Monday, February 25, 2008

Burr-Hamilton Match.

(aka, origins of Scottish-American tyranny)

"Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me."[AaronBurr--]

IN early America, the two-party system consisted of Federalists, and their rakish opponents, the Democratic-republicans. The more Toryish of the Founders, such as Hamilton, Adams, and Marshall, aligned themselves with the Federalist party. Hamilton's Magnum Opus, the Federalist Papers (also with some commentary from Jay and Madison) provides a good overview of Federalist ideology. Jefferson's group led the Democratic-republicans; Madison, during Adam's administration, actually leaves the Federalists, and joins with Jefferson's faction.

While not caring for Hamilton's monarchist leanings, we here at Contingencies do hold the Federalism of Madison to be fairly sound politics in principle. Madison, like Hobbes (though Leviathan a bit more theoretical) worried himself over factions, as did all Federalists. IN Paper 10 Madison addresses his fears of faction, in quite moving and persuasive language:

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a wellconstructed
Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its
tendency to break and control the violence of faction.

AS with many traditional conservatives, Madison fears the possibility that Democracy unleashed could result in rule by Vox Populi (if not Porcus Populi). Well and good. There is little talk about a popular vote in the Federalist papers; indeed Madison seems rather conservative in his praise of republican over democratic principles; that is not Republican as in "Reagan republican", but in European sense--e.g. Irish Republican Army: nonetheless, the Republicanism of Madison does seem closer in spirit to modern-day conservativism than to the secular republicanism that French revolutionaries dreamt of (if one wants to bandy categories about):

Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a
republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of
faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,--is enjoyed by
the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist
in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and
virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and
schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation
of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite
endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a
greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being
able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the
increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase
this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles
opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an
unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the
Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

Sounds good in principle: The Union shall be ruled by representatives characterized by enlightened views and virtuous sentiments, instead of by unruly factions and mobs (the Reign of Terror was a common topic at the time, and many feared that Jefferson himself had ties to the Jacobins). At the same time, one could, like Locke reacting to Hobbes' ideas of an all-powerful Sovereign, object. Lockean tradition holds that the democratic right to petition the govt. for grievances outweighs the potential good of republicanism (or for that matter, the great Platonic dream of an enlightened sovereign).

So which model more often leads to despotism? That is something the Federalists did not really establish: they do not demonstrate that it is more prudent to entrust decisions to a few virtuous representatives, than to the will of citizens, expressed in a popular vote: that is a political given, driven at least in part by a fear of rebellion (and the discriminating economic materialist might note Madison's concern over debtors and division of property). It's more of an inductive matter, which Madison does not really resolve.

Jefferson, himself no great empiricist, at least objects to that model in both practice and principle (while granting the possibility that democracy, especially led by the unenlightened and non-virtuous, could lead to mob rule, if not riots--TJ was not down with the sans-cullottes. (Burr, demo-repub., [yet not at all friendly with TJ}, settles his issue with Federalism in a rather more direct manner, by shooting General Hamilton in a code duello).


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