Monday, October 19, 2020

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - A Commitment to Deep Thinking About Our Political Origins in the Presence of Noise (Paper No. 4)

And on we go with THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT.   Here is that link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers 

Did any of you read the opinion piece in today's The New York Times by Michael Albertus about the upcoming vote on Chile's new constitution? I thought it interesting to read in parallel to The Federalist Papers since it is about another populous focused on creating rights and delineating responsibilities of government towards citizens and citizens towards government, but they are doing so in reaction to an autocratic regime of the elite, so they are emphasizing accountability, citizen engagement, and decentralization, whereas Hamilton, Jay, and Madison were arguing for centralization. Chilean citizens vote to ratify or not on October 25.  I wonder what they will choose and whether there are pieces in their newspapers, or other media, doing the work of The Federalist Papers?

 In Paper No. 4, John Jay continues to consider the advantages of Federalism in ensuring the safety of Americans. He reflects on the ubiquity of war under monarchy:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenver they have a prospect of getting any thing by it, nay that absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for purposes and objects merely personal, such as, a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts; ambition or private compact to aggrandize or support their particular families, or partizans.  These and a variety of motives, which affect only the mind of the Sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice, or the voice and interests of his people. 

Leaders who govern based on revenge for personal affronts or aggrandizement of their families and allies?  Outrageous. Thank heavens we don't have to put up with that anymore. That is only when the decisions rest on the "mind of a Sovereign," and having neither a mind nor a Sovereign at the helm of the now united states, we have nothing to fear.   

Jay identifies the most likely incitement that might encourage other nations to perceive us as rivals and threaten war is commerce. He envisions that the States may engage in trade with parties such as China or India, supplying ourselves independently with their commodities rather than relying on third parties.  The expansion of our own commerce, Jay writes, is likely, as our merchandise will be be preferred for its affordability and quality, although he offers no support for this assertion, perhaps a forerunner of 'Buy American!' At the time, Spain shut off access to the Mississippi River and Britain did the same for the St. Laurence, which Jay saw as presaging future jealousy of nations that could become our rivals in trade.

These circumstances could invite war and it is a strong national government, Jay argues, that will discourage it.  One central government will be more competent at military defense not only because it will consolidate the best experience across the states, but it will also create a unified system of discipline.  A Union can choose to act on uniform principles of policy - in other words, it will weigh the benefits toward one or another individual part, and choose to act when it most benefits the whole. and then apply the combined resources of the whole towards that defense.  It is interesting that Jay chooses to remind his New Yorker readers of the reputation of the British Navy - the militia of the enemy - whose high regard he attributes to consolidated leadership and training of the Scots, Irish, Welsh and English who comprise it. 

But really, he gets to the meat of the matter, when he asks what armies or fleets they could pay if they didn't combine the resources of the disunited states. Which brings up one of the key powers that the pre-constitution Articles of Confederation did not afford the government - the right to tax its citizens.  Given the history of the rejection of British rule for this very reason, that omission can hardly be surprising.

I can see that there are a few of you reading out there, but no comments as of yet. Take the plunge, won't you?  

And if you haven't read the other installments they are here: 1, 2

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