Sunday, October 18, 2009

Musings on Anti-Federalism

Some More Musings On Anti-Federalism

“In both the domestic and the foreign spheres, then, the Anti-Federalists thought that the Federalists overstated the American difficulties and the extent to which they could be corrected by constitutional reform. They thought that, as Federalist propaganda against the Articles of Confederation had helped to increase the difficulties, so Federalist propaganda in defense of the Constitution might divert attention from the true cause of trouble, the deterioration of the American spirit. Far from arresting this deterioration, the Constitution seemed likely to intensify it.” [Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 28.]

Now, NB, the two concepts that are differentiated here by the Anti-Federalists, constitutional reform and the American spirit. We might today call “constitutional reform” “governmental reform” without losing very much of what the Anti-Federalists were objecting to. Not only are there some phenomena that “constitutional reform” cannot address but there are phenomena that such reform would make worse. In the present context, that is, of the state of affairs in 1787 and 1788, if the American spirit had deteriorated then creating a national government, far removed from the people and ultimately relying on executive or bureaucratic power to succeed, was hardly a remedy for our ailments. Such a government would not be able to reanimate the American spirit. In fact, such a government would seem to require anything but what might be called “spiritedness.” Such a government would seek to “pacify” the people.

To take a current example, use our alleged educational crisis in which American students are falling behind and, hence, will not be able in the future to compete in the world marketplace. Now the bipartisan response to this crisis was legislation which is called “No Child Left Behind.” Ignore for the moment the utter absurdity of thinking that absolutely no child will be left behind and concentrate on how this legislation relies on bureaucracies and bureaucratic thinking – standardized testing being one clear example of the latter that can be implemented by the former – to address this crisis.

But suppose that this “crisis” is actually a reflection of the deterioration of the American spirit, that is, a reflection of a lost belief in the power of education and educators to do more than “socialize” or “pacify” our youth. In other words, this “crisis” is the result not of failed institutions or failing teachers, but rather is the result of the successful bureaucratization of our schools. When bureaucratized, our educators and our students have the life drained out of them, as evidenced by their lack of imagination and spirit. Further bureaucratization is then not only unable to change our schools for the better but, if successful, will only make the “crisis” worse. Even today there is something persuasive about Anti-Federalism.

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