Anti-Federalist Papers

The Structure of the Book Itself

Overall it is hit and miss. Ketcham gives a VERY detailed review of the Constitutional Convention (180 pages).  If you have read The Federalist Papers then you can probably skip it.  He does provide a fine annotated bibliography at the end (this is one of those things that separates good books from great ones).

antifederalist_papers

John DeWitt October 22, 1787

*Warns of current immoral climate, leading to “idleness” and the “accursed practice of letting money at usury” (DeWitt 191).

Patrick Henry, June 5 and 7th, 1788

*America will lose the confederation by consolidation (Henry 199).  In a confederation each state retains its sovereignty.

**He notes the danger of a few controlling the liberties of the many.  “If, sir, amendments are left to the twentieth or tenth part of the people of America, your liberty is gone forever” (205).  Substitute “The Supreme Court” for “twentieth or tenth part” and you have 2015-2016.

***He warns of the creation of “energetic tax gatherers” (212), which certainly is a prophecy of the IRS.

Centinel No. 1

Before we continue it will be helpful to look at James Madison’s argument (quoted from The Federalist Papers, ed. Charles Kesler, Signet Classics, 2003).  

“…by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places” (318).

“Should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people” (318, imagine the Trinitarian shield, with the People at the Center instead of God). 

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There is one area where the analogy breaks down, but even here it is dialectical.  Madison, knowing that in a republic the legislative branch (perhaps God the Father?) will predominate, suggests breaking it down further (319).  Perhaps this is the synthesis in the dialectic.

Samuel Bryan, “The Centinel,” lists several pointed objections to Madison’s argument:

(1) “This hypothesis supposes human wisdom competent to the task of instituting three co-equal orders of government” (Bryan 230).  This might not be the strongest rebuttal, since human wisdom can come close. His next argument is stronger.

(2) If the administrators of every [branch of] government are actuated by views of private interests and ambition, how is the welfare and happiness of the community to be the results of such jarring adverse interests” (231)?

“Pennsylvania Minority Report”

(1) The constitutional convention was called in secrecy (238).

(2) A very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than by a confederation of Republics (242).

(3) Intermediating structures have been negated.  Congress has direct power over the purse to tax. Previously in agricultural and quasi-anarchist societies, the commune or district mediated the tax burden between the man and government.

(4) Since the number of representatives is so small, the ones who represent will always be part of the monied elite.

(5) Interestingly enough, the anti-Federalists appear to reject the idea, quite republican in itself, of the Senate electing the president (252).  They saw the president as always being buddies with the Senators.

“Letters from the Federal Farmer”

(1) Notes the “instability of our laws” (per the Constitution).  This instability is due to the dialectic of the federal system itself.

(2) The problems in the country aren’t so much the fault of the confederation itself, but simply that the people haven’t yet fully recovered from the war (258).

(3) Further complicating the problem was that paper currency (and all its instabilities) was introduced during the war and the people were only now overcoming that debt system.

“Brutus”

Brutus summarizes the problem.  In any representative government, there must be a proportion between the size of the population and the ones representing that population.  So far, that’s common sense. But when you have a large population, you must either have [1] a small representation, or [2] an extremely large representation.  If [1], then you have oligarchy and tyranny. If [2], you have chaos. Therefore a third position is needed: [3] new republics. Republican government by necessity MUST remain small(ish).   

“Melancton Smith”

(1) It is agreed that the Articles were defective, but that does not logically prove that the new Constitution is good.

My Impressions

Basically, do the opposite of whatever the EU does and you will be successful.   

Collapsing into Dialectic

At this point I want to call attention to an argument Joseph Farrell made in God, History, and Dialectic.  Drawing upon an insight from St Gregory Nazianzus, Farrell asks, what is the relation of origin, if any, between the people and the mutually opposed organs of federal government? If there be none, then those relationships reduce to merely dialectical oppositions (Farrell 617ff).  The Federalist Papers (no. 10) seek to balance the antagonizing forces by having these agons reduce to a chimerical term, “The People.”  And so Farrell concludes,

“The essence of the Anti-Federalist critique of the 1789 constitution then, was that it tended, if one may so put it, to collapse, through the multiplication of governmental agencies and the relations of oppositions that distinguish them, either into perpetual anarchy on the one hand, or into an eventual amalgamation of all powers of government into a new and superintending form of tyrannical simplicity” (618).

Throughout the Anti-Federalist Papers one notes the authors’ fear of the “instability” of the proposed Constitution.  In dialectical terms, this means the unstable government (or branches) must always reduce to the the more stable, albeit more totalizing branch.

As Ketcham so nicely observes, “In a truly self-governing society, there would be such dialogue, empathy, and even intimacy that the very distinction between ruler and ruled would disappear” (Ketcham 19).  But this doesn’t mean a pure anarchism where anything goes. The anarchism in question is one where the bureaucratic apparatus of the state is negated, or at least marginalized. The formal structures of a nation remain: the leader (historically a distant monarch), the church, the village–all of these are social bonds that are not necessarily reduced to empirical quanta.  Or rather, they form bonds which themselves are not reducible.

Patrick Henry hints at this real, yet intangible bond, in response to the question of whether a confederation can withstand attack: “I would recur to the American spirit to defend us” (Henry 203). This isn’t bluster.  Such a “spirit” defeated the most powerful army on earth. Indeed, it “secured a territory greater than any European monarch” (201).

Towards a Review

Summarizing the Anti-Federalist Position

(1) It is agreed that the Articles were defective, but that does not logically prove that the new Constitution is good (Melancton Smith).


(2) The problem of representation:  In any representative government, there must be a proportion between the size of the population and the ones representing that population.  So far, that’s common sense. But when you have a large population, you must either have [1] a small representation, or [2] an extremely large representation.  If [1], then you have oligarchy and tyranny. If [2], you have chaos. Therefore a third position is needed: [3] new republics. Republican government by necessity MUST remain small(ish).

(3)  The problems in the country aren’t so much the fault of the confederation itself, but simply that the people haven’t yet fully recovered from the war (“Federal Farmer” 258).

(4) Further complicating the problem was that paper currency (and all its instabilities) was introduced during the war and the people were only now overcoming that debt system. And it bears noting that the Anti-Federalists were militantly anti-usury (Dewitt 191)..

(5) The constitutional convention was called in secrecy (238).

(6) A very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than by a confederation of Republics (242).

(7) Intermediating structures have been negated.  Congress has direct power over the purse to tax. Previously in agricultural and quasi-anarchist societies, the commune or district mediated the tax burden between the man and government.

(8) Since the number of representatives is so small, the ones who represent will always be part of the monied elite (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Koch brothers, etc).

(9) Interestingly enough, the anti-Federalists appear to reject the idea, quite republican in itself, of the Senate electing the president (252).  They saw the president as always being buddies with the Senators.

(10) The power to tax directly is inversely proportionate to liberty.  The anti-federalists predicted the rise of the IRS.

Conclusions and impressions:

The Federalist ideas aren’t wrong as long as you have a unified people sharing a common bond of love (cf Augustine, City of God, Bk. 19.24).  And if it is a small area, then it should work.  But since self-government is strained (if not impossible) over larger areas, then The Federalist becomes a manifesto for Empire.

As it stood the Anti-Federalist program, while godly and ensuring liberty, was inadequate.  There really wasn’t a way to withstand a foreign invader (though to be fair, invading a forested, hill-country like America, protected by 2,000 miles of ocean, isn’t easy). What is needed is something like  a collection of republics find their leadership and direction from a larger, stronger republic.  Such a republic would respect the autonomy and culture of the smaller ones.

 

 

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, politics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Anti-Federalist Papers

  1. cal says:

    The problem wasn’t paper money, but a failure to print for the right purposes. States were trying to pay off war bonds and debts, which had been bought up by internationally minded investors from many ex-soldiers and farmers who needed to live. The problem was that state govts were enthralled to the debt, and placed between defaulting on these profiteers or squeezing their tax base, chose the latter.

    I think the vision of the Federalist could’ve worked more effectively if it properly neutralized high finance, but the “stock jobbers” and “speculators” quickly became a new aristocracy.

    Like

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