News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Republic or Empire?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Republic or Empire?

It seems that if there was one Founding Father who would be behind GW Bush's interpretation of the constitution it's Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed in a strong and superior executive branch.

It appears that while he supported a republican form of government, Hamilton did so because he thought that it was the best form of government to ride to world empire. If he backed the separation of powers, it was only in the sense that the legislative and judicial would be at the behest of the executive. ...

Although I am not clear how he hoped to undermine the powers of the legislative branch, it seems that he believed that it was corruptible through monied interests, as well as favor-giving via the executive. The core of his thinking on this issue involved the potential posed by a standing army.

In The Machiavellian Moment, JGA Pocock summarizes the scholarship on Hamilton's imperial aspirations:

Hamilton's known desire to build up the republic's military strength, and the widespread suspicion that he hoped to head that strength himself, were all that was needed to confirm his critics in their inherited belief that rule by a strong executive, wielding influence and supported by a monied interest, led logically to rule, at once corruptive and dictatorial, by a standing army. -- Pocock, p. 529
Is it too much to see that GW has simply brought Hamilton's aspirations to fruition? Led by a corrupted Congress--Republican and Democrat--the presidential powers that Bush et al. are assuming exploit the very ambivalence inherent in a republic that was established to build an economic and military empire that could sustain itself and expand without crumbling.

That ambivalence is built into the constitution itself, something that all Founding Fathers recognized and which led Jefferson to call for continued vigilance, if not perpetual revolution, to obviate.

[Xposted in comments section at Unclaimed Territory]


James W. Pharo said...

I wanted to comment here rather than at Glenn's since it's so hard to avoid a melee over there.

Alexander Hamilton's reputation has been the victim of a 200 year old smear campaign. Read REon Chernoff's biography for a fresh look at the original sources, and I think you'll find two things. One, that Hamilton did push for a more monarchical system in the Consitutional Convention, but when he lost he resolved to adopt the compromist as though it were his own view, which he did (the same cannot be said for Madison or Monroe). Second, that his vision for our government proved correct, it just took 150 years to get there -- and the vitriol heaped on him by his contemporaries would be as nothing compared to what they would say about the ideas of Abe Lincoln or -- God forbid -- Franklin Roosevelt!

Leave poor old Mr. Hamilton alone. He was a singularly honest player in what became a sordid power grab in the years after the Constitution was adopted. Why do you think Washington relied on him so?

the cynic librarian said...

james, I'm as willing as anyone else to believe in resuscitating others' reputations. From what I understand from Pocock's comments, though, the source material does hsow some tension between Hamilton and Madison and Jefferson. And it was particularly over the idea of a strong executive with the types of powers that Bush appears to be exhibiting now.

My interest in this is not so much whether Hamilton was a Caesar-like protagonist but with the idea that the US was constituted as an empire with a republican form of government. If Pocock is right, this idea is at the heart of the machiavellian understanding of a republic and that it was manifested in the US constitution.