The View From 1776

Liberalism and Socialism - Round Two

A thoughtful response to the posting just below.

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Responding to the exchange of views in the immediately preceding post, the reader wrote:

Thank you for your prompt and informative reply. Without wishing to draw you into a protracted discussion, I would just like to note that the fact that a few persons, yourself included, have called something a religion does not make it so. Even science has been called a religion by some. An “all-embracing view of life that shapes one’s perceptions and regulates his everyday actions” can just as easily be a philosophy as a religion. If your outlook were widely adopted on both sides, all that would have been accomplished would be to turn what had been a political (or political-science) discussion into a religious conflict. I fail to see what good would result from that. On the contrary, to insist on branding each other as holding political views based on faith rather than rational empiricism—or, say, on upbringing, which is where most people’s party affiliations come from—seems to me antithetical to healthy discussion of the real issues confronting both parties in this country.

By the way, “the founders” did not necessarily believe that the best government is that which governs least. I happen to be a small-government guy myself, but that belief, enunciated by Jefferson, was not even shared by all Jeffersonians, much less the Hamiltonians.


My reply:

Thanks again for a thoughtful reply.

You are correct that the “governs least” view is associated more with Jefferson, certainly than with Hamilton and many Federalists.

On the other hand, Jefferson’s protege James Madison is associated with the drive in the Constitutional Convention to make the Federal government strong enough to govern the people. 

In Federalist No. 45, Madison writes,  “Was, then, the American Revolution effected, was the American Confederacy formed, was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the hard-earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the government of the individual States, that particular municipal establishments, might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty?”

and

“The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other. The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures.”

and

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.”

It hardly need be said that, under the impetus of Progressives, beginning in the 1880s, and those styling themselves as liberals more recently, those intentions have long since been overrun by the colossus of the Federal government.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/27 at 08:22 PM
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