Saturday, August 27, 2011

Random Thoughts

We Americans don't like to think that we have made choices or that we have to make choices, that is, choices that affect in important, even fundamental ways, the way that we live. For example, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists are taught as two separate political factions but factions that agree more than they disagree. When "we" chose the "Federalist way," that is, by ratifying the constitution that was proposed in 1787, we did not by that choice reject another way of being in the world. We opted, as it often said, for a more powerful national government than the one that existed under the Articles of Confederation or the one that would have existed if the Anti-Federalists had had their way in 1787. On a more contemporary note, we Americans don't like to hear our current foreign policy described as "imperialistic" because in part that would indicate that we had chosen a particular kind of foreign policy and a kind of foreign policy for which there are clear alternatives. So, we like to say that our foreign policy is controlled by "realists" and that the policies themselves "realistic," which is to imply that we have no choices here unless we wish to deny the demands of "reality." Of course, the same logic is applied to the "choice" of 1788, ratifying the proposed constitution, by arguments that hold the Articles of Confederation were a failure and failed because they had created a national government that was "too weak." As a result of this "weakness," we had to be "realistic" and opt for a more powerful national government. Nothing happened here other than the American people being "realistic." We had no other alternatives.

But what if this line of reasoning is wrong? What if, as I think is the case, that the decision made in 1787 changed in important, even fundamental ways how we Americans live, how we are in the world, our "being" in the world? Suppose, for example, that the creation of a powerful national government like that made possible by the Constitution of 1787 also made possible the creation, some many years later, the Department of Defense. And suppose further that the creation of the DOD had made us a more war-like people than we had been before its creation. This would mean that the choice to ratify the proposed constitution on 1787 has made us a more war-like people than we would otherwise have been.

I like to point out to students that when we say that the Articles of Confederation "failed," we have to be careful not to use inappropriate standards when judging the Articles. Those articles created a "confederation" and so it is inappropriate to use the standards used to measure the success of a national government to judge the success or failure of a confederation. To use national government standards to judge confederations would be like using standards of an offensive lineman to judge Tom Brady's ability to play football. Or like using standards of a fastball pitcher to judge Tim Wakefield's ability to pitch. So to say the Articles failed because the confederation could not protect national security by means of institutions that would be capable of making war with "energy and dispatch" is inappropriate. One reason those who supported confederations did so is because they wanted to create a system that would less rather than more war-like. And whether they were wise or not depends on what one thinks about war or war-like political systems. Can such systems be republican? If the answer to this question is "No," then it cannot be said that the Articles of Confederation "failed" because, under them, it was impossible to create what some today call "a military-industrial complex." It was to preserve the creation of a republican political system that confederationists rejected just such a possibility. That the confederationists may have been right is reflected by Eisenhower's Farewell Address, where he coined the phrase and cautioned us of "the military-industrial complex."

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