selection of Muslim countries, none of which sent terrorists our way. Even Trump’s own nominee to the Supreme Court found this “demoralizing.” Last Sunday, Stephen Miller, a senior Trump advisor, asserted, “The powers of the president, as we shall see, are substantial, and will not and must not be questioned.”

The concern about the delicate balance between security and liberty is as old as our nation. It didn’t appear ex nihilo in the aftermath of 9/11 with the so-called Patriot Act. Hamilton predicted it.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | February 8, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 7

     It is sometimes asked, with an air of seeming triumph, what inducements could the States have, if disunited, to make war upon each other. It would be a full answer to this question to say—precisely the same inducements which have, at all times, deluged in blood all the nations in the world.

 Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No 7

Hamilton and the other Federalists were convinced that only a strong federal government could act as a sufficient restraint to prevent war among the states. It is a fear less vital these days. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as Pennsylvanians or Virginians. We don’t think about protecting state interests to the extent that it might lead to another war between the states.

 We are divided in other ways.

 Living in a farm community or a major city is more likely to separate us than state boundaries. Our geography seems to affect our politics as deeply as race, gender, and income. And race, gender, and income are profound differences.

 We used to come together—find some common ground as we talked through our fears and hopes at church, in bowling allies, and at our neighbor’s kitchen table. We read the same newspapers and watched the same thirty minutes of television news. We weren’t split off into camps that watch Fox News and camps that watch MSNBC.

 Now, we scream at each other. Communities are divided. Even many families have split into factions.

 So many people have told me they have stopped watching the news. It’s just too depressing, they say. It is just too hard to watch.

 They are talking about cable news. When we watch hours of it in a day, we are doing more than taking in information. We are experiencing a kind of trauma. It is almost like watching the Twin Towers come down over and over again.

 In such times, how do we continue to stay informed? How do we remain witnesses to an unfolding history? How might we position ourselves to act?

 I have been watching less cable news. I have probably gone from watching three hours of news shows a day to watching maybe thirty minutes. Instead of skimming across the surface of news, I have concentrated on going deep.

 I am reading articles that cover a topic in detail, like David Cole’s “Trump Violates the Constitution” in The New York Review of Books. I am reading books on public policy and history, like Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. I am reading foundational texts, like The Federalist Papers.

I also read some conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan, but I need to find more sources on the right that are doing reasonable commentary and real journalism.

 As I read print sources, I find that I am better informed and less traumatized.

 I am going to read deep. I am going to try to maintain a dialogue, even with those on the other side, even when it is uncomfortable. I am going to write some checks.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | January 29, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 6

            A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that, if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only untied in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.

            Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, No. 6

In Federalist No. 6, Hamilton provides a historical catalog of human failings. He takes a little stroll throgh history. He points out the moral failings of the “celebrated Pericles,” the “ambitious cardinal” in the court of Henry VIII, the “bigotry of one female, the petulance of another, and the cabals of a third,” all of which are meant to be antidotes to our “Utopian speculations.”

As I was reading No. 6, I was thinking of the values that constitute the foundation of our national experiment. We tend to gravitate to what Kenneth Burke calls “God terms,” concepts like freedom and democracy. These are, we assume, the foundations of our enterprise. But Hamilton points in another direction. Instead of looking to “Utopian speculations,” he looks to the dark side of human history, to men who are “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” Hamilton himself was a man not unlike Pericles, a man of great gifts and unfortunate limitations. Maybe, No 6 has a little self-reflection in it.

After reading No 6, here is what I want to suggest: The central foundation of our constitution is a recognition that human beings are horribly flawed creatures who are, even in their best manifestations, even with men like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, a mixed bag.

They might rise to the occasion. They might be laid low by their baser instincalexander%20hamilton%20the%20musicalts. This is not a new view of humanity. It is at least as old as Plato’s Phaedrus, where Socrates describes the human psyche as a chariot with two horses: one that pulls the chariot toward the sky, toward the divine; the other that wants to plunge it toward the earth, toward an “earthly body,” toward the all too present failings of flesh, toward the “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.”

This is the view of humanity upon which our institutions rest—here rest is meant to convey stability and continuity.

Here is how I sense our present moment in history. The hopeful Trump supporters believe he is the new Reagan. The despondent anti-Trumpers fear he will be the next Hitler or Mussolini. I suspect that he might be the next Huey Long, who seemed to be cutting through governmental bureaucracy but was building a house of cards that did not fall until after he was out of office, long after he was a departed soul.

Whatever the course of history, we can, counter-intuitively, find solace in Hamilton’s dark view of humanity. Our institutions were shaped by the history human failings. We can likely withstand another flawed leader.

As I have said before in this series, as I will certainly say again, our institutions will be tested, our character will be tested.

Because I agree with Hamilton, because I acknowledge that human beings are horribly flawed creatures, I have hope.

Our institutions will stand because we will rise to rise to the aspirations of our forefathers, and to Walt Whitman, who believed that we would develop into the kind of citizens who would, one day, at some point in the future, deserve democracy and freedom.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | January 20, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 5

 

     They who well consider the history of similar divisions and confederacies will find abundant reason to apprehend that those in contemplation would in no other sense be neighbors than as they would be borderers; that they would neither love nor trust one another, but on the contrary would be prey to discord, jealousy, and mutual injuries; in short, that they would place us exactly in the situations in which some nations doubtless wish to see us, viz., formidable only to each other.

     John Jay, Federalist Papers, No. 5

John Jay was fairly consistent in his arguments for a strong central and unified government. The country, as a union, he wrote, will be stronger and less likely to be drawn into unnecessary wars, and it will be better able to negotiate treaties. If, on the other hand, we form a loose confederacy, we will be also run the risk of internal strife.

I like John Jay. If he showed up in my neighborhood, I would take him out for a few micro-brews. I generally agree with him, but I don’t think a little strife is a bad thing.

clintonI understand what he is saying. If the young country split into four separate countries, these independent countries might go to war with each other. So, having a strong union would prevent something like a war between the states. Oh, yea. Never mind. That happened anyway.

On this point, at least, I am going to side with Cato, one of the Anti-Federalist. In Cato I, published on September 27, 1787, he (probably George Clinton, not the George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelics, but George Clinton who was the Vice President under both Jefferson and Madison and Governor of New York, yea, that George Clinton) wrote to his fellow citizens, urging them to engage in civic discourse, to participate in the decision about the proposed constitution, to take responsibility for the country’s future:

Your fate, and that of your posterity, depends on your present conduct—do not give the latter reason to curse you, nor yourselves cause of reprehension, that you have done right in this life, that blunts of sharpness of death; as individuals you are ambitious of leaving behind you a good name, and if in the reflection, that you have done right in this life, that blunts the sharpness of death; the same principles would be a consolation to you, as patriots, in the hour of dissolution, that you would leave to your children a fair political inheritance, untouched by the virtues of power, which you had acquired by an unshaken perseverance in the cause of liberty—but how miserable the alternative—you would deprecate the ruin you had brought on yourselves—be the curse of posterity, and the scorn and scoff of nations.

Cato (George Clinton who took the name of a Roman senator who tried to preserve the republic) was saying, Act now, engage in the process, as if our actions on this day will determine the future of our children.

 On this day, a new president will take office. It is historic. The Chief Justice will swear in our first anarchist president. You heard me correctly. Not anti-Christ. Anarchist. He has already shown us that he intends to appoint a cabinet that will destroy the very institutions that they have been entrusted with leading.

As I said in an earlier post, our institutions will be tested, our character will be tested.

As John Jay advised, I do not plan to be petty. I do not want to create discord out of jealousy or injuries. I want to act for my children and their future. Like Cato, who was pretty funkadelic for his times, I believe a little discord is not a bad thing. I will take part in this grand experiment.

Tomorrow, I will be among those at Women’s March for Arkansas. Let’s get funky.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

Posted by: George | January 13, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 4

     It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purpose and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military virtue, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.

     John Jay, The Federalist Papers, No. 4

 

If John Jay had been one of my classmates at Old Dominion University in 1969, he would have been willing, I imagine, to crunch into one of the seats of my mother’s 1966 VW Bug and drive four hours to Washington, DC, for the privilege of marching, with a few hundred thousand hippies, against the war in Vietnam. I have no doubt that I would have asked him to join me. I have no doubt that he would have come along.

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Jay clearly didn’t like war, and he believed that a stronger federal government would deter war. Instead of a loose confederacy, whose weakness would “invite” war, the strong federation would “tend to repress and discourage it.”

Now, over two centuries later, most of us tend to agree with the Federalists because, in the end, they won the argument. They wanted the young country to adopt the proposed constitution, and the constitution was adopted. We tend to push the antifederalists aside. Their arguments, their concerns, tend to recede into background as so much historical noise. Most of us, myself included, tend to think that the antifederalists were, well, the opposite  federalists—that is, opposite of the good guys.

Here is what we, as a nation, as a community, have tended to forget: The antifederalists were not anti-American. They contributed deeply to our national identity and values. They wanted a weaker federal government because they were concerned that a strong federal government “tends to establish a despotism, or, what is worse, a tyrannic aristocracy.” A strong, centralized federal government might damage, compromise, or destroy “this only remaining asylum for liberty.” This was the concern Robert Yates of new York expressed in Brutus I, which was published October 18, 1787.

Here is what I believe we, as a culture, should remember—what we, as a community, should embrace as part of who we are as a country: We need to learn from the federalists and the antifederalists because, at this point in history, we need to embrace the values that serve as the foundation of this nation. This includes the aim to avoid unnecessary wars and despotism. This includes finding the proper balance between strength and checks on power.

Posted by: George | January 6, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 3

     Because when once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it; for, although town or country, or other contracted influence, may place men in State assemblies, or senates, or courts of justice, or executive departments, yet more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government—especially as it will have the widest field of choice, and never experience that want of proper persons which is not uncommon in some of the States.

    John Jay, The Federalist Papers, No. 3

In No. 3, John Jay wrote that a stronger central government, the kind in the proposed constitution, would prevent unnecessary wars. His argument was, in part, that state governments often have trouble finding competent citizens to serve in key positions; the federal government, on the other hand, would naturally attract the “best men” across the thirteen states. These “best men” would be less likely to make bad decisions and be swayed by local issues. They would, thus, be more likely to keep us out of bad wars.

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In 1787, Jay’s claim—that the “best men” would rush to serve in the national government, for the benefit of the entire country—seemed reasonable. Self-evident, even. After the extended and torturous 2016 election, Jay’s claim is a little hard to accept. Even with a much larger pool of potential candidates—we can now also look for the “best women”—we have come up with a comic hoard to run the country. How can they protect us from unnecessary wars?

Congress has the lowest approval rating in the history of modern polling. In March 2016, the approval rating for congress hit the all-time low of 4%. I don’t know for certain what the margin of error was for this poll, but it might have been around 4%, which means, at least conceivably, the actual approval rating might be closer to 0%. It is hard to believe that it could be so low, unless the number of “disapprovers” included the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins, children, and fair-weather friends of pretty much every silly member of congress.

In the presidential election, the country also set records. At just about any point in the election process, the unfavorables for Trump and Clinton exceeded the favorables. Many, maybe most, Americans voted against one of these candidates. Many chose to not vote at all.

How have we gotten to the point where our national politicians are perceived as being a basketful full of deplorables? I write perceived as being because polls about “favorables” are  about, to state the obvious, perceptions.

Just maybe, just possibility, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton may not be qualitatively different when judged by the whatever abstract code of ethics you might want to choose than Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, both of whom showed their darker selves in elections, especially when they were running against each other. But we revere Thomas and John, and we think Donald and Hillary are sadly flawed.

Here’s what I think is going on. We are moving too fast and skimming across the surface. We have multiple 24/7 news channels and Twitter and Facebook and fake news. There is substance, but it’s hard to find.

Time is accelerating. Even the pace of symphonies is accelerating. We are exposed to more media. So, we bound across the surface of information. The only messages that resonate are the ones that reinforce our current beliefs.

This is why, at least in part, the Clinton email scandal would not go away. Clinton kept saying, It’s complicated. Citizens of our great country, who skimmed across the surface of Clinton’s attempts to explain her server, tended to think that complicated is a synonym for lie.

A few days before the election, as I was driving home from my night class, I listened to an NPR story about the Clinton email scandal. The reporters (didn’t catch their names, I was driving at the time) had actually read the FBI report that (more or less) said Clinton had been careless but not criminal. I watch a lot of television news. I read newspaper stories online. I had never heard the information presented in that radio show.

I heard all kinds of interesting little tidbits. Until Colin Powell was Secretary of State, the State Department was basically a scribal institution in a digital age. Powell not only bought computers—as lot of them—but he also checked, personally, to make sure the computers were being used. When he visited embassies around the world, he would sit at computers, login, and make sure someone there, in that embassy, had been done something—anything—on it.

Hillary Clinton might very well be the most qualified person to run for present in a long time, but she is an alien in cyber space. The NPR story claimed that she doesn’t even know how to use a desktop. Colin Powell attempted to move the State Department into the digital age; Hillary Clinton asked her staff to find her a “new” BlackBerry phone that was like her old one. The model was no longer being made, so her staff had to buy a used one on eBay.

Clinton and her staff were basically clueless to the subtleties of the digital age. They didn’t collude to hide emails on a server, which had already been in the basement of the Clinton’s home. They were all, I repeat, clueless. They weren’t smart enough (in terms of technology) to hide anything.

As I was listening to this radio show, I was thinking, The email scandal actually was complicated. Why wasn’t this reported more widely, more substantially? All of the pundits (insert your own dose of irony here) on 24/7 news channels commented at length on Hillary’s email server. How many of them read even a portion of the FBI report? Why wasn’t this kind of information part of our national debate during the election?

It’s because, in our mass media digital society,  complex, subtle, informed analysis (slow analysis) will always be trumped (pun intended) by 140 characters (fast responses).

That’s what has changed since 1787 when John Jay wrote Federalist No. 3. That is why smart, competent, normal people are reluctant to run for office.

So, let’s slow down. Read an FBI report or two. Read a book. Listen to some NPR. Heck, come along with me, let’s read The Federalist Papers together.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers. 

I also invite you to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

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