Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Monday, August 04, 2014

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS #2 (Anti-Federalist Ideas)

In the first essay Alexander Hamilton admits all the Federalist Papers will be one-sided. They will all try to convince the reader to support a new Constitution for the United States. He says, “I affect not reserves which I do not feel. I will not amuse you with an appearance of deliberation when I have decided. I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I well freely lay out before you the reasons on which they are founded.” This is a very polished way of saying: I won’t try to hide my feelings. I’ve already made up my mind that I’m FOR the new Constitution. But I didn’t decide to support it without looking at the facts first.
John Jay is the author of the second Federalist Paper. His mind is made up too. He’s also FOR the new Constitution. As Great Books readers we’re aware these writers will only show us the good side of the proposed Constitution. That’s fair enough (as long as we know beforehand). The other side of the argument we’ll just have to supply for ourselves. For example, Jay says, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.” Well. That settles that. If “nothing is more certain” then there’s certainly nothing more to say. But how do we know Jay is right? Politics isn’t mathematics. Maybe there’s more than one solution. Only the most devoted anarchist would dispute Jay’s claim about the “indispensable necessity of government.” We need some form government. Almost everyone agrees Jay is right about that. But is it “equally undeniable” the people must give up “some of their natural rights” and form a large centralized federal government, as Jay is arguing here? That may not be the only choice. As Great Books readers we may want to ponder a few Anti-Federalist ideas. Is it really true that we all have “natural rights”? If so, then why is it necessary for us to give them up? Which ones do we have to give up? Could we keep our natural rights if we formed smaller local governments instead?
Jay and Hamilton shared the same vision of America. That’s why they wanted to unify the political power of thirteen separate states into one big federal United States of America. Jay expressed his vision of America this way, “…Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people; a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…” Many Americans today don’t share that vision. An Anti-Federalist might say Jay’s vision of America is too narrow. A contrary vision is to celebrate the diversity of people and create a multi-cultural society. This wouldn’t necessarily mean dumping our Constitution but it’s certainly different from Jay’s view of our country.
Jay also poses his own question: “…why is it suggested that three or four confederacies would be better than one?” Good question. Why would breaking up into smaller separate countries be better than one big country? Here’s one possible answer. Take a look at any recent electoral map of the United States. It seems to divide up naturally into regions: New England (blue), the South (red), the Midwest (mostly red), and the West Coast (blue). These are distinct political regions with distinct social and cultural views and values. Here’s a second possible answer to Jay’s question. The United States covers a huge geographical area and governs people who don’t always share the same social and cultural values. How can we possibly be governed well from one centralized location? Wouldn’t smaller administrative areas be easier to run? Who knows? Questions like these show why all Americans should read The Federalist Papers.


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