Anti-Federalist Papers


Collapsing into Dialectic

At this point I want to call attention to an argument Joseph Farrell made in God, History, and Dialectic.  Drawing upon an insight from St Gregory Nazianzus, Farrell asks, “what is the relation of origin, if any, between the people and the mutually opposed organs of federal government? If there be none, then those relationships reduce to merely dialectical oppositions (Farrell 617ff).  The Federalist Papers (no. 10) seek to balance the antagonizing forces by having these agons reduce to a chimerical term, “The People.”

ghdAnd so Farrell concludes,

“The essence of the Anti-Federalist critique of the 1789 constitution then, was that it tended, if one may so put it, to collapse, through the multiplication of governmental agencies and the relations of oppositions that distinguish them, either into perpetual anarchy on the one hand, or into an eventual amalgamation of all powers of government into a new and superintending form of tyrannical simplicity” (618).

Throughout the Anti-Federalist Papers one notes the authors’ fear of the “instability” of the proposed Constitution.  In dialectical terms, this means the unstable government (or branches) must always reduce to the the more stable, albeit more totalizing branch.

Towards a National Anarchism

As Ketcham so nicely observes, “In a truly self-governing society, there would be such dialogue, empathy, and even intimacy that the very distinction between ruler and ruled would disappear” (Ketcham 19).  But this doesn’t mean a pure anarchism where anything goes. The anarchism in question is one where the bureaucratic apparatus of the state is negated, or at least marginalized. The formal structures of a nation remain: the leader (historically a distant monarch), the church, the village–all of these are social bonds that are not necessarily reduced to empirical quanta.  Or rather, they form bonds which themselves are not reducible.

Patrick Henry hints at this real, yet intangible bond, in response to the question of whether a confederation can withstand attack: “I would recur to the American spirit to defend us” (Henry 203). This isn’t bluster.  Such a “spirit” defeated the most powerful army on earth. Indeed, it “secured a territory greater than any European monarch” (201).

Towards a Review

The Structure of the Book Itself

Overall it is hit and miss. Ketcham gives a VERY detailed review of the Constitutional Convention (180 pages).  If you have read The Federalist Papers then you can probably skip it.  He does provide a fine annotated bibliography at the end (this is one of those things that separates good books from great ones).

Summarizing the Anti-Federalist Position

(1) It is agreed that the Articles were defective, but that does not logically prove that the new Constitution is good (Melancton Smith).

(2) The problem of representation:  In any representative government, there must be a proportion between the size of the population and the ones representing that population.  So far, that’s common sense. But when you have a large population, you must either have [1] a small representation, or [2] an extremely large representation.  If [1], then you have oligarchy and tyranny. If [2], you have chaos. Therefore a third position is needed: [3] new republics. Republican government by necessity MUST remain small(ish).

(3)  The problems in the country aren’t so much the fault of the confederation itself, but simply that the people haven’t yet fully recovered from the war (“Federal Farmer” 258).

(4) Further complicating the problem was that paper currency (and all its instabilities) was introduced during the war and the people were only now overcoming that debt system. And it bears noting that the Anti-Federalists were militantly anti-usury (Dewitt 191)..

(5) The constitutional convention was called in secrecy (238).

(6) A very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than by a confederation of Republics (242).

(7) Intermediating structures have been negated.  Congress has direct power over the purse to tax. Previously in agricultural and quasi-anarchist societies, the commune or district mediated the tax burden between the man and government.

(8) Since the number of representatives is so small, the ones who represent will always be part of the monied elite (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Koch brothers, etc).

(9) Interestingly enough, the anti-Federalists appear to reject the idea, quite republican in itself, of the Senate electing the president (252).  They saw the president as always being buddies with the Senators.

(10) The power to tax directly is inversely proportionate to liberty.  The anti-federalists predicted the rise of the IRS.

Conclusions and impressions:

The Federalist ideas aren’t wrong as long as you have a unified people sharing a common bond of love (cf Augustine, City of God, Bk. 19.24).  And if it is a small area, then it should work.  But since self-government is strained (if not impossible) over larger areas, then The Federalist becomes a manifesto for Empire.

As it stood the Anti-Federalist program, while godly and ensuring liberty, was inadequate.  There really wasn’t a way to withstand a foreign invader (though to be fair, invading a forested, hill-country like America, protected by 2,000 miles of ocean, isn’t easy). 



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