Monday, June 4, 2012

Ordered liberty and the political rhetoric of Alexander Hamilton

A lengthy essay on that topic by one of the master historians of the American founding may be found here:  The Rhetoric of Alexander Hamilton.  The author, Forest McDonald, does a very good job dispatching some of the gross distortions of Hamilton that have persisted since the radical Jeffersonians took it upon themselves to poison the record regarding this most uniquely American founding father.  Far from seeking to create a centralized government based on greed and corruption, Hamilton sought to ensure that balanced government would be motivated by virtue, natural law and the principle of proper and precise debate over public policy issues. 

While the Jeffersonians were wallowing in the mud of crass politics, Hamilton sought to elevate discourse and speak clearly on the pressing issues of the day. As McDonald notes, Hamilton was unsure that the American experiment in constitutional government would succeed, but he was adamant in his commitment to fight for its viability in a world growing increasingly swamped by the fervor of ideology.  And the key to viability was and is to shift the discussion from rights to duties, from benefits to obligations: 
More than most of his countrymen, he doubted that the experiment could succeed; more than any of them, he was dedicated to making the effort. He perceived clearly that political rhetoric of the highest order was necessary to the attempt, for such is essential to statecraft in a republic. Now, we hear a great deal these days about the public’s “right to know.” That is a perversion of the truth, even as modern public relations, propaganda, and political blather are perversions of classical rhetoric. If the republic is to survive, the emphasis must be shifted from rights back to obligations. It is the obligation, not the right, of the citizen of a republic to be informed; it is the obligation of the public servant to inform him and simultaneously to raise his standards of judgment. In adapting his style to his audience, Hamilton was fulfilling his part of the obligation.
Ordered liberty was the goal of Hamilton's work.  And ordered liberty requires not just a right ordering of the affairs of government, it requires a citizenry oriented to liberty and civic virtue.  McDonald's essay does a fantastic job of showing Hamilton's commitment to defending ordered liberty against its enemies, using clear and energetic language grounded in the belief in morality, duty and prudential principle.

1 comment:

jimmiraybob said...

At some point could you do a post or two regarding the principle of ordered liberty? Maybe a historical summary? As a defined concept, was this around during the revolutionary period? If so, how has it evolved?