Federalist No. 23

“This philosophy of unlimited and undefined power, whether in military or civic affairs,  is arguably the most dangerous doctrine set forth by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, and from the New Deal to the new healthcare law its logic is ruthlessly driven home by the national government on a routine basis.”

Federalist 23 signals a shift in the essays as Hamilton focuses his arguments away from why the Articles of Confederation are defective to why the union needs a more energetic national government under a federal system. Hamilton makes the case that the government needed is a government that has necessary power to effectively provide for the “common defense of the members,” preserve of the “public peace” and the “regulation of commerce”.

Centering on the need to provide for the common defense, Hamilton reveals a dangerous doctrine to republican liberty: namely unrestricted and undefined governmental powers. In terms of the martial power of the new government “no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed.” And this principle of undefined and unlimited power should extend to all political spheres of the new government because as Hamilton argues, it is a universal principle that the “means ought to be proportioned to the end.” And since the ends cannot be fully discerned in the present these “powers ought to exist without limitation”. This philosophy of unlimited and undefined power, whether in military or civic affairs,  is arguably the most dangerous doctrine set forth by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, and from the New Deal to the new healthcare law its logic is ruthlessly driven home by the national government on a routine basis. But some will argue that it is only the progressives who are to blame, that they have abandoned the principles of limitation as set forth in the constitution. While that maybe true, they are simply following through with the principles as laid out in this essay by Hamilton. For the progressives and other believers in big government, the ends justify the means, whether those ends are total military dominance or the ending of poverty, government must be made to facilitate the good fight regardless of what rules have been laid down. This abandonment of what F.A. Hayek calls the “Rule of Law” means that the government is no longer “bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand,” a sure principle of republican government (Road to Serfdom, 80). While it is surely impossible and even impracticable to never have the means of purchasing a Louisiana territory, the exception has become the rule in modern American government and can clearly be traced back to Hamilton. So what is the result of such a political philosophy of undefined power? Tyranny and loss of liberty. This has happened so subtly over the last century and a half as to make one who suggests it now ridiculous. But thus did all the prophets of old appear in the eyes of those to whom they came.

Again foreshadowing his later arguments for expansive central powers above and beyond the limited rules of the US Constitution, Hamilton states that the national congress under the Articles possessed undefined power under Article Three, which allowed the congress to provide for the common defense and general welfare. There it is. The general welfare clause, a much dreaded phrase among constitutional republicans for its misapplication throughout American history by politicians like Hamilton.

In the end of the essay Hamilton warns: “it is both unwise and dangerous to deny the federal government an unconfined authority in respect to all those objects which are intrusted to its management.” That is a true statement as far as it goes, in those limited duties of the national government they ought to have complete authority. But this tenet coupled with the belief that the bounds of such a government when carrying out those duties are limitless is not only paradoxical but is a recipe for tyranny; a tyranny that we are living in now and that will get much worse unless drastic measure are taken. For with the depth of Hamilton’s limitless power doctrine has come a corresponding breath of duties, all gathered and centralized under, not surprisingly the general welfare clause, the commerce clause, the equal protection clause, etc. And of course as the government has defined and constantly redefined the ends of the US military, so to has its power increased until we are spread all over this earth from one end of the globe to the other. One mighty Hamiltonian empire.

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