Book Review–Hamilton’s Curse

HamiltonsCurseThere are times in some of our lives in which we have seminal moments of epiphany where something occurs or some information is presented to us that allow for disparate pieces to fall into place, creating a full and clear picture of how things really are. Some never are able to see the full view, thinking instead that the out of phase vision they have in front of them is all that there really is.

Reading the book Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution and What It Means for America Today by Thomas J. DiLorenzo (New York, Crown Forum, 2008, $25.95) was one of those seminal moments for me. It is an important work of scholarship, definitely not hagiographic in nature, that causes a thinking person to reassess the common assumptions that are fostered in this modern age about the way in which our government should conduct itself. As a matter of fact, it is such a volume that a mere review is an injustice; which is why Camp Director and I are planning on giving you the reader an analysis of the central theme and message of this work in a chapter-by-chapter, back-and-forth dialogue.

Please allow me to begin by conducting a small personality assessment. I am going to provide two lists of words for you. Review those two lists, and determine which list you are more attenuated to. Here we go:

limited, diminuative, divided, lassiez-faire, express, steward, de-centralized, curse, benefactor, master, servant

unrestrained, leviathan, consolidated, interventionist, implied, imperial, centralized, blessing, beggar, servant, master

O.K. then: which one is more to your liking? Unsure? Maybe a little context might be beneficial to you:

Governmental authority: limited or unrestrained

Governmental size: diminuative or leviathan

Ultimate governmental sovereignty: divided or consolidated

Economics: Lassiez-faire or interventionist

Governmental powers: enumerated or implied

Presidential attitude: steward or imperial

Governmental control: decentralized or centralized

Debt as an engine of finance: curse or blessing

States’ role: benefactor or beggar

The People: master or servant

The State: servant or master

You see, if you chose the first list, you are likely a Jeffersonian and an adherent to the original view of the compact between the states. If the latter was your preference, you are likely a Hamiltonian. Most people today, especially those in government, finance and politics, are definitely Hamiltonian.

It’s sadly ironic, really. Hamilton’s ideas of unrestrained governmental expansion, unlimited taxation and central planning were expressly rejected in the formation of the Constitution, but we live with the fruits of his legacy, not Jefferson’s, in our body politic today. DiLorenzo points to this fact in the opening chapter “The Real Hamilton” when he astutely summarizes that even so-called “conservatives” such as Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich are Hamiltonians economically and, in many cases, politically. The spate of modern biographies, fawning paeans to a flawed subject, issued on Hamilton verify the adage that the “victors write the history” indeed.

It is because ideas do indeed have consequences. The ideas of Jefferson that helped influence the Declaration and in many respects the Constitution have been overwhelmed by the actualization of Hamilton’s philosophy. DiLorenzo summarizes this succintly: “This battle of ideas–and it was indeed a battle–formed the template for the debate over the role of government in America that shapes our history to this day. The most important idea of all, in the minds of Hamilton and Jefferson, was what kind of government America would live under.”(pp.1-2)

As we journey through the chapters of this work, we will also be taking a journey through the shattered landscape that is the consequence of adopting the Hamiltonian philosophy of governing over against the Jeffersonian vision of liberty.

Series NavigationHamilton’s Curse- The Rousseau Of The Right