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Published on: December 6, 2011
The Age of Hamilton

As President Obama travels to John Brown’s old stomping ground in Osawatomie, Kansas where Theodore Roosevelt made his New Nationalism speech in 1910, Newt Gingrich has announced that he is a Theodore Roosevelt Republican. If you asked Theodore Roosevelt what kind of Republican he was, he would — and did — tell you that he […]

As President Obama travels to John Brown’s old stomping ground in Osawatomie, Kansas where Theodore Roosevelt made his New Nationalism speech in 1910, Newt Gingrich has announced that he is a Theodore Roosevelt Republican.

If you asked Theodore Roosevelt what kind of Republican he was, he would — and did — tell you that he was a proud standard bearer of the Hamiltonian tradition in American politics.

Ron Paul, who would have fought TR tooth and nail as much as he is currently fighting both President Obama and ex-Speaker Newt would agree.  Gingrich, Obama and TR are all Hamiltonians, and Ron Paul thinks they are all dead wrong.

As we gear up for 2012 and beyond, American attention is increasingly returning to the oldest battle in our political history: the battle between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians that split George Washington’s cabinet down the middle and established our first party system.

That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy.  Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government at home and abroad, a centralized credit system similar to the British one with a Bank of the United States acting as our central bank, and believed that the best educated and most widely experienced people in the United States constituted a natural aristocracy and should play the leading role in our politics.

Alexander Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed.  He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton’s banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.

Thomas Jefferson

Bipartisan Establishment, meet Mr. Tea Party.

The disagreement between these two men continued to reverberate down the years.  John Quincy Adams, Nicholas Biddle, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln sided with Hamilton up through the Civil War.  Presidents Madison and Monroe followed Jefferson, more or less; so in his own irascible way did Andrew Jackson.  The Southern Confederacy tried to write Hamilton out of the constitution when it modified the Philadelphia document to serve the rebel government.

Andrew Jackson

Hamiltonian Hegemony

Alexander Hamilton owned the 20th century.  America’s growing global role made his vision of a strong military look like simple common sense; as US corporations became more globally focused and responsibility for the international financial order shifted from Britain to the US, his support for a strong federal role in promoting US economic interests around the world grew much less controversial.

While the 20th century was in some ways a very democratic one, with both women and racial minorities gaining the vote, it was also an unusually hierarchical period by American standards.  The 20th century was more elitist than the 19th; while access to the educational and social elite was open to talented outsiders, more and more power flowed to “experts”.

This was partly because the United States shifted from being a nation of small farmers, beholden to no one, to a nation of employees living in cities and suburbs.  The administration and management of a large urban unit requires a larger and more powerful government than does a region of small farmers and rural communities.  The rise of an interconnected national economy made the federal government’s power to control interstate commerce relatively more important; in the age of the automobile and even more in the information economy, more and more commerce is interstate, less and less purely local.

The rise of large fortunes also helped.  The Ford Foundation and other large philanthropic organizations employed, empowered and deployed experts to solve social problems.  The experts followed the doctrines of the new social sciences, believed at the time to be a source of objective wisdom.

This brief list only scratches the surface of the forces that made 20th century America what it was, but put these and other trends together, and the 2oth century saw the steady eclipse of the agrarian and Jeffersonian American vision by the urban, commercial and hierarchical Hamiltonian ideal.

The Kennedy-Johnson administrations saw the peak of this Hamiltonian era.  The son of a plutocrat summoned the “best and the brightest” from Harvard to carry out an ambitious program of national and international change.  From the Alliance for Progress abroad to the War on Poverty at home to the Apollo space program aimed at reaching the moon, the Democratic administrations between 1961 and 1969 brought all the elements of 2oth century Hamiltonian America onto the stage.

John Maynard Keynes

Keynesian economics was a cornerstone of the new Hamiltonian vision.  Keynes is Hamilton on steroids.  Hamilton (like the British visionaries who built the Bank of England on which he modeled his Bank of the United States) believed that a well-managed federal debt was a national blessing, not a national curse.  Keynes made the same argument about deficits that Anglo-American thinkers had long made about government debt: an appropriate and well-managed government deficit could be an engine of economic growth.  And if Hamilton believed that the central bank could manage debt effectively in a world of specie-backed currency, Keynes argued that central banks and even a global central bank could manage debt and deficits in a world of paper or fiat money.

The Hamiltonian vision was further reinforced by Theodore Roosevelt’s vision of government as the protector of the little man against the unchecked power of large corporations.  Jeffersonians had classically worried that the federal government was the leviathan that, unchecked, could destroy American freedom.  Rooseveltian progressive Hamiltonians saw the federal government as the park ranger, protecting the tourists and ordinary citizens from the corporate velociraptors in the Jurassic Park of modern American life.  The stronger the ranger, the safer the people.

Big Tent Hamiltonianism

The blue social model, the progressive American system of the 20th century, was the love child of Hamiltonian liberal theory and social democratic aspirations rooted in the Industrial Revolution and the class struggle it spawned.  It used a capitalist state, and capital markets, to advance both classic Hamiltonian objectives and the social goals of the urban working class.  For a good chunk of the twentieth century, the American party system reflected this division: Rockefeller Republicans stressed the liberal and Hamiltonian roots of the system, liberal Democrats stressed the social democratic aspects of its agenda.

George Washington

In addition to the large social and cultural forces that made 20th century America so hospitable to the Hamiltonian vision, there was a very specific political switch.  During the New Deal, the South rediscovered the virtues of an economically active national government.  George Washington (who decisively favored Alexander Hamilton in his arguments with Thomas Jefferson), John Marshall, Henry Clay and even the young, nationalist John Calhoun had all seen the virtues of a national government acting to promote state development.  But as the Hamiltonian cause in the early republic became linked to a high tariff, pro-manufacturing stance, and as southern slaveholders came to favor constitutional theories that limited the power of the federal government to interfere in the South’s “peculiar institution”, the South threw itself squarely into the Jeffersonian camp.

After the Civil War, the control of the federal government by Hamiltonian, high-tariff business interests, tribal loyalty to the Democratic Party, and the war-hallowed cause of states’ rights, plus fear that a strong federal government would meddle in southern racial policies reinforced Dixie’s attachment to Jeffersonian views.

That began to change in the New Deal.  Lyndon Johnson typified the new kind of southern politician who understood that federal spending on infrastructure, electricity generation, and agricultural subsidies could transform the South.  Right up through the War on Poverty — which developed formulae for federal funding that gave the greatest federal support to the poorest states (almost all southern) — a strong federal government, once the bane and the nightmare of the South, became its strongest ally in Dixie’s attempt to close the development gap with the North.

America’s rise to world power further improved the position of Hamiltonians at home.  The transfer of financial power from London to New York and the liberation of the financial system from the gold standard allowed American Hamiltonians to reconcile their own preference for sound, internationally convertible money and the interests of capital-hungry entrepreneurs and farmers.  Under American leadership the global monetary system became far more expansionary than in the British era, and the sharp contrast between Hamiltonian banking interests supporting tight money against populists clamoring for debt relief was blurred in post World War Two America.

As the US shifted from a trade policy based on being a free rider in the global British trading system to being the organizing power in the postwar system of free trade, Hamiltonianism also shed its support of protective tariffs and embraced the cause of free trade.  Hamiltonian tariff and tight money policy had set farmers’ teeth on edge from the earliest days of the Republic; 20th century Hamiltonians shed this political baggage and, with government crop subsidies, the regulation of railroad rates, and infrastructure projects (irrigation, highways) supporting agricultural interests, the increasingly corporatized agricultural interest in the United States moved from the Jeffersonian to the Hamiltonian camp where it remains today.

Wrestling With Founders

The long Hamiltonian ascendancy in the United States has brought many benefits.  It is in my judgment neither possible nor desirable to go back to the weak farmer’s republic that Thomas Jefferson thought he was building in the 1790s.  At home and abroad a healthy Hamiltonianism is an essential building block of American prosperity and security.

But there is also no doubt that the Hamiltonian-social democratic synthesis of the twentieth century is not adequate for the times in which we live.  Corporatism has bred the kind of cronyism and corruption Jeffersonians have always feared.  The alliance of the wealthy and the elite with strong state power is creating class divisions and class conflict.  The remoteness of the federal government from popular control (to be one of 300 million citizens is to have no effective control over the governing power) threatens to hollow out Americans’ sense of self reliance and independence while keeping most people at a great remove from any real exercise of political power.

Some of the problems we face are due to essential defects in Hamiltonianism, against which a Jeffersonian revival is our only safety.  The unchecked Hamiltonian ascendancy of the twentieth century has led to a lopsided America.  A revival of the Jeffersonian element in American political thought and practice is essential to our national health.

Other problems are due to the need for Hamiltonianism to reform itself: to develop new economic and social approaches for a new era.  Hamiltonianism at its best is forward-looking and revolutionary.  It is not the tool of established interests but a force for innovation.

Either way, a long revival of American traditions of individualism, skepticism of elites, and distrust of the federal government is a rising force in this country.  Add to that suspicions of finance and of the influence of firms like Goldman Sachs in politics, and a full blown Jeffersonian reaction is beginning to emerge.

The decline of the blue social model, part Hamiltonian, part social democratic, is the reality that shapes the debate.  Jeffersonians like Ron Paul argue that the decline of the blue model exposes the essential fallacies of Hamiltonian governance and that the US needs to rebase itself on a Jeffersonian foundation.  Hostility to the Federal Reserve echoes Jefferson’s hostility to Hamilton’s First Bank of the United States; the desire to limit federal authority and revive states’ rights similarly echoes some of the country’s oldest political arguments.

In Osawatomie and beyond, President Obama will run for re-election as a Hamiltonian and a custodian of the 20th century progressive state.  He will argue that modest and careful reforms, trimming a few excesses here, making some innovative policy shifts there, can keep the old ship afloat in the twenty first century.  Like JFK, he will argue that the best and brightest can develop government policy that will guide the nation to a brighter future through collective action and state investments.

Governor Romney, so far as one can discern, is at his core a Hamiltonian as well, but he has less sympathy than President Obama and the Democrats for the blue synthesis of Hamiltonianism and social democracy.  He stands roughly in a line of Republican presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush who accepted the basic elements of the progressive state.  Former Speaker Gingrich is also a Hamiltonian, but much more than either Romney or Obama he believes that Hamiltonianism needs to be re-imagined for our times.  Congressman Paul is the one Jeffersonian in the race, and of the four he seems the least likely to be elected in 2012.

What America needs is a debate between 21st century Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.  Obama and Paul in their way are both looking backward; Gingrich feels the need for a deep reworking of the Hamiltonian tradition and his surprising surge in the polls suggests that he has touched a nerve in the public — despite the baggage of his past and the sometimes sketchy nature of his proposals.  Paul’s popularity also points to the growing public discontent with political approaches centered on the defense of the status quo.

On the whole, 2012 is not shaping up as the kind of epochal contest the country saw in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt used his Osawotomie speech to launch the Bull Moose Party.  The three way contest between Taft, Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt was the first election in which the dominant ideas of the 20th century were on display; we seem to be headed for something more modest this time.

The country needs a livelier and richer debate; over the next few days and weeks at Via Meadia we will do our part by trying to work through some of the ways in which Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian thought offer avenues for renewal and reform here in the twilight of Big Blue.

show comments
  • Lexington Green

    This is solid stuff. The only missing ingredient is the technological change that will allow us to push more in a Jeffersonian direction in the years ahead.

  • Mrs. Davis

    What is Hamiltonian about the blue social model except that it represents an aggregation of power to the federal government? It is hard to see Hamilton going along with much of it, the Wagner Act, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TVA, fiat currency, federal personal income tax, etc. There’s not much Hamiltonian in the 20th century beyond the Federal Reserve Act and the Interstate highway system. The rest of it was bribes for votes, not very Hamiltonian.

  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    Minor quibble: John Quincy Adams was a Hamiltonian? Have you revised your thinking since Special Providence?

    The big question is who the Jacksonians will favor: Gingrich, Romney, or Paul?

  • Duncan Frissell

    Consider technological change and its effect on work as well. If we are all to be “small farmers” of our particular skill sets, “Job Shoppers” and contractors then Jefferson’s vision is a better fit.

    Add in proprietary communities, private “free” education over the nets, digital financial structures using “open books” protocols that are self-auditing, medical self-hacking, and many of the parts of the Blue Social Model are disintermediated.

  • Yahzooman

    “Rooseveltian progressive Hamiltonians saw the federal government as the park ranger, protecting the tourists and ordinary citizens from the corporate velociraptors in the Jurassic Park of modern American life. The stronger the ranger, the safer the people.”

    Great paragraph.

    So, where is Aaron Burr when we need him?

  • Pete Dellas

    In my opinion, the Jeffersonian/Libertarian vision (some form of Ron Paul) is the only sustainable future for the US. And I believe that we will eventually get there. But we will see many Hamiltonian revivals along the way. Inflating our way out of current debt is simply killing the middle and working class both in their earnings AND in their savings. It is truly a sinister form of sealth taxation.

  • Ken Marks

    Great article!

  • http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/author/lexington-green Lexington Green

    Duncan Frissell: You, sir, GET IT.

  • Anthony

    Two unequal strains have been woven through American politics from the beginning; the central cultural ethos undergirding both strains have been Angelo-Saxon tradition superimposed on the reality of American pluralism. English American conservative tradition buttressed both Hamiltonianism and Jeffersonianism. That tradition (although modified in the United States and now labeled American) has inspired ideologies that WRM infers are contending (and have contended) for ascendancy in a transitioning country seeking to find it way; in that light, on a social level Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism have not reconciled true democratic Americanism. That is, undemocratic differences in American society have been allowed to masks themselves as racial, ethnic, class, generational, regional, and varied differences (subsumed under Jefferson/Hamilton formulations) rather than an overarching cultural ethos coming to terms with “what is an American” (we may yet be an unfinished nation – the product of a badly bungled process of inter-group culture).

    As far as ascendant trends are concerned, in America one openly talks Jeffersonian (an actually inverted aristocratic doctrine – recognition of civil/social equality sans theory) but acts Hamiltonian (1st Secretary of Treasury – ascendancy of capital and plutocracy).

    The disagreement between these two men (philosophies) provide political covering for what may actually be keeping Americans in present contentious mood. WRM is correct to give historical context and sense to who we are (trends, eras, personages,events, and changes intertwined); and Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are fine beginnings. But as WRM so aptly infers: the uncovering (renewal and reform) must continue. Social and political philosophy warrants it and our country needs it. A 21st century debate looking forward on who we are – neither Hamiltonian nor Jeffersonian but Americans saturated by cultural history – is both timely and rich (a dominant idea deserving of lively debate).

  • http://abendlander.livejournal.com/ KFJ

    Good point about how the New Deal brought the South into the 20th century. That was the sort of infrastructural nation-building that Hamilton’s policy, and Henry Clay’s American System, were all about. But I see nothing recognizably Hamiltonian in the “blue social model”: it’s really just social democratic.

    “Bigger” government doesn’t necessarily mean “stronger,” especially if you’re bankrupting the country. In particular, social democrats always want to emasculate the military.

  • Glen

    Lexington Green is right: We are in the midst of a technological and communications revolution that upends much of the rationale for Hamiltonianism.

    The Industrial Revolution changed America from a nation of small and individualistic farmers into a corporatized global leviathan. The bureaucratic form — adopted both by government and industry — was the only available structure which provided the coordination and control that was necessary for large-scale endeavors. We accepted the inefficiencies (and dangers) of top-down control married to regimented execution because nothing else worked.

    But now virtually everyone has the ability to communicate and coordinate with everyone else — both as individuals and as groups of any size. No longer is top-down control required to avoid duplication, shortages or overproduction, diminish arbitrage opportunities, or set priorities or agree upon goals. The Internet has virtually eliminated the need for hierarchical management.

    It has also vastly empowered the individual who was previously forced to execute instructions as a bureaucratic automaton. Now all decision-making can occur literally on the front lines. Millions of individuals, each pursuing his own agenda in his own best interest — yet instantly and constantly coordinating and communicating with the like-minded — is an almost infinitely more efficient organizational form.

    While not exactly returning to the agrarian world of Jefferson, in many ways the future structure of our society and of our economy will resemble Eighteenth Century America.

  • Mahon

    You slander Mr. Hamilton. He favored a strong government, limited in scope. There may be an affinity to Teddy Roosevelt, but nothing to the left of that. The Jeffersonian ideal (to the extent that it ever represented anything but the desire of Virginia planters to maintain their supremacy) is long defunct. The debate today is between the classical liberal republic of Hamilton/Lincoln/Reagan and the Jacksonian spoils system that uses governmental force to siphon power and money from the productive economy and transfer it to dependent interest groups, including crony capitalists, in exchange for political support. The latter has been the core principle of the modern Democratic Party since van Buren, and Obama is its apotheosis.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I love this article. I wish to discus the greatest Hamiltonian achievement to date, which you sort of touched on in this paragraph, but failed to expand.
    “As the US shifted from a trade policy based on being a free rider in the global British trading system to being the organizing power in the postwar system of free trade, Hamiltonianism also shed its support of protective tariffs and embraced the cause of free trade. Hamiltonian tariff and tight money policy had set farmers’ teeth on edge from the earliest days of the Republic; 20th century Hamiltonians shed this political baggage and, with government crop subsidies, the regulation of railroad rates, and infrastructure projects (irrigation, highways) supporting agricultural interests, the increasingly corporatized agricultural interest in the United States moved from the Jeffersonian to the Hamiltonian camp where it remains today.”
    I wrote this a few months ago, forgive the self editing your the first to read it.

    The Hamiltonian Plan

    The Hamiltonian Plan may be ready for harvest.
    So, what is the Hamiltonian Plan? A little history is perhaps in order.
    After WWII America found itself in the enviable position of having 50% of the world’s GDP, but with the unenviable task of rebuilding a world devastated by war. The British Global Trading System that America had been freeloading off of since the Revolution was gone with the British Empire which built the system. And America had little trade left after Smoot-Hawley, the Great Depression 1.0, and WWII. So how was the US going to rebuild the world, uplift mankind, and civilize them by giving them American Culture? This has always been the American Strategy, to get the rest of mankind to adopt the most successful human culture, and this would end war, and lead to the greatest economic and technological growth mankind has ever seen.
    So the US slowly came to the conclusion (not without some kicking and screaming) that America would have to rebuild the Global Trading System. But how to go about rebuilding a system that had seemed to bankrupt the British Empire, America didn’t want the same fate to befall itself. Any system the US adopted would have to have all participants paying for it, there would have to be complete buy in by all, and preferably the US as the owner of the system with all others paying rent. The US wanted to avoid freeloaders such as it had been with the earlier British Global Trading System.
    The building began slowly and subconsciously, first with trade with former British trading partners, and European nation’s part of the Marshal plan. But the US knew that the larger the market the more efficient the market. And the US needed that market to influence mankind as it was now involved in the Cold War. Many of the cultures around the world didn’t want to trade with the Yankee traders, as they knew they would get taken to the cleaners. For many cultures (Asian cultures, Japan, China, etc…) loss of face is far more important than any benefit they would get from trade, and the only way not to lose face, was not to trade. So the US faced a problem how to get people who didn’t want to trade with the US to buy into the market?
    The way that evolved, was to let all foreign nations think that they were cheating the US. They couldn’t imagine that they were losing out on the trade, buying into the American Global Trading System, and paying for the system’s growth, if they were cheating the US.
    You are now saying to yourself “But they are cheating us”, “They are manipulating their currencies to gain their businesses a price advantage” “Why have we been letting them do this to us for decades?”
    It is said that “you cannot con an honest man”, the same is true of cultures and nations. We have known about their currency manipulations from the beginning, we in fact enabled it by allowing them to purchase US Treasuries, and encouraged it with reverse psychology by accusing them of cheating us. This allowed them first to keep the dollar strong by reducing the supply of dollars through central bank purchase of US Treasuries, and second to retain face by lying about how they weren’t cheating the US, and how dare the Americans accuse them of such. And that is basically The Hamiltonian Plan in a nut shell; “let them purchase US Treasuries”.
    Now you are probably confused and asking yourself “How is this a con?” because it’s fiat money and is subject to supply and demand just as everything else in the capitalist system. This means as the supply increases the value must adjust to balance the demand. With our mercantilist trading partners already overpaying for the Dollars, added to the massively increased supply of Dollars outside the US over recent decades, what would those Dollars value be if the US was to pay back the $4.5 Trillion in foreign held US Treasuries? What would happen to US businesses decade’s long price disadvantage? Would US businesses become more competitive or less? What has the increased competition over recent decades done to US businesses? Has it made them stronger? Has it winnowed out the weak? What would happen if the competitive environment were suddenly reversed? Such that American businesses now had a price advantage after decades of a price disadvantage? And what would happen if at the same time our foreign trading partners were rolling in Trillions of Dollars with which to purchase American products and services? Do you think the largest most efficient market in human history would be hurt by this? Or do you think as I do, that the liquidity would strengthen the system, rebalance the system, and retain the participants that the Hamiltonian Plan has lured into the system?
    So that’s the Harvesting I spoke of, paying off the foreign holders of US Treasuries. I believe it would lead to an export driven US recovery from what I believe is Great Depression 2.0. I believe a US recovery would lead to a worldwide recovery, as the American Economic Engine began driving growth again and pulling all other economies along with it.
    The American Global Trading System is the Hamiltonian’s greatest achievement. It is the largest market in human history by orders of magnitude, it is responsible for $15 Trillion of World GDP of $75 Trillion 20%, it has uplifted billions of people from abject misery. It has touched the lives of every living human with American culture and technology. Most of the world’s people have no idea how deeply they have been influenced, and most Americans have no idea how dominate the American Hegemony has become. The Soviet Union, Japan, EU, China, BRIC, Russia/China, all have been named as contenders to take America’s Hegemonic Crown. Please, none of them is even close to our weight class.

  • Anthony

    Correction above: The central cultural ethos…has been…. The disagreement…between these two men provides….

  • John Balog

    So Hamiltonianism has failed, and yet it is an essential ingredient to prosperity and security. That seems a not off…

  • Swearjar

    Many thanks, Professor. But I’m a little confused: I thought you labelled President Obama a Jeffersonian last year? Can I ask what has changed?

  • Jake Peachey

    Conservatives wanting to fight this battle in Washington means they have tacitly accepted that local politics of social welfare belongs in Washington. This is the defining feature of big government ( Hamiltonian?) Conservatives.

    All arguments for fiscal responsibility are meaningless to the constituency and recipients of the social welfare state, and even if it’s obvious that it will collapse into bankruptcy within a few years; it won’t change their votes. If this voting block is sufficiently large enough, they will vote the state into bankruptcy. This failure of self-government happened with New York City’s bankruptcy in the 70s. Something similar seems to be approaching California.

    Federalism is by far the more important argument against Obamacare than the fiscal ramifications, and I find it disappointing that none of Republican candidates are pushing federalism on this issue.

    Federalism allows the states the prerogative to develop social welfare to the full bankrupting profligacy they wish to — however, they do not have the right, through the federal government, to impose this upon other states that wish to remain in the freedom of American traditionalism, with the small government, free-market perspective.

    Any proposals of expanding the social welfare state should always be greeted with cheerful equanimity by conservatives, “sure, certainly, we support it —- only in your state; and if these new social programs prove to work we can adopt it in our state” — knowing all the while that liberalism will run states finances into the ground.

    It seems you have to let some people learn things the hard way. It’s far better that some states go broke instead of the federal government getting into a serious fiscal difficulty. I am not convinced that the political deadlock social welfare always causes can be solved in Washington.

  • Toni

    I too dissent from the notion that Hamilton was any kind of “social democrat.” He never advocated rule by an elite on behalf of, or to optimize the conditions of, the poor and downtrodden. I think Hamilton, Jefferson and Jackson would all be astonished and appalled at the size, complexity and power of the federal government today, and the concomitant diminishment of individual liberty.

    What proceeds in a straight line from TR to Obama is the idea that human nature can be repealed — that some combination of federal prohibitions, mandates and income transfers will free the non-elite to be both virtuous and prosperous. It’s a false and profoundly materialist conception of humanity.

    I yearn for leaders who don’t believe government’s role is to maximize the welfare of every individual, but to maximize opportunity. This means freedom to fail as well as to succeed.

    Strip Rousseau and Marx from the system. Then we’ll have something Hamilton, Jefferson and Jackson might recognize.

  • Richard S

    The only thing missing here is that neither Jefferson nor Hamilton was a big fan of checks and balances–the Adamsian/ Madisonian, constitutionalist side of the story.
    And Jefferson was a fan of a country run by a credentialed elite, educated in the right school, albeit combined with government as local as possible.

  • Kenneth Gauck

    Let us keep in mind that it was precisely a financial debacle, the unpaid Revolutionary debt that ushered in our first Hamiltonian moment. Prior to that our system was ultra-Jeffersonian under the Articles. We may be best served by a debate between forward re-thinking and innovative Hamiltonians and the critique of wary Jeffersonians, but I think at present, Mahon is right, what we have is Hamiltonian vs a Jacksonian spoils system. I would urge Jeffersonians not to lump Hamilton and Jackson together while simultaneously making common cause with the Jacksonians.

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I’ve always been a bit vague about WRM’s Hamiltonian category I now realize because it is like water to a fish! I’m certainly aware that all the candidates except Paul are somehow the same. All very much 20th cnetury men is the way I thought about it. This analysis sheds a lot of light on why Obama despite talking an apparently 21st century change agenda, turned out to be so unimaginatively 20th century. It also clears up something that has bothered me about Lincoln. I know he presided over the war between industrial and agricultural capital that erupted over the issue of slavery and that the farmers north and south eventuly lost. Put another way, the Civil War gauranteed the hegemony of Hamiltonian policy. I grew up on a small New England farm and watched the end of that way of life. But it was already over in the fifties. Then 2% of the US population produced our food. Now, .5%.

  • ThomasD

    Toni is correct, it is where liberalism turned to hard leftism that things have gone awry..

    Further it is a categorical error to think all TEA party types as Jeffersonian. Many are quite Hamiltonian, they are merely speaking to the nature and extent of the Hamiltonian way of government, trying to draw it back to within the bounds of our Constitution.

  • M. Report

    As the level of technology of a society
    rises, a transition point is reached, from
    Hamiltonian to Jeffersonian; Sink or swim.

  • Warren Bonesteel

    I have serious doubts about the balance and objectivity of this article, but, at least *someone* is making the attempt to examine these issues in a more or less objective standard.

    Associating Jeffersonian ideals with agraian societies is deceitful and misleading, at best. If we do that, we must also associate Hamiltonian ideals to serfdom and feudalism.

    To solve our current problems, you must get to the root of those problems. In order to do that, we must re-examine the intent of the Founders, including their foibles…and their failures. …and we must be brutally self-honest and objective about it.

    (As for comparing Hamilton to Jefferson, think: Hamilton equals Big Government and Big Brother, while Jefferson equals personal liberty and individual freedom.)

  • Karl K

    I agree with Toni above completely. The Hamiltonian-Jefferson dichotomy is a useful one to start a conversation, but it is way too rigid. Yes, Hamilton wanted a strong central government, but one of his key concerns was the creditworthiness of the United States. He would be appalled today at our spendthrift ways and immense borrowing. Hamilton’s vision of the United States was one where commerce, manufacturing — business — would flourish and create wealth. He like the British model of the economy and the British model of empire — it is how you got rich. Meanwhile, it’s easy to paint Jefferson as against centralized power and empire, and the “moneyed” class, but when it came time to protect America’s interests in North Africa, or the opportunity vastly increase the sovereign territory of the United States, he didn’t hesitate…because, obviously, he was no dummy. In sum, these two intellectual giants don’t ALWAYS represent polar opposites, and there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye at first glance.

  • http://ittbbb.townhall.com weisshaupt

    Liberalism is Hamilton’s legacy? Superficially Hamilton and modern liberals both want a strong central government active in promoting economic interests of the member states, but there the similarity ends. Hamilton and Jefferson argued over the limits of the government. Modern liberals argue there are no limits.. This is an ideological chasm. Modern liberalism is a rejection of the American Revolution, a rejection of inalienable rights, a rejection of the rule of law, a rejection of personal responsibility and a firm rejection of the principles of both of these men. We are living in the Marxist Era, not a Hamiltonian one.

  • http://www.inthatdayteachings.com Robert Winkler Burke

    Interestingly, if you look at modern nondenominational Christianity in America, you find top-down hegemony, moral-implosions, moral and fiscal bankruptcy and general clerical tyranny based upon the idea that men with collars are somehow angels.

    This clerical mystic tyranny works hand-in-glove with America’s political mystic tyranny (the idea that Hamilton elites are angelic, incapable of FUBARing anything.)

    Hence, the most progressive clerical prophets announce “get-ready, get-ready” for presumably more mystic shenanigans than have already been thunk up by elites.

    The answer is Jefferson’s idea of keeping power where it belongs: In the individual.

    This whole topic reminds me of a joke about the different branches of the US military, as to which is the bravest. One General brags his troops will die standing in front rolling tanks, if that is what he orders. Another General brags his troops will jump out of planes without parachutes, if that is what he orders. Finally, a Navy Admiral says, “If I give such orders, my sailors will tell me to GO TO HELL!” Then he says, “My men are the bravest, because the Navy makes sure everybody’s got balls.”

    Somehow, this is what America is about. Freedom.

  • Deadalus Mugged

    Mr. Mead,
    I think you do a substantial disservice to the memory of Alexander Hamilton, and provide undue political cover to those who would further grow government.

    You use Hamilton as a short hand for bigger, broader, more powerful government. But the appropriate direction depends heavily on the starting point. Hamilton certainly believed that bigger was the proper direction compared to the size and scope of George Washington’s administration. Can anyone believe that Hamilton could travel to North Korea today, and say, “bigger, broader, and more powerful” is the proper course? Of course not. And could anyone imagine Hamilton, who fought for libery against the distant and comparatively weak hand of King George, looking upon the IRS, the TSA, Department of Education SWAT teams, and the rest of the current leviathon government could resond in any way other than, “Too far!”? Of course not.

    Hamilton thought the federal government should be bigger than it was at founding. Jefferson thought it should be smaller than it was at founding. As the government grew in scope and power, where would Hamilton have said, “That’s enough”? I would posit it would be some time between just before the Civil War and the beginning of the Hoover administration. I do not think any of the twentieth century ‘Hamiltonians’ you reference are deserving of the name…I believe all of them have gone far beyond the ‘broad’ scope the broadest of the founders intended.

    I firmly believe, but of course cannot prove, that every single member of the ‘founding fathers’ would look with horror on the degree of liberty we have ceded to government. It is my contention and conviction that every single one, including Hamilton, would want the federal government smaller and more constrained than it is today.

    My evidence? The Constitution they wrote.

  • http://submandave.blogspot.com submandave

    The Civil War started a dangerous precedent of the Federal Government always being right in running roughshod over the State governments. I say this with not a little hesitation, as I could easilly be misunderstood or mischaracterized, but that fact that there have been some specific issues of individual liberty that the Federal must protect from the privations of the State does not mean that Federal is right in assuming all privileges of the States.

    Equating the legitimate concern for the freedom and protection of slaves and former slaves with a blanket deferrence to the perogatives or whims of a federal government is a false claim, but one on which much of 20th century US law and case history has been built. It will be a long and hard road to trim this shrub back into its proper form.

  • http://www.inthatdayteachings.com Robert Winkler Burke

    In Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum Address, Lincoln said of “Towering genius… It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. ”

    This towering genius he identified as some future “Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon” even, perhaps, hinting at himself if he made President somehow.

    And he warned against, as it were, becoming Darth Vader. Because freedom lives in the chest of the individual, not elite power-personages.

    America has been experiencing a clever rebellion, a rebellion a thousand times more dangerous than any one from a single tyrant, for this rebellion is born of progressive intellectuals who have fought against Constitutional restraint for one-hundred years.

    Theirs was the Twentieth Century. And they are hanging on too long in this, the Twenty-First.

    The Constitution, by their doing, is now in shreds. But true Americans are not in shreds.

    True Americans are full of “The hell you say”s, “Hell no”s and “We’re not going to take it”s.

    It is a progressive truism that, indeed, Progressives can take America’s beloved Constitution and use it for toilet paper.

    However, it is just as true that when Americans discover the full extent of what 100 years of Progressive Decepticons have done, progressive elites will be forced to eat what was once their favorite toilet paper.

    Oh Happy Day!

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    This article misses one of the most important issues that makes the continuance of “Hamiltonianism” impossible.

    It is the current American “Aristocracy” that destroys the model entirely. Google Codevilla’s piece “The Ruling Class,” and take a gander at the piggish charlatans who are becoming our “rulers.”

    All the commentary above hinges on technocratic machinations about the “mix” of government power balance against Jeffersonian “individual power.” All of that misses the point that the leaders of our major institutions are as corrupt as a rotting corpse. As Dukakis said in 1988, the fish rots from the head down.

    The 2 parties are making a mockery of governing while firing up their respective Jacksonian ranters.

    Our corporate sector lobbies for privatizing its gains while socializing risk (at taxpayer expense).

    Our government sector is bankrupting the nation through massive expansion of pork, payroll, pensions, and perks.

    And lastly, the populace is becoming simultaneously angrier, complacent, bored, distracted, titillated, all while their overall lifestyles are becoming more crass, boorish, and vacuous. (most religious people excepted)

    Culture trump economics. Few libertarians or liberals understand this, as they tinker with ideas to “grow the economy” as the leadership of the nations is drained of character.

    The current crisis is moral, not financial, and the “Hamiltonian” aristocracy, from Obama, to Gingrich, to CEOs, to Academia, is completely unfit to solve that problem.

  • AD-RtR/OS!

    Oh, to have a Jacksonian President today!

  • Arizona Mike

    What a great discourse. Sadly I am not as well informed as many of your commenters. AND, BTW, I am gleaning as much wisdom and knowledge from your postings as well.
    To the point though – What book/article/??? would you recommend as a further study?
    Thanks you Walter and commenters (especially Jacksonian Libertarian – dang dude that’s not a comment but a treatise) for a fresh perspective and many things that cause me to say “Hmmm”.
    Regards

  • Toni

    Bruno wrote, “Our corporate sector lobbies for privatizing its gains while socializing risk (at taxpayer expense).”

    I don’t know what he means by “socializing risk,” but I do know that a gargantuan federal budget with special treatment of some corporations—and industries, farmers, unions, and other discrete groups; “factions” in Founder-speak—means factions have plenty of room to try to game the system.

    IRS Form 1040 at least used to have a box near the top to check if you were blind. I don’t know what special tax benefits the blind got (or get)—but why the blind and not quadriplegics, or people with ALS and other gruesome, fatal diseases?

    That’s a minute example, but there are plenty of others. Mohair farmers; GE & others lobbying for green mandates & subsidies; GM & Chrysler’s lenders wiped out while the UAW, whose greed put the automakers into bankruptcy, gets the corporate stock that an ordinary bankruptcy would award to lenders…

    The list is as endless as the pages of the federal budget and the IRS code. Corporations aren’t alone in trying to game the system.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    “Like JFK, he will argue that the best and brightest can develop government policy that will guide the nation to a brighter future through collective action and state investments.”

    Aside from the fact that Obama is FAR from the best and the brightest, history shows this idea simply does not work. The reason is simple: everybody knows something, nobody knows everything. There is no one person who even knows a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of everything. When we understand that the “best and the brightest” aren’t that much better or brighter than everyone else and realize the major advantage of real (non-crony) capitalism are its self-correcting feedback mechanisms and that it allows each individual to find and maximize his individual talents, it becomes clear that central planning by a handful of self-styled (often selected by cronyism) elites cannot HOPE to compete with it.

  • a nissen

    I prefer Howard Zinn’s cake to the various icings. Here, as common to elite icings, and despite being dated, dead-white-men labels still distract (see comments) and hold us at bay from events unadorned.

    That said, Zinn’s cake lends a discernible shape to WRM’s latest icing, in itself suggesting that we likely are approaching one of those times when public opinion arises and counts. How long does this awareness last? “Not long enough” has always been the answer, but a new durability may be a major contribution of an otherwise overly touted globalization. Here’s hoping.

    My thanks and encouragement to your renewed interest, WRM!

  • Richard S

    From Hamilton’s defense of the constitutionality of the Bank of the U.S.:
    http://www.constitution.org/mon/ah-bank.htm
    “Thus a corporation may not be erected by Congress for superintending the police of the city of Philadelphia, because they are not authorized to regulate the police of that city.”
    There were many things that the federal government had no power to do, according to Hamilton. They could not do whatever politicians thought would help the “general welfare,” as the people did not give the federal government such plenary power. The people gave the federal government certain listed powers (which could, however, include implied powers in pursuit of them), in order to promote the general welfare, they did not empower a government do do whatever it thought would promote the general welfare.

    Then again, the trouble with Hamilton was his Machiavellian streak. The purpose of his army in 1798 was to roll over Virginia, and perhaps go all the way to New Orleans. Without Washington to keep him in line, Hamilton went off the rails.

    And we should also recall Jefferson’s strong endorsement of Sedtion trials, by states, in his second Inaugural.
    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jefinau2.asp

    And we should remmber his comments on “Natural aristocracy.”
    http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/learn/99AHLstuff.htm/Adams_Jefferson.htm
    “The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?” And if one reads Jefferson closely, one finds that these “natural” aristocrats are born, rater than made-we would call it “genetic.”

    Finally, it’s worth remembering that what Professor Mead calls a merger of Hamilton with Social Democracy, Herbert Croly called the effort to use Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends.

    Hamilton believed in enrepreneurship, even if he also had a mercantile streak.

  • http://www.inthatdayteachings.com Robert Winkler Burke

    Toni,

    Bruno, I believe, meant this. Suppose I’m a Wall Street Bankster and I make good decisions and get a $1.7 million bonus (and I buy 1,000 gold coins!) All good, as my privatized gain is MINE, MINE!

    But, if I’m a really good Bankster, then if I make bad decisions, I get the government to bail out my bank, and I still get a $1.7 million bonus (socialized, er taxed by all Americans to bail me out). All good, as my socialized gain is MINE, MINE! (Gimme my gold coins!) And let the taxpayers, who claim they are starving, let them eat cake!

    Perhaps Americans won’t wake up to Jeffersonian thought, before “too-big-to-fails”, after, what?, 20 more bailouts… THEN FAIL ANYWAY.

    Centralized Deciders (like the popular Republican Presidential candidates) decide no better than Democrat socialists anyway.

    Jefferson, that dumb, backwards, small-time farmer… well, maybe he wasn’t so dumb after all.

    Seven billion people making decisions make the best decisions. Max freedom for individuals works best.

    The Fed, Obama, Republican Hamiltons, Democrat Marxists, even the next Obi-Wanna-Be-Obamas… can’t.

    But the elites will continue to make hell on earth, until they find they are too big to succeed at anything.

  • Toni

    Robert Winkler Burke, where did you get the idea that I endorse government bailouts? I pointed out a fact about a gargantuan budget that gives some entities, including Wall Street, advantageous treatment.

    In a previous post, I said I wanted government to maximize opportunity. That means freedom to fail as well as to succeed. I consider Too Big to Fail, begun by Bush and now enshrined in law by Obama and a Democratic Congress, abhorrent.

  • http://www.inthatdayteachings.com Robert Winkler Burke

    Toni,

    You wrote about Bruno’s comment… “I don’t know what he means by “socializing risk,” …

    So I explained, and you thought I was accusing you of endorsing “socialized risk.”

    I guess explaining “socialized risk” put me at social risk of being accused that I thought you endorsed government bailouts…. ;) (get it? get the joke? ;)

    I wasn’t.

  • Toni

    The Fed has recently betrayed its Hamiltonian goals of sound money and sound credit abysmally.

    After the double-digit stagflation of the 1970s, the Fed focused on controlling inflation. Then, in the 1990s, Congress amended the Fed’s mission to include maximizing employment. The result: the Fed has kept interest rates low when it should have raised them to cool an overheating economy.

    Thus the tech stock boom of the late 1990s (remember “irrational exuberance”?) and the housing boom of the 2000s. The temptation for investors to convince themselves that asset prices will rise forever is so great that an adage was coined. “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” With easy credit, buyers who convinced themselves that housing was a foolproof investment had the wherewithal to keep bidding up prices.

    A recession followed both booms. Of course, lending to people who hadn’t the means to pay a mortgage made the housing boom worse. But that lending was both mandated (see “Community Reinvestment Act”) and enabled by Washington, the latter via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Gretchen Morgensen explains the disaster wrought by crony financiers in her fine book Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.

    The bigger the boom, the worse the crash. In the 1980s oil went from ~$38 a barrel to $9.

    Another problem with keeping interest rates low is that the Fed weakens its ability to boost the economy. Going from 3% to 1% is a more powerful boost than going from 1% to 0%. I think the Fed has had interest rates at effectively 0% for years now and promises to keep them there into 2013.

    There’s a moral here. Governing isn’t science. You can’t do A and expect B automatically, as the stimulus showed. And the more government tries to do, the more unintended consequences ensue. Increasing complexity increases unintended consequences.

    This is a lesson the Democrats seem fated never to learn.

  • Toni

    Hi, Robert.

    I think we’re on the same page. I too believe in the individual decisions of 7 billion people. I call myself a little-d democrat.

  • http://www.southernnationalist.com/blog/ PalmettoPatriot

    When the US invaded and crushed the independent South in the 1860s, the Northeastern industrialists/bankers effectively broke the back of Jeffersonian. Imperialism, militarism, central banking and centralisation in general are what the USA is all about today. And given the demographic trends going on it’s unlikely this will change before the US is fully a Third World basket-case and beyond our recognition.

  • Luke Lea

    Nice post. I always enjoy, and profit from, WRM’s historical perspectives on American history. Still I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the challenges we are facing today using these Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian categories. They are so obviously useful and yet they remind me of those old-fashioned taffy machines that stretch and fold the taffy, then stretch and fold it again. Tariffs and technology, aristocracy and democracy, labor and capital, decentralization, centralization, progress, tradition, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, interests and ideals, the capital and the provinces, the clever and the clueless, natives and immigrants, individuals and communities, rights and responsibilities, hopes and fears, stretch and fold, stretch and fold. Frankly at this point I don’t know what to make of it all. I’m all stretched out. :)

  • a nissen

    Arizona Mike,
    “What book/article/??? would you recommend as a further study?”

    A People’s History of the United States

  • Toni

    Arizona Mike, I recommend A Patriot’s History of the United States.

    A People’s History is socialist propaganda.

  • http://www.david-prentiss.com Dave Prentiss

    Hamilton and Jefferson have more in common with each other than either do with the blue social model. For all their differences, Hamilton and Jefferson both understood justice in terms of individual rights and both believed that a political system based on individual rights was the best way to produce economic security and prosperity for society at large. The blue social model derives from progressive ideals. In “Progressive Democracy,” Croly argues for a collective social welfare notion of justice to replace the idea of justice as individual rights, because the latter was not, according to Croly, really just and not sufficient to provide material security to society at large. The progressive claim of using Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends is a distortion of both and obscures the real areas of agreement and disagreement between Hamilton and Jefferson. It also masks the significant differences (and conflicts) between the original principles of the founding and the progressive ideal, and between their underlying, divergent views of human nature and human-historical development. It is these differences that are at the bottom of our current political debates. These differences also shed light on liberalism’s search for coherence. Liberalism never fully embraced Croly’s social welfare justice ideal, instead attempting to combine it in some fashion to the original view of justice as individual rights. Such a combination of two views of justice is deeply problematic – they really can’t be combined as requirements of justice. A more promising approach would be to view government’s efforts relating to social welfare as prudential matters that must be pursued within the requirements of justice as individual rights.

  • a nissen

    Toni,
    Solving the puzzle takes ALL the pieces. Democracies, like the families deemed normal (not dysfunctional), are but the most adapt at camouflaging the stressors that all families and societies have. This explains the need to eternally defend liberty—the right to alternative history. Read ALL the histories our democracy spawns, one finds that many lives have been lost defending the right to do so.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    Much as I’ve enjoyed many of the comments, have to say I’m with Mr Lea:

    “… I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the challenges we are facing today using these Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian categories. They are so obviously useful and yet they remind me of those old-fashioned taffy machines that stretch and fold the taffy, then stretch and fold it again. Tariffs and technology, aristocracy and democracy, labor and capital, decentralization, centralization, progress, tradition, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, interests and ideals, the capital and the provinces, the clever and the clueless, natives and immigrants, individuals and communities, rights and responsibilities, hopes and fears, stretch and fold, stretch and fold. Frankly at this point I don’t know what to make of it all. I’m all stretched out.”

    Frankly I think I am too. What is it about these neat dichotomies, comprehensive as they are (or appear to be), that so often makes them seem far too rigid to account for the breadth of human nature as we experience it, either from day to day or from crisis to crisis? It’s as if there was something in us humans – not just the range and variety of our nature(s), but an elasticity, a subtlety, a kind of twisted elusiveness, even a downright cussedness and perversity – that will always resist reduction or confinement to these categories. And so will always frustrate both Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians, even as it runs circles round them both?

    First of all, there IS something in us humans, I believe, that wants to measure both the quality and the quantity of our work by the degree in which it conforms to, and satisfies, the natures, needs and wants of real human beings. And not just the deserving but the undeserving kind; so that not only do those doing well end up doing better, but those doing badly end up not quite as bad as before. Something about rising tides, etc. And under the heading of that “work” I include the full range of our projects, procedures, systems, organizations – and technologies.

    But there’s also, I believe, something ELSE in our nature. Something that finds a kind of pleasure (how “natural” or “unnatural” I won’t venture to speculate) in STRETCHING ourselves and those around us – even to the breaking-point. Because however many of us snap there’s always more rubber-bands. Something that seeks to make the natures, needs and wants of human beings wrap – so to speak – wrap and bend and twist, and twine and contort themselves all around our work. As well as around all those things we create to facilitate, justify and “immortalize” that work (projects, etc). As if we all existed for the sake of the things we make and do, rather than the reverse. As if the whole point of our lives was NOT to conform our work to those eternal things in us which most show the imprint of God, but rather to conform that same imprint, that same creaturehood, to those things which most show OUR imprint, those things WE make and think and keep running and going, those things of which WE are the gods, so to speak.

    Now it may be just my usual hypersensitivity. Or even paranoia. But as a consumer in today’s marketplace, I’ve had an overwhelming sense (as well as myriad stories to confirm it) of people engaged in serving the public, and working very hard at it, whose schedules, habits, hobbies, personalities, self-images – at times, I’d swear, even their very natures – are being drastically readjusted in this fashion. Readjusted, ostensibly, the better to serve their work, so that their work may in turn be better readjusted to serve me the customer. And I can’t think of a time when I have been more miserable or less satisfied as a customer. At least of big companies. (And even of a number of small ones – and particularly new, “fashionable” restaurants, many of which seem to measure how “top of their game” they are by acting like they can afford to turn customers away.) I also can’t think of a time when I’ve felt more intimidated by those institutions which feel obliged to be constantly readjusting, fine-tuning, micromanaging, second-guessing – some might even say terrorizing – their workforces in this fashion. All for the purpose of making me the customer happier. And yet (and I know how perverse of me this sounds) not only am I not happier, but I keep getting the sense that my happiness has nothing to do with it. That they’re all competing with each other MAYBE to overawe me, to dazzle me, to make me feel stupid and ashamed (“After all, we’re a big company competing successfully in the marketplace, and WHO ARE YOU?”). But definitely NOT to ensure – or even to increase the likelihood of – my satisfaction. In short, I don’t think I’ve ever felt less valued or even regarded as a customer. Then again, as patrons go, I’m just a mere individual, as distinct from the wealth-creating kind. And perhaps certain wider market distortions, which are in turn distorting these businesses’ naturally humble and submissive attitude towards me the sovereign consumer, are the result of excessive government meddling. In which case the sooner government gets COMPLETELY out of the way the better. But for some reason I can’t shake this nagging hunch that things aren’t QUITE that simple.

    In the course of the 20th century we learned ad nauseam about the power of the State, and of militant or revolutionary political ideologies, to redefine and reorganize human beings, and human needs, in these ways (i.e., “Give yourselves WHOLLY, without reservation, to your work; and if your work seems to give nothing back – or worse yet, seems to eat you alive – why, consider your ravaged bodies as so many stepping-stones by which future generations will ascend to new levels of progress.”) So far it seems to be the fate – or vocation? – of the 21st century to teach us about the power of other, nongovernmental kinds of social entities to behave in similar ways, and make similar demands. Often with a great deal more subtlety and confidence, perhaps even a wider (mostly passive, I think) social acceptance. Indeed, one may argue, why shouldn’t they? If in the recent past, public institutions have been arrogant, high-handed, indifferent to human suffering, etc, about things they did badly, haven’t our modern private institutions the right to be even more obnoxious, more in-your-face about things they do well?

    Yet I can’t resist the impression of a massive shift in human emphasis in our Western capitalism – perhaps in an effort to adapt to Chinese pseudo-capitalism? – since roughly the end of the Cold War. It’s as if we’ve come (though not quite) full circle to 1910, but with different labels. As if many of us Americans have become virulently ideological capitalists for much the same reasons that certain Europeans became rabidly ideological socialists 100 years ago: Out of a consuming hatred for all slackness and softness, all give and play in human societies (Bernard Shaw, anyone?) – for everything that makes us more patient and less prodding of each other, more forgiving and less forceful. At any rate, I can imagine Chairman Mao sympathizing with our concerns, much as he’d have disagreed with our conclusions.

    In that regard I think we’re quite different from our earliest founders – and perhaps even moving in an unprecedented direction? However much Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians may have differed on questions of scale and centralization, at least they understood (it seems to me) that the central aim of politics is the welfare of human beings, and not merely the longevity, power, independence and immortality of human creations. Whereas our current impulse to deify the works of our hands seems cut from quite a separate cloth altogether.

  • http://dissentiscool.wordpress.com Dissent Is Cool

    I agree with much of what you wrote. I would only challenge you on the point of the national debt: Alexander Hamilton specifically, on numerous occasions, insisted that the national debts had to be eventually paid off. One of his final acts as Treasury Secretary was to outline a thirty year plan for paying off the national debt. I would also challenge many of your readers who seem to think that the Jeffersonian vision of America is desirable. I assume these are also people who would claim to be huge supporters of capitalism. It was Hamilton who effectively created the foundation upon which our capitalist system is structured. Were it left to Jefferson and Madison we would still be living in a series of small, rural, and agrarian communities, complete with slaves. Thomas Jefferson was a radical, who believed that men could govern themselves, thus negating the need for a strong and energetic central government. Unfortunately, for him and his adherents then and now, that political philosophy was a recipe for the replication of an American feudal society and a return to monarchy or some sort of despotism. Hamilton was right in advocating for a capitalist society and for a strong central government, designed to protect the rights of Americans. His legacy lives on, but, more importantly, it should continue to live on if we are to continue to remain a strong, free, and wealthy nation.

  • teapartydoc

    At the risk of sounding like a political Ockamist, I must say that I do not think the generalizations used here do adequate justice to the historical players or their political philosophies. But at the same time I realize that I put myself at risk of being a hypocrite in this regard as I too attempt similar kinds of reductions in order to try to better understand the processes (if indeed there are any) at work. There is a danger of a kind in pulling ideas out of their historical context that can mislead one into thinking that this or that political actor would endorse such and such policy and that particular policies would naturally lead to consequences one cannot be sure of.

    All of that said I will state my own reduction, which is not based in the policies of persons but in ways of thinking which exist in all individuals and have opposing effects, a sort of yin and yang, so to speak.

    In ancient philosophy going back to Pythagoras and possibly (probably?) beyond one finds a dichotomy in competing aspects of knowledge, one fascinated by the idea of representing everything in numbers and shapes, and the other engaging the surrounding world in an absorbing observant kind of comprehension which we now would call almost subconscious, in a way, but which we do not and possibly might never fully understand. Different folks have recognized and described this using terms which are different but which describe what I’m talking about. A.N. Whitehead described civilization as a balance between”barbaric vagueness” and “trivial order”. In a way, this describes a philosophical battle that has gone on since the Dawn of Man, and which up to now has been won out almost entirely by trivial order for the past five hundred years. We know that Pythagoras was a brilliant philosopher and that his hubris was in trying to over-apply his theories of number to life and politics. This hubris is still being carried on today, but the battle is carried on not just between men that rely more or less on these two competing visions of the world, but within individual minds as well. The difference is that some allow one or the other to more or less completely rule the roost.

    I will try to explain this a little further. In Plato’s Meno Socrates gets a slave with no knowledge of mathematics to produce a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. While he thought this was a proof of reincarnation, what he indeed did prove was that man is hard-wired to understand the universe in a way other than by instinct, but that the roots of that understanding lie in the unconscious or instinctive mind itself. Pascal said it best when he said that all theorems begin as intuitions. Nicholas of Kues, in his De Docta Ignoranta, called the two ways of thinking “ratio”, for the analytical thinking I associate with number-based concepts, and “intellectus” to describe what can only otherwise, I think, be described as non-analytical thinking. If one goes on to read Joseph Pieper and Eric Vogelin one can detect a recognition of these ideas even if they are not explicitly named. These men were acquaintances of F.A. Hayek and, I believe, Ludwig Von Mises, and I think if you look at their economic theories you will see that they explicitly DO NOT rely on analytical number-crunching as do all other economic theories, but on a theory of understanding of human action that is much more comprehensive than what one sees in Keynes or the monetarists.

    THIS is what was at play when the Federalists and Hamilton did battle with the Anti-Federalists, only the Anti-Federalists were ignorant of which flag they were fighting under, and without an understanding of the very philosophy they were defending, they were rendered somewhat incoherent and incomprehensible.

    While I do not think Whitehead did justice to the more comprehensive thought of the intellectus, his description serves as a way for liberals to better understand the forces which will ultimately defeat their project. They will go down calling us barbarians.

  • SilviaAna

    Ok, I don’t entirely disagree with this article. In fact, it’s quite a rational sounding article. In speaking against what America has become and why, you’re correct. However, it’s important to consider that corporatism has been enabled by free trade (free trade with other nations allows us access to cheaper products and labour and thus higher profit at the expense of our domestic economy). To imply that this current system evolved from Hamilton’s values is a little far-fetched; yes, he favoured a deficit. However, his crucial economic contribution was high diehard protectionist views. Protectionism is the antithesis of free trade. So in essence, this system has taken a little detail of Hamilton’s advise (the importance of a deficit– somehow I don’t think he meant trillions and I DEFINITELY know he didn’t mean a debt to another government) and forgotten the basis of his whole economic system which allowed America prosperity in the first place.

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