Bench Memos

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The Perennial Publius, part 4


“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting any thing by it.”

That’s John Jay again, in Federalist No. 4. Alexander Hamilton is usually thought to be the hardheaded realist among the founders, but Jay was already one of America’s foremost diplomats, and would go on to further accomplishments in that field. No fool he. Yet Jay no doubt aspired to an America that would differ from “nations in general,” that would not make aggressive war just for the “getting” of whatever it wanted. That was not utopian idealism, but republicanism at its best—and Hamilton shared it too, notwithstanding some remarks of his that we’ll take up later.

Here, though, in America’s infancy, Jay was chiefly worried about other nations’ aggressions on the United States. And so, he concludes: “If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered . . . our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship, than provoke our resentment.”

Now that’s looking forward to a great power. “Go on, bud. Provoke our resentment.”

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

Tags: Franck


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