Federalist No. 8

starHamilton spent all of the last essay on the possible sources of contentions between states if they opted to go their own way and form their own alliances. In this essay he states what he claims are “solid conclusions, drawn from natural and necessary progress of human affairs.” The conclusions are nothing less than apocalyptic warfare between the states. Without a common government, citizens of the states would perpetrate “PLUNDER” and devastation” against neighboring states.

This would then call for the training and establishment of standing armies because as Hamilton points out, “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct.” The establishment of standing armies would transform the martial and with it political landscape of America into that of the Europe of the 18th century, in which war produced a continual cycle of death and destruction. Where do we stand on this issue today? While compared to the total US population of over 300 million people, the military’s 1.38 million soldiers seems relatively small but compared to other nations the US out spends their next fourteen counterparts combined. The 2009 budget factors in over $500 billion for the military which is a 74% increase since 2001. I know what Dick Cheney would say, “We have people trying to kill us so we have to spend more.” I understand the logic, I just think it is the calculus of fear. Will there ever be people not trying to kill us. How long are we to be deployed in the Middle East? Forever? I am not anti-war but I am pro-liberty. We modern Americans have fulfilled Hamilton’s prophecy that “Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its [security] dictates.”

This pursuit of security, which destroys liberty, was to come if the states failed to unite themselves into a federal union. But when I cast my eyes about me I see the strongest nation in the world with a large standing army and a government that has threatened the liberty of the people for the sake of security. We have turned Hamilton’s paradigm on its head. We did enter into a federal union. We were a nation that experienced a phenomenal amount of liberty and security but  have allowed all the natural advantages he lays out to become obsolete. In the last 70 years we have become a nation seeking worldwide security and thus have become a nation in a “state of continual danger” which will cause the most ardent lovers of liberty “to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

These are prophetic words that we have fulfilled. The New York Times ran a story that the US military in Washington state used spies to find out what anti-war activists are planning. Gene Healy wrote an article in the Washington Examiner on August 4th giving thanks that Dick Cheney was not able to authorize the use of the military to apprehend the “Lackawanna Six” as he wanted to. Add to the list wiretapping, Watergate and Japanese internment and you have a complete fulfillment of Hamilton’s words. All of these things happened in the name of security and when there is an increase in militaristic activity of any nation there is a corresponding rise in executive power. Those states that became more militaristic out of a sense of security, according to Hamilton will be the states that “strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction toward monarchy.” And in case you did not pick up on the similarity of our situation with the one described above by Hamilton, he also predicts the current weak standing of the Congress when he related that those nations constantly at war necessarily strengthen the executive at the “expense of the legislative authority.”

So what happened to the United States? Why have we conducted so many wars in the modern world, thus strengthening the executive authority over the legislative (which is closer to the people)? A whole book could be and no doubt has been written on this subject. But in short, when a nation carries and expands its interest abroad, above and beyond the natural and beneficial realm of trade and commerce it will necessarily expand its military to protect such interests. President Bush’s reason for war with Iraq having failed, his other reasons are those which should be labeled “above and beyond.” Whether it was to free the Iraqi people or make the Middle East “safe for democracy,” these types of entanglements will only serve to strengthen the war-making power and in many instances fail in their humanitarian goals. This would stand true for any of the Left’s noble clamoring for interventions in Africa and elsewhere.

I guess in the end, in a strange sense, the nations of the modern world are very much like those thirteen American states, we have become close neighbors through globalization and technology but we have not formed a world government to keep our interests from flaring up into all out conflict. Many have proposed this but such a step would only serve to produce a dictator capable of providing such security.

May we soon come to our senses and be led by liberty and not fear in seeking a fleeting security. For this is what the constitution established. This is why the power to raise armies was split between the Congress and the President; they distrusted standing armies, preferred militias and sought liberty.


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