The Federalist Papers

…are in the pile of things I read poorly as a student and keep meaning to reread now that I’ve got a few decades of experience to bring to the effort. Plus, I have reread Herodotus, Thucydides and Tacitus recently (like in the last couple years), so I’ve gotten some of what was on the minds of the authors more freshly in my mind. And there’s that Orestes Brownson book I still need to finish my review of, which addresses many of the same issues but from the perspective of someone writing at the end of the Civil War, which had settled at gunpoint and with buckets of blood a few issues left unresolved or not fully expressed in the Constitution itself, for better or for worse.

All that said, reading time is limited. John C. Wright helped inspire at least a partial reread by posting on Federalist 10, with a link to an online copy. So I’ve now reread one of the essays/editorials.

John Taylor Gatto once remarked that a typical modern college graduate has trouble with comprehension of well-written English from popular publications written a mere 200 years ago. Note that the Federalist Papers were published in the newspaper – they were intended to convince the People of New York that they ought to support the new Constitution. Read this, for example:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.

Nice and to the point. To follow the thought herein, all you have to do is keep two sentences with several clauses in mind so that, by the time you get to the last phrase you know to what the former and the latter refer and what it means for a thing to be an object to which something may be attached. This is no big deal if one has read a good bit of the classics, or Aristotle, or, indeed much fiction written before, say, 1900 (or John C. Wright, Mike Flynn or Gene Wolfe, all of whom will give your brain a good work out). But what if you haven’t? What college students have? Not many. But your average New York newspaper reader from 1788 was good with it.

As to the argument: Madison, Jay and Hamilton here argue that a big Republic governed by representative democracy is the best safeguard against factions – that would be political parties, for example. The idea that a complex (and inefficient! Never forget that our government is inefficient by design, and we wouldn’t want it any other way!) representative government in which a variety of interests are represented in a variety of ways is best able to defeat the worst of partisan passion. Thus, the people elect the House, the states appoint the Senate, the Electoral College selects the President and Vice President, the President proposes key government personnel (e.g., judges), but the Senate must approve them – this is a recipe for a hot stinking mess that has a hard time doing much of anything….

And *that’s the point!* You want efficiency? Install a tyrant. The people complaining about all that obstructionist behavior by Congress are exactly and precisely the people Congress was instituted to frustrate. One tragedy of modern times, one only occasionally remarked on by pundits, is the tragedy of Congress not fighting for its constitutional rights in the face of presidential overreach. Doesn’t much matter if you agree with the President’s goals or not – if you love the Republic (and you should!) then you should hate the mewling cowardice of Congress. I’m guessing all that secret data collection over the last few years includes a lot of stuff key members of congress would rather not have public. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain how Congress, which in time past was known to make a president stand down once in awhile, has become so pliant. Your guess is at least as good as mine.

Now I’ll have to go reread the rest of the Federalist Papers.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “The Federalist Papers”

  1. “The people complaining about all that obstructionist behavior by Congress are exactly and precisely the people Congress was instituted to frustrate.”

    Precisely! There are good and bad aspects to checks and balances, but exercising them is entirely within the rules. The same people who are complaining about them now, will be screaming bloody murder when Trump tries to eliminate them. ; )

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