Bench Memos

The Perennial Publius, part 7

Divide et impera must be the motto of every nation, that either hates, or fears us.”  That’s the closing sentence of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 7.  I take back what I said in part 3 of this series.  This would be a shorter sentence, and therefore a kinder one, to tattoo on the forehead of Senator James Webb.  But it must be done in mirror-fashion, like the word “Ambulance” on the front of those vehicles, so that the senator can read it whenever he wishes to gaze upon his statesmanlike visage.


Hamilton is speaking, of course, of the gain to be achieved by the states tightening the bonds of Union via the new Constitution.  But the dictum applies to the people of the United States just as readily as to the states in which they live.  And Hamilton’s calm recognition that some of the nations of the world will either hate or fear us (and perhaps both) makes one think he has absorbed a lesson from Machiavelli’s Prince, where we learn how naïve it is to expect love to keep political interests in check, for “men have less hesitation to offend one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.”  Avoid being hated if you can, Machiavelli teaches, but it is folly not to attend to being feared.  Hamilton would surely agree.  Would any liberal say the same today?


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


Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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