Saturday, November 27, 2010


The concepts presented in this series are adapted from HOW TO READ THE FEDERALIST PAPERS by Anthony A. Peacock, page 19 and following).

One tenant of conservatism is that of having the smallest possible government.

That is sometimes misunderstood, especially by liberal/progressives (deliberately, in some cases).

The phrase "the smallest possible government" does not really mean that we should have a "small" government. Rather it means that we should have a limited government.

It means government limited to the powers enumerated in the Constitution and established by the consent of those governed.

The authors of The Federalist (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay), who called themselves Publius, asked in Federalist 51 “what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

By this he (they) meant that both citizens and government had to be controlled.

The best way to control government is to limit its powers. The federal government of the Constitution was to be a government of enumerated and limited powers.

Aggregate interests would be served by the federal government. All other interests, local and particular, would be served by "state legislatures (The Federalist 10:77-8).

Plubius enumerated four principal interests of the new constitutional union:

1) "The common defense of its members"

2) “The preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks”

3) “The regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States”; and

4) “The superintendence of [America’s] intercourse,political and commercial, with foreign countries.”(The Federalist 23:149)

Publius affirms that men are both self-interested and ambitious. Their opinions are driven more by passion and self love than they are by reason. This connection between self-love and one’s opinions is what leads so readily to faction, that most “dangerous vice” of popular governments that “a well constructed Union” must “break and control.” (Read more about this HERE.)

According to Plubius, men's personal opinions are of little import when compared to the necessity of firm and specific rules set forth in the Constitution.

The Constitution, as revealed by Plubius, was intended to mitigate two basic forms of
political conflict: conflict that originates in human passion, especially collective passion such as pride, hatred, and vanity, and conflict that originates in interests, specifically those related to property.

The two principal ends that the Constitution was to secure were the public good and private or individual rights.

The Constitution sought to mitigate the effects of faction by, on the one hand, making it difficult for a majority faction to infringe individual rights or to undermine the public good and, on the other hand, channeling faction into the less volatile forms of human conflict anchored in disputes over interests or property.

In Federalists 9–14, Publius shows how commerce, at least as directed and moderated by the new Constitution, can also promote comity, union, and American greatness. In fact, the most distinct elements of the improved “science of politics” that Publius introduces in Federalist 9 are not the four specific improvements to that science that we learn in any basic American government class: separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and representation of the people.

Rather, the most novel and important contribution to political science that the Constitution will make is “the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT,” the extended sphere of territory over which the new federal republic will preside. (9:67)

According to Plubius, Constitutionalism rejected two long-standing assumptions of classical and modern political thought: first, that only in direct democracies or small republics could stability and virtue be promoted and, second, that commerce was debasing and that its promotion spurred inequality, avarice, selfishness, vanity, and undue consumption and pursuit of luxury, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the most famous critic of 18th century commercial society, had maintained.

Institutionally, constitutional provisions such as the separation of powers, checks and balances, the federal structure of government, and the variety of terms and methods of election for Members of Congress and the President could check factions after they had formed. Such factions, however, needed to be undermined before they could form at the level of society as well.

The enlarged republic created by the Constitution would directly assist this object. As Publius famously put it:

"Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.” (10:78)

The upshot of all of this is that the purpose of the Constitution is to protect and preserve the union while, at the same time, allowing individuals their specific rights, unencumbered by a powerful centralized government.

There are no restrictions imposed on citizens in the Constitution, rather there are restrictions on the powers of government.

If Plubius were alive today, he (they) would be horrified at the enormous powers that have been ascribed to the federal government at the expense of individual freedoms.

According to Plubius, there should never be a law "for the good of society as a whole" that usurped the rights of the individual.


Leticia said...

And sadly, our government has decided that big government is better and have forced that concept on us all.

Have they even bothered to read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights?

WomanHonorThyself said...

the tyrants don't care about the people and we all know it JOE! HOPE ya had a fabulous holiday weekend..I'm still

Joe said...

Leticia: They really don't care about the Constitution or the BoR.

WHT: Me, too!!

Ducky's here said...

According to Plubius, there should never be a law "for the good of society as a whole" that usurped the rights of the individual.


Of course, that is pure dogma not a reasoned argument.

Especially in a society where right wing activist judges have given corporations the status of individuals it is not clear that limitations which may limit rights but promote the overall welfare are not preferable.

Joe said...

Ducky: "According to Plubius, there should never be a law "for the good of society as a whole" that usurped the rights of the individual."

I must congratulate you on being nearly 80% correct on that one! However, you are wrong about it not being a reasoned argument, as we will see as we foray farther into The Federalsist and other sources.

I do not think Plubius would have put up with right wing activist judges, or anybody else, giving corporations the status of individuals.

Being an extreme right-winger myself, I don't much like it.

That is not to say that I agree with governmental restrictions on who or what entitity can give what they legally earn to whomever they please.

In my humble, but correct, opinion, we need to revamp the electoral process such that simply receiving lots of money does not ensure one's election. That begins with good education (non-government subsidized and locally controlled), good morals and good Christian upbringing.