Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Anti-Federalists on "Going Rogue"

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read the Federalist Papers and the contemporary responses to them (often referred to as the Anti-Federalist Papers).  I have been slowly and sporadically doing this.  The Federalist Papers, as most students of American politics know, constitute an intellectual defense of the U.S. Constitution and the structure of the kind of centralized federal government, with its appropriate checks and balances, that it outlines.  The preference of the authors of the Federalist Papers was a government that tempered the excesses of dispersed "democracy" through the form of a representative "republic." The Anti-Federalists tended to prefer the more flexible and decentralized structure of a confederation of states.  The Anti-Federalists, we might say, were suspicious of the power of centralized authority in a unitary federal government, even with the introduction of "checks and balances" in the U.S. Constitution.

In other words, I would argue that the Anti-Federalists could be considered the intellectual forbears of the contemporary anti-establishment, anti-elitist, states rights movement in the U.S., i.e. the "Tea Party."  [An aside note: the original "Tea Party" was really a movement against a colonial central authority, Great Britain.  It was not a movement that would have viewed a national, freely-determined representative government of the United States as illegitimate.  "Taxation Without Representation" was the cry of the original Tea Partiers; but modern-day Tea Partiers can't really claim that they have no voice in constituting the "Representation" of their government.  It is a misnomer.  Modern-day Tea Partiers are much more akin to the confederationists of early America; and I believe the authors of the Federalist Papers and the defenders of the federal Constitution would view modern-day Tea Partiers with derision if not contempt, much like they did the Anti-Federalists of their day.]

Back to point ... if modern-day Tea Partiers can be connected to the Anti-Federalists of yore, and if we view Sarah Palin as a representative icon of the modern-day Tea Party movement, wouldn't it be curious to try to see how the Anti-Federalists may have understood Palin?

Well, in reading an Anti-Federalist tract published anonymously in the Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advisor on March 7, 1788, I found a little tidbit that really interested me in relation to the narrative that Sarah Palin has constructed for herself today.

Sarah Palin has positioned herself as "roguish."  I've always been baffled by that, because being a "rogue" has always had a kind of negative association.  Yet, Sarah Palin has embraced that moniker.  As we know, she even titled her first book: Going Rogue.  I think it's also clear that Palin is appropriating the kind of mischievous, anti-establishment side of the definition, as if that is something positive.  But the Anti-Federalists thought of the "rogue" in a very different light.  Here's that little tidbit from the Anti-Federalist piece I mentioned above:

No man of merit can ever be disgraced by office. A rogue in office may be feared in some governments -- he will be respected in none.
I think Sarah Palin, the inheritor and modern-day claimant of the Anti-Federalist intellectual tradition -- though I doubt that she has ever read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers and that she is even aware that her views come out of this tradition -- would be wise to consider the counsel of some of her anti-establishment, confederationist "Founding Fathers" and stay away from the "rogue" label. The risk is that most people will wise up and think of her "going rogue" not as anything truly admirable, but as nothing more than foolish hardheadedness, impulsive and thoughtless contrarianism, and thuggish bullying that also comes with the term. The longer she plays that game, the more it is evident that the risk's negative outcomes are becoming realized in the minds of Americans.


Marco said...

i think commandment 11 in your prior post ties together nicely with this one. good seeing you yesterday--and great talk! very accessible and well thought out. -marco

Eric said...

I agree that the anti-federalists employed a very similar tone to today's Tea Partiers, but let's be clear: none of the Founding generation ever envisioned a federal government like the one we have today, and they would all most certainly object to it.

When James Madison was President he objected to using federal funds to build public roads, because he could find no such Federal authority under the Constitution (which he defended as one of the primary Federalist Paper authors).

No, if the founding fathers were alive, they would all be Tea Partiers... in fact they'd even be the more extreme Ron Paul type of Tea Partiers.

Eric said...

Madison vetoes a Congressional 'roads and bridges' bill on the basis of it being unconstitutional. A very instructive read:

""The power to regulate commerce among the several States" can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress... Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms "common defense and general welfare" embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust."

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