Bench Memos

The Perennial Publius, part 6

Responding, in Federalist No. 6, to the “visionary” men who believe in “perpetual peace” (Immanuel Kant, call your office?) wherever republican principles or habits of commerce take hold, Alexander Hamilton asks:

“Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? . . . Has commerce hitherto done any thing more than change the objects of war?”

Before they recruit Alexander Hamilton as their latest authority over at the Puffington Host, let it be remembered that he is, after all, an advocate of both republicanism and commerce, and hopeful that America will break the pattern he describes in this essay. Like Jay, Hamilton would reject any aggressive wars just for the “getting” of material advantages, or for the sake of conquest in itself. If a new science of politics can merge republicanism, commerce, and liberalism in due proportions, perhaps a pacific new model for the ages can be produced (novus ordo seclorum, anyone?), a republic strong enough to fight and win wars without being Roman in its ambition to conquer or Dutch in its lust for market share (to use two of Hamilton’s own examples).

But Hamilton is most assuredly no sucker for visions of utopia around the next corner:

“Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?”

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

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