On Federalist 15

Had the pleasure of reading Federalist 15 (by Publius, or Alexander Hamilton, and originally published December 1, 1787) this evening. It got me to wondering: What would have happened had the Constitution never been ratified and the separate States never created a federal government with teeth in it (one subject of this essay). As the essay points out, the States may have experienced what another part of the world had recently experienced: multiple overlapping alliances. Sounds a bit to me like the game of Diplomacy.

“In the early part of the present century there was an epidemical rage in Europe for this species of compacts, from which the politicians of the times fondly hoped for benefits which were never realized. With a view to establishing the equilibrium of power and the peace of that part of the world, all the resources of negotiation were exhausted, and triple and quadruple alliances were formed; but they were scarcely formed before they were broken, giving an instructive but afflicting lesson to mankind, how little dependence is to be placed on treaties which have no other sanction than the obligations of good faith, and which oppose general considerations of peace and justice to the impulse of any immediate interest or passion.”

Hamilton also made the point that government that only governs a collective entity rather than an individual actually isn’t a government at all. If it has no power over the individual, to meet out punishment, then its power over the collective entity is diminished. I think Hamilton’s point is, in part, don’t fool yourselves into thinking you have a federal government if all you have is a centralized collective that has no power to enforce its decisions.

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