Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Republic, If You Can Keep It...

"At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powel anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: "Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" "A republic, if you can keep it" responded Franklin." -Ron Paul, "A Republic, If You Can Keep It"
The obvious question to ask is: Did we keep it? The tougher question is, was it ever even possible?

Franklin's statement could be read to suggest that it's up to the people to keep what the Founding Fathers hammered out...or it could have been a warning about an inherent flaw in the foundation. As Leonard Peikoff explains in The Ominous Parallels, the problem is philosophical: "The result was a magnificent new country, with a built-in self-destructor." Since that book covers the abstract, I'd like to take a look at the one of the engineers of that philosophical time-bomb, which is now in the hands of Barack Obama...

The latter concern is suggested by what seems to be a sense of doubt coming from the Founding Fathers themselves, as if they were trying to tell us something that they couldn't say outright. Franklin said that ours was "a Republic, if you can keep it." He also said "He that lives on hope will die fasting." John Adams was less than hopeful, should that happen: "A constitution of Government, once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever."

What about Thomas Jefferson? Surely he's got some sunshine to spare...
"The spirit of 1776 is not dead. It has only been stumbling. The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played on by some fact with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves. But times and truth dissipated the delusion, and opened their eyes."
Jefferson's great object of hope was not the Federal Judiciary, or a single, consolidated government but in a rebellion, one maybe, oh, every twenty years or so...
"The Constitution they created could only be torn up by force of arms. And that is why the Founders left that power in the hands of the people, who together can never be cowed by relatively small numbers of thugs holding the only guns."
Well, Jefferson may get the best quotes, and a nice monument, but he's a grieving optimist. To quote George Will, "If you seek Hamilton's monument, look around. You are living it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton's country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government."

Now, Ayn Rand was not shy about her admiration for the Founding Founders, but then, she never met nor mentioned (to my knowledge) Alexander Hamilton. If Jefferson was Rand's favorite Founding Father, then Hamilton, as Jefferson's nemesis, would have to be her nemesis; Hamilton was the antithesis of everything Rand regarded highly in the Founding Fathers, or in her philosophy in general. And while Peikoff does touch on some of the philosophically fatal ideas held by even the more admirable founders, it is Hamilton who stands out the most. (It's my suspicion that the judge in Atlas Shrugged, who is shown at the end editing the Constitution, is un-doing the damage done by Hamilton.) He was not an optimistic romantic, but a cautious realist: "I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." It was Hamilton, the Machiavellian, who made a role model out of Julius Caesar: "He had no hope in the Articles of Confederation, but opted to put his hope in a central bank, a national debt, and a corrupt government rather than a corrupt man." It was Hamilton, the Federalist, who proposed the idea of a permanent president; in essence, a monarch. And where Rand argued against taxation as theft, it was Hamilton, the Federalist, who argued for the "General Welfare" clause.

And yet, some claim that Hamilton would be shocked to see just how centralized our government has become, and defend him against claims made against him out of context. But people can hold contradictory views, even with the best of intentions. But we have to acknowledge that Hamilton, being versed in Machiavelli, may have been just as "prepared to be not good." (Just as he advised to George Washington.) When Hamilton says that the Americans should look "to precedent and history rather than lofty political theory," I think of the second-handers of The Fountainhead who held to the Renaissance as the final epoch. Yes, Hamilton claimed that "It's not tyranny we desire; it's a just, limited, federal government." And it was Hamilton that argued for a loose interpretation of the Constitution.

But even if I were to give Hamilton the benefit of having good intentions, this next comment shows where that paved road led to. Sure, it was Hamilton that said “A power to appropriate money with this latitude which is granted too in express terms would not carry a power to do any other thing, not authorized in the constitution, either expressly or by fair implication.” But if Hamilton truly believed that, this next comment shows where that paved road led:
"Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton's vision for the country, for we have always been in a constant balancing act between self-interest and community, market and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity." - Barack Obama
There are those who will argue that Barack Obama has nothing but the noblest of intentions: "I believe that when you share the wealth, it's good for everybody." But Obama is also a Machiavellian, by way of Saul Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals:
“You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.”

And now that Obama has nationalized the banks, the auto industry, and very possibly health care, the disconnect between word and deed cannot be denied. If Hamilton could see, then, what was currently being done in his name, then I can only picture screaming, from his grave, like James Taggart, "But I didn't mean it!" Hamilton's victory, if his intentions were noble, is a Pyrrhic one. It's time to stop extending the "benefit of the doubt," no matter how boldly one proclaims their good intentions. Machiavellians like Hamilton, Alinsky, and Obama knew and know how to employ those "artful maneuvers" Jefferson spoke of to "dupe" the trusting with "the unmitigated audacity of hope."

In regards to Franklin's "republic" comment, Leonard Peikoff ends The Ominous Parallels with the following: "He was not asked what is required to keep it, but the answer to that now would be: "A philosophy–if you can get one." I'd like to add to that: "A little less "hope" and a lot more street sense."

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