February 12, 2007

Federalist Papers Online


Just found this wonderful free issue of the Federalist Papers- crucial pamphlets published by James Maddison (founder and fourth President of the United States), Alexander Hamilton (also a founder and first Treasury Secretary of the United States) and John Jay (founder, ambassador and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the United States from 1789 to 1795). The pamphlets were written during the debates about whether to ratify the constitution and are indispensible to understanding what happened at the time. I recommend having a look through the papers- beyond the local American influence- the pamphlets have an abiding philosophical interest as well. Read and enjoy...

4 comments:

james higham said...

...The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests...

Indeed a wonderful set of documents and accolades to you for accessing them for us.

Gracchi said...

Thanks James- they are vital to an understanding of US democracy.

ashok said...

I hope more people read the Federalist, but it is possible to read them wrongly nowadays. Some on the Right say there's an appeal to natural law in the Federalist, and some on the Left have made the claim that the discussion of "faction" excuses any and all identity politics (for more on why this isn't the case, one has to see Montesquieu and the principles of regimes that underlie different peoples' behavior, esp. in regards to a potentially pluralistic society). I should make it clear that the Rightist and Leftist misinterpretations do have textual support, and I would be hard-pressed myself to entirely clear the air.

I should note that while I respect your opinions on political matters, I disagree with what you're citing in order to make the argument. Look, Salon and Juan Cole and all the rest of the left-of-center aren't bad because they're biased, just like the Rightist publications I read aren't bad because they're biased. All of them are crap because they want us to look at particulars and specifics in making an argument, as opposed to what principle we want to defend. The argument I can imagine Dick Cheney's son-in-law making against industry regulation is that since chemical firms have a direct interest in the welfare of their facilities, before laws are passed mandating such a thing, maybe the gov't should approach and consult with the firms directly about safety.

Granted, he might not be making that argument. But the point is that when an argument becomes based on particulars and specifics, it becomes divorced from the fact that broader principles we can use to discern what is good do clash, and therefore there are a diversity of goods and ways to achieve them, and becomes more character assassination. I'm no Leftist by any stretch of the imagination, but I make sure before I rant about some right-wing point I'm making that I can articulate the best argument for the other side, and give the other side the benefit of doubt as regards character unless there is compelling evidence to not do so. Right now, the argument the Bushies are corrupt stems from an awful lot of conspiracy theory that has created an atmosphere where nothing the President does is correct. It might turn out, in the final analysis, that the Bush administration was as corrupt and incompetent as people say, and I might be naive. But the atmosphere is so poisoned here on the Internet, there is so much advanced that is literally being made up by people who just want to mess with us on the Left and the Right, that I think those of us who want to debate politics seriously have to get away from the day to day and stay purely theoretical. There are good arguments for why chemical plants should be regulated in terms of security. That Dick Cheney's son-in-law is against it is not a good argument.

Further, to go back to the post, extending the power of gov't means creating bureaucracies that are only interested in their self-preservation. You know that - the academic literature on how bureaucracies behave is strikingly consistent (of course, I should say I haven't read Graham Allison and the rest in a while. I'm really guessing here, working under the idea "it should be consistent, otherwise there is no political science"). Just because the gov't has a clear and compelling interest doesn't mean that it will execute that interest properly (ah, a nice safe argument, one that doesn't posit anything). Now I do thank you for making the theoretical argument there. I wholly expect disagreement here, but the idea that there can be a quick and easy resolution to this is nonsense, and I will not sit around and tell you that you're absolutely wrong, because you're not.

And I don't even want to get started on the troop cuts thing and all that blather. I purposely do not go to Rightist sources to make arguments anymore, because it is beneath my dignity not merely as a scholar, but as a human being interested in the truth. Given how poisonous the Left online has proven to be, I highly recommend that as a token of good faith that arguments start with principles and theory first, and then the sources later. Otherwise, we are slaves to the newsflow, which has our biases written into it, and every particular we find magically supporting every thought we have.

ashok said...

Re: Your recent comments on my blog -

The long comments are fine, I appreciate them. Thanks so much for reading those blogs, I have to apologize to you for how bloody long they are. Generally speaking, I am working from a bias, which is that a unity of thought in man could be possible - esp. as such a unity would comprehend diversity literally - and that this unity could be something that the political might want to aspire to.

That bias shows up in my "Is Politics Reducible to Rhetoric" post, and makes it more subjective than an actual historical analysis. So your points are really, really good, and I don't know if I can really answer them, because I don't know how my views can grapple with the problem laid before them. But I think I might be able to make a few comments that might clarify or confuse the issue.

To say a "state" in the modern sense was created by a "wise statesman" or a "father/priest" figure can be correct - Lincoln in Lyceum argues that we have to reverence the Founding to the point of worship if the American (read: constitutional, modern, democratic, capitalist, secular) order is to survive. I guess what keeps the modern state together is myth to some degree.

But strictly speaking, the modern state is more about the present and future than the past. The "myth" is the glue that keeps us from killing each other, nothing more. For Aristotle, the question of the divine, the question of wisdom, and the question of foundation are three separate questions which do have to be grappled with in the city. But the "city" is very different than the modern state: law in the modern state permits all things it does not forbid. Law in the city forbids all things it does not permit explicitly. The "city" is the comprehensive order, complete with a view of the cosmos and a way for man to live and all that stuff.

So when Aristotle moves to talk about wisdom, divinity and foundation, he too is interested in their divergence more than their unity in one man. You can see this in Plato: the Good, the Just and the Beautiful always diverge from each other. Justice is an earthly concern, the Good is divine, and Beauty? It inspires action or contemplation, and being a lover of beauty is a nearly empty thing, as both Socrates and Glaucon are lovers of beauty, and the gap between them is nearly unbridgeable. A professor of mine - diehard Straussian, but one of the wisest people I've ever met - Joshua Parens - writes on Alfarabi and Plato and all that stuff, and much of the above comes from him. You might want to look for his books: his latest one is "An Islamic Philosophy of Various Religions: Introducing Alfarabi" (I might have gotten the title wrong).

So if Mandeville and Vico are saying that the foundation of a state involves divinity, wisdom and a "stroke" simply, that's a notion being used to prop up the modern order. The way to tell is to see if the founder is bound by necessity. If it is necessary one have the authority of the ancestral and of God, then that's something concerned with the modern. If, on the other hand, the foundation is about the character of a people more than their survival or keeping them in line, then those divergences I spoke of above should show in the thinker's ideas, and one can see a more philosophic grappling with what a people could be as opposed to what simply is.

Does that help clarify? I think I lost your question somewhere in there.

I should say that I have yet another bias, which is that I think this is the end. I'm not Apocalyptic or anything like that, and I know people have misused their freedom for ages, and that maybe this age is no different, but when I see the people I consider the best of my generation drinking themselves to death through the exercise of their freedom, I think the perpetual republic is in serious trouble. I cannot see where an avenue for those of us who are serious exists - the intellect is marginalized in a world where every "niche" is as good as every other.