One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea

One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea

One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea

One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea

Synopsis

In this new, provocative study, Edward Millican argues persuasively that the authors of The Federalist were not merely laying the groundwork for the American system but were setting forth the principles for the creation of a modern nation-state.

Excerpt

Critics agree that The Federalist is a great work of political theory, but they do not agree on what it says. It is venerated as a guide to the mysteries of American government and as a fount of political wisdom in general, but the content of that wisdom is a subject of considerable debate. This celebrated tract is variously regarded as favoring a powerful central government, a weak central government, states' rights, the total eclipse of the states, the rule of special-interest groups, the submersion of special-interest groups, and numerous other mutually contradictory ideas. The work has been quoted on both sides of a great number of heated political controversies, and many diverse factions claim to take inspiration from it. We Americans might find ourselves somewhat at a loss, were we to try to heed the injunction of Machiavelli that for "a religion or a republic...to live long, it must be often brought back to its beginnings." The Federalist is probably the single best source of information we have on the intentions of our Founders, but there seem to be about as many different readings of that volume as there are political sects now jockeying for power.

To definitively decide between these various competing opinions is not a simple task. The present study attempts to clarify the issue by examining the argument of The Federalist in a comprehensive and thorough manner. The full-length consideration given to the work here enables us to distinguish the main theme of the treatise from lesser motifs that have frequently confused matters in previous studies. We will conclude that The Federalist expresses an essentially nationalistic viewpoint. The authors of the great tract presuppose the existence of a tangible, and paramount, American national interest, and they maintain that this interest can be upheld only by an energetic and truly sovereign central regime. This conception of The Federalist is not exactly a novel one. Indeed, it has been endorsed by some very reputable commentators in the past. But it has also been challenged by many others, just as reputable, who have advanced entirely contradictory interpretations of the work.

Before plunging ahead into this controversy, it might be well to specify . . .

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