We initiated this site to chronicle our process of discovery in taking a close look at the Founders of this country and the system they left us. At the onset, while none of us were experts in the history of our country (and still aren’t), we had all spent a lot of our lives thinking philosophically about why we believe what we do. These are things we think of as core principles: personal responsibility, good character, and a fairly libertarian view on government. To our way of thinking, rights are inherent, not granted by government, and a right is not a guarantee. I was reminded recently, that not everyone comes from the same set of assumptions and that it’s really tough to communicate without some kind of common ground.
Some months back, in one of my meanderings about the web, I stumbled on a blog by William Hogeland. Over the course of several weeks we engaged in some “polite” discussion on his blog. He finally suggested that we each post on our respective sites to discuss our differences. You can read about Mr. Hogeland, a contributor on The Huffington Post, here.
He did me the courtesy of posting first, giving me the chance to address his commentary. Since I feel no need to joust with him over who is the most intellectually sophisticated blogger, I gladly cede the title to him. I do disagree, however, with his categorization of Ron Chernow’s scholarly books, which Hogeland (an author, himself) dismisses as “pop “ bios.
But that is not germane to this discussion either.
Lest we be considered tendentious and polemical, we plead nolo contendere.
Now that that’s all out of the way, let us proceed to the discussion. Hogeland asserts that despite our being “hard into founder’s thinking,” our conclusions are foregone. (This is interesting, because I, and others, have deduced the same about Mr. Hogeland!) However, he is only right in so far as we are starting from a fundamental premise diametrically opposed to his own (foregone) conclusions.
We do not study the Founders for advice about transportation policy or any other modern day conundrum. There are such things as first principals against which to measure political and other behavior. If one believes, for example, that the end justifies the means, then the breaking of eggs or heads is irrelevant. If one believes that in the tension between liberty and equality, equality always trumps, certain policies follow. The foremost principle that the Founders based the Constitution upon was that rights are given to the people by their Creator and not by their government. This is still a radical concept that a lot of people can’t digest.
Which raises a question, Mr. Hogeland denies there is anything “consistent, and consistently useful for modern policy, to be found in the thoughts of the famous founders,” but says he is “seeking incommensurability, irreducible conflict, tensions (a polite word for train wrecks that haunt (a polite word for wreck) us today… “ Without the hyperbole, just what is it he hopes to find?
But let me be clear, the Founders don’t need me or anyone else to defend them. They can be judged on the merits of their accomplishments as political philosophers and as statesmen, not to mention the small matter of putting their lives and fortunes on the line in an uneven contest they came very close to losing.
And while we are on the subject, Mr. Hogeland dismisses the Federalist papers (not to forget the anti-Federalists) as “not the best guide to understanding either the politics and lives of Madison and Hamilton or how to read the Constitution.” He is certainly entitled to his opinion, but even so, it would seem that the Founders are deserving of a decent respect that seems remarkably lacking in his comments. (After all, they did found the country in which Mr. Hogeland now earns his living by writing about them.)
Mr. Hogeland likes to refer to Washington with derisory allusions and in an earlier comment takes issue with my reference to Washington as a “damn fine man” saying that it “seems to me to throw a big wet blanket over everything that might have made Washington interesting.” So I wonder, since when is heroism uninteresting?
Mr. Hogeland also contends that there is nothing that’s
… anything consistent, and consistently useful for modern policy, to be found in the thoughts of the famous founders.
There are no explicit delineations of law for every possible situation. Although, forgive me for mentioning it, but Hamilton’s Federalist 83 discusses that very issue.
The truth is that the general GENIUS of a government is all that can be substantially relied upon for permanent effects. Particular provisions, though not altogether useless, have far less virtue and efficacy than are commonly ascribed to them; and the want of them will never be, with men of sound discernment, a decisive objection to any plan which exhibits the leading characters of a good government.
Now as to the straw man Mr. Hogeland erected regarding the Founders and elitism. Of course the Founders were an elite group. But there is a difference between being a member of an unusually intelligent and gifted group and being an elitist. For elitism we need look no further than the men and women of the current administration.
As to his comments that Washington would round us all up and torture us for being dissidents, I think Mr. Hogeland is confusing George Washington with Stalin.
Certainly the Founders would have nothing to do with democracy, grassroots or any other kind. Now rebellion was another matter.
However, Mr. Hogeland has an interesting way of looking at things. In the same blog in which he boldly asserts that the Founders were elitists who’d have had nothing to do with the likes of yours truly, he also talks about the “complicated presence of socialism at the founding.”
Somehow, I don’t see the American Revolution as a “workers of the world unite” kind of affair. (The Marxist reference usually refers to communism, but Mr. Hogel likes to flirt with Marxism as a tool for his brand of expository history, so in this context it fits rather nicely.)
But then, the world is an upside down place where proponents of fewer laws, smaller government, and increased personal responsibility are called “conservative.” While those advocating big government, central planning, regulation, and sweeping restrictions on personal freedom are labeled liberal.