Posted by: George | May 20, 2018

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 25

For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 25

 

In Federalist No. 25, Alexander Hamilton continues his argument for a standing army and navy. As I have written in earlier posts, some of the arguments for the adoption of the new constitution have long lost their relevance. We have had a standing army and navy for so long that its need is beyond question. Some argue for a smaller military. We spend more on ours than the next six nations combined. Some argue for more funding. Even though Trump has said he wants to bring more of our military home, he has been increasing the military’s budget. But we don’t hear arguments about whether or not we should have a military in times of peace, if we ever have peace again. So, the need for the arguments in Federalist No. 25 seemed to have been lost to another time. And, this means that essays like this do not receive much attention from constitutional scholars, or, that matter, from historians and political scientists.

Yet, even here, we can find some wisdom, some advice for our age, our crisis.

The sentence above begins “for it is a truth.” In our time, as our president tweets “fake news” in response to any criticism, the assertion seems almost as quaint as the argument for a standing military.

But only if we allow ourselves to forget.

If we allow ourselves to forget that fake news is not new. Even the founders of the republic hired reporters to spin the news in their direction.

If we allow ourselves to forget that the founders also struggled to find truth in the noise of public debate. Hamilton’s assertion to truth is followed by the clause “which the experience of ages has attested.” This is where John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton sought truth—in an intense study of history, philosophy, and law. It takes effort.

If we allow ourselves to forget that the survival of democracy, which the founders called an experiment and Whitman, about a hundred years later, still called an experiment, requires our vigilance. Even the power of those who seem trustworthy require our scrutiny.

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.

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