Sunday, October 25, 2020

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - A Commitment to Deep Thinking About our Political Origins in the Presence of Noise (Paper No. 9)


A link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers.

It is impossible to read the history of the petty Republics of Greece and Italy, without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions, by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration, between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.

I read Hamilton's words and it is impossible for me not to reflect on the perpetual vibration of revolutionary moments.  I think of another republic - Weimar Germany - so named because in 1919, at the conclusion of World War I when the monarchy was transformed into a republic, the National Constituent Assembly was convened in the City of Weimar and its constitution drafted there.  The Kaiser left power peacefully, but even this relatively non-violent revolution was accompanied by crippling hyperinflation, battles in the streets of Berlin, and the murder of opponents of the leading socialist party  - the Communist revolutionaries Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht.  At this moment in America, we hear the screams of 'tyranny' from the left and 'anarchy' from the right.  I think that it's fair to say we are experiencing our own form of agitation.  Our framers sought stability for their burgeoning nation as they were coming out of a period of revolution, but time moves ever forward and when governments are incapable of being dynamically responsive to big societal changes, they become brittle and desperate.  Witness politics 233 years after Hamilton dreamed of his united states.

There are many flavors a republic can come in, if you are deliberately designing a government.  In Paper No. 9, Hamilton looks to discredit an argument advanced by opponents of the United plan, who cited the French political philosopher Montesquieu. Montesquieu is best known for the concept of the separation of the powers of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government as a means of averting despotism.  He advises republics of small territory to restrain those incapable of moderation from seeking glory and oppressing their fellow citizens. The anti-Federalists opposing Publius use this to support their argument. Hamilton counters, claiming it is not an either-or proposition.  One can reduce the size of members of the Union, he writes, but nothing says they cannot be joined under the aegis of one confederacy. In fact Montesquieu explicitly proposed the formation of 

a confederate republic as the expedient for extending the sphere of popular government and reconciling... [and here Hamilton quotes Montesquieu] "the internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of a monarchial government..."

"A republic of this kind, able to withstand an external force, may support itself without any internal corruption...If a single member should attempt to usurp the supreme authority, he could not be supposed to have equal authority and credit, in all the confederate states... Should a popular insurrection happen, in one of the confederate States, the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The State may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other;"

And here he says something that surprised me:

"the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty."

Even Montesquieu allows for an out-clause.

Hamilton clarifies that a confederacy draws the line by restricting the exercise of its authority to the "members in their collective capacities, without reaching to the individuals of whom they are composed." One guarantor of restraint is the members' voting power.  The Lycian confederacy, in the 14th and 15th century BC in what is now Turkey, had a council of 23 member republics, the largest of which had three votes, the middle level two, and the smallest one. Montesquieu singled it out as his model confederate republic.

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