Revisiting the Wisdom of Our Founders
When I arrived at West Point, I was issued three items, among others, vital to serving my country: a uniform, a rifle, and a copy of The Federalist Papers. This collection of essays, written by some of the greatest minds among our Founders – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay – remains a massive store of wisdom to which I often return. It is a most valuable resource, along with our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, available to any American committed to upholding liberty and to understanding the principles of our founding. Even today, with so much having changed since the heady days in which they were written, these prudential writings are invaluable to dealing with the challenges we face as a nation.
Federalist No. 10, written by James Madison, is the subject of this post and particularly instructional to our sharply divided country.
The essay hinges on the problem of factionalism, of tribalism. In any democracy where our essential freedoms are secured, there will undoubtedly be many different factions and interest groups vying for power. As Madison writes, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire,” meaning that factionalism tends to be a permanent fixture of a free nation.
This principle continues to hold true today. In fact, the divisions between our political parties, and even the divisions within them, are perhaps the sharpest they have been in decades. Such divisions are exacerbated by social media, by political and ideological bias in our mainstream media, by a commitment to activism rather than education by too many of our teachers, and much more. The far Left’s response to this is to empower the federal government with more power to mandate that we all think and act according to their narrow – and all too often, for lovers of logic, contradictory – set of values and to root out all other ideas. Their mission is to co-opt our cultural institutions and use them as weapons to punish anyone who thinks differently than they do. They seek to teach our students to universally and without reasoning hold the same poisonous positions, rather than to think critically. They essentially favor the destruction of liberty, of free thought and speech, in order to serve what they see as their warped idea of the common good.
Faced with this loss of freedom, what are conservatives who are genuinely committed to American principles to do? Do we charge in, embrace these same tactics, and crush the liberties enshrined by our founding so that our vision of the common good might at least prevail?
Madison’s response to this question is instructive for all. No, we should not seek to end factionalism by crushing liberty – such a remedy would be worse than the disease. Nor should we entrust the power to adjudicate these disagreements solely to our government. Madison points out that “it is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good.” What Madison favors instead, and indeed, what every American who wishes to see their freedoms secured should favor, is the blueprint of government detailed in our Constitution: A republic that limits the power of the federal government and provides further checks and balances within it, and which leaves state and local issues to be decided by state and local legislatures. It should foster diversity of thought driving toward the preservation of our republic.
The Trump Administration’s focus on deregulation directly reflected this understanding of liberty and freedom. The result was four years of unparalleled economic prosperity for all Americans. We disentangled the United States from international agreements, such as the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), which did not serve the interests of the American people and instead subordinated their interests to the wishes of unaccountable, supranational bodies.
Such agreements were entered into without the consent of the American people, driven instead by interested factions who thought their own “wisdom” placed them above the people, whom they viewed as uninformed. And where it made sense to utilize the full power of the federal government, as with Operation Warp Speed, we did so. America is now the most vaccinated nation on earth. It will likely be back to its full economic force by late summer directly because of the Trump Administration’s “Warp Speed” drive to have a vaccine approved and ready for the American people more quickly than ever before. We sought our vision of the common good unashamedly, but without resorting to fraud, deceit, and the heavy hand of censorship and canceling.
The importance of our Constitution, and its effects on the proper functioning of our government, runs through the core of those issues for which the ACLJ is committed to fighting. In continuing to hold the Biden Administration accountable for its foolish attempts to revive the failed Iran deal, in holding them accountable for violating the Taylor Force Act and sending money and aid to support Palestinian terror inflicted upon Israel, and in fighting against the unconscionable practice of using American tax dollars to fund the abortion industry, it is clear that through its work, the ACLJ is committed to honoring the wisdom Madison so artfully articulated during our nation’s founding.
When I served as a Captain in the Army, I patrolled the Iron Curtain—the dividing line between oppression and freedom. Others have sacrificed much more for every American to have the freedom to hold beliefs and express opinions with which I may vehemently disagree. If we are to secure liberty for the American people, we must embrace anew the constitutional principles upon which our republic depends. Otherwise, the factionalism that has plagued and polarized our nation will only continue to worsen, and we will look more like the other side of that “Curtain.”