August 3, 2010

We Need A New American Energy (Madison’s Federalist #37)


IN REVIEWING the defects of the existing Confederation, and showing that they cannot be supplied by a government of less energy than that before the public, several of the most important principles of the latter fell of course under consideration.

Madison opens Federalist #37 pronouncing how in his estimation the Confederacy lacked the energy necessary for an effective government. Here he begs the question of what he thinks government should be doing, but we know from his and Hamilton’s other numbers that he’s writing of Empire. Today we who know how the American Empire turned out are bound to read this with a different eye. But we can agree that a new energy is needed. Today’s kleptocracy has all too much energy where it comes to the aggrandizement of the corporations, including using hijacked public resources (the military) to launch private wars to further this looting. Meanwhile the citizenry must deplore the complete enervation of the public power where it comes to moderating the ravages of corporate psychopaths and gangsters. Here there is no government to speak of. We see only the void left behind by the abdication of the public realm. As Hobbes would say we are cast back into the state of nature, and it is now our right and prerogative to defend ourselves.
So some of us write and think, trying to figure out what to do. We are resuming the position and mission of the Americans of Madison’s time, and his words in justification can help with ours today. Madison salutes the convention and describes the mission of those seeking a new energy for a freedom-loving community.

It is but just to remark in favor of the latter description, that as our situation is universally admitted to be peculiarly critical, and to require indispensably that something should be done for our relief, the predetermined patron of what has been actually done may have taken his bias from the weight of these considerations, as well as from considerations of a sinister nature. The predetermined adversary, on the other hand, can have been governed by no venial motive whatever. The intentions of the first may be upright, as they may on the contrary be culpable. The views of the last cannot be upright, and must be culpable. But the truth is, that these papers are not addressed to persons falling under either of these characters. They solicit the attention of those only, who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it.

That’s the way it is today. We have reached such a critical time. Madison’s warning here is reminiscent of that in Hamilton’s #1. He acknowledges the potential moral and spiritual pitfalls besetting the intrepid path. It’s an admonition for the ages. But even more clear is the malevolence of those who oppose what history and the spirit decree as necessary. Out of greed, out of sadism, out of cowardice, from wherever their will to crush the human soul springs, they “cannot be upright, and must be culpable”, as Madison says.
Who is the fated audience?

Persons of this character will proceed to an examination of the plan submitted by the convention, not only without a disposition to find or to magnify faults; but will see the propriety of reflecting, that a faultless plan was not to be expected. Nor will they barely make allowances for the errors which may be chargeable on the fallibility to which the convention, as a body of men, were liable; but will keep in mind, that they themselves also are but men, and ought not to assume an infallibility in rejudging the fallible opinions of others.

With equal readiness will it be perceived, that besides these inducements to candor, many allowances ought to be made for the difficulties inherent in the very nature of the undertaking referred to the convention.

Just as the original convention’s job was difficult and often obscure to the masses at first, so must ours be.

The novelty of the undertaking immediately strikes us. It has been shown in the course of these papers, that the existing [consolidated] Confederation is founded on principles which are fallacious; that we must consequently change this first foundation, and with it the superstructure resting upon it. It has been shown, that the other confederacies which could be consulted as precedents have been vitiated by the same erroneous principles [The European citizenry is being liquidated even more quickly than we in America; how long can Scandinavia hold out?], and can therefore furnish no other light than that of beacons, which give warning of the course to be shunned, without pointing out that which ought to be pursued [Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, now Greece, Germany, the UK, soon Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium]. The most that the convention could do in such a situation, was to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own; and to provide a convenient mode of rectifying their own errors, as future experiences may unfold them.

What are we to avoid? Exactly what our anti-federalist forerunners warned us against: consolidation of power at the top, concentration of wealth, the imperial impulse, the deliverance of the economy into the hands of banksters and corporations. All this must be swept away in the ethical whirlwind.
Having exalted the potential energy of a federalist government, Madison contemplates the difficulty of harmonizing energy with stability and liberty. These comprise an inescapable trilemma. Even where the people agree as one general will, the three can never be simultaneously maximized. There must always be trade-offs. But as Madison and Hamilton have demonstrated so elaborately in these pieces, there are also harmonies which blend at different levels of government. I advocate maximizing liberty and stability by investing the vast majority of government energy at the community level. I expect that as more people realize how the oil-driven debt kleptocracy has reached its dead end, more will come back around to this wholesome primal view of community.
This could be the answer to the original sin of all consolidated, centralized politics and economy, a sour note Madison and Hamilton fail to elaborate, how the depredation of greed and wealth must always upend the trilemma. It’s a law of history that where elites monopolize society’s wealth, and hijack and maximize the energy of government to wage class war from above, there can exist neither liberty nor stability. In that case all these words and concepts are turned upside down, shaken and rent apart.
Now the beleaguered fugitive citizen cries out, “Liberty? For whom! I’m whipped and riven and enclosed. What hideous Satan has hijacked justice to tell me that because I had the misfortune to be born too late and not be born rich, that I must bow before another? That I must “work for” another, when my human right calls out for the wholesome work of the land? The homestead! Who says I must perish in my soul in order not to perish of sickness and hunger, and that I must live sick and hungry anyway, that I must die of disease and starvation anyway? Is that the “liberty” you dangle before me? It’s a mirage and a fraud, and I renounce it. Where liberty has been raped and killed, I’ll seek the vengeance of justice…..
“Whose stability? Do I rampage across the countryside as a vandal, kicking down towns, scattering polities, pimping laws, prostituting education, corrupting truth, smothering all of freedom’s space for action and movement, all peace and time for thought? I wanted nothing but to live in peace but have been chased and nettled as by a swarm of hornets. So if I cannot have peace, if I’m doomed to eternal war. I’ll wage it back at those who have so relentlessly assaulted me, with all the hate and viciousness they first mustered against us…..
“So there’s the only energy left in this world of war. There’s no specific energy of government; there’s only the kinetic rage of feudal war. For the moment in most places its physical violence is at a lull, while it rages all the more ferociously in every sublimated realm, of politics, of administration, the media, academia, the law, the culture. If there’s ever again to be a community of energy, stability, liberty, the people will have to recreate and win these out of their own feral power, for we are once again naked men scrabbling over the primeval rocks. The enemies of humanity have dragged us back to that barbarism. To once again rise to civilization, we must smash the barbarians of post-civilization. That’s the energy the peril of the time must summon.”
One way or another, the energy is now completely outside the law. All its visible manifestations are on the side of the criminals who have exiled all stability and liberty to the death zone of commodification, where all human values go to be strangled.
Would Madison recognize this world? I hope not. I hope he’d recoil in horror and say, “That’s not what I had in mind at all.” At any rate, we who know this horror must take all necessary action. So we tread the path, resume the lost American Revolution, find our way to resume the Convention.


  1. If only there was a way to tell the truth to the masses so they would understand. The simple truth. The truth about their future. The truth about the need for them to ACT NOW.

    Comment by chas — August 4, 2010 @ 12:53 am

  2. There’s probably a way. We just need to keep trying things until something sticks.

    And, it takes time. When you have the right message, you need to keep plugging away at it. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

    If we’re right, and unfortunately we are, as the facts keep piling up, the crimes become ever more manifest, while everyone’s circumstance continues to deteriorate, the truth can’t help becoming conscious.

    Then we’ll see what happens.

    Comment by Russ — August 4, 2010 @ 2:58 am

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