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Friday, March 6, 2015

The Case for Limited, Republican Government

David Corbin and Matt Parks write at The Federalist:
The case for limited, republican government that runs beneath The Federalist’s defense of the Constitution is itself dependent on a modest view of the possibilities of political life, as several of its most famous arguments illustrate:
  • The effects of faction can be controlled, but the causes cannot be prevented (Federalist 10).
  • Ambition can counteract ambition, but there are no angelic statesmen to govern the equally non-angelic people (Federalist 51).
  • The people must cement their union because “we are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue” (Federalist 6).
The Federalist, in other words, suggests that there are important limits to both what we can know and what we can do in politics. In Federalist 85, Hamilton particularly notes (citing Hume) how much of political wisdom must be uncovered piecemeal, through the “judgments of many,” guided by “experience” gained through often painful “inconveniences” over the course of “time”–and, as Hume’s reference to “inconveniences” suggests, we often learn more about what doesn’t work than we learn about what does.

What set progressivism apart from other, earlier challenges to the founders’ political vision was its explicit rejection of these limits. As Croly argues, the American regime “must cease to be a democracy of indiscriminate individualism, and become one of selected individuals who are obliged constantly to justify their selection.” An elite class must henceforth impose order upon American society and “make [popular government] expressly and permanently responsible for the amelioration of the individual and society.”