Thursday, September 30, 2010


I am giving a presentation at Auburn High School tomorrow, Oct. 1, 2010 and this is part of what I will be saying. Enjoy!

It is difficult for us to understand the AF and this for several reasons. (1) There are not many AF around any more as they have died out. (2) We are, mostly, the children, the progeny of those we call "Federalists." Hence, to be an AF seems disloyal and we don't like disloyalty. (3) Most importantly: We live in "Federalist place," i.e., a place created by the Federalists and their descendants and so AF'lism seems strange to us, weird or even crazy. When I tell people I am an AF'list.......

NB: the implication here is that between the AF and the Federalists there are two fundamentally different ways of being in the world. And this is hard for us to understand, in large part because of how we have been taught. The Federalists are said to favor strong government. The AF are said to favor weak government. The Federalists are said to favor more government, while the AF are said to favor less government. But there is more to it than that, a lot more.

I will get at it as follows: The basic AF argument is that liberty or republics can only exist in small societies. And underlying this argument are three other arguments, as follows: (1) a voluntary attachment of the people to a government is only feasible in small societies. (2) Genuinely responsible government is only possible in small societies. (3) Small societies produce the kind of citizens that are needed in and by republics. I will review the first one to illustrate where it leads us.

(1) The AF thought that human beings confronted a choice, viz., that governments can rest on voluntariness/consent or force. Large societies are (a) large and (b) diverse and, as a result, they require force to maintain order. Think about the difference between Auburn and Boston or even Worcester. Small places, like Auburn, are "self-enforcing" or "self-policing." I grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey where the police force was, by and large, unnecessary and even some cops were jokes. Moms did fine in Metuchen enforcing our small borough, especially my mom. But large places need the police, that is, those who wear uniforms and carry weapons and are authorized to use them. They, the police, are just like the military in these regards which is of course what they are, a military force.

NB the implication: (a) Large societies are based on force because they need it. (b) Large societies are militarized, it is a "mind-set", a different way of being in the world than non-militarized societies. This mind-set is so pervasive that it is, to us, invisible. We don't even think of the police as a military force, that is, until they use deadly force. (c) Large societies are "war-like." That is, war makes sense there - much more so than at the state and local levels. Michael Dukakis never rode around in a tank when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, as he did when he ran for president trying, vainly, to prove his military prowess.

One argument some AF made went essentially as follows: "Ratify this proposed constitution and you will create a war-like government and a war-like society or people, a people who 'like' war or are attracted to war." Can you think of any reason(s) to think that the AF were correct? Two words come to mind: THE PENTAGON.

Now, let me emphasize how far we have come. (a) The place we live, our Federalist place, is militaristic; at least, it is more militaristic than an AF place would be. (b) We - WE THE PEOPLE - are militaristic, at the very least more militaristic than we would be as an "AF People."

And one of the deeper levels of AF'lism is a critique of war, a rather severe critique of war as essentially politically unhealthy or even obscene. War is especially unhealthy in republics, the AF argued. And this recalls, for me, President Eisenhower's Farewell Address where he warned of "the military-industrial complex," a warning that included the spiritual dangers of a militarized society. I repeat: Eisenhower said this.

Of course, force takes other forms as well, e.g., rule by bureaucracy. The AF also argued that were the Constitution to be ratified there would be swarms of officials roaming through society, compromising the privacy and the liberty of citizens, and issuing and executing rules that were radically uniform. Again, can you conceive of any reason to think that the AF might have been correct? The largest and most powerful part of our government is a humongous bureaucracy, and it is, despite its size, relatively invisible to us because we no longer think about it just as we no longer think about driving our automobiles at 65 miles per hour - or faster - while talking on the phone or, even worse, "texting."

A question is: What does this bureaucratization of society do to us? We get glimmers every so often of what it does to bureaucrats as when, for example, some worker goes "postal," as we say today, not realizing what we are saying or what our speech means. But the AF would have understood this phenomenon and this speech even better than we do because they were alive to issue of a voluntary attachment to government and a government based on force. We have become so inured to this issue that it is all-too-common to think that bureaucrats can evaluate students better than teachers can evaluate students or that bureaucratic measures like standardized tests can measure students better than their teachers can. Or to take a bit different take on this, we think that we can come up with a program, a curriculum, that will stimulate students to new levels of achievement and interest, that we can come up with a curriculum that will breathe new life into those dead white males who have contributed to what we call "Western Civilization." There is life there, I am convinced, but that life cannot be sustained by a program or a curriculum because all programs and curricula are or become routines. And if you want to see a popular presentation of this argument watch either "The Dead Poets' Society" with Robin Williams or "The Emperors' Club" with Kevin Klein. Bureaucracies can do a somewhat decent job distributing license plates but they cannot sustain republics. We have become "clients" rather than "citizens," even in our schools, public and private.

No comments:

Post a Comment