Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Continuing Antifederalist Thought

"Anti-federalism" is an interesting word. What's interesting about it is that the word "anti-federalism" has all but been replaced by the word "libertarianism". In its essence, the word signifies a desire to stop the expansion of government. Modern libertarians in our country are pursuing the exact same ideal. If you do a search on the term "anti-federalism", you'll find that nearly every resulting site contains information about the 18th century scholars who opposed the Constitution in favor of the Articles of Confederation (which gave more power to the states instead of the Fed). However, I don't believe that anti-federalist thought stopped with the ratification of the Constitution.

Strangely, the term "anti-federalism" isn't quite correct. The dictionary defines "federalism" as "the distribution of power in an organization (as a government) between a central authority and the constituent units". This was precisely the goal of the Anti-Federalist Movement in the 18th century. So, in fact, they should have been called the "Anti-Government-Expansionists", because while federalism was indeed aligned with their goal, the expansion of the Fed was not.

Anyway, back to the point...

It can be said that libertarians are the contemporary equivalent of the anti-federalists. Why? Because we too believe in the minimization of government role in our daily lives. The threat as the anti-federalists saw it was the Constitution without a bill of rights (which was indeed later written). When a Constitution including a Bill of Rights was passed, their organized movement was essentially finished. However, their stances on the expansion of government were not. The only thing that has changed is the threat. It is no longer the Constitution itself which threatens our liberty, but the government which has evolved from that era. Tax after tax, foreign military action after foreign military action...If our founding fathers saw what the Fed looked like today, they would likely vomit. Instead of maintaining the intended distance between their intentions from our own personal ones, they now have their hands dipped in health care, the automobile industry, international defense policy, and our wallets, to name a few. The only duty that the central government was supposed to have (as far as tax dollars go) was to ensure that our civil liberty and security are upheld. That's it. These days, they seem to want to find any excuse to spend more of our taxes on pork.

Let's compare gov't localization and centralization.

The original duties of centralized government, as previously stated, were to guard our borders, ensure justice, and secure our personal liberties. In this, they have been very successful. Our military is one of the most powerful on the planet, public roads and schools are in good shape, and we are certainly a free-minded people. However, there is heated debate (that has been rekindled this year) about whether or not Keynesian economics is the answer to financial crises. Supporters of KE will say that the free-market is slow to recover from such crises, and that it promotes financial instability at home. However, we have seen how KE has historically been a drain on nations' private sectors, and how concentrated government control on a nation's economic structure can lead to decreased civil liberties. There is also the issue of forcing every citizen to pay into certain expenditures and activities with which some of us might not agree. This is unfair and unnecessary.

Now in most localized governments, things run a lot smoother. Most politically-conscious folks have seen, met, or know personally their locally elected representatives (mayors, county freeholders, etc). Local officials live in the area which they govern, and as a result, they are much more knowledgeable of the financial needs and social culture of that area. There is also a great deal less red tape when we try to get something done locally, as opposed to going through the state or federal government (every American has experience on that point!). Local taxes generally go toward what they're supposed to, like the town's schools, road maintenance, etc. Our federal taxes, on the other hand, go towards lining Congressional pockets, damaging private businesses, sticking our nose in other nation's affairs, fighting prodigious wars, and the like. Which would you rather pay into?

The reason we liberty-loving people so vehemently resist the Fed is because we see what they have become. We see how they try, year after year, to influence more aspects of the country's infrastructure. While it may have been given a new name, the anti-federalist tradition will not subside as long as the government continues its own tradition of monetary waste and international interference.


  1. An interesting historical footnote. The Federalists took their name because they understood Americans' suspicion of centralized authority, and they wanted to get on the right side of the PR war. (The term "Federalist" was focus-grouped, as it were). The opposition was termed "Anti-Federalist" as a consequence, although their position was more legitimately "federalist" according to the dictionary definition than that of the Hamiltonians.

    During the Constitutional Convention, the supporters of the Constitution were considered the big-government crowd. Today, the federal government has so overstepped its authority that those of us who just want the Feds to adhere to the rules of the game outlined in the Constitution are considered the small-government crowd. My, how times change.

  2. That's very true. Sadly, though, the media is lumping in legitimate arguments against the Fed's policies with the more baseless conspiracy theories. It's tough without a major news outlet that's willing to give someone other than Ron Paul an interview.

    Good footnote! We learn something new every day.

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