AMERICA, YOU GREAT UNFINISHED SYMPHONY

Painting By Allan Gorman

Painting “Cacophony” By Allan Gorman

Why does it feel like we are in so much trouble as a country today?  We are far from the kind of trouble we had around the Civil War, or the 1890s, or the Depression, or World War II and its aftermath, the Civil Rights Movement, the End-The-War Movement.  But our “great unfinished symphony” as the musical Hamilton has it seems stuck in some endless dissonance, the trumpets on one note, the trombones a half-note higher, one violin racing up a G major scale, the one seated next racing down an F minor scale.  It’s noise, noise, noise.

The noise-maker-in-chief is our last Republican President.  Despite his transparent incompetence as President, he remains the favorite of millions of Americans.  His present level of noise is so intense that those in his party either join the noise, remain silent for fear of retribution, or find themselves unheard.  His noise is so intense that the media can find little else to relay, virtually eliminating the Democratic Party from notice.  Many Republicans in the House echo the noise, having nothing else useful to say.  Anything looking like a real answer to a real problem is drowned by the noise, noise, noise.

How did our country get turned into a cartoon?  What reasons we can identity began before our last Republican President; he is more like the canary in the coal mine than the direct cause of our toxic atmosphere.  We will talk about four reasons in this web stie.  One, our serious problems are numerous and growing.  Two, our problems grow in difficulty and complexity; many have raced past the capacities of our elected leaders to understand them, let alone try to solve them.  Some of the most serious are new, and the old ones flounder within programs that lost traction twenty or thirty years ago, with no decent new ideas springling forth from our elected leaders.

Three, our elected leaders no longer run the government.  Over the last sixty years we have erected, at every level of government, a massive regulatory and administrative apparatus that is now self-propelled.  We characterize this as “The Administrative State.”  Constitutional or not, subject to oversight or not, few would seriously advocate turning the clock back—the most massive parts provide health care, social security, public education, defense, and infrastructure.

Federists Papers

Four, and in our mind the most fundamental cause, is the fragmentation of our society, a pervasive sense of isolation beyond close friends and family, and disconnection from common associations and interests, particularly political associations.  Among the reasons we have so much noise is the condition that coherent voices organized in sufficient numbers that might penetrate the noise are silent.

Magnifying this condition is the suite mentioned before.  If our problems have moved past our capacity to understand them, at the highest levels, their number and complexity numbing, and our bureaucracies in control, the psychological forces required to gather together for political effect dissipate, removing a critical pressure from the picture.  This is not good.  Our founders shaped a government designed to move ponderously and reactively.  The very meaning of our “democracy” obliges serious changes to be forced upon our government from external causes—war, crisis, radical changes in technologies, and we the people.

We the people of the United State, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United State of America.

The preamble to our Constitution is more than a platitude.  It announces the way our current government took life.  While written by a few men in Philadelphia in 1787, the Constitution reflects the inherent tensions and conflicts among the people at the time, and insists on popular ratification.  “We” brought our country into existence, twice, first by waging and winning a war of independence, then by enabling a form of government that has lasted for more than two centuries.  Our government has changed with time, radically in some ways, but it has never lost the pinions of the republican form, the federalist form, and the separation and balance of powers that our Constitution prescribes.

 We the people must rise again.

This web site is an appeal, a plea really, for you to act.  We mean act with others.  The only way to cure disassociation is association.   

We are not going to promote herein a political ideology.  We are not going to advance solutions to critical problems beyond a few necessary to a speedy recovery.  We are not going to ask you to have problems solved before you act; acting itself will start to solve some serious problems, and solving others with take collaboration and work.  Many will be solved through painful experiments and failures, the dark before the dawn.  Many have been partially solved, political action moving the ball already in play forward.  You may decide to lead or follow, to become an expert or just help.  You may decide to become political—work in campaigns, run for office, build a lobbying group.  What matters is that you be involved somehow in the laws and government that rules over you.  James Madison observed that this was the mark of a free people.  When we decide not to act, we lose our purchase on political freedom.

Why the Federalist Papers?

A book open with a sunset in the background Description automatically generated with low confidence

Why the Bible, written centuries ago, in different languages, that frees man from sin and promises eternal life?  The Federalist Papers are a kind of national scripture. Yes, they were written more than 250 years ago.  But they tell the story of our founding document.  They do so through a lens of who we are as human beings in political collectives, of the inherent tensions within such collectives that guide or limit action and thought, of the structures of our basic political forms that were designed as barricades against arbitrary rule, of the necessity of means commensurate with ends, and of constant change demanding eternal experiments.  Some things they got wrong (or served rhetorical rather than substantive purposes); some things have lost meaning or relevance. But nothing written on American soil comes close to their depth and comprehensiveness about our system of government, then and today. 

Federalist paper authors

Most important for our purposes, the Papers insist that the origins of power and the last line of defense when perils arise are the people.  The word “people” appears 539 times among its 85 essays.  The Papers are overtly hostile to factions even though our country was conceived by a faction; they doubt the people’s capacity to make good decisions all the time; and they limit the people’s explicit role to elections and throwing the bums out when necessary.  But the Papers are just as clear that factions arise naturally from who we are and our desires for creating political effect, that such factions likely provoke competing factions, and these factions will exert political pressure on our elected leaders.  Ironically, the two principal writers of the Papers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, led the creation of our two political parties, the factions of factions, not many years after the Papers they wrote together to defend the new constitution.  They remained bitter enemies to the end of their days.  Their history is a metaphor of our country—in union and in rancorous dispute. 

We believe political action begins with interest, in issues and politics and how to make things better.  But effective action calls for understanding, of issues of interest and how those issues can be addressed by our governments and its people.   The Federalist Papers promote both.  While not a normal narrative, they still tell a good story.  And their manner will force you to think.   As given here, they will force you to think about today, not 1788.   Interest and thinking will lower the level of noise, noise, noise, clearing the air for better sounds.

This Website

This website has two related trajectories.  One, provided in the ACT section, develops ideas and demands for much greater levels of civic engagement in American political life.  It is strongly geared to the world we inhabit today.  The second provides an intellectual justification for such engagement through the words and history of the Federalist Papers.  We develop this extended explanation and justification in the Principles, Facts, and Federalist Papers sections, the last providing the full text of the Papers with summaries and a history of their development.  

It happens of course that factions have shaped much of American political life.  Indeed, changes in political America have been provoked by wars, crises such as the Depression, enormous innovations in technology, and mass movements.  Our governments follow, not lead (Hamilton makes this point in Federalist 73).  Our governments have changed of course, radically at times, but never on their own initiative absent external pressures.  Now those pressures must come from us, the people.

Who Are the Authors of This Site?

We are not academics.  We lead or have led professional economic lives.  Three of us could be called “entrepreneurs,” successful ones.  Our studies when in college focused on the humanities.  One of us holds an elective office in a small municipality.  One of us taught the Federalist Papers at an undergraduate seminar at Stanford University.  All of us have varying forms of political experience, some going back decades, that include protest politics and constructive politics, the latter all applied at local rather than state or federal levels, although the constructive side has given us access to state and federal administration practices that are otherwise inaccessible to the average citizen.  We can thus claim some depth to our grasp of the administrative state and the unwritten Constitution, important features of our presentation here.   Above all, we want to see what we propose herein really happen, even as we recognize the exact terms and dimensions of what happens will not be what we propose here exactly.  Such is the nature of what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.”  Some of the old most go to make room for the new, the new not known ahead of time.  We encourage you to take part in this movement, to use the wisdom of yesterday from the Federalist Papers to both inform and inspire us to work towards a better tomorrow.

Site Content

ACT: Education; Elections; Joining an Existing Organization; Broadband; Budget Transparency; the Unwritten Constitution

PRINCIPLES: Why read the Papers Today; American Has Changed Profoundly; Our Government is Intentionally Limited: The Federalist Papers’ Principles in Brief; Some Essential Principles Assumed; Principles in Expanded Form; With Liberty and Justice for All

FACTS:  Our Current Problems; Our Living Constitution; The Administrative and Regulatory State; Rights; What We Are Teaching in School

FEDERALIST PAPERS: Introduction and Background: Summaries of Each Paper; The Federalist Papers in full

CONVERSATIONS: section to come for essays in conversation with other essays on topics from this web site.

Please note that this is a web site, not a published book. Its contents will change over time, some by fixing the problems with what it says now, some by addition. Its contents will also seem redundant at times for those who read it all. Each of the four central sections stands alone, but shares ideas with others, hence the repetition. Finally, we must say at this moment that we have no authorization from Lin-Manuel Miranda to use pictures from his magnificent musical. We hope he thinks well enough of this effort to grant us such when we ask.

The web site was developed by One Eleven Group of West Cornwall, Connecticut.

The text not obviously written by others was drafted by Kim Maxwell, BA and PhD from Stanford University, then subjected to creative editing and amendment.

He has been assisted by Chris Abelt, Janet Carlson, and Doug Bloom.