ILANA: The president elect’s leanings are more Marx than Hamilton. This makes Barack Obama even more alien to the American system than was Hamilton, the subject of your new book, Hamilton’s Curse. Nevertheless, he’ll adapt. Tell us how Alexander Hamilton cursed the old republic. And how you think Obama’s socialist statism will blend and meld with American, Hamiltonian statism?
TOM DILORENZO: Hamilton was the intellectual leader of the nationalist movement among the founders who wanted to import the corrupt British mercantilist empire to America. He wanted the government to pursue “imperial glory,” another word for empire, and to adopt a set of economic policies – protectionist tariffs, a large national debt, corporate welfare, and monetary manipulation by a bank operated by politicians out of the nation’s capital. At the constitutional convention he proposed a permanent president who would appoint all the governors who would have veto power over all state legislation. A “king,” in other words. Jefferson and his followers viewed this as nothing less than a betrayal of the American Revolution. They had just fought a war against that very system, and Hamilton wanted to turn around and adopt it here in the U.S. Hamilton believed that a mercantilist empire was a bad thing if you were on the paying end, but quite good if you were on the collecting end. It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks might say. Jefferson opposed him every step of the way, believing that every one of his policy proposals would not only be economically unwise, but destructive of the very liberty the Revolution was fought to advance.
The Hamilton/Jefferson political battle raged on for decades, but some historians call the post Civil War era the period of “Hamiltonian hegemony,” where the presidency became more and more dominant over Congress; states’ rights or federalism became essentially nullified; and all of Hamilton’s mercantilist economic policies were adopted, from protectionism to corporate welfare for the railroad corporations. The Republican Party has always been the party of Hamiltonian mercantilism. That’s why I’ve called Lincoln “the political son of Alexander Hamilton,” as far as economic policy and the structure of government are concerned.
Obama is a slick politician, so I expect him to continue to administer the neo-mercantilist, Hamiltonian empire that has been built up by both parties over the decades, with all of its schemes for corporate welfare for defense contractors, investment bankers, and myriad other politically-active businesses which, in turn, provide financial support for the regime. But Obama is also a hardcore leftist who spent his earlier career working with some of the craziest socialists in America, groups like “ACORN,” who advocated such things as kicking doctors off the boards of hospitals and replacing them with “the poor,” and Soviet-style nationalization of the energy and health care industries.
ILANA: We aren’t going to miss McCain. His philosophy is about the greater good and a greater government. “McMussolini” worships Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, places few limits on government and, therefore, has little use for the Constitution. What precisely makes McCain a dyed-in-the-wool Hamiltonian (minus the high IQ)?
TOM DILORENZO: John McCain is virtually a poster boy for Hamiltonian mercantilism: he favored a dictatorial executive branch, foreign policy adventurism, and he supported the Wall Street Plutocrats’ Bailout Bill, which of course was pure Hamiltonianism.
Hamilton was called “The Rousseau of the Right” by political scientist Cecelia Kenyon forty years ago because he based his political philosophy on the notion that a small clique, or even one man, should be entrusted with the power to promote “the public interest,” under the assumption that they and they alone somehow knew what was in “the public interest.” This was the philosophy of Rousseau, and of the French Jacobins. Ironically, Hamilton tried to tar his enemy Jefferson with this label, but it really applied to him. In “Hamilton’s Curse” I cite seventeen different phrases Hamilton used for “the public interest” in his speeches. And this of course sounds exactly like McCain’s “country first” campaign theme. “Trust, but don’t even try to verify” seems to have been his real theme.
Hamilton was also obsessed with using the powers of the state to pursue “imperial glory” in war, and itched for a war with France, just as McCain itched for a war with Iran (for starters). That also makes him quite the Hamiltonian. Jefferson certainly believed in defensive wars, but was terrified by the prospect of non-defensive wars of “glory.” He was no national-greatness conservative. He even went to such extremes as to impose a trade embargo as president rather than risk another war with England after the British navy kidnapped American sailors.
ILANA: Obama is right at home with one major Hamiltonian impetus, carried out originally with the help of Chief Justice John Marshall: “liberal judicial activism.” Obama will be big on the idea of “implied powers.” Explain. What do you expect from his soon-to-be ensconced “judicial monarchs”?
TOM DILORENZO: Exhibit A of what I call Hamilton’s curse is the fact that Hamilton invented the notion of “implied powers” of the Constitution. Although the subject of a national bank was brought up at the constitutional convention and rejected, Hamilton argued that if one reads between the lines of the Constitution, one may see “implied” as well as explicitly delegated (by the states) powers, such as the creation of a bank run by politicians. Jefferson responded that all he saw between the lines was blank space. Chief Justice John Marshall was a protégé of Hamilton’s, and essentially plagiarized large sections of Hamilton’s writings in some of his judicial opinions in order to expand this evil form of constitutional destruction, expand the dictatorial powers of the executive branch, and grow the central government far beyond what the Constitution called for. That’s why one of the chapters of “Hamilton’s Curse” is entitled “Hamilton’s Disciple: How John Marshall Subverted the Constitution.”
ILANA: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ron Paul—all strict constructionists. Sadly, the Constitution was not written with crooks in mind. Hamilton, Lincoln, Obama, McCain (who dealt a critical blow to the First Amendment)—all are proponents of the “living Constitution.” Tell us what this means to our constitutional liberties today.
TOM DILORENZO: Well, whenever you hear the phrase “living Constitution,” just substitute the word “no” for “living,” and you’ll understand what it means. Having no constitutional constraints on government, and no ability to ignore, nullify, or secede from federal tyranny, means that every working person’s income and savings is fair game for our politicians to dole out to virtually any person or group anywhere in the world that has the potential to provide political support for the politicians and to enhance their careers.