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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Liveblogging Wood's The Idea of America: Interests and Disinterestedness in the Making of the Constitution

This is the most interesting essay of this collection so far. Wood states a bold thesis to begin:
We have repeatedly pictured the Founders, as we call them, as men of vision -- bold, original, open-minded, enlightened men who deliberately created what William Gladstone once called "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the hand and purpose of man." We have described them as men who knew where the future lay and went for it...

In contrast, we have usually viewed the opponents of the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists, as very tame and timid, narrow-minded and parochial men of no imagination and little faith, caught up in the ideological rigidities of the past  -- inflexible, suspicious men unable to look ahead and see where the United States was going. The Anti-Federalists seen forever doomed to be losers, bypassed by history and eternally disgraced by their opposition to the greatest Constitutional achievement in our nation's history.

But maybe we have got it all wrong. Maybe the Federalist were not men of the future after all. Maybe it was the Anti-Federalists who really saw best and farthest. Is it possible that all those original, bold, and far-sighted Federalists not on what was coming but on what was passing?...

Is it possible the [the Founders] Constitution failed, and failed miserably, in what they wanted it to do?
Wood, with a lead-in like this, of course concludes "yes" to the last question. This killed me, because this is part of the thesis of my forthcoming book, and I missed, in doing my research, Wood's essay and the evidence it would have provided to bolster my case. (The book came out after I was done writing, but the essay had appeared in a 1987 volume of conference proceedings.) Discovery cannot be equated to search costs!

And this is interesting: someone who has read Rothbard's work on this period may be inclined to say, "Well, duh! Rothbard already pointed out that the Anti-Federalists were the good guys!"

However, two points:

1) "Wave of the future" is not necessarily equal to "good guys"; and
2) Wood thinks the Anti-Federalists were the more modern of the rivals because of, among other things, their advocacy of paper money, credit expansion, and democratic, interest group politics in which factions compete for public backing for their preferred projects.

Ouch!

In any case, we will be looking at this essay in a couple more posts.

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