Patriotic Political Science

By Schaub, Diana | The Public Interest, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Patriotic Political Science


Schaub, Diana, The Public Interest


America was "founded on a rejection of Eurocentrism." So says political scientist James W. Ceaser, and he offers the following prooftext, from the Federalist Papers:

The world may politically, as well as geographically, be divided into four parts.... Unhappily for the other three, Europe, by her arms and by her negotiations, by force and by fraud, has in different degrees extended her dominion over them all. Africa, Asia, and America have successively felt her domination. The superiority she has long maintained has tempted her to plume herself as the mistress of the world, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit. Men admired as profound philosophers have in direct terms attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America - that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the European. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother moderation. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!

This, the concluding paragraph of Federalist 11, has long been a favorite passage of mine. In his new book, Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought,(*) Ceaser confirms that my instincts were right. His explication of the passage, which he calls "one of the most splendid texts in American literature," makes clear precisely what is at stake in Hamilton's appeal. While Hamilton stirs up the pride of Americans, it is not a parochial or ethnocentric pride. Eurocentrism will receive its comeuppance - but not by the rise of a new centrism (for example, today's Afrocentrism). Instead, this mistress of a supposedly slavish world will be brought to recognize the brotherhood of humankind. The accomplishment of American Union will "vindicate the honor of the human race." As Ceaser explains:

The American experiment interests the world not just because it may humble the European and cast doubt on the idea of a hierarchy of human varieties, but also because it offers an alternative account of the primary source of differentiation in human affairs. The most important differences derive not from distinctions among biological varieties of man, but from differences caused by moral and political factors. The political regime can be decisive. All peoples could take heart in an American success, because it would show what is possible for them to accomplish by political action.

The founding of America is simultaneously a vindication of universality - the universality of a common human nature - and a vindication of difference (or particularity), since the exercise of the human capacity for freedom takes the form of national self-determination, the choice to form a distinct body politic with a distinct form of government. Ceaser stresses that implicit in the thought and action of the founders is a vindication of political science as well; it is the discipline best able to understand and guide the articulation of the universal and the particular.

The work of vindication, however, is never done. While Hamilton's spirited vision of commercial empire and ascendancy in the hemisphere has been abundantly realized, older brothers are notoriously unteachable. Instead of learning moderation, this dominating brother of ours has exchanged dismissive contempt for corrosive hatred. The contemporary version of those "profound philosophers" mentioned by Hamilton are literary critics and postmodern intellectuals. And they continue to associate America with degeneration - no longer physical, but spiritual. …

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