Posts tagged: Federalist Papers

Are Angels Watching, or Is the NSA?

By , November 6, 2013 11:51 am

Madison said it best,

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Alex Tabarrok rifs on that theme at Marginal Revolution when he asks Did Obama Spy on Romney? He answers his own question:

No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.

Who knows? As Tabrrok reminds us, the NSA listened in on Angela Merkel’s phone calls. What if Romney called her during his 2012 campaign? In any case, he’s certainly right when he says that “Men are not angels.” Nevertheless, Tabarrok doesn’t think the NSA forwarded any tapes on to the Obama campaign. Still, “Men are not angels,” right?

Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not. Will the next president or the one after that be so virtuous so as to not use this kind of power? I have grave doubts. Men are not angels.

The Nixon administration plumbers broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to gather information to discredit him. They busted into a single file cabinet (pictured). What a bunch of amateurs.
The NSA has broken into millions of file cabinets around the world.

Nixon resigned in disgrace. Who will pay for the NSA break-ins? (Emphasis added)

Blogging the Federalist Papers – #1 (Hamilton)

By , February 4, 2011 5:56 pm

I began blogging the Federalist Papers on January 19, with a post on #47, one of the reading assignments that week for my undergraduate class, American Government and Society. At the time, I had assigned #’s 10, 47, 48, 51, 70, and 78. In the rush of the time, I was only able to blog on #47. Things have settled down now, so I’ll begin in earnest and start at the beginning. Whether you find what I write interesting, I can promise you that the Federalist Papers are just that. And these times that’s a bonus because the Papers are already so essential to understanding the Founding; that they are also a fun read is delightful icing.

By the way, you can find many free copies of the Federalist Papers online in pdf format. For this exercise, I’m using the one put out by Penn State. For those who may not know, the Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the nome de plume Publius.

Hamilton begins #1 with a call for seriousness in the public’s examination of the new Constitution recently drafted in Philadelphia, and he’s not shy in proclaiming the importance of what is at stake:

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

He continues,

. . . a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

Possibly because he feels the moment is so important, he’s also not shy about calling to account those who oppose the ratification of the new document, especially those whose motives maybe be base and who want to make sure they can remain big fish in a small pond because they can’t be sure they’ll be allowed to swim in the big one contemplated by the Constitution. Thus he cautions the public to be aware of

a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

He doesn’t stop there, of course. Hamilton is careful to recognize that not all who oppose the new form of government do so out of base motives, that some, even many, do so “actuated by upright intentions”; indeed, he admits,

Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.

But in admitting this, he concedes no ground. He goes on the criticize the opposition’s “loud . . . declamations and . . . bitter . . . invectives.” And then, in a flourish about the value of good government unjustly stigmatized by people he characterizes has having “an over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people,” he argues that we forget that

the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. . . . that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants. (emphasis supplied)

I think I know what he means and who those words would apply to today. What do you think?

Blogging the Federalist Papers – #47 (Madison)

By , January 19, 2011 10:18 am

I’m reading the Federalist Papers for a class I’m teaching. I won’t write about them in chronological order because I’m teaching them as they relate to what we’re studying at the time. For example, this week we’re studying the three branches of government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Thus, we’ve read Numbers 47, 48, 70, and 78.

In #47, Madison discusses the separation of powers and spends much of his time addressing his opponents’s argument that, he writes, the proposed Constitution violates

the political maxim, that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it
is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in
favor of liberty.

Madison acknowledges the truth upon which “the objection is founded,” but argues, of course, that the charge is ill founded and wrong, appealing first to Montesquieu, then to the constitutions of each of the 13 colonies to prove his point. He ends by writing,

I am fully aware that among the many excellent principles which they exemplify, they carry strong marks of the haste, and still stronger of the inexperience, under which they were framed. It is but too obvious that in some instances the fundamental principle under consideration has been violated by too great a mixture, and even an actual consolidation, of the different powers; and that in no instance has a competent provision been made for maintaining in practice the separation delineated on paper. (emphasis supplied)

In #48, Madison says he will show why the same doesn’t apply to the document he helped create.

Key quote from #47: “where the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.”

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