Bench Memos

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The Perennial Publius, part 18


In the first of three essays written collaboratively as Publius, Madison and Hamilton begin a tour of ancient and modern confederations in Federalist No. 18, with a view to explaining why they failed and how to avoid their errors. The ancient Greek cities, united off and on by leagues of various sorts, fell out among themselves and became vulnerable to being picked off by neighboring powers. The fatal flaw was the lack of power at the center to govern citizens directly, and to represent the interests of persons rather than states. “Greece . . . would never have worn the chains of Macedon” if not for this “fallacious principle” of confederation.

The lesson of Greece “illustrates the tendency of federal bodies, rather to anarchy among the members, than to tyranny in the head.” The European Union may be learning this lesson, but in entirely the wrong way, by engineering a Brussels-sprouting bureaucratic tyranny. At least that is what I encountered at a small Scottish hotel a few years ago, as I listened to the owner curse the EU as an unelected “Fourth Reich” for its minute intrusions into how he ran his business, down to decreeing how his kitchen was to cook eggs for a guest’s breakfast.

(For explanation of this recurring feature, see here.)

Tags: Franck


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