On Saturday I concluded my blog series on The Federalist. I thank NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez for letting me have my head for this four-month project, so often remote from the politics of the day that is the regular meat and drink around here. Thanks also to readers who indulged this fancy and took an interest in what I had to say. When I began the series, I thought I might just pull out a pithy quotation here or there, and I doubted whether I would have something to say on each and every one of the 85 essays of Publius. But once I got going, I thought, why not every one? Yes, on one or two occasions it was a strain to find something worth saying–but on most days it was a matter of deciding what interesting aspect of a particular number I would have to neglect. And so, while my blog posts constitute no exhaustive treatment of the whole Federalist (which would take a work far longer than what it analyzes), I did try to do more than cherry-pick interesting quotations from Publius. As my students and I discovered in the class I taught this spring (which ended long before the series here did), there really is a coherent flow and structure to the essays that flowed from the pens of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison–which is much harder to see if the Federalist is merely “sampled” with a handful of essays on specific “topics” a teacher wants to cover.
One or two kind readers have told me that my series of itinerant observations makes a useful companion to The Federalist, for teaching or for private study. This is very flattering to hear. I will be content if my commentaries–peppered with references to contemporary events that in many cases will be soon forgotten–draw readers back to Publius “himself,” to read and reread what remains the most impressive American contribution to political thought in history. As I’ve tried to show, the essays are not infallible either as political science or as guides to constitutional interpretation. What they always are is interesting, not just historically in some antiquarian sense but politically, as trusty guides to our thinking about our political order. In the first essay of The Federalist, Publius invites us not to think about him but to think with him. That’s still a good suggestion to follow.
Kathryn and the NRO website wizards have plans to make the Publius series available in some orderly fashion here somewhere–some time in June, I believe. I will at most touch it up for typos and obvious solecisms that need correcting, and otherwise leave the original entries as they first appeared. Whether “The Perennial Publius” will have life in any other guise in future, I can’t say at this point. If it does, I’ll be sure to announce it here.