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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10380/classic-rothbard-jeffersonian-or-hamiltonian/

Classic Rothbard: Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian?

July 31, 2009 by

Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian? Every college student, indeed every literate person, is expected to choose up sides and pin a label on himself in the Great Debate. Most people today consider themselves as Jeffersonians. Groups as diverse as the States’ Rights (or Dixiecrat) movement and the Communists consider themselves heirs to the Jeffersonian mantle. At one and the same time, conservative southerners refer to themselves as “Jeffersonian Democrats,” while the leading revolutionary Marxist school in the country is called the “Jefferson School of Social Science.” Amidst this welter of confusion, to find the true picture of Jefferson the man and political philosopher is an extraordinarily difficult task. FULL ARTICLE

{ 31 comments }

TC July 31, 2009 at 10:29 am

Speaking of Rothbard, it’s been a few years since I read “America’s Great Depression” but I seem to remember Rothbard saying that reported GDP numbers weren’t accurate because they included government spending (and government spending ultimately can only be derived from forfeited capital from citizens.) Maybe the charts and numbers are out there and I’m just ignorant of their existance, but it seems that nobody publishes an Austrian or Rothbardian perspective of what the real GDP number is. I suspect these charts would give a much more accurate perspective on America’s financial trouble.

Anyone care to clarify or expand on this issue, or tell me my memory of Rothbard’s perspective is wrong? Thanks!

Abhilash Nambiar July 31, 2009 at 10:32 am

“to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and when government becomes destructive of that end, the people have the right to change the form of government accordingly.”

This statement to me screams out democracy. If the majority decides property rights have to be protected that is democracy. If the majority decides to ‘steal from the rich.’ That is also democracy.

Thomas Jefferson supported democracy, even if he did not use the term, no wonder he is popular even today. But whatever made him think that people with the power to vote will choose a government that governs the least, or upholds his views on natural rights? They may or may not.

Hamilton on the other hand wanted a strong and prosperous state, using the then existing super power Great Britain as the template. That approach has its many disadvantages. But between the two of them, I will choose Hamilton.

Both their approaches are ‘the middle of the road’ approach, which Mises showed leads to socialism. But Jefferson’s approach would have taken a more shorter path than Hamilton’s I think, although I am sure neither of them would have wanted that.

danny July 31, 2009 at 11:46 am

Abhilash Nambiar

“”to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and when government becomes destructive of that end, the people have the right to change the form of government accordingly.”

This statement to me screams out democracy. If the majority decides property rights have to be protected that is democracy. If the majority decides to ‘steal from the rich.’ That is also democracy.”

You may hear screaming, but I don’t believe it is necessarily the scream of an unlimited democracy as you conclude…

The statement says governments derive their “just” powers. It doesn’t say governments derive unjust powers. There is nothing just in stealing, no matter the number of votes.

It also says these just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. Consent can be given by an individual only — a group cannot consent for me.

Russ July 31, 2009 at 12:32 pm

danny wrote:

“You may hear screaming, but I don’t believe it is necessarily the scream of an unlimited democracy as you conclude…

The statement says governments derive their “just” powers. It doesn’t say governments derive unjust powers. There is nothing just in stealing, no matter the number of votes.”

Let’s get real here. Jefferson was neither a social democrat (Kuehnelt-Leddihn called him an “agrarian Romantic” who believed in a “natural aristoi”), nor an anarcho-capitalist. I believe we got what Jefferson and the other statesmen of his day intended, which was, as Franklin quipped “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The problem is, quite simply, that we couldn’t.

Personally, when it comes to size of government, I’m a Jeffersonian. When it comes to thoughts on democracy, I’m more and more being swayed to the Hamiltonian side. The “will of the people” is not always right, and democracy does not always lead to the most liberal outcome (in the classical sense of the word “liberal”). Once people figure out they can vote themselves other peoples’ money, the jig is up.

Gregory Campeau July 31, 2009 at 12:51 pm

“Once people figure out they can vote themselves other peoples’ money, the jig is up.”

Russ, if this is true, and I believe it is, then why should we be swayed toward Hamilton any more than we might be toward Jefferson. In either case there is a government and power and, necessarily, theft.

danny July 31, 2009 at 1:04 pm

“Let’s get real here.”

Russ, I am not sure what you believe I was not real about.

The words in the Declaration are wonderful, and precise. This is what I was commenting on. Certainly, there were some of the founding generation who only wanted to take the place of tyranny from overseas with tyranny from home. Certainly, the words were never put into action — not even on day one. And certainly, when he had the chance to put his words into deeds, as president, Jefferson proved to be mediocre at best in his following of this philosophy. But I did not comment on any of this.

So where was I not “real”?

Russ July 31, 2009 at 1:27 pm

@Gregory Campeau:

I am not an anarcho-capitalist. I’ve read fairly deeply into the theory (I have Rothbard, Hoppe, David Friedman, the Tannahills, etc. in my library), and I can see the appeal, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that it could really work. So I agree that, in a more “Hamiltonian” world (whatever that means), we would still have taxation (theft), but I believe that it is a necessary evil. I look on “reasonable” taxation as a weakened form of a bacterial strain; it makes me a little sick, but it keeps the full-fledged strain at bay.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn says that in a democracy, we are doomed to mediocrity. I believe there’s really no debating this; he was right. The bell curve plus democracy dictates that mediocre voters will favor mediocre politicians, and those mediocre politicians will win. And that’s what we get, when the people aren’t fooled by exceptional demagogues, which is even worse. Something like monarchy, which is what Hamilton and Kuehnelt-Leddihn favored, would give us more of a chance of getting a truly exceptional man as a ruler; like Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunately, it would also give us a chance of getting a Nero or a Commodus. But, hey, Hitler gained his power through the democratic process, so I’m not sure monarchy is any worse. At least we’d have a chance in hell of getting a truly liberal government, which we don’t have now.

Russ July 31, 2009 at 2:11 pm

danny wrote:

“Russ, I am not sure what you believe I was not real about.”

I interpreted your post as saying that the Declaration of Independence is forwarding what is essentially anarcho-capitalism. If that is what you meant, I think that your interpretation is completely unhistorical. If you could come up with evidence that even one signer believed that a government had no right to tax without the *anonymous* consent of the governed, I would be incredibly surprised. The battle cry of the Revolution, “No taxation without representation”, indicates that the Founders considered taxation as being consented to as long as the citizens were represented in the democratic body that controlled taxation, such as Parliament or Congress.

Abhilash Nambiar July 31, 2009 at 2:38 pm

danny wrote:

‘You may hear screaming, but I don’t believe it is necessarily the scream of an unlimited democracy as you conclude…’

That is correct. However limited and unlimited are subjective terms. What is the process of deciding the limit? A vote? Then you have an unlimited democracy.

What if you a body of unelected people deciding on the limit? Certainly that works out better. Well who appoints them? People in power. Which means people who are elected. Now you have something resembling a republic.

But over time people may prefer a democratic organization that is more responsive to their needs and then the republic will dissolve. Which is what happened in the US when senators started to get elected. Limited democracy gives way to unlimited democracy. I am not sure if Jefferson understood that or appreciated the consequences of it.

Had Thomas Jefferson got his way instead of Alexander Hamilton, I think Thomas DiLorenzo, might as well be writing a book called ‘Jefferson’s Curse’. Because socialists would be running the show in Jefferson’s name.

danny July 31, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Russ

Thank you for clarifying. I will try again: I believe it is likely that most if not all signers of the Declaration had the desire to merely change the location of the tyrant – as Mel Gibson said in “The Patriot” (something like) why should I fight to exchange one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away. So I agree with you, the intent of most, if not all, was likely not for real freedom for the masses.Even Washington raised an army to put down a tax rebellion.

I go back to the words – not that the document may have been only a trojan horse used as a means to a different end – all men are created equal, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. The words make clear – no one is sovereign over another individual.

Abhilash

The limit is on the initiation on the use of force. And I don’t want to debate the extremes of what this means. Let’s start by eliminating the obvious – that would be enough for me in my lifetime.

danny July 31, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Russ

Thank you for clarifying. I will try again: I believe it is likely that most if not all signers of the Declaration had the desire to merely change the location of the tyrant – as Mel Gibson said in “The Patriot” (something like) why should I fight to exchange one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away. So I agree with you, the intent of most, if not all, was likely not for real freedom for the masses.Even Washington raised an army to put down a tax rebellion.

I go back to the words – not that the document may have been only a trojan horse used as a means to a different end – all men are created equal, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. The words make clear – no one is sovereign over another individual.

Abhilash

The limit is on the initiation on the use of force. And I don’t want to debate the extremes of what this means. Let’s start by eliminating the obvious – that would be enough for me in my lifetime.

danny July 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Russ

Thank you for clarifying. I will try again: I believe it is likely that most if not all signers of the Declaration had the desire to merely change the location of the tyrant – as Mel Gibson said in “The Patriot” (something like) why should I fight to exchange one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away. So I agree with you, the intent of most, if not all, was likely not for real freedom for the masses.Even Washington raised an army to put down a tax rebellion.

I go back to the words – not that the document may have been only a trojan horse used as a means to a different end – all men are created equal, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. The words make clear – no one is sovereign over another individual.

Abhilash

The limit is on the initiation on the use of force. And I don’t want to debate the extremes of what this means. Let’s start by eliminating the obvious – that would be enough for me in my lifetime.

Russ July 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm

danny wrote:

“The words make clear – no one is sovereign over another individual.”

You are viewing the Declaration through an anarcho-capitalist lens that did not exist at the time. I believe that Jefferson was not trying to “pull a fast one” by using words that he did not mean. I believe that he believed that, if men have representation in a democracy, they *are* sovereign over themselves. You are, of course, free to disagree with this assessment of representative democracy, or with my assessment of Jefferson, but I believe that this is what Jefferson meant.

The other thing I think you forget is that the Declaration of Independence is not a legal contract, such as the Constitution or the Articles of Confederation. It was just a notice to the British Empire, and the rest of the world, that they no longer considered themselves British citizens. Its words are not binding.

RWW July 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

The other thing I think you forget is that the Declaration of Independence is not a legal contract, such as the Constitution or the Articles of Confederation.

None of those documents is a legitimate contract.

Gil August 1, 2009 at 1:32 am

“It was just a notice to the British Empire, and the rest of the world, that they no longer considered themselves British citizens. Its words are not binding.” – Russ.

“None of those documents is a legitimate contract.” – RWW.

So Americans are British subjects then?

Gil August 1, 2009 at 1:33 am

“It was just a notice to the British Empire, and the rest of the world, that they no longer considered themselves British citizens. Its words are not binding.” – Russ.

“None of those documents is a legitimate contract.” – RWW.

So Americans are British subjects then?

P.M.Lawrence August 1, 2009 at 3:41 am

Danny wrote “Certainly, there were some of the founding generation who only wanted to take the place of tyranny from overseas with tyranny from home. Certainly, the words were never put into action — not even on day one.”

Rubbish. The Loyalists were treated that way before, during and even after the American War of Independence (being massacred, exiled and expropriated, then having the compensation and amnesty negotiated in the peace treaty effectively withheld – some even suffered acts of attainder afterwards).

Russ wrote ‘The battle cry of the Revolution, “No taxation without representation”, indicates that the Founders considered taxation as being consented to as long as the citizens were represented in the democratic body that controlled taxation, such as Parliament or Congress’.

No, it was just a rhetorical cloak for doing what they intended to do anyway. They ceased negotiations just when that was approaching being offered (the Galloway Plan).

Gil asked of earlier comments, “So Americans are British subjects then?”

Any argument that ostensibly legitimates making them US citizens makes them British subjects. There’s a reductio ad absurdum built into any claim of legitimacy for their new arrangements by the rebels; anything that makes a “USA” or even individual rebel states justified, also justifies British claims even more since you can take the same “the people” measure and use it to get a majority (in the British Empire) in favour of being British – and you can’t pick and choose a part to count separately without allowing further separation from that part, so the states and the USA don’t have any right to count their own inhabitants as “theirs” (and particularly not to manufacture a majority of those by the above mentioned massacres and exiling of Loyalists, along with the intimidation and “chilling effect” on any that remained). It’s just an exercise in choosing the rules to suit themselves.

RWW August 1, 2009 at 8:11 am

So Americans are British subjects then?

I have no idea how this question is even remotely related to what I pointed out.

steverino August 1, 2009 at 1:28 pm

My favorite quote about the man on the $2 bill, the $10 bill, AND the nickel is from Charles Dickens, who wrote in the novel “Martn Chuzzlewit:

“–on noble patriot, with many followers–who dreamed of Freedom in the arms of a slave and waking sold her children and his in the markets.”

Hi Ho…

Curtis Zwick August 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Charles Dickens, though an author who’s works I enjoy was no fan of markets at all. His idea of freedom was more likely the freedom to do what the State tells one to do. For the “greater good” of course.
Based on that I can’t really give any credence to his opinion on the subject of Jefferson.

steverino August 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Well, OK, friend.

Don’t give his “opinion” any “credence” if you “can’t really” because Dickens’ ideas about markets and freedom don’t “likely” agree with yours.

Just that you came to the discussion with an open mind is all I could ask.

Hi Ho!

Russ August 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Gil wrote:
“”It was just a notice to the British Empire, and the rest of the world, that they no longer considered themselves British citizens. Its words are not binding.” – Russ.

“None of those documents is a legitimate contract.” – RWW.

So Americans are British subjects then?”

Huh?

Are you trying to say that if the Declaration of Independence is not a binding legal contract, then we are still citizens of the British Empire??? Non sequitur, anyone? The Constitution can be rightly construed as a contract, sure. But the Declaration is just what the name implies, a declaration; not a contract. How that makes us British citizens, I have no idea.

Gil August 2, 2009 at 1:41 am

Well if you two (Russ and RWW) say certain document aren’t ‘legally binding’ then the property in question still belongs to the previous owners. If the Declaration of Independence isn’t legally binding then American haven’t achieved independence. It would be akin to saying if someone writes you a letter that he wants to own your car, he steal your car, is able to command enough force that you aren’t going to physically get it back and he write up his own ‘Certificate of Ownership’ over the car so others think the guy legitimately owns the car, would he then have rightful legal ownership of the car? Therefore should the Declaration of Independence, the War of Independence and Articles of Confederation indeed be considered all perfectly legally and legtimate for the U.S.A. to be legal and legitimate?

P.M.Lawrence August 2, 2009 at 3:27 am

Gil, it seems perfectly obvious that the revolting Americans had the right to declare themselves independent, and to take anything exigently or instrumentally necessary to implementing that, but that since they could perfectly well have moved west to unclaimed territory or to lands they could have bought from the Indians, or southwest to territory under other European powers, or even completely out of the Americas – they had no right to any part of the thirteen colonies or any thing in those beyond what they owned free and clear, of which land was not a part. Contrariwise, by remaining in place, they were agreeing by conduct to British claims on them as tenants as well as British claims on the other stuff that Britain or the British undoubtedly owned, that the revolting Americans simply stole (having neither exigent nor instrumental necessity for them). Anything else is the argument of Ogden Nash’s the Japanese, which I have up at my website (follow the link through my name at the head of this post).

RWW August 2, 2009 at 3:53 am

The Constitution can be rightly construed as a contract, sure.

Oh? Between what parties is it a contract?

Russ August 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm

RWW wrote:

“”The Constitution can be rightly construed as a contract, sure.”

Oh? Between what parties is it a contract?”

Between the US government, and the citizens of the US, spelling out that the US government only has certain rights while the rest remain the rights of the states or the people.

And, please, save the canard that you did not sign the contract. Neither did I.

Russ August 2, 2009 at 2:47 pm

@Gil:

I fail to see why people need to have a contract to exercise the fundamental right of secession. Who would the second party to such a contract be? The government being seceded from?? No, the Declaration is just that; a declaration. It is a *statement* that the people of the former British American colonies considered themselved as seceded from the British Empire. It is not a contract, because a contract is not required to free oneself from one’s oppressors, any more than a slave requires a contract with his former slaveholder to free himself from slavery.

RWW August 2, 2009 at 7:52 pm

[A contract b]etween the US government, and the citizens of the US…

And, please, save the canard that you did not sign the contract.

Canard? A canard is, by definition, a false statement. Are you implying that I actually have signed the Constitution? Assuming that this is not what you are arguing, are you telling me that a contract can bind someone who has not signed it?

GeoffreyTransom August 3, 2009 at 1:06 am

@Abhilash Nambiar: you have cited selectively from the DoI.

I prefer to see the nascent anarchism in the words

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

That paragraph is, to my mind, deliberately vague as to the FORM of the ‘Guards for their future security”. Given Jefferson’s precision in wordcraft, and other things he wrote about the inability of a group of men to acquire rights that a single man does not possess, I see the anarchism writ.

In any case, let’s move on from the opinions of an 18th-century slave-owner with a superiority complex and a silver tongue (or pen).

We should not be let the rhetoric cloud the fact that he was a soi-disant aristocrat, even if he also advocated periodic rebellion. That said, he was better than Washington. Sam Adams, or Hamilton (but Paine is best).

That said, I use Jeffersonian aphorisms all the time (my fave being a paraphrase – since I’m agnostic at best)…

“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility, against every form of tyranny held over the mind of man”

becomes

“I have sworn eternal hostility against every form of tyranny”.

And because patriotism is stupid tribal nationalism…

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”

becomes

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants”

@Russ: you think that some bunch of self-styled nobles can simply “sign” on behalf of “the people”? That’s your idea of a contract?

Cool – I will head down to a car dealership and sign you up for a car that I will subsequently drive on your behalf. I’m pretty noble (on a good day).

As Spooner, Rothbard and others pointed out well before me, the consitution is not binding on anyone except those who signed it. To pretend otherwise is to believe in slavery.

That may not change our day to day relationship with the State, but that’s not the point: simply saying “Massah gots him a gun, Rastus – bes’ you jes’ stay a slave” does not imply that Rastus should endorse his slavery. Likewise, the fact that the State has death squads and armed goons playing Darth Vader dressup, does not mean that I accept it.

Government is theft, fraud, slavery and murder, wrought by professional parasites (who I believe are a separate subspecies – homo cheneyensis – looks like human, but 100% pure sociopath).

Government has no net benefit: its supposed market-failure remediation (for common defence, for example) is outweighed by its tendency to wipe out millions in periodic pissing contests between groups of politicians too cowardly to fight duels. Firebombing Dresden and Tokyo wiped out a whole lot of welfare triangles…

You have to remember – the concept of industrial-scale totalenkriege was not invented until Churchill invented it: if it had been I am sure Jefferson would have been as hard-line anti-state as I am.

Oh and while we’re here… democracy is the sanctification of gang rape, with the added injury that those who refuse to participate get raped anyhow… you only need “50% +1″ of those who VOTE, which means that the usual vote count for a winner is about 36%.

Cheerio

GT

P.M.Lawrence August 3, 2009 at 2:29 am

“That said, he was better than Washington. Sam Adams, or Hamilton (but Paine is best)”.

Oh, no, no, no!

Deep down, Paine was shallow.

GeoffreyTransom August 3, 2009 at 3:29 am

Hi again, PML,

Shallowness is OK if the material is straightforward (government=bad; God=rubbish).

Paine has an excuse for not being a theoretician; he was largely an auto-didact who had few advantages (although he did go to a Grammar school for a bit, but even today Thetford is nothing to write home about).

He misses the boat entirely in “Agrarian Justice”, which is typical tax-and-redistribute twaddle with the smallest kernel of thinkable material (that land is property of entire race, so rents should perhaps be viewed as common: I disagree, but he’s not alone in having formulated that view).

But “The Rights of Man” – while very accessible – is ripping stuff. Not extreme enough for me, though.

Also, anyone who hated Washington, Sam Adams and Hamilton as Paine did, gets my vote for that alone.

I think that we tend to want extraordinarily good ideas to come in fancy packages – so nobody doubts the genius of Adam Smith, JS Mill or Freddie “the Frog” Bastiat’s, because reading their stuff is quite hard going. (Mill got it half-right, but lost the plot with ‘On Representative Government’ and material in ‘On Liberty’ that babbled about how some people weren’t ‘capable of self-government’…. spoken like a true East India man).

That’s the thing about ‘intellectuals’ – often there is some absolute tripe embedded in very well-written stuff, which hides the fact that the intellectual is talking out of his arse. Mill on darkies, for example (that they were too primitive to have Liberty); Hobbes’ catch-phrase mentality of a ‘war of all against all’ is catchy (like ‘carbon footprint’ or ‘property ladder’ or ‘anti-Semite’) but it’s also falderol (ditto).

The final thing I like about the Paine story is actually tow things.

First: the Frogs embrace Paine, and have a revolution as a result. After it, they want some good old fashioned revenge. Paine argues against it so forcefully that he is imprisoned and condemned.

That shows character.

Also, his refusal to budge from his atheism made him something of a pariah late in life: refusal to compromise his ideals places him in the same pantheon as, e.g., Thoreau.

The man who furnished the ideological impetus for the Frog Revolution, had only six people at his graveside… while a little failure like Napoleon gets l’Hotel des Invalides.

That tells you what’s wrong with the world, right there.

Cheers

GT

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