Posted by: George | June 22, 2018

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 26

It is impossible that the people could be long deceived; and the destruction of the project, and of the projectors, would quickly follow the discovery.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 26

Throughout the Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Madison begin with their lessons from history and foremost in these lessons is the belief that individuals often bow to greed and abuse of power, and these corrupt individuals may capture the attention of the people, leading to a demagogue and the loss of liberties. We must recognize the dark side of human nature and create a government with checks and balances to check this danger.

In Federalist No. 26, as Hamilton continues to argue for the need of a standing army, he seems to switch his view of human nature. He says that “Americans have too much discernment to be argued into anarchy,” that Americans have a hereditary impression of danger to liberty,” that schemes “to subvert liberties . . . require time to mature” and “a continued conspiracy for a series of time” between the legislature and the execute. He asks, “Is it possible that such a combination would exist at all?”

But maybe this is not so much a reversal as a recognition of a necessary tension that must be present in democracy.

We must recognize the dark side of humanity and be vigilant against demagogues while we believe that the majority of citizens will recognize threats to liberties. We must recognize the worst about humanity while we maintain faith in the best of humanity.

Hamilton begins Federalist No. 26 with the recognition that this is a delicate balance, but what Hamilton could not perhaps see, as he was looking only origin of modern democracy, is that broad social forces can disrupt the balance and these forces change historically.

When Hamilton was writing, we did not have political parties. What happens when the same political party controls the legislature, much of the judiciary, and the executive branches? What happens when that party becomes a cult of personality, as politicians from both sides of the aisle have now stated?

When Hamilton was writing, we did not have cable news and social media. What happens when so many of us, throughout the political spectrum, right and left, live in media bubbles that reinforce and never question their assumptions?

When Hamilton was writing, we had greater economic equality and opportunity. What happens when a segment of our population lives in material or virtual gated communities?

What has not changed since Hamilton was writing is that the greatest threat to democracy is fear. When we fear immigrants, even each other, we are more likely to have our liberties to what we perceive to be a strong leader. Ultimately, preserving our liberties is about moving past our fears, moving past our level of comfort.

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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