It is painful to read and see how history repeats itself.  Except in this particular circumstance, I’m not sure if history is repeating itself or if we’re simply further down the road that governments at all levels across the United States embarked upon many decades ago.  The following excerpt is from the first-edition copy of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor that I am currently reading - another treasure found in the Opitz Library at the Acton Institute.  This is a portion of the remarks Buckley delivered at the press conference at which he announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City in 1966.  Prepare for facepalm:

The Unmaking of a Mayor by William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Unmaking of a Mayor by William F. Buckley, Jr.

I shall accept the designation if it is offered to me because I continue to respect the principles of the Republican Party as they are generally understood out over the country.  But also because it has struck me as painfully clear, to judge from their public statements, that the major candidates, while agreeing that New York City is in crisis, are resolutely opposed to discussing the reasons why it is in crisis.  Their failure to do so – I speak of Mr. Lindsay, and of Mr. Wagner, and of those who compete to succeed Mr. Wagner as the Democratic candidate – is symptomatic of a political disease that rages in New York, and threatens to contaminate democratic government everywhere in the United States.  It consists in its most aggravated form, in an almost otherworldly detachment from the real situation in running for political office by concealing any significant mention of the significant public issues of the day.  To run for office under such circumstances is merely a form of personal vanity.  Yet the major candidates are correct in saying that New York is in crisis.  New York cries for the kind of attention that is not being given to it by those who coolly contrive their campaigns so as to avoid offending major voting blocs.  But to satisfy major voting blocs  in their collective capacities is not necessarily to satisfy the individual members of those voting blocs in their separate capacities.  [William F. Buckley, Jr., The Unmaking of a Mayor (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 105-106.]

Note again:  this book was published in 1966.  And yet, much of Buckley’s complaint and critique of politics is just as applicable today as it was when it was first proclaimed.  It must be noted that, largely as a result of Buckley’s efforts prior and subsequent to his Quixotic 1966 campaign, there are currently some politicians who are willing to speak frankly about the dreadful fiscal and social problems that confront our society; unfortunately, finding politicians who are willing to not only speak the truth about our problems, but also willing to act in such a way as to actually address the problems is a difficult task indeed.  Or at least it has been a problem; Obama and his willing accomplices in the Congress have pushed hard enough against common sense that the public has been roused and is demanding real action to address our debt crisis – witness the Tea Party and the upcoming mid-term elections that have all indications of being a massive wave for the Republicans.  The true test of the Tea Party, however, will come in January of 2011 and beyond.  Will the passion remain, or will the public end up being placated by half-measures from Washington that play at solving our debt crisis, but in reality do nothing substantial?  We should all sincerely hope and pray for the former; I shudder to think about the consequences of the latter.

The Ascent

On May 13, 2010, in Culture, History, Politics, Religion, by marc

One of the most famous chapters in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is titled “The Ascent.”  The chapter is included in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, and I excerpt this portion for you:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn during his years as a Zek

Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings.  What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary to me.  But just as the waves of the sea knock the inexperienced swimmer off his feet and keep tossing him back onto the shore, so also was I painfully tossed back on dry land by the blows of misfortune.  And it was only because of this that I was able to travel the path which I had always really wanted to travel.

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good.  In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel.  In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor.  In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.  And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that  I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.  This line shifts.  Inside us, it oscillates with the years.  And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.  And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).  It is impossible to expel evil from the world it its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well).  And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.

The Nuremberg Trials have to be regarded as one of the special achievements of the twentieth century: They killed the very idea of evil, though they killed very few of the people who had been infected with it.  (Of course, Stalin deserves no credit here.  He would have preferred to explain less and shoot more.)  And if by the twenty-first century humanity has not yet blown itself up and has not suffocated itself – perhaps it is this direction that will triumph?

Yes, and if it does not triumph – then all humanity’s history will have turned out to be an empty exercise in marking time, without the tiniest mite of meaning!  Whither and to what end will we otherwise be moving?  To beat the enemy over the head with a club – even cavemen knew that.

“Know thyself!”  There is nothing that so aids and assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes.  After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: “So were we any better?”

When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast?  Firmer in our thoughts?”

And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!

There is none. Jean-François Revel, writing in Without Marx or Jesus:

Jean-François Revel

Jean-François Revel

When the state becomes no more than a device for preserving the state, then it matters little what its origins were.  It is, in any case, totalitarian, and therefore reactionary.  It is a mistake to think that Stalinism is a betrayal of Leninism.  Neither Lenin, if he had lived, nor Trotsky, if he had remained in power, would have acted any differently from Stalin.  All of their writings, all of their actions, and all of their speeches between 1917 and 1924, reflect the practice and the theory of a thoroughly Stalin-style dictatorship.  They began in January 1918 by dissolving, with the help of the army, the Constituent Assembly set up by elections – elections in which the Bolsheviks had received only one quarter of the votes.  From that moment, as Rosa Luxemburg has pointed out so well in The Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky began from the principle that they knew the minds of the people better than did the people themselves.  As Lenin remarked at the Tenth Party Congress, held in March 1921, the Party “alone is capable of grouping, educating, and organizing the avant-garde of the proletariat and of all the working classes – that avant-garde being the only force able to offer opposition to the inevitable oscillations of the petit-bourgeoisie.”  And Trotsky, on the same occasion, added that “the Party is compelled to maintain the dictatorship, regardless of temporary wavering, and even regardless of the transitory hesitations of the working class”

Just added: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  Looks interesting; my knowledge of Bonhoeffer is, sadly, limited.  Read a review of this bio in the Wall Street Journal at lunch; here’s a portion:

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Martyr

Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer’s admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his letters—”religionless Christianity”—to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York’s Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” that he saw there. “I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out,” he wrote, “if God himself is still anywhere on the scene.”

As the storms of hatred raged in Germany, Bonhoeffer moved beyond “confession”—that is, preaching and writing—and into rebellion. By the summer of 1940, he was recruited by Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and others as a double agent for their conspiracy against Hitler, an effort that operated out of the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence). Henceforth he would pretend allegiance to the regime and pass along to the conspirators—whose goal was Hitler’s assassination—whatever intelligence he could gather. He depended on deception for his survival.

It was a bizarre role for a religious man, and a hitherto loyal German citizen, to play. As Mr. Metaxas notes: “For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for their country, was unthinkable.” And yet it became thinkable for Bonhoeffer precisely because his understanding of faith required more than adhering to tidy legalisms about truth-telling and nonviolence.

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Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia is a fantastic book, and I have found it difficult to pull a representative quote that would demonstrate why I love it so much for the simple reason that there are so many points in the book that are worth quoting.  There’s actually one in particular that involves responding to an accident by driving an ambulance directly into a crowd of bystanders that completely cracked me up when I read it, but for some reason I can’t find it (even after a few runs through the multiple post-it flags that are now populating the pages).

Jean-François Revel

Jean-François Revel

In light of current events, however, I think it might be worthwhile to include an extended quote from Revel from Chapter 8 – “Truncated Memory” – on the Katyn Massacre in Poland, the 70th anniversary of which recently passed:

I have often noticed that the place name “Katyn” means nothing to most young people, for the reason that their teachers and the media are careful not to mention it.  So here is a brief summary of the facts: in September 1939, after the defeat of Poland – which had been invaded simultaneously by the Nazis from the west and by the Red armies from the east – an occupation zone of 200,000 square kilometers was tossed by Hitler as a bone to his Soviet friends, along with other territories in the Baltic region, to reward them for their invaluable help.  Stalin immediately set out to purge the Polish office corps of undesirable elements, and on his express written orders, many thousands of prisoners were murdered, including over four thousand at Katyn, a village near Smolensk and the location of the best-known mass grave, and about twenty-one thousand at various other places.  To these must be added some fifteen thousand enlisted troops who were probably drowned in the White Sea.  Carried out over a few days according to a pre-established plan, these mass murders of defeated Poles, exterminated for the sole reason that they were Poles, indisputably were crimes against humanity and not simply war crimes, since the war was over as far as Poland was concerned.  According to the Geneva Conventions, to execute prisoners from a regular army who have fought in uniform constitutes a crime against humanity, especially if the conflict in question has been terminated.  The orders from Moscow were to eliminate all Polish elites in the Soviet-occupied zone: students, judges, landowners, state officials, engineers, professors, lawyers, and of course military officers.

Excavation of Katyn Forest mass graves

Excavation of mass graves in Katyn forest - 1943

When the mass graves were discovered, the Kremlin blamed the killings on the Nazis.  The Western left, naturally, rushed to obey its master’s voice.  Here I am not alleging that all the non-communist left was servile, but those who did have doubts remained very discreet – plaintively perplexed rather than categorically accusing.  For forty-five years, to say out loud that Soviet guilt was highly likely, if only for the simple reason that the crimes were committed in the Soviet-controlled zone and not the German-controlled area, was to get yourself instantly classified as one of those obsessive “viscerals” of  ”simplistic” anticommunist prejudice.Then lo and behold, thanks to Gorbachev and glasnost, the Kremlin in 1990 acknowledged, in a formal TASS communiqué and without attenuating evasions, that “Katyn was a grave crime of the Stalinist era.”  And in 1992, after a preliminary inventory of Moscow’s archives, a secret 1959 report made for the KGB chief Alexander Shelepin was released for international inspection.  It recorded “21,857 Poles of the privileged classes, shot in 1939 on Stalin’s orders.”

The matter thus resolved by the Soviets themselves, one might have hoped that Western revisionists – who for decades had been wheeling out the “fascist” epithet for anyone who believed in the Soviets’ culpability – would now make honorable amends.  But that is not to know them.  Likewise, it would have been nice if the French prime minister had made a small “touristic” gesture of remembrance by visiting the Katyn graves, to show that leftists had recovered their memories and had finally stopped being moral and  intellectual self-amputees.

This persistent discrimination stems from the no less tenacious aberration that holds fascism to be the antithesis of Communism, and hence the victims of the latter, in their tens of millions, to be somehow less victimized than those of the former.  One would like to challenge the deniers and demand of them, “On what grounds do you remain silent?”  It isn’t fascism that is Communism’s foe; it is democracy, that eternal enemy of freedom’s assassins.

A voluntarily truncated memory is not equitable; it is really not memory at all.  Memory will continue to be absent as long as the left and the right alike continue to apply a double standard, treating the conquering criminals differently from the vanquished criminals.

Ravel here and elsewhere demolishes the argument that there is any fundamental difference between the crimes of Naziism and Communism.  Both ideologies are evil; only one is acknowledged as such by left-leaning intelligentsia, to their eternal shame.

Last Exit To Utopia

On April 10, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

U·to·pi·a [yoo-toh-pee-uh]- noun - an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. The opposite of dystopia.
ORIGIN based on Greek ou not + tóp(os) a place

Last Exit to Utopia

Last Exit to Utopia by Jean-François Revel

Note, dear reader, the origin of the term “utopia”: the Greek root indicates that utopia is, literally, nowhere.  It is not a place.  It does not exist.  Sir Thomas More, who first used the term, certainly never considered such a place to be realistically possible.  And the truth of the matter is that anyone remotely acquainted with the reality of human nature and history must admit that we do not live in a perfect world, and that such a place is impossible to create.

Anyone, that is, besides leftist intellectuals and politicians, who continue to insist – against the overwhelming evidence of history – that socialism can work, that indeed it must work!  They argue, in spite of all the plain evidence against them, that socialist solutions are more efficient and equitable than market solutions, and that the classical liberal system that has created the most vibrant societies and powerful economies in world history should be at least reined in and subjected to strict scrutiny, and at most outright replaced by a “more humane” socialist system.

Jean-François Revel was a French intellectual, a member of the Académie française, and one of the greatest French political philosophers of the 20th century, at least in the seemingly small branch of 20th century French political philosophy that wasn’t completely enamored of totalitarian schemes.  Prior to his death in 2006, he penned a book called Le Grande Parade, which has now been translated into English and re-titled Last Exit to Utopia, in which he exposes the intellectual and moral failure of leftist intellectuals who have served as apologists for the brutal communist regimes that brought misery and death to millions in the last century, and examines the project that was undertaken by the left after the fall of communism to rehabilitate Marxist and socialist ideas.

Anthony Daniels – AKA Theodore Dalrymple – contributes a fantastic preface to the English edition of the work.  An excerpt:

As Jean-François Revel establishes very clearly in this book, the left-leaning intelligentsia’s long infatuation with the Soviet Union and other Communist countries was not merely an intellectual error but, if not quite a criem itself, at the very least complicity with crime; and moreover crime on a scale virtually unparalleled in human history before the Nazis came on the scene.  With very few honorable exceptions, the whole of the left-leaning intelligentsia devoted a great deal of its formidable powers of sophistry to denying or exculpating the crimes of Communism, thus siding with the mass executioners rather than with the victims in the mass graves.

When the moral, economic, social and philosophical failure of Communism was admitted in the land of its birth, the Western left-leaning intelligentsia found itself with a serious and embarrassing problem.  It stood revealed for all to see as having, for many years, been morally not very different from, and not any better than, M. Le Pen of the French National Front, who once famously (or infamously) declared that the Holocaust was nothing but a detail of history.  While it is relatively easy, especially as one grows older, to admit to having been in error, even in gross error, it is very difficult to admit to having been a willing accomplice to evil, and evil of the most obvious and evident kind.  As M. Ravel convincingly explains, this accounts for the difference in the reception in France of two magisterial books about Communism by French scholars, François Furet’s Le passé d’une illusion, and Stephane Courtois’s Le Livre noir du communisme.

The first deals with what might be called the fashion for Communism as an intellectual error.  Anyone can be mistaken in his philosophy, and few people never change their philosophy in the light of experience and further reflection.  (An unchanging person would be suffering from what a medical friend of mine once called “a hardening of the concepts.”)  Therefore, however preposterous Marxism-Leninism might be as an intellectual system – “a farrago of nonsense,” as Professor Acton once called it – those who adhered to it do not stand convicted of wickedness or defect of character.  Hence Furet’s book, whose exposure of the errors of Communist doctrine could hardly be denied, was received respectfully and even with acclimation.

It was quite otherwise with Livre noir.  This book showed implacably that evil was implicit in both the theory and the practice of Communism, and that everywhere and anywhere it was tried, it resulted in the same appalling conduct of affairs, differing only as to scale.  Evil was in Communism’s DNA, as it were; and the crimes of Communist polities were not the result of a perversion of noble ideals, but were caused by the adoption of evil ideals.

Thus, those who espoused or sympathized with Communist ideals were convicted of harboring evil within themselves; and this is not an easy thing for people, especially those without a belief in original sin, to accept.  Courtois’s book was roundly condemned, therefore, by France’s left-leaning intelligentsia; and since it could not actually point to any serious factual errors contained in this massive work of scholarship, it resorted to defamation and the raising of smokescreens, such as that the book would bring relief and confort to the Front National.

Revel’s perspective seems to me a necessary antidote to the statist surge currently underway here in the United States.  Goodness knows this book is (unfortunately) on very few shelves among the current cadre of Washington “leaders.”  One can only hope the an electoral corrective is on the way, and that those who assume positions of power after the coming vote will take Ravel’s message to heart.

I was made aware of this book via a book review in the Wall Street Journal.  You can read it here.

A while back, I purchase N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God in the hopes that it would shed some light on my long-held theory that Christianity would not have been able to succeed as a religion and eventually take hold root around the world if the primary event of Christian history – the resurrection – had not actually taken place.  Wright’s monumental work – part of a larger series called Christian Origins and the Question of God (this book is Volume 3) – seemed to be a likely place to find a detailed examination of that very question, and so far it has not disappointed.  In reality, it is much more detailed than I had anticipated.  The first 206 pages of the book are devoted to examining the question of how the peoples of the ancient world viewed the idea of “resurrection,” so as to set the context in which the early Christian church began to proclaim Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave.

I believe that I have finally reached the point in the book where it will begin to intensively examine the ideas that initially caused me to purchase it; as such, a small excerpt to set the stage:

Titian - Averdoldi Polyptych. Brescia. Santi Nazzaro e Celso

Titian; Polyptych of the Resurrection - Santi Nazaro e Celso, Brescia

One of the most striking features of the early Christian movement is its virtual unanimity about the future hope.  We might have expected that the first Christians would quickly have developed a spectrum of beliefs about life after death, corresponding to the spectrums we have observed in the Judaism from within which Christianity emerged and the paganism into which it went as a missionary movement; but they did not.

This observation forms the hinge upon which turns one of the central arguments of the present book.  This can be expressed in the form of a question.  Granted that the early Christians drew freely on Jewish traditions, and engaged energetically with the pagan world of ideas, how does it happen that we find virtually no spectrum of belief about life after death, but instead almost a universal affirmation of that which pagans said could not happen, and that which one stream (albeit the dominant one) of Judaism insisted would happen, namely resurrection?  Let us be quite clear at this point: we shall see that when the early Christians said ‘resurrection’ they meant it in the sense it bore both in paganism (which denied it) and in Judaism (an influential part of which affirmed it).  ’Resurrection’ did not mean that someone possessed ‘a heavenly and exalted status’; when predicated of Jesus, it did not mean his ‘perceived presence’ in the ongoing church.  Nor, if we are thinking historically, could it have meant ‘the passage of the human Jesus into the power of God’.  It meant bodily resurrection; and that is what the early Christians affirmed.  There is nothing in the early Christian view of the promised future which corresponds to the pagan views we have studied; nothing at all which corresponds to the denials of the Sadducees; virtually no hint of the ‘disembodied bliss’ view of some Jewish sources; no Sheol, no ‘isles of the blessed’, no ‘shining like stars’, but a constant affirmation of newly embodied life.  As Christopher Evans put it a generation ago, ‘there emerged in Christianity a precise, confident and articulate faith in which resurrection has moved from the circumference to the centre.’

This alone demands historical explanation. But there is more.  There are substantial mutations from within the ‘resurrection’ stream of Judaism.  In particular, the historian must account for the fact that, with early Christianity thus being so clearly a ‘resurrection’ movement in the Jewish sense, the well-established metaphorical meaning of ‘resurrection’ – the restoration of Israel in a concrete socio-political sense – is almost entirely absent, and a different set of metaphorical meanings emerge instead.  How does it come about, in other words, that early Christianity located its life-after-death beliefs so firmly at the ‘resurrection’ end of the Jewish spectrum, while simultaneously giving the word a metaphorical meaning significantly different from, though in long-range continuity with, the meaning it had within Judaism?  How do we account for both the strong similarity between Christianity and Judaism (there is no sign, in early Christian resurrection belief, of anything remotely like moving in a pagan direction) and the equally clear dissimilarities?

Intriguing.  This should be well worth diving into.

A Revolution Without Parallel

On February 16, 2010, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

James Madison, writing in The Federalist #14, answering the objection that the new form of government proposed by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia is likely to fail due to the unprecedented nature of stitching together so large a republic:

James Madison (1751-1836)

Hearken not to the unnatural voice, which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many chords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice, which petulantly tells you, that the form of government recommended for your adoption, is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys. The kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defence of their sacred rights, consecrate their union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies. And if novelties are to be shunned, believe me, the most alarming of all novelties, the most wild of all projects, the most rash of all attempts, is that of rending us in pieces, in order to preserve our liberties, and promote our happiness. But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected, merely because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to over-rule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favour of private rights and public happiness. Had no important step been taken by the leaders of the revolution, for which a precedent could not be discovered; no government established of which an exact model did not present itself, the people of the United States might, at this moment, have been numbered among the melancholy victims of misguided councils; must at best have been labouring under the weight of some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind. Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate. If their works betray imperfections, we wonder at the fewness of them. If they erred most in the structure of the union, this was the work most difficult to be executed; this is the work which has been new modelled by the act of your convention, and it is that act on which you are now to deliberate and to decide.

I submit that it is incumbent upon our generation to see that representative, limited government and real federalism are restored.  Our founders bequeathed unto us a system designed to protect the rights of individuals and the prerogatives of the several states.  For too long, we have lived under the illusion that the national government can solve all of our problems and ease all of our difficulties.  We have ceded too much of our liberty to the political class; it is high time that we stand and say “no more.”

Last week, I purchased my copy of The Federalist, one of those books that I considered essential for my library, and did so in honor of the people of Massachusetts, who, in electing Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate, may have managed to save the Republic from the horrors of socialized health care.  (I should note that the entire Gideon Edition of The Federalist is available for download here if you’re interested.)  I’ve plowed through most of the introductory material, but tonight I decided that it was time to commence reading the actual work of Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, 1755-1804

The Federalist No. 1 was penned by Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the man who would go on to serve as the first Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s presidential administration.  I was struck by this passage, which describes the nature of at least some of the debate common at the time over the adoption of the then-proposed US Constitution:

To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts, by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government, will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of power, and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice . . . the stale bait for popularity at the expense of public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearances of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people . . . commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

It strikes me that the situation is reversed today.  Whereas Hamilton had to fight to overcome the suspicions of a population very concerned about the potential creation of an intrusive and too-powerful federal government, we must now fight against the desire of many to cede their liberty to a federal government that is all too willing to pretend that it can provide everything for everyone.  One wonders what the Founders would think were they able to see what has become of the Republic they worked so hard to build and the citizens whose liberty they strove so mightily to protect.

A Quick Hit from Hayek

On January 29, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

The Road to Serfdom, page 174:

…wherever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.

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