David Brooks' Dishonest Invocation of Alexander Hamilton
In his column today, David Brooks invokes Alexander Hamilton in a completely dishonest way. Brooks writes:
[T]he federal role has historically been sharply limited. The man who initiated that role, Alexander Hamilton, was a nationalist. His primary goal was to enhance national power and eminence, not to make individuals rich or equal.
[... T]his nationalism meant that policy emphasized dynamism, and opportunity more than security, equality and comfort. While European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on protecting producers and workers, the U.S. government focused more on innovation and education.
Because of these priorities, and these restrictions on the federal role, the government could be energetic without ever becoming gigantic. Through the 19th century, the federal government consumed about 4 percent of the national gross domestic product in peacetime. Even through the New Deal, it consumed less than 10 percent.
[...] But this Hamiltonian approach has been largely abandoned. The abandonment came in three phases. First, the progressive era. The progressives were right to increase regulations to protect workers and consumers. But the late progressives had excessive faith in the power of government planners to rationalize national life. This was antithetical to the Hamiltonian tradition, which was much more skeptical about how much we can know and much more respectful toward the complexity of the world.
When Alexander Hamilton is invoked to support, in essence Herbert Spencer's Social Statics and Lochnerisim, as Brooks does today, it is an act of dishonesty. The reason is we think of Alexander Hamilton as the most important voice in defining the power of the national government as embodied by the Constitution. While Hamilton may have had policy views that mirror Brooks' embrace of Social Statics and Lochnerism, he was wise enough to help create a federal government that had wide power to address national problems in a manner which the national government deemed fit.
To invoke Hamilton in support of limited government, knowing his critical role as a Founding Father, is to write dishonestly. Brooks is dishonest here because his clear implication is that the Constitution itself reflects Brooks' Lochnerian constitutional views. It does not and Hamilton would no doubt be the person most surprised to see himself used as "a champion" of a limited national government. Consider Sandy Levinson's piece, also in today's New York Times. Levinson writes:
Advocating the adoption of the new Constitution drafted in Philadelphia, the authors of “The Federalist Papers” mocked the “imbecility” of the weak central government created by the Articles of Confederation.
Instead of being an advocate of a "limited" national government, as Brooks claims, Hamilton was THE champion of a strong national government. Brooks dishonest invocation of Hamilton for support of his vision of a Lochnerian relationship of government to the People is belied by two of the most famous passages in the judicial history of our country.
First, in McCulloch v. Maryland, John Marshall, who knew much better what Alexander Hamilton thought than David Brooks ever will, wrote:
There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States similar to the Articles of Confederation, which exclude incidental or implied powers. If the end be legitimate, and within the scope of the Constitution, all the means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, and which are not prohibited, may constitutionally be employed to carry it into effect.
Hardly an argument for the "limited" government Brooks claims Hamilton helped to create. The other quote is from Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his dissent in Lochner:
The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics.
David Brooks has every right to advocate for a return to Lochnerism. But he should do so honestly and on the merits, not by dishonestly invoking Alexander Hamilton in support of his pernicious project.
Speaking for me only
|< George Zimmerman Case: Timelines and Routes | Short Fingered Vulgarian Trump Still A Birther >|