THE OTHER HAMILTONIANS
I had a very pleasant exchange of email with Pundita
the other day on the topic of
“ Hamiltonian Realism”, some of which she was kind enough to post on her blog. The discussion had been sparked by the initial flurry of reviews of her “ Democracy Stage Show Kit
” essay that appeared here
as well as at Flit™, The American Future
and of course, at the Glittering Eye.
Initially, Pundita had taken umbrage at my description of her as a “ Hamiltonian Realist
” based upon Dave Schuyler’s insightful review
of the foreign policy taxonomy of Walter Russell Mead’s American Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World
. However, I had not been thinking so much about foreign policy after reading Pundita’s DSSK but about political theory and the nature of democracy.Alexander Hamilton’s
achievements as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury are well known, without Hamilton’s successful management of the national debt the United States might have foundered as a Republic long before 1861. His advocacy of modern central banking, internal improvements, an emphasis upon mercantile trade and manufacturing and a strong Federal role in promoting economic growth would seem to make Hamilton the economic nationalist that Mead postulated.
That however is only part of the picture. Hamilton was not only an astute political economist but he also ranks as a philosopher of government on par with James Madison
and John Adams
. It was Alexander Hamilton, as the motive force behind the Federalist Papers
and as a close adviser to President Washington, who fleshed out our current understanding of Madison’s Constitution – particularly in terms of separation of powers and the role of the executive branch.
Madison and Hamilton, both men deeply influenced by Montesquieu
, were not utopians in regards to human nature and government or the relationship between rulers and ruled. They were skeptics, building a governmental structure designed to work with men as they really are instead of how revolutionaries might wish them to be:“But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But 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. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
Hamilton and Madison saw their fellow men with a clear eye and their solution was not to make a government that would be mankind’s master but to create a system of government that would possibly allow the mastering of the worst excesses of men’s passions. They were, unlike Tom Paine and Patrick Henry, ardent realists about democratic and republican government.
It was in this sense of supporting free government while acknowledging the role of interests and factions that led me to call Pundita a “ Hamiltonian” – which probably complements rather than contradicts a “ neo-Jacksonian” stance in foreign policy as described by Mead.Addendum:
An apology is in order for my having referred to Walter McDougall
, author of Promised Land, Crusader State
, as " Robert" McDougall in my email to Pundita. My apologies to Dr. McDougall and to Pundita.