To The Editor:
In his review of What the Anti-Federalists Were FOR, David B. Broyles charges that Herbert Storing wrote, quite wittingly, a partisan tract giving aid and comfort to “positivist and behavioral political science,” not a scholarly treatise. The charge is a little startling, at least to those who remember Storing as the editor of Essays on the Scientific Study of Politics, a thoroughgoing attack on contemporary political science’s positivism and behavioralism. And it is a serious charge, to my mind the gravest that could be made against a scholar’s character. Inconvenient too, because Storing is not alive to defend his work. However, insofar as this is a charge against Herbert Storing, his friends, one hopes, are the proper ones to defend him. I, on the other hand, saw him only once.
The charge is interesting, insofar as it raises the age-old question of the effectiveness of morality-of deliberate choice compared with necessity or chance-in politics. In particular, Broyles raises two questions: first, did the Founding Fathers understand the moral principles of the Revolution?; second, were they guided by this understanding in devising the government of the Constitution of 1787? (Let us leave aside, if only because Broyles takes the answer for granted, the question of whether the Founders were wiser than Robert Dahl and his ilk.) These two scholarly questions are practically important too. If the Founders can be shown to be morally enlightened, and if they can be shown to have acted accordingly, then their authority should be augmented. In a time when the Constitution tends to be ignored as the limit of political practice, I am, as much as anyone, in favor of the Founding Fathers retaining at least as much authority as they deserve.
Broyles maintains that the Founding Fathers understood the importance of moral principle, both in the ordinary operation of free government and at its foundation. Accordingly, he takes Storing to task for maintaining that the Federalists expected private economic interests, not moral virtue, to prevail in the ordinary operations as distinguished from the foundations. Because they understood the principles of the Revolution, Broyles maintains the authors of the Constitution did provide for the virtue of the citizens and their leaders. According to Broyles, Storing is wrong to say that the Founders “‘took for granted,’ that is, did not provide for sustaining,” public virtue. In my opinion Broyles has drawn the terms of his disagreement with Storing imprecisely, and so confused the issue.
Broyles and Storing agree, the Federalist is plain: it is never a superfluous advantage to good government to have the prejudices, including the economic interests, of the citizens on the side of rational moral principle. Broyles, Storing, and the Federalist also agree that the Constitution (and politicians) ought to do nothing to undermine such healthy prejudices, and ought even to encourage those prejudices. Where, then, do they disagree? Storing claims that, relative to the Anti-Federalists, the Federalists took for granted the existence of the Revolutionary spirit in the citizens. That is, the Federalists were more concerned with limiting the Revolutionary spirit, by bringing it under the forms of the Constitution, than were the Anti-Federalists. Therefore, Storing concludes (after reading all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist writings) that the importance of the people’s devotion to the principles of the Revolution is more easily recognized in the writings of the latter than in those of the former. And if I understand Mr. Broyles correctly, he would not disagree with Storing’s position as I have characterized it. I return to the question at hand; where, then, do they disagree?
Storing claims that-again, relative to the Anti-Federalists-the Federalists hoped to rely upon private selfishness, as opposed to public devotion to moral principle, as the motive for the ordinary operations of the political system.* There is some evidence for this interpretation. For example, Publius claims that, when the impulse and the opportunity for tyranny coincide in a majority, “we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control.” It would have been more sobering to reflect that, if the impulse and the opportunity do coincide, moral and religious restraints are the only hope. But, I suspect, Mr. Broyles will attribute this, and similar remarks, to the “lowest element of . . . [the Federalist’s] rhetoric.”
It is instructive to ask, therefore, whether Publius was in fact correct about the ordinary operation of the spirit of the Revolution under the forms of the Constitution. In at least one respect, he was wrong. In Federalist No. 39, where Publius discusses what shall be the sources of the ordinary authority of the government, he declares that, eventually, the president shall be elected by the House of Representatives. However, in actuality, the Electoral College has usually elected the president. This has been emphatically true of watershed elections; that is, of elections in which the Revolutionary spirit, and partisan appeals to that spirit, have run high. The decisiveness of the Electoral College for the eventual election of the president is the consequence of the existence of a non-Constitutional feature of free government in America: parties. Of course, the existence of our parties need not mean that the authors of the Constitution failed by not providing for them in the Constitution. In the American political lexicon, partisan Constitutional government is, and ought to be, a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, the existence of parties does indicate, contrary to Federalist No. 49, that the Constitution did not provide adequately for regular appeals to the people. By the Twelfth Amendment, the Constitution itself recognizes this deficiency.
Because Mr. Broyles does not say, I do not know what he thinks of our party system as a permanent feature of Constitutional government. However, under the leadership of enlightened statesmen (cf., Federalist No. 10), parties have been instruments by which the petty partisan interests of the “legislative majority” have been enlarged, refined, and moderated. And, by regular appeals to the people, the parties have been a means of resolving those clear differences of principle that do arise every generation or so (just as Jefferson prophesied). Indeed, the weakness of the traditional national party system is today no less alarming, no less ominous for free government, than ignorance of the Constitution.
For these reasons, to which others could be added, I would credit Storing with more scholarly impartiality than does Broyles. I tremble that my view, or anyone’s, might give some encouragement to the blind moral ciphers who inhabit, and sometimes dominate, some departments of political science. All I can say in defense is that in no way do I intend to comfort them.
John Adams Wettergreen
San Jose, California
*Storing concludes his study with this ambitious judgment upon the Founders’ hopes: “This system has been remarkably, if not gloriously, successful.” Thus he averts his gaze both from the moral catastrophe that was the Civil War, and from its glory.
Reply to Wettergreen:
Let me begin by clarifying my understanding of, and objection to, Storing’s purposes. I maintain that Storing’s scholarship is marred, in this case, by a partisan purpose which “would only be comforting to contemporary behavioralists and positivists.” It does not seem likely to me, however, that he “quite wittingly” intended to aid them. Unwittingly, then, Storing aids the cause of those whom Wettergreen appropriately calls “blind moral ciphers.”
Now, to my mind, Wettergreen’s analysis of my position is misleading. Storing’s partisanship favors Anti-Federalist thought, and the “tensions” which he claims characterize that thought. He advances this aspect of Anti-Federalist thought as a necessary supplement to that of Publius in the Federalist, which is presented by Storing as deficient with respect to moral and religious content. According to Storing, Publius’ deficiency shows up when he distinguishes the founding of the government from its subsequent operation, and when he recognizes the importance of moral and religious motives only on the occasion of the founding. To the contrary, it seems to me that Publius relies at all times on those moral and religious motives which are inherent in America’s spirit of revolution, and which are necessary inferences from a careful reading of the Declaration and the Federalist. Publius relies on them to sustain his government, not merely to found it. This view is supported in many places in the Federalist, but perhaps most strikingly in the arguments of Nos. 49 and 43 as they convey Publius’ understanding of the right of revolution. Thus, Wettergreen notwithstanding, I do not fault Storing for claiming that, “relative to the Anti-Federalists[,] the Federalists hoped to rely upon private selfishness as opposed to public devotion to moral principle. . . .” Rather, I fault him for claiming that Publius’ teaching is incomplete, and for championing ill-defined “tensions” of Anti-Federalist thought as a challenger in the field against Federalist thinking.
As Wettergreen suspects, I do indeed think that Publius would be irresponsible if he expatiated needlessly on the matter of moral and religious restraints implied by the Constitutional system. It would be irresponsible for Publius to do so in a context in which the “lowest denominator” is the most effective rhetoric. The argument of the Federalist is, after all, an appeal to self-interest, albeit to a “self” whose interests include such qualities as a strong sense of dignity. Thus, Publius does not see any instance in which personal bias will be replaced by enlightenment, except by accident. Even Socrates, he says, loses his objectivity when he becomes an Athenian Assemblyman. In this Publius certainly agrees with his hardheaded audience, which knows in its bones that “neither moral nor religious motives,” however praiseworthy, “can be relied on as an adequate control” against majority tyranny. Aristotle himself would approve of a rhetorician sharing such a plain maxim, with his audience, and thereby gaining their confidence in the cause of truth. He would not, nor would any theorist of rhetoric I know, approve of expatiating unnecessarily on moral and religious matters, since this might be dangerously divisive.
To support my judgment, it might be useful to state very briefly what seems to me to be the barebones argument of the Federalist. (I do not mean to suggest that extraneous elements are not present in abundance, and frequently with intended rhetorical effect.) Publius begins the Federalist by proving that Union is desirable in one particular respect-as an antidote to Hobbes’s and Locke’s state of nature with its promise of poverty and destruction for all. He goes on to say that the Articles of Confederation are not adequate in themselves to solve the problem, and that more power must be resigned to the Union. Specifically, effective power over defense and taxation must be granted. If this can be done without re-establishing tyranny (and Publius proceeds to demonstrate that it can be accomplished under the Constitution), then it should be done. Prudence shows that men can achieve their natural aims better in this way than by continuing in a condition where state governments offer only an illusory protection from all the dangers of anarchy. Thus, Publius offers a very substantial reason why, for personal advantage, his audience should adopt a strong constitutional government, not an inadequate (anarchical) or tyrannical one. His main problem remains that of persuading his audience to forgo the intimate pleasures of what Storing calls, again I believe with a view to contemporary controversy, “natural communities.” It is a difficult commitment to make, and one which is best encouraged by avoiding appeals to the forms of goodness which are extraneous to hardheaded advantages.
Political parties, however, would seem to be the principal concern of Wettergreen’s letter. While I agree with much of what he says on this subject, I do not share his apparent alarm at the decay of parties in the abstract. That is, it seems to me that some parties should decay. They are derivative phenomena, and can do both good and evil as their leadership guides them. It is surely true that in critical periods they have sometimes acted to moderate and enlighten public views. And, in less critical periods, their institutionalized memories have sustained the original fervor. But who will say that parties have not served (and perhaps are now serving) to rationalize and perpetuate tyrannizing populations? As to Publius’ attitude towards parties, it is insufficient to leave off where Wettergreen leaves the question. To gain a better perspective, then, it is helpful to recur to Hamilton’s comments in Federalist No. 78.
Hamilton pleads a case that has never been wholeheartedly accepted by his audience as it applies to the judiciary. He argues that the judicial branch of government will not only balance, but correct the legislative and executive branches by using its “judgment” to evaluate their will and force. Whether or not Hamilton’s reasoning leads to a correct conclusion about the judiciary (and I happen to think it does), as that reasoning relates to the presidency it is of great interest. In the Constitutional scheme of things, Hamilton believes the president is more than merely an executor of the laws. He is also the bearer of the sword of the community, and the embodiment of its honorific, or to use an older term, “spirited” life. Is the president not authorized, then, according to Hamilton’s reasoning, to employ those institutionalized extensions of himself that he can organize to hold the citizenry together over time in a public spirited cause? Perhaps we can indulge ourselves, with a little help from hindsight, in observing that properly functioning parties are a very reasonable outgrowth of the Constitutional Executive as presented by Publius. If we do so indulge ourselves, we assume a position that is not wholly unreasonable, or ungenerous to Publius. We can credit Publius with at least some tolerance for a development that Aristotle would have favored-a development which encourages, by institutional means, that “second nature” which is a popular substitute for virtue in the strict sense. Some kind of partylike institution, based on habit and sentiment, seems to be dictated by the discourse on reason and self-love that dominates Federalist No. 10 and Federalist No. 49.
It may be that Publius’ inattention to “second nature” is explained by his preoccupation with first nature. (He certainly pays great respect to his audience in assuming it to be competent in such matters.) However, if Publius were here today to be asked about contemporary parties, it is quite possible that he would approve of them as wholesome-at least when they consolidate long-term support behind a particular program for principled action. As such, the parties, like the president, would have to recognize that they are subject to that “judgment” which is without will or force. Such
judgment; whether or not it is made by the judiciary, is surely made by a sovereign people jealously guarding its revolutionary spirit. Publius, and not the Anti-Federalists, provides the best guidance for such a people. Publius also provides, I believe, the best
guidance for Wettergreen in his concern for recognizing the “limits of political practice” and the “effectiveness of morality.”
Wake Forest University