May 8, 2014


Alexander Hamilton: Conservative Statesman? : a review of The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, Michael P. Federici (George W. Carey, 5/08/14, Imaginative Conservative)

[A]lthough he was influenced by various political theorists, Hume and Montesquieu being among the most notable, Federici concludes that he does not fit comfortably into any school of political thought.

The character and foundations of Hamilton's political thought are apparent, however, from Federici's revealing treatment of Hamilton's imagination, in which Federici employs Irving Babbitt's distinction between the "idyllic imagination," evidenced in the thought and approaches of both Rousseau and Bacon, and the "moral imagination" that fashioned Burke's thinking. Federici offers compelling reasons to believe that Hamilton's imagination was akin to Burke's.

Hamilton, for instance, rejected "the idea that human nature is malleable," which, in turn, contributed mightily to his realism "about the possibilities of politics." He "was not enamored with the wisdom of the people or with plebiscitary forms of democracy" and, along with Marshall and Washington, he saw an imperative need for "constitutional checks and restraints" in order to control the "will to power."

Yet his "moral and political realism...the product of an imagination imbued with Christian and Classical realism regarding the human condition" clearly did not prevent him from advocating change. Indeed, Federici remarks, "few Americans did more than Hamilton to change the nation's political and economic institutions." But lasting and beneficial change or reform for Hamilton, as for Burke, could only take place "within the parameters of a structure of reality...defined by historical experience."

As Federici shows, these views and assumptions, among others, serve to highlight the basic differences between Hamilton's views and those of Jefferson (the latter deriving from Jefferson's "idyllic imagination"). These differences, not surprisingly, manifest themselves in their respective attitudes toward the Jacobins and the French Revolution. Federici points out that Jefferson, even after the culmination the French Revolution, could write, "The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the context, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood?" Hamilton, on the other hand, condemned the revolution along the same lines as Burke and concluded that for "a deluded, an abused, a plundered, a scourged and oppressed people," the Revolution has left "not even the shadow of liberty."

Posted by at May 8, 2014 4:43 PM

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