Saturday, July 7, 2012

Divided We Stand?

Jack Rakove, one of the most reliable sources when it comes to making sure that the words and deed of the Founding Fathers are taken in vain, has come up with in interest analysis of partisanship. This appeared in the Book, the online review site for The New Republic; and the book he was examining is Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind. This is a book that tries to use the distinction of Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian thinking as a framework for interpreting economic history.

Lind has apparently attracted many champions, one of whom is David Brooks in his capacity as columnist for The New York Times. As one who believes that any assertion made by Brooks should be taken with less than a grain of salt, this made me curious about both the book and Rakove’s review. When it turned out that Brooks accused Lind of not being Hamiltonian enough, I suspected that Rakove would take me on a delightfully informing ride.

Basically, he manages to kill two birds with one stone. First he offers his own take on economic history. Then, he not only demolishes the whole Hamilton-Jefferson dichotomy (along with partisan divisiveness) but also establishes that all of the Founding Fathers were smart enough to be empirical, rather than ideological. It would make no sense to ask what either Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson (or, for that matter, Benjamin Franklin or George Washington) would do in the face of our economic crisis. None of them would advocate any action without first assessing the situation in which their actions would be embedded. That assessment would necessitate wrestling out differences of opinion as to just what the situation actually was, something we seem to be very poor at by virtue of the extent to which we have allowed knowledge to become contaminated by divisive partisan ideology.

My guess is that any of the contributors to our original Constitution, if transported to the present day, would barely recognize the government in terms of what had originally be envisaged and ratified.

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