The Anti-Federalists and Responsible Government: Why We Cannot “Go There”
February 27, 2011
Returning to the material presented and debated in class on Friday, here is some further material on the Anti-Federalist cause of responsible/responsive government and why we the people today find it so strange as to seem insane. But perhaps it is not the AF who were insane or delusional.
(A) Responsible government as responsive government, that is, as a government that responds to the people, follows the people’s desires and wishes, without trying to change them or impose on the people “a vision” conceived by some leader like the president. This is decidedly weird to us. As a student wondered, this is not possible because government must keep secrets and responsive government requires “transparency.”
Student: “We can’t have that. It’s dangerous to national security.”
AF: “Perhaps. But an AF government would not need to keep secrets – or as many secrets – because it would not pursue the kind of foreign policy that necessitates secrets, a lot of secrets, because it involves us in the affairs of other nations in ways that it would be embarrassing or imprudent to reveal. But if we pursued a different foreign policy, minding our own business, no CIA would be necessary and we would need to keep fewer secrets. This is just a simple fact. No CIA = fewer secrets.”
Implication: AF system is fundamentally different than a Federalist system ala’ the Constitution and would pursue, therefore, a fundamentally different kind of foreign policy, a policy of “minding our own business by and large.”
BUT THIS IS WHERE WE THE PEOPLE TODAY STOP. And we stop because we cannot conceive that such a foreign policy would “work” or be “desirable.” We cannot think outside “the box” we have created – and only since about 1900 – and which we take and mistake for “reality.” But it’s only reality because we have made it so.
(B) AF responsive government requires different institutional arrangements than we are use to, viz., short terms in office and stiff term limits. For illustration purposes, say 2 one year terms and then the official has “to go home,” never to serve in that capacity again. Why?
(1) Such arrangements create frequent turnover because it is required. No professional politicians, as we like to call them.
(2) Such arrangements severely limit the incentive to spend huge sums of money to obtain office.
(3) Such arrangements severely limit the incentives for “the ambitious” to seek office as a means of obtaining “status” or what Hamilton called “the love of fame,” the “ruling passion of the noblest minds.” [But even mediocrities share “the love of fame,” as apparently everyone wants their fifteen minutes, at least.]
(4) Such arrangements limits incentives to propose and undertake extensive governmental projects meant to re-make society, such as a New Deal, a New Frontier, the Great Society, No Child Left Behind, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the Race to the Top.
BUT THIS IS WHERE WE STOP – AGAIN – AND FOR THE SAME REASON. Because we cannot conceive, literally cannot conceive, of society “working” without thinking in terms of ambitious, grand, even grandiose projects as we try, to use the most current lingo, “Win the future.” We have, as a people, become to used to such projects that (a) we hardly blink when a candidate proposes some new project that will re-make society and take us to the “promise land,” and (b) almost no one questions such projects as insanely ambitious and, hence, almost certain to fail, as they have again and again. We ignore these failures or make them disappear by explaining them away as “one-off events” that tell us nothing about how we think about and talk about politics. Which is weird because as recent history illustrates – the implosion of the USSR and the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt – all that is necessary for us to change our ways is to change how we think. But apparently, we are not prepared to do this.