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  1. Online Library of Liberty
  2. Constant, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns () - Online Library of Liberty
  3. Introduction
  4. I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”

Is the same doctrine to be revived in the New, in another shape that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object. Were the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union.

In like manner, as far as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former be sacrificed to the latter. How far the sacrifice is necessary, has been shown. How far the unsacrificed residue will be endangered, is the question before us. Several important considerations have been touched in the course of these papers, which discountenance the supposition that the operation of the federal government will by degrees prove fatal to the State governments.

The more I revolve the subject, the more fully I am persuaded that the balance is much more likely to be disturbed by the preponderancy of the last than of the first scale. We have seen, in all the examples of ancient and modern confederacies, the strongest tendency continually betraying itself in the members, to despoil the general government of its authorities, with a very ineffectual capacity in the latter to defend itself against the encroachments. Although, in most of these examples, the system has been so dissimilar from that under consideration as greatly to weaken any inference concerning the latter from the fate of the former, yet, as the States will retain, under the proposed Constitution, a very extensive portion of active sovereignty, the inference ought not to be wholly disregarded.

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In the Achaean league it is probable that the federal head had a degree and species of power, which gave it a considerable likeness to the government framed by the convention. The Lycian Confederacy, as far as its principles and form are transmitted, must have borne a still greater analogy to it. Yet history does not inform us that either of them ever degenerated, or tended to degenerate, into one consolidated government. On the contrary, we know that the ruin of one of them proceeded from the incapacity of the federal authority to prevent the dissensions, and finally the disunion, of the subordinate authorities.

These cases are the more worthy of our attention, as the external causes by which the component parts were pressed together were much more numerous and powerful than in our case; and consequently less powerful ligaments within would be sufficient to bind the members to the head, and to each other. In the feudal system, we have seen a similar propensity exemplified. Notwithstanding the want of proper sympathy in every instance between the local sovereigns and the people, and the sympathy in some instances between the general sovereign and the latter, it usually happened that the local sovereigns prevailed in the rivalship for encroachments.

Had no external dangers enforced internal harmony and subordination, and particularly, had the local sovereigns possessed the affections of the people, the great kingdoms in Europe would at this time consist of as many independent princes as there were formerly feudatory barons. The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other.

The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former.

Online Library of Liberty

Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures. Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election into the State legislatures. Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too overbearing towards them.

On the other side, the component parts of the State governments will in no instance be indebted for their appointment to the direct agency of the federal government, and very little, if at all, to the local influence of its members. The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States.

Constant, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns () - Online Library of Liberty

Americans knew how grievous its opposite was, both from the enslaved blacks they saw all around them as well as from their knowledge that their own forebears had fled British persecution of non-Anglican Protestants or European persecution of all Protestants, denied even freedom to express their own beliefs. They knew what man could inflict on man. But of all the Founders, Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton gave the most positive, eloquent, and inspiring answer to that question—though, in fact, he thought that he was answering a question about economics.

Illegitimate, orphaned, and poor, Hamilton dreamed big dreams as a teenage clerk, sitting on his countinghouse stool on a small West Indian island whose only business was sugar and slaves. Ambition burned within him, along with a keen but unformed sense of his own talent. He knew he could be something other than he was.

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  • Maybe a war would come, he daydreamed, and give him his chance. It did come. If the liberty that America had secured through the war was going to be about pursuing your own happiness in your own way, then Hamilton aimed to create an economy that would give his fellow citizens the fullest opportunity to do so, through a limitless variety of career possibilities.

    It should teem with industry, trade, finance, everything imaginable.


    And opportunity would breed opportunity, as human ingenuity and curiosity—the most valuable natural resources of all—came up with new inventions, new discoveries, new ways of doing things, new ways of using already-existing things. Animals, Plants, and Minerals acquire an utility and value, which were before unexplored.

    To this end, he established a financial system that made credit for setting up new enterprises plentiful, and, when he came to establish the new U. Much of what we can make of our single life—or even imagine making of it—depends on the kind of society around us. The liberty and opportunity that the United States would afford, Hamilton believed with all his fiery intensity, would allow individuals to realize every God-given potential and to become all that they had it within themselves to be. To be sure, even a Bill de Blasio cherishes no such radical fantasies, and if Barack Obama ever flirts with them, he keeps it to himself.

    It began in the Great Depression, which convinced Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia that individuals were too puny, powerless, and insignificant to shape their fates in a world seemingly governed by vast, impersonal forces that only a vast and mighty government could match. Indeed, because FDR thought that the Depression was a crisis of overproduction, he also concluded that the Hamiltonian vision of invention, discovery, and creation had grown obsolete.

    The age of production was over, and the age of redistribution had begun, with government the only fair and wise arbiter of who should get what. With the Depression over, a race riot convinced the mayor that taxpayer dollars still needed to flow into the welfare system, in ever-increasing amounts, to create racial justice.

    Karl Marx was partly right in saying that, when history repeats itself, it happens the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. It stayed so for half a century, until the Reagan administration gradually lowered income-tax rates and made them less unequal. But thereafter, radical redistribution resumed, so that by , according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top-earning 40 percent of households paid Moreover, the array of new taxes concealed within the so-called Affordable Care Act, as well as its income-redistribution subsidies, will further clog the gears of the opportunity machine.

    Nothing Madisonian there. G eorge Washington and many of his fellow Founders believed that a special kind of culture, one that nurtures self-reliance and a love of liberty, was essential to keeping alive the free Constitution over whose creation he had presided. It is possible to demoralize an entire people and stifle their faith in the future and in themselves. The welfare underclass, filled with aggrieved resentment and void of hope, is the most extreme case in point. Nevertheless, despite their material comfort—which includes the latest sneakers, flat-screen TVs, angry rap downloads, junk food galore, and bigger apartments than many middle-class Europeans can afford—the spiritual poverty that besets many of the underclass, the tawdry content of their character, is chilling, and ought to give pause to any supporter of the huge, redistributionist welfare-state project.

    Because man makes the meaning of his life himself, through work, through family, through community, it is not easy for a person kept by government, from womb to tomb, like a gerbil in a cage, to retain a sense of dignity and purpose.

    I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”

    Is this really what we want for him? Nor is it easy for someone branded his victimizer, and taxed unequally to support him and the army of bureaucrats who live by claiming to make sure he gets his due, to retain with confidence his own sense of dignity and purpose. His latest book is The Founders at Home.