Review of: Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution, here
(Taught by Professor Thomas L. Pangle here , The Teaching Company)
Perhaps one way to express the extraordinary debt we owe Professor Thomas Pangle for the many gifts his teaching generously provides us, is by recalling one of the specific difficult issues taken up in the deeply and intelligently contested debates held between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists over the very meaning of the American Founding and the foundational requirements of the new American Constitution. Thus, in dealing with the very complex question over the separation of powers ——partly following Montesquieu, the Oracle for all those involved in the debate—– Hamilton goes on to defend the idea that for the very stability of a sound modern commercially-oriented Republic, the executive must possess, embody and publicly be made clear to possess, what he calls ENERGY. Hamilton writes: “Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government” (FP, No. 70, p. 421).
And surely one part of the goodness of the gift that Professor Pangle offers us in these 12 (yes, only 12!), very short, very dynamic, very powerful and very concise lectures, is precisely his ENERGY-rich presentation of the Founding Debate itself, an energetic presentation which should in fact allow for a better sense of the dynamics of government and of governing by better prepared citizens, that is to say, ennobled citizens better educated for the intricacies of learning to rule and to be ruled as the dignified self-governing beings that they can become. In other words, these lectures, at the very least, allow for the creation of the requisite spaces for a better UNDERSTANDING of the conditions underpinning the political sphere on its own terms, that is to say, of the struggles undergone to gain the privilege of ruling and of the intense struggles over the hierarchical ordering of the ends of good government as seen by diverse practically-minded statesmen/stateswomen. The course does so via an understanding of the conceptually and practically privileged origin, irrepeatable historical origin, which IS the unique and momentous Founding of any given political community. Such prioritization of the Founding notably defended as particularly enlightening by all of classical political philosophy, but nowhere more clearly brought to light for us to see than in the dramatic presentation which is Plato’s Laws. Within the American civic heritage such privileged moment is precisely that of the Confederation Debates held between 1787 and 1790 when the post-revolutionary “Articles of Confederation” came under serious questioning during and after the Convention of 1787. It is the Federalists (Madison, Hamilton, Jay; using the pen name “Publius”) —–in response to highly critical newspaper articles published anonymously by brilliant Anti-Federalists (Brutus, Federal Farmer, Centinel), some of whom had left the Convention filled with intense indignation—— who, because of said challenge, are “put on the spotlight” and made to defend their radical, previously unheard of, innovations.
And, it is made transparently clear to us, in the urgency of the tone of the delivery, and through certain republican rhetorical abilities used (!), that such a return ——which stands in serious contrast to a simple shallow “progressive” reading of history as economically/ideologically driven——- is by no means an exercise in luxurious time consumption. Rather, such a return bespeaks of the crisis of the American political system, if not of the very crisis of the democratic west itself as exemplified in ONE of its member nations (albeit a very powerful, one could even say, a kind of model one; of this, more later). Or, as Professor Pangle’s Professor wrote:
“It is not self-forgetting and pain-loving antiquarianism nor self-forgetting and intoxicating romanticism which induces us to turn with passionate interest, with unqualified willingness to learn, toward the political thought of antiquity. We are impelled to do so by the crisis of our time.” (Strauss, The City and Man, 1).
This uniquely energetic presentation, then, is all the more comprehensible as a kind of response to such a crisis. Such a vigorous presentation is a philosophically-inspired reflexive attempt at UNDERSTANDING the core elements that may be considered, in part, and primarily by those interested in the political life itself, in order to become the types of public leaders ——in their souls, so to speak—– who can ultimately generate sound, decisive and prudent educational practices amongst their liberally-educated citizens. Such leaders, the dignity of whose moral virtuous and intellectual skills is repeatedly recovered by Professor Pangle, would then be better capable of generating a certain kind of political healing of our complex modern democratic condition, which ——–because not seen in its complexity—– can be worsened furthermore by a false sense of security that is derived always from all convenient uncritical “ideological” oversimplifications. Such medical therapeutics, in an important sense, deals with origins, not merely with a multiplicity of simplified and disconnected symptoms. Undoubtedly, Aristotelically speaking, the course is partly a courageous attempt at a therapeutics of critical recovery. And to know that this unique experience is available to us all via the internet through The Teaching Company bespeaks of the energetic generosity of shared thought and of thoughtful American enterprise.
II. BETWEEN THE LINES
But prior to going into the CONTENT of the course itself, it might be wise to look at some of the features which make the course such an exemplary one for us all, academics and non-academics alike; specially for those of us interested in recovering the dignity of political life, of public service and of the complex sacrifices and dilemmas involved in the pursuance of our highest most virtuous moral and intellectual ideals.
First of all, one must repeat: that such a serious and deep recovery of the Constitutional Debates can be taken up in only 12 lectures, would at first seem nothing short of irresponsible! But that brevity can reach into the core of things, into the permanence of the important transhistorical questions is duly brought here to light. Although distant in time, one cannot but be reminded of the brevity of Lincoln’s 2-minute Gettysburg Address at the time the very existence of the Union comes into question. Or, as one of the non-academic reviewers at The Teaching Company wrote, capturing the idea quite well:
“I have almost a hundred TTC courses (plus from other companies) so I am always looking for new areas of learning to discover. I ordered this one as a quickie course to take between some of the longer ones I have.
And, boy, was I rewarded.”
Yes, that is it: a “quickie course”, that about sums it up perfectly. Just go ahead and listen to it!
Secondly, the permanent presence of a certain type of XENOPHONTIC HUMOR, a kind of humor which deals directly with the nature of the political itself within ITS language ——- in contrast to many current radically popular North American comedy shows which speak of the political from a sphere outside/”above” it——– makes the course a pleasure to hear and recall. In this regard, Professor Pangle quotes historian McDonald regarding the very physical conditions of the Convention which was held under some ”pretty trying circumstances”, to say the least (please see LECTURE 1, minute 18:40, as I do not wish to ruin the “surprise”!). Such unique descriptions leave no space for the characterization of the Founders as somehow passionless stony ethereal beings from an apolitical beyond. Even the Giants of Mount Rushmore crumble here a bit!
And it is here that a certain rhetorical prowess, founded precisely on the fundamental tenets of classical political thought, truly shines (see Pangle, The Ennobling of Democracy, pp. 127-128). How so? Because, by means of a clearly Socratic rhythm of question and answer, of arguments responded to by intelligent counterarguments, professor Pangle dynamically recovers for us the real and actual intensity felt by each of the parties as they put forward IN THEIR OWN WORDS their diverse arguments and responses in this privileged dialectical contest. And in this regard, it is necessary to point out that, instead of following a strict chronological ordering in the appearance of the texts, Pangle gives himself the liberty of moving back and forth, not according to temporality, but instead according to depth and interconnectedness. Truly one can become a tad dizzy in the ensuing exchanges! But more importantly, these exchanges are such that the metaphorical language used to describe the political arena is made akin, over and over, to that of an actual fight. For instance, we are told in Lecture 6 that the Federalists were “on the ropes” when confronted dialectically by the Federal Farmer in his impressive Letter 17 where he poignantly asks the federalists to point more exactly WHERE one can find the reserve powers for each of the 13 States after having been told that the federal government will have –allegedly by necessity!—– LIMITLESS power of the sword and the purse for itself! Or, as in Lecture 7, where, in discussing the innovative but absolutely troubling position defended by the Federalists as to the use of permanently sought faction as the means to guarantee the very stability of the Republic, Professor Pangle points out how the Anti-Federalist’s very lucid response can be seen as akin to a kind of judo throw!
Whence such interpretative decisions? Evidently, these appropriations are themselves the result of a certain re-appropriation of classical political thought as it appears predominantly, but not solely, in Xenophon’s corpus, rich as it is, with certain comedic elements. Or, put in a more personal level, this very same spirit is emphasized by the editor of the latest book published in honor of Professor Pangle where we are reminded of his “boundless Xenophontic good humor and wit that he has brought to all of his endeavors.” (Recovering Reason: Essays in Honor of Thomas L. Pangle, Intro xiv; see also his latest article on the Xenophontic Socrates as represented in comic fashion among the gentlemen of Athens in the Symposium, “Socratic Political Philosophy in Xenophon’s Symposium” American Journal of Political Science 54. no. 1: 140 52; 2010)
Thirdly, one could venture to say that without a doubt the single MOST important element that the course provides for us, in light of the rhetorical abilities already mentioned above, is a gift that is, at first, not at all so easy to see. But, if one looks carefully, and listens more intently, it comes to stand out more and more readily and forcibly. If one reads between the lines, its pervasive appearance seems to come to the fore. For it seems truly puzzling to find a scholar getting so worked up about presenting the actual indignant expressions of the political participants in the debate. In this sense, one could, perhaps without erring too badly, argue that Professor Pangle’s publicly available course is intended to have a certain calming cathartic effect over such righteous indignation. In other words, one of its goals might be said to be that of achieving BOTH a) a certain honest appreciation for the potential greatness of thumos (generally translated as “spirit”) within the realm of the political, but b) simultaneously pointing out following the Socratic tradition the dangers of its appearance, particularly, in the arena of practical human affairs. Why so? For, it would not be too off the mark to say that it is unbridled thumos which heads the revolt over dialogical debate itself in favor of a self-assuring monologue, which, in the political sphere, cannot but generate a dangerous tyrannical spirit of silent silencing amongst those who so proceed to execute.
But, so that I may be believed, one can look at diverse actual instances within the course. At the beginning of the lectures Pangle goes out of his way to point out how once the convention finished and the final product was revealed ——for the Convention met in secrecy for diverse reasons, including those of creating the conditions for more honest free-flowing thoughtful exchanges—- we are told that there was a “collective gasp” by the populace upon seeing that instead of providing amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation, (see Lecture 1, 16:00), there was proposed instead a totally different beast! And in the same manner, it is upon realizing the nature of such a feverish proposal that we are told one of the fiercest opponents from Virginia, George Mason (second only to Washington himself in terms of post-revolutionary respect and honorability) went on to say that he “would rather cut off his right hand than sign” the document! And this is not all. Likewise we are told how the representative from New York, New York State Supreme Court justice Robert Yates (probably Anti-Federalist “Brutus”, to whom we shall return), left in “utter disgust”. (Lecture 1, 20:00). And besides, one could even argue, as Pangle does, that many of the debates and responses by the Federalists are PRECISELY the result of having to defend themselves from the indignant Anti-Federalists who in effect are the FIRST to publish anonymously their ideas in diverse newspapers of the time. Or, as in Centinel No. 11, where we hear the response to the Federalists‘s accusation —–thrown like a dagger—— that the Anti-Federalists did not actually even wish the very survival of the Union; these are just “red herrings product of the deranged brain of Publius”, Centinel responds! And, if one recalls that the actual ratifying conventions in several states were so close in terms of the final votes —-Virginia Ratification on June 25th, 1788, final voting, 89-79; New York ratification July 26th, final voting, 30-27—— then one cannot but imagine the actual tone of the discussions in these legislative chambers!
But why exactly is recovering the sources of such political indignation so valuable and, in the long run, fundamentally healthy for the public sphere? On the one hand, primarily to see the political as it, in fact, IS. The political contest is by its very nature, spirited. Thumos is of the political, as water is to life. But once such presence is acknowledged, then it can perhaps be best moderated by looking at what classical political thought had to add. The wisest words in this regard may be said to appear in Aristotle, perhaps THE clearest presenter of classical political republicanism (see Pangle, Leo Strauss: An Introduction, p. 89). It is in the Nicomachean Ethics that Aristotle presents us with an astounding puzzle. While in Book II “righteous indignation” appears in the list of the political virtues which Aristotle tells us he WILL discuss in order to get clearer on the question of virtue and its relation to self-sufficiency and happiness; in fact, such indignation, “strangely” disappears —NEVER to reappear—– once the discussion progresses. This is so, one could say, because the whole of classical political thought, inspired as it is in the life of Socrates, sees clearly the dangers such righteous indignation can have for the advancement of an elevated type of debate which, given the human propensity for such righteous indignation, would bring such debate to a quick end even before the start. In allowing to partially see this complex dynamic, in vivo, this course, is worth gold.
And it is in contrast to such fiery displays —–which, one must repeat, are necessary and which guarantee an honest and serious political debate in contrast to the passionless “presence” of bureaucratic officers—– there must at some time arise a certain kind of mature moderation, particularly as required in the acceptance of one’s loss(es). And that this is so as regards the debate itself over the American Constitution is clearly exemplified by Thomas Jefferson in a letter written to Alexander Donald on February 1788. There Jefferson points out that he too wishes certain changes to the proposed Constitution, but ends with these pregnant moderating words:
“We must take care, however, that neither this nor any other objection to the new form produce a schism in our union. That would be an incurable evil, because near friends falling out never reunite cordially; whereas, all of us going together, we shall be sure to cure the evils of our new constitution before they do great harm.” (Essential Anti-Federalists, p. 50 )
And in this very same vein, precisely what the debates DO SHOW is that practically-wise, politically-inspired and highly-thumodic human beings ——brought up under strong principles and educated towards the public good——- CAN and sometimes DO reach foundational agreement; that they ARE capable of admitting defeat; that they CAN come to modify their heart-felt positions in light of the power of rational argumentation towards greater goods, even THE good. For speaking specifically, Jefferson DOES persuade Madison on the importance and necessity of including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution (even if the end product was quite not what the Anti-Federalists expected), and the Federalists DO come to consider that in order for representation to be much more meaningful the number of citizens to be represented should fall from 50000 to 12000 (see Federalist Papers, No. 55). (And in this regard one cannot but refer the reader to Charles Taylor’s very important moderating essay, though MUCH less politically-inclined, “Explanation and Practical Reason”.)
And to conclude this section, by taking seriously the political capacities and phronetic skills of the founders, instead of reducing their contribution to mere ideologies ——which would impoverish the debate from the start and infuse the public sphere itself with a debased cynicism——- Professor Pangle provides us with the opportunity to feel and develop a true and honest admiration for such leaders. Or, as Professor Pangle’s Professor once wrote as regards this moderation which results from the ennobling of a certain kind of privileged political form of just indignation:
“…. wisdom cannot be separated from moderation and hence to understand that wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a descent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism. Moderation will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics. Thus it may again become true that all liberally educated men will be politically moderate men. It is in this way that the liberally educated may again receive a hearing even in the market place.” (Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern, p. 24)
III. TENTATIVE COMPARATIVE IMPLICATIONS FOR COLOMBIAN AND CANADIAN CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATES
However, for those of us who are not US citizens, what could be the relevance of seriously studying the American Founding? Specially given that the USA is not ——-justly or not——- many a time warmly regarded by many citizens, even of similarly governed democratic nations. This is to a certain extent the case in the countries of which I am a citizen, Colombia and Canada. As regards the former just last week US citizens were asked to be extremely careful when visiting our gorgeous and — in many respects—- quite exemplary republic. That one is “politely” asked not to go somewhere speaks tons about how one is perceived there. Now, as regards Canada, the known tension has been the basis for an ever-growing multiplicity of jokes, some of the best regarding the two nation’s comparative military powers. Or, to put it another way; sure, if YOU were born and/or live in the USA it might be of interest to know in greater detail who was Madison, or Hamilton, or Jefferson, or George Mason. I mean, it is YOUR constitution, the one which guarantees and expresses YOUR way of life as a nation.
But one could argue. First, this is not just ANY constitution; 200+ years, as we shall see when we compare it to Colombia, is not bad at all! And much more importantly, the very lectures by Professor Pangle emphasize the high-leveled nature of the discussion by the intelligent and practically wise American founding statesmen and women (Mercy Otis Warren). Moreover, the very LOVE/AWE/ADMIRATION showed by serious US citizens towards their constitution should immediately spark our interest for such reverence is surely lacking in our countries. Bluntly put, rather than burning American flags, one could see in the American experience an occasion to better appreciate some of the considerations in learning to better love one’s own flag. In order to see this more clearly, I propose to briefly portray the very basic relevance to an understanding of the countries of which I am a citizen, and which regularly interpret the debates in the United States through certain, less than objective, lenses. Such a comparative approach, in fact, is precisely what allows for a more complete liberal education in the tradition Professor Pangle attempts to open for us. It is in this very same regard that Aristotle —–following his biological bent—- asked of his students to compile a diversity of constitutions precisely in order to overcome the very narrowing which results from solely attending to what is one’s own.
The complete ratification process in USA was held between 1787-1790. Since then the constitution —-even after the period of the disastrous and catastrophic Civil War—– has stood the test of time as the defining document for the social imaginary of the US citizenry as a whole. Of course, there have been some amendments (some more important than others, some more dangerous than others), but the fact remains that the Federalists were in a sense right in trying to focus the very sense of awe required for a healthy republic by allowing the document itself to come to poses a certain aura of shared dignity, practical success and ennobling pride. And, astonishingly for many of us, such document, that stands behind thick bullet-proof glass, has its own revered space in Washington, a space visited by US citizens (and some attentive foreigners) in humble appreciation. I assure you, no such space exists either in Canada or Colombia, countries in which the Constitutions are more easily accessible in the depths of forgotten academic libraries.
A) Very brief Constitutional Review of 19th Century Colombia.
Colombia’s independence began to be won in 1810; making studies such as those of Pangle’s course the more relevant as it is the Bicentennial of our founding liberation. In reality though, Bolivar won independence for us only until 1819 as the diverse republics which declared their independence from the Spanish Crown in the years prior to 1819 ———for instance, the Republic of the stunningly beautiful port of Cartagena in 1811——- were easily crushed by the armed forces of the Spanish Empire led by General Pablo Morillo in charge of re-conquering the Americas. Hamilton and Madison, no doubt, given their concerns over national security against foreign invaders, would have been of great help to those early republics.
Now, Bolivar’s striking victories after 1819 sought to bring about the consolidation of power among the diverse elites within the continent in ONE united Republic. Keeping in mind the relevant complexity, astounding writings skills and overall magnanimity of Bolivar’s brilliant political writings, it is in his less fully thought-through writing on “Congreso de Panamá”, that Bolivar expresses more plainly this unifying position. A bit like the Federalists, he wishes for a strong union among the member states in order to be able to face off any retaliation by the Spanish. Accordingly, he asks the leaders of the emerging liberated regions to meet in Panamá, selected because of its geographically strategic location within the continent (Congreso de Panamá, #411, El Pensamiento Político del Libertador.). Bolívar goes so far as to say: “Parece que si el mundo hubiese de elegir su capital, el Itsmo de Panama sería señalado para este augusto destino”. The aim of such convention would be the creation of a Confederation in which of the confederated parties one could say “ninguno sería más débil con respecto a otro, ninguno sería más fuerte.” (ibid., #416, Art 5).
But such high-minded hopes ——VERY troubling hopes, the US Anti-Federalists would argue—- come precipitously to a calamitous end. Not even the union between Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela can be practically safeguarded. The first initial great confederacy is ruptured into three diverse and distinct “nations” under the banner of three/four different generals, Paez in Venezuela, Flores in Ecuador and the duo Santader/Bolívar in Colombia. But worse still, Bolívar miraculously saves himself from an attempt of assassination, and Santander, who was to become President of Colombia a few years later, is held to have participated in the attempt itself and exiled! Our magnanimous Bolívar dies that very same year in Santa Marta.
Now, what follows for Colombia is a dramatic period of constitutional instability and consequently of armed confrontation in which debate not only did not come to the fore but gradually disappeared swallowed whole by the ever higher reaching waves of partisan indignation. Consequently, between 1830 and 1886, Colombia had 6 (!) major constitutions (not to mention the multiplicity of constitutions which each smaller individual state ratified in periods of radical separation amongst the even smaller contending states). Briefly, 1) Constitution of 1832; Santander who had been exiled rather than executed after the assassination attempt on Bolivar, returns as President in 1832 and in similar fashion as the Anti-Federalists gave more representation to the regions under the newly formed “Estado de Nueva Granada”, 2) Constitution of 1843; signed in the middle of a civil war (the war known dramatically as the “War of Convents” (!) 1839-42) brought to power president Pedro Alcántara Herrán, who against the previous constitution fortified the powers of the executive presidency and sought , like the Federalists in the USA, a higher degree of centralism, 3) Constitution of 1853; which returns to a more decentralized organization of the Republic in a modern liberally-minded tendency that includes the end of slavery and the separation of State and Church, 4) Constitution of 1858; which once again changes the name of the country, now to “Confederación Granadina”, whose very name portrays a much stronger sense of independence by each of the member states as American Anti-Federalists defended by harking back to the nature of the small classical republics of Antiquity; 5) Constitution of 1863; in which an even higher degree of decentralization is sought, to the point that once again the country’s name is changed, revealingly, to that of “Estados Unidos de Colombia” (where each state had its very own constitution, its very own army and its very own control over commerce; The US Anti-Federalists would have felt right at home!); and finally, 6) Constitution of 1886; ——finally a Constitution which withstood the test of time, or at least withstood it until the more recent Constitution of 1991—– in which President Rafael Núñez, under the movement of Conservative Regeneration transforms the “Estados Unidos De Colombia” into the “República de Colombia” with a highly centralized character, a much stronger president (6-year term period), and a strong centralized army. A speech given by Nuñez on November 11 1885 goes to the core of the transformation:
“En el funesto anhelo de desorganización que se apoderó de nuestros espíritus, avanzamos hasta dividir lo que es necesariamente indivisible; y además de la frontera exterior, creamos nueve fronteras internas, con nueve códigos especiales, nueve costosas jerarquías burocráticas, nueve ejércitos, nueve agitaciones de todo género.” (JARAMILLO URIBE, Jaime. et.al. Núñez y Caro 1886. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1986. Págs. 39-48.)
Nine different armies; one can easily see the implications! Nuñez puts it brilliantly: 9 armies = 9 agitations.
For over 100 years the 1886 Constitution was the law of the land in Colombia. Only until 1991 was it overturned in favor of the now quite famous Constitution of 1991 which provided the conditions for a re-founding of Colombia in times of a political upheaval after the very costly war with narcs, and the peace process with some courageous guerrilla groups that put it all on the line in defense of the democratic process (The M-19 Guerilla group in particular; in contrast, to the still extremely feverish but seriously debilitated FARC). And if one follows the above discussion, it would be rather easy to guess what the main characteristics of the 1991 Constitution would be; yes, decentralization and greater power to the regions; and yes, an emphasis on greater direct participation by citizens in contrast to the bureaucracy feared by those who criticize large centralist governments in which citizens become distant, apathetic and paralyzed. Nonetheless, if the reader were to expect constitutional stability to be the case, she would only be very partially correct. THIS Constitution has already had 11 REFORMS; 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005; and comparatively speaking, its very physical length is striking for it consists of a Preamble, 13 Titles, 380 Articles and 59 Transitory dispositions (?). If only the length of a Constitution were directly correlated to the peacefulness of the public sphere and the virtuosity of its citizens and leaders! For truly, what physical space could hold such a Constitution?
And to conclude this very short comparative section on Colombia one cannot but briefly mention three things: 1) Aristotle’s absolutely wise indication in his Politics that the law cannot be so radically and continuously changed if one wishes to have a certain stability that alone guarantees the exercise of republican political freedom, of virtuous decency and of the possibility of happiness within self-government. In this light, Aristotle criticizes a certain Hippodamus of Miletus for his puzzling unending desire for legal novelties:
“From these things it is evident, then, that some laws must be changed at some times; yet to those investigating it in another manner this would seem to require great caution. For when the improvement is small, and since it is a bad thing to habituate people to the reckless dissolution of laws, it is evident that some errors both of the legislators and of the rulers should be let go; for the city will not be benefited as much from changing them as it will be harmed through being habituated to disobey the rulers …… for law has no strength with respect to obedience apart from habit and this is not created except over a period of time. Hence the easy alteration of existing laws in favor of new and different ones weakens the power of law itself. “ (Politics, Book II chapter 8 , 1269a12-22, Carnes Lord translation, my emphasis)
2) The great irony is that in the process of consolidation of our country as a Republic, the very place which Bolívar dreamed of being the center of the American Confederation, namely Panamá ——which was in fact a state belonging to Colombia until 1903—— became ITSELF wholly independent, not without a “little help” from the very country which the Federalists and Anti-Federalists helped bring about. Surely the leaders of Colombia at the time would have learned much from the Federalists concern for a stronger military and naval presence within their territory. Given the geographical nature of the famous Tapón del Darién ——which even today allows for NO roads that can cross from Colombia to Panamá—– the news that Panamá had become liberated took a few months to reach the centralized government in Bogotá. And it was only a few months later that a small Colombian military force arrived in Panamá, only to return empty-handed. (In this regard, Professor Pangle’s clear references to the possible roots of the Monroe Doctrine in the Federalist Papers —–so hated in Latin America—— are extremely valuable.) Fortunately for us, Colombia’s military is now, to a very high degree, exemplary.
And finally, 3) as a citizen of the Republic of Colombia one must keep squarely in mind the decisions of one’s neighbors. The President of Venezuela, who pushed a modification of The Venezuelan Constitution under a more radical anti-classical socialist paradigm, paid out of “his own pocket” for thousands upon thousands of pocket-sized Venezuelan Constitutions to be distributed among the populace. The troubling Canadian documentary “Revolution” shows clearly the hopes and results of such ultra-modern actions. Venezuela, it seems, more than any other country requires courses that take their lead from courses such as that of Professor Pangle. And though a certain welcome air of fraternity is now in place between both countries, thanks principally to Colombian President Santos, it would surely be naive ——dangerously naive—- to believe that commercial interconnections alone can provide the solid foundations required for long-term relations between such differing Constitutional frameworks.
B) Very tentative elements regarding Canada’s Founding Debates
Sure, a troubled country such as Colombia would have MUCH to learn from the debates over the American Constitution. But, what could a neighborly democracy like that of Canada, as stable ——if not more—– what could it really learn from such a long lost and foreign debate? A story. Toronto has a public book festival called, “The Word on the Street”. A gorgeous aristocratically-named park is enclosed and a multiplicity of stands bring forth the word to the agora. It was in one of these stands —a University stand—– that I came across a set of quite large reddish books packed up, one on top of the other. They were barely noticed by the large crowd. The title captured my imagination: “Canada’s Founding Debates”. And knowing a little bit about the Straussian approach to political foundings at the time, I immediately thought I could have struck some gold. And I did, though I did not know gold could be bought for such low, very low, give-away, please-take-it, prices. That the stack of books remained hardly untouched speaks clearly about the everyday citizen concern in Canada for understanding the nature of the debates underpinning their very own Founding as a Confederacy.
And although we, of course, know that the process in Canada which was carried out almost a century after the American one, has some distinct features —–developed under a parliamentary system and within the scope of the British Crown and English Law (precisely what the American Revolution defined itself against (!)——– it is also true that as a modern democracy some of the issues were strikingly similar. Thus, for instance, there is also the struggle over the definition of federalism, the question over representation and the separation of powers, the dilemmas over national identity, the character of a modern commercial republic, among others. But even more importantly, one finds the very same intelligent political discourses, rhetorical abilities, political wit, passionate indignation, and strong desire for some kind of stable and enduring just equilibrium —–asymmetrical federalism it is called here in Canada—- amongst the representatives of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Red Deer, British Columbia and New Brunswick. In this regard, the editors themselves clearly know what exactly makes their book absolutely relevant for those of us who, impacted by courses such as that of Professor Pangle, seek to retrieve the very core nobility of the political within the life of our modern apathetic/ bureaucratic democracies. The editors write:
“Our aim is to present the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, their supporters and their opponents not merely as thinkers about their country but as thinkers about politics —– men consciously acting within a tradition of political thought.” (CFD, p. 1; my emphasis.)
Great thinkers there might be many ——for instance, Heidegger—–, but thinkers of the political, specially in its original and relevant sense, much fewer.
Historically speaking, we should recall that in contradistinction to the US experience, the Canadian SEEMS to have had a much greater level of stability and unanimous acceptance. For instance, there is no Civil War under the Canadian experience after Confederation is ratified. And the image of Canadians abroad would NEVER, under any circumstances, let us see that the country not only has a troubling past, the result of the coming together of two distinct nations, but that it has actually almost come to the brink of separation twice in the recent past! Be that as it may, it might aid us to recall that Canada’s history moves from the Confederation-within-the-Empire phase, through the colony-to-nation phase, to the Centennial celebration (1967) of the Confederation heroes and the rise of true Canadian nationhood phase. (Also, one ought to remember that Newfoundland only came into Confederation until 1944; a date which is even more revealing given that that very same year, in a totally opposite decision, Iceland sought its total independence from Denmark in the search for its very own nationhood).
And here is the thing. Going back to the reddish book, the very reason WHY it was in fact published was due to the all-too-close debacle of the Canadian Federation itself in the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The context of the publication was that of the disastrous constitutional crises which followed the demise of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, then the rejection of the Charlottetown Accord two years later (Charlottetown had been the very location of the original ratification in 1867), and finally, the 50.58%-49.42% (!) NO-vote decision against the separation of the Province of Québéc from the Canadian Federation in 1995 in what was already the SECOND referendum for absolute independence! (Not to mention what the book does not mention, as it cannot, the later political debacle of the Liberal Party accused of corruption and highly questionable intervention in the months running up to the decisive vote for Québéc separation.)
But leaving these clarifying historical elements aside, one can try to point out very briefly some of the topics which were shared by both the American and Canadian debates over the Founding; 1) as with the American debate, some of the debates were published in the leading newspapers of the time which points to the fact that political debates are hardly academic in nature, 2) the American Anti-Federalists’s concern over the long distances the representatives would have to travel, and thus be disconnected from the actual local citizens being represented ——specially so here in Canada with its forbidding winters (!)——- is captured well by one farmer representative from Prince Edward Island:
“Honorable members from distant parts of the island ……. can spare a few weeks during the winter months to attend to their legislative duties, but it would be found a very different matter to be obliged to leave home and business, and that too, very likely in the winter season, for three or four months in the year to attend the general legislative at Ottawa. The public men of this island cannot afford to do so, even if willing.” (Representative Brecken, p. 322; and in this regard it is VERY revealing that only until 1997 was the Island connected by bridge to the Continent; the name of the bridge? Confederation Bridge, here )
3) the intense, witty and passionate discourse memorably captured by representative Coles in the following fighting words which recall those of the US Anti-Federalists who argue that once the central govern controls the sword and the purse, really state legislators will not have much to do:
“Again with respect to our local legislatures under the Confederation scheme, what would it amount to? We would be the laughing stock of the world. …… In this house scarcely anything would be left us to do, but to legislate about dog taxes and the running at large of swine!” (CFD, George Coles, Prince Edward Island, p. 324 )
However, an attentive reading of such texts also shows some startlingly unique experiences characteristic of the Canadian Founding:
4) the intense, almost fixation, over the question of identity which will become a core theme in the Canadian experience —most notably argued by Professor Charles Taylor’s views on the Canadian Federation—- over what it actually means to be a Canadian (In our reddish book one reads the following chapter titles: Chapter 6, British or American?; Chapter 7, British or Canadian?; Chapter 8, What is a Canadian?). For surely what it is to be a Canadian must have much, if not ALL to do, with the very Founding of this political identity.
5) The obvious fact that Canada with its bilingual nature (in contrast to American unilingualism) is the result of Two Founding Nations; the British and the French. In this regard the debates show how. already then, warnings are voiced as regards the very special place the French Lower Canada had to have in relation to the other provinces given its history, its unique language and its cultural heritage which, we now all know, understands itself in terms of the very SURVIVAL of the French culture within the context of Anglophone North america. One such representative argues:
“They may become uniform among themselves, but Lower Canada, even though her people were to wish it, must not be uniform with them …Thus, in one way or another, Lower Canada is to be placed on a separate and distinct footing from the other provinces, so that their interests and institutions may not be meddled with.” (p. 346-347)
For one truly wonders how the most important representative of Lower Canada during those debates, George-Étienne Cartier is actually regarded today in Québéc; or one cannot but recall in Charlottetown in 1992, the indignant walking out by Québéc Premier René Lévesque; or, the fact that ALL license plates in Québéc read “Je me souviens” (and it is not exactly the 1864-1867 Founding that they remember, but a much more problematic one); or, the very fact that our reddish book has NOT ONE single debate in French, which is clearly indicative of the dilemmas.
(For a serious understanding of what Federalism in Canada might mean the work of Professor Charles Taylor, his defense of a “politics of recognition”, of “deep diversity”, of “asymmetrical forms of liberalism”, of the French language-laws like Bill 101, is central; though one must mention that in his Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism —-itself a response to a very revealing novel entitled “Two Solitudes”—– there is little to no mention of the Canadian Founding Debates in the Pangelian sense of the interpretation of political things.)
6) perhaps most dramatically in relation to the American Founding itself, is the fact that the Canadian Confederation (1864-1867) has in the background ——haunting them, in a way——- the very crisis which is the American Civil War (1861-1865) between the North and the South. Representative Belleau of Canada uses this background in order to defend, using a bit of scare-tactics, a much stronger federal government:
“The honorable member Oliver also contends that the local government ought to have larger powers …… and that the federal government ought to have fewer powers. To hear him one cannot help thinking that the experience of history is entirely lost on certain individuals. He must have been aware, however, that it is in reference to the rights of particular states that civil war now exists in the United States; nevertheless, he would implant in this country the same germs of discord.” (ibid, p. 293)
Though as we have seen, the germs of discord —one could respond to Representative Belleau—- need not ALL come in the form of civil wars.
Perhaps these brief points will aid somewhat in understanding the relevance that an understanding of the American Confederation Debates has for the Canadian experience itself. But much more importantly ——–and given the much more apathetic nature of the general citizenry of Canada as regards the political in contrast to that of the US—— one must pay heed to the words by a reviewer of our reddish book. As he puts it, such an investigation would seriously be “a good first step in alleviating Canadians’ sometimes abysmal ignorance of their political roots.” (Glassford, Larry: here )
And to conclude this very incomplete comparative section: in this way, not only Canadians, but as we have seen also Colombians, could thus become much more Socratic in their political spirit than they actually are. They would do so, ironically, via the practical wisdom of the great Founding statesmen of the USA. In a very real sense, the depth of the American experience has us “on the ropes”.
IV. SOME PUZZLES
But in seeking to follow the debate which Professor Pangle defends so vigorously, perhaps one can, very incompletely, say the following:
1. It seems altogether striking that the course not ONCE mentions the question of happiness as regards the Constitutional Debates. One would surmise that in fact the debaters themselves, in some sense or another, did not actually wrestle with the question. But, on the contrary, it was poignantly emphasized by the Anti-Federalists as is exemplified by both Brutus and the Federal Farmer when they bring to the fore this central element, the CORE element of the founders of classical political republicanism (even if, as Pangle allows us to understand, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists are in some sense speaking more of the modern re-interpretation of classical republicanism in the work of Montesquieu than of the original sources themselves.) In this regard, we hear Brutus confronting the Federalists by asking emphatically whether they are altogether clear as to the what the very end of government is. As he puts it in the 6th Letter: “Is this end simply to preserve the general government, and to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the union only? Certainly not.” ( here ) Notice how Brutus here answers himself emphatically without awaiting any response. He seems to be quite clear on the issue. And in the very next letter Brutus reminds us as well that, in contrast to any Hobbesian-inspired pessimistic scheme of things (and Pangle briefly points out to a certain pessimism in the Federalists conception of human nature), the question over the relation between the virtues, both the moral and the intellectual, cannot but be connected under the classical way of approaching things, with a serious attempt at elucidating the very puzzles/questions regarding “happiness” (eudaimonia). As Brutus indignantly —and we share some part of that indignation (!)—- puts it:
“The European governments are almost all of them framed, and administered with a view to arms, and war, as that in which their chief glory consists; they mistake the end of government — it was designed to save men’s lives, not to destroy them. We ought to furnish the world with an example of a great people, who in their civil institutions hold chiefly in view, the attainment of virtue, and happiness among ourselves. Let the monarchs, in Europe, share among them the glory of depopulating countries, and butchering thousands of their innocent citizens, to revenge private quarrels….: I envy them not the honor, and I pray heaven this country may never be ambitious of it.” (Brutus VII, the letter has a total of 4 distinct references to the question of happiness) http://www.constitution.org/afp/brutus07.htm (see also Federal Farmer, Letter XVII, with 5 distinct references to the question of happiness, http://www.constitution.org/afp/fedfar17.htm )
In a very important sense, the Anti-Federalists, and specially Brutus —–Robert Yates who, we recall, had left the Convention in “utter disgust”——- wish to safeguard to some extent for us the intrinsic worth of political virtue, not its mere utility; they wish for the Americans the republican view of virtue as an end-in-itself, not merely the commercial view of virtue as a means to lesser ends. The virtue-lacking recent economic collapse in the US is a clear example. For surely, as Pangle is keen to point out, the Federalists’ admiration of the “love of fame” as THE main, though not sole engine for the generation of politically inspired and inspiring leaders, cannot be the whole story (FP, No. 70) For wouldn’t such love require to some degree the recognition by those less deserving of such great public honors? And besides, wouldn’t such “leaders”, in their lack of serious reflexive self-sufficiency and freedom —–which Brutus might argue is precisely the result of a liberal education in the classical tradition—– not be rather prone to do away precisely with what is so dignified about virtuous republican self-rule? For surely Washington himself, as THE model of the Revolution ——and magnanimous Bolívar in our hemisphere—- stand in deed and in speech for the kind of almost otherworldly capacities that shun fame for the intrinsic love of the public good in and for itself? For otherwise, why would they risk it all —-life, limb and property—- under the worst of possible political conditions? Surely they KNEW that victory was far from clear, that defeat was far more likely to be the end result of their struggles (Washington at Valley Forge; Bolívar in Jamaica)? And it is also clear, but it bears repetition, that in defeat there is little fame to be found. (Now, in this regard, one should carefully look, in order to have a more accurate picture of Professor’s Pangle’s views on these issues, at his published article: “George Washington and the Life of Honor” where a series of puzzles are brought forth as regards the nature of virtue as an end-in-itself, as well as the book The Learning of Liberty in which, among other things, the three principal virtuous model leaders for the Americans —– Washington, Jefferson and Franklin—- are carefully presented and critically appropriated.)
But to point to the fact that classical political philosophy DOES place the question of happiness at the very center of the debate, one need only recall that towards the very end of the Politics, Aristotle writes:
“we assert —–and we have defined it thus in the [discourses on] ethics, if there is anything of benefit in those discourses—— that happiness is the actualization and complete practice of virtue and this not on the basis of a presupposition but unqualifiedly.” (Politics, BK VII, Chapter 13, 1332a7-10, Lord Translation)
And, in order to see the VERY great challenge that Brutus is here putting forward to the Federalists, we should also recall that Aristotle goes on to say that the investigation into happiness deals fundamentally —if not always practically— with the question of leisure, principally in times of peace. (see Book 8, Chapter 3, 1337b37-1338a5; “for being at leisure …… is held to involve pleasure, happiness, and living blessedly ….. This is not available to those who are occupied.”) And perhaps even MORE dramatically, in keeping with the very words of Brutus we have already quoted above regarding the dangers for a Republic of becoming —–to a fault—– a Republic of Arms rather than a Republic of Liberty, one cannot but here a GARGANTUAN echo appear from within the depths of time when listening to Aristotle’s concluding remarks as to the nature of virtue, its relation to happiness and the complex presence of war in political human affairs:
“Those of the Greeks who are at present held to be the best governed and the legislators who established these regimes evidently did not organize the things pertaining to the regime with a view to the best end, or the laws and education with a view to all the virtues, but inclined in crude fashion toward those which are held to be useful and of a more aggrandizing sort. ……….. In praising the regime of the Lacedaemonians they admire the aim of the legislator, because he legislated everything with a view to domination and war …. and yet since now at least ruling (an empire) is no longer available to the Spartans, it clearly follows that they are not happy, and that there legislator was not a good one. But this is ridiculous —that they should have lost [the chance for] living nobly even while abiding by this law …. The same things are best [for men] both privately and in common, and the legislator should impact these in the souls of the human beings. Training in matters of war should be practiced not for the sake of reducing to slavery those who do not merit it, but in the first place in order that they themselves will not become slaves to others …… that the legislator should give serious attention instead to arranging that legislation, and particularly that connected with matters related to war, is for the sake of being at leisure and of peace, is testified to by events as well as arguments. Most cities of this sort preserve themselves when at war, but once having acquired [imperial ] rule they come to ruin; they loose their edge, like iron, when they remain at peace. The reason is that the legislator has not educated them to be capable of being at leisure.” (Politics, 1333b5-1334a10; my emphasis)
For surely it is evident to all of us that the Founding Fathers could not clearly see how spectacular their success would be, precisely in this military arena. And seeing the USA at this very moment involved in multiple wars —the result of having been cowardly attacked on 9/11—— cannot but alert us to the fact that Aristotle does not doubt for an instant the dangers to democratic self-rule that such powers make possible. In other words, given the unimaginable power of the Armed Forces of the US, one just feels that Brutus was absolutely right, absolutely truthful, as regards the dangers he foresaw over 200 years ago. Or put more bluntly, as a Colombian, recalling the loss of Panama; or as a Canadian, recalling how the Canadian Parliament voted NO to the second invasion of Iraq, one cannot but desire that all leaders and commanders/officers in the US army would know by hard, if not the very words of the distant Aristotle, then the much closer words that their very Founders saw worth recovering in order for their place in history be that of leaders in the education of civic virtue from within. For surely Brutus –and the chosen pen name is troubling indeed—- would rather virtuous happiness than the obfuscating fame of endless power. Or put another way, the USA cannot but constantly ask itself whether it is truly the measure of happiness for others, specially for those other constitutions —–which we saw above—– were, for a moment, truly “on the ropes”.
2. And the silence which Professor Pangle keeps as regards the issue of happiness is not alone. When listing the very sources of classical republicanism, something altogether astonishing happens. We are told that this tradition is the heir of Aristotle, of Cicero, of Plutarch. But something, one senses, is not —for very specific reasons— being disclosed fully. And it is easy to grasp what is missing if one listens carefully; if one is not simply led away by Professor Pangle’s “magical charms”. What is missing is precisely the presentation of such classical republican tradition as TRULY going just a bit further back in time. In other words, what is missing —one surmises because of the very public (“exoteric”) nature of the course itself—– is a clear reference to the work of Plato and Xenophon, and more importantly to the life of Socrates as the unquestionable original Founder of the permanent debates and the perennial questions which make up that tradition. But why would one want to not mention this so directly? (For one would have to be quite senseless not to acknowledge that the very way the course is developed IS Socratic to its heart!)
Perhaps we can say this. Plato’s Laws considers some of the essential permanent elements underlying the complex nature of such Foudings. Plato very carefully allows us to see what is at stake in trying to attend to what may be going on in the course of such points of origin. Thus, instead of having Socrates conduct the dialogue itself, we are confronted with a very strange “Athenian Stranger” who speaks —-NOT of the Athenian Constitution and the Athenian way of life—– but rather of a possible practical Founding far away —–safely distant——- in Crete. And also quite revealing is the fact that, in direct opposition to what happens in the dramatic development of Plato’s Republic, the conversation in the Laws is not generated via interaction with mostly young interlocutors, but rather with elderly practically-minded gentlemen who, in order to be loosened up a bit as to what is going to come about, previously need to have a kind of spiritual drink! As Pangle puts it in interpreting this passage:
“The old men become vicariously a bit drunk, or experience in very mild, imagined and remembered form the effects of drinking together at a banquet. To a slight extent they become more youthful in spirit; less prudent and careful (645e-646a), more cheerful, more filled with a sense of power and liberty, freer in speech and less hesitant to speak and act (649a-b)” (Plato, Laws; Interpretative Essay p. 404.)
But, in defense of fairness, Professor Pangle DOES in the First Lecture allow us to see directly how the very success of the Federalist position has achieved great health in terms of republican political stability. But he never ceases for one moment to emphasize; it does so at a cost. The cost; precisely restricting for us, and indignation plays a crucial role here, the capacity to listen attentively to those who represented alternative positions to the one which in the end cemented our self-understanding(s). The silent acceptance of the given, specially when “successful”, makes it difficult to mount a prudential type of questioning that goes to the core of the dilemmas and issues involved.
And besides, one feels in Professor Pangle’s reading of the only passage in which the Federalists speak of Socrates, in his very tone, a certain healthy Socratic skepticism. Madison writes in Federalist Paper No. 55 revealing dramatically his radical pessimism as regards the powers of reason in the classical or ANY tradition:
“in all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob” (FP, NO. 55, p. 340; his emphasis)
Now, independently of whether Socrates actually wished to be part of the assembly on a regular basis, one has the feeling that Professor Pangle is close to pulling out a few hairs, and even make use of some judo throws himself! For surely, of Socrates it is the least likely that we can say that passion ruled over him.
And in this train of ideas something remarkable happens as well if one takes a closer look at the accompanying guide to the course. Therein one finds, what ——given a certain interpretative leeway——- signals dramatically to the very core issues within classical political thought itself, primarily as regards the relation between the political and the philosophical life. For undoubtedly classical political philosophy clearly ranks both. In the guide Professor Pangle asks his students to reflect on the following question:
“What exactly is the tension in the Anti-Federalist republican vision between the classical civic ideal and the independent yeoman farmer ideal? Do you think this tension can be lived with, or is it likely to lead to unmanageable problems in practice?” (Lecture 3, question 2)
Now, this question seems to point to the specific differences between the farmers of antiquity and those modernity. And, in a sense it certainly does, for surely the modern independent yeoman farmer is not as closely tied to the public as was the case in antiquity, nor is such a farmer so closely tied to the religious character of the polis as was the norm previously. And perhaps there is also a greater difference in terms of the greater economic commercial independence of the yeoman farmer in that he has a greater understanding of the scientific nature of things (of course, created in part thanks to Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac). But, we wish ——-perhaps not too prudently——– to push the question further so that the character of the modern Founding can come to be better appreciated. Perhaps Pangle’s question is getting at what is an altogether different matter, a matter which points to the movement from the political elements of classical political philosophy to its relation to the very life of Socrates and the life of philosophy in general. For classical political philosophy points with absolute clarity to the idea that the political has, from within itself, a strong erotic component which when appreciated and understood more fully may lead some to a way of life which is the happiest unqualifiedly. And so we remember that Xenophon tells us in his Oeconomicus about a memorable occasion in which Socrates came into direct dialogue with one of the most virtuous farmers of Antiquity, Ischomachus. Unfortunately space does not allow for this reflection. But if we are to follow Pangle’s lead in seeking a truly liberally-minded approach to the Founding Debates, not only of the USA but of ALL modern democratic nations, then such an encounter must become paramount. For it was then, so Xenophon tells us, that Socrates —who had brought down philosophy from the heavens to the political—– came to understand, at that specific moment and through that specific conversation, that he himself was no gentleman farmer (kalos k’agathos). So, to answer Professor Pangle’s question, namely: “Do you think this tension can be lived with, or is it likely to lead to unmanageable problems in practice?”, one would have to say that certain unmanageable “problems” do, in fact, arise.
And as regards other points much more briefly developed,
3. One could be so bold as to ask whether Professor Pangle, being himself an American, is in fact the person most indicated to actually give us the most revealing interpretations of the American Civic Heritage itself. What I mean is, partly, this. Isn’t it, ironically, Tocqueville —–a Frenchman, a distant foreigner —– who provides in his Democracy in America the very basis for the recovery of a neo-aristotelian approach to the political in modernity in general, but more specifically as regards the American Nation itself? But why would a foreigner be more capable of such diagnosis than an actual citizen? And we also recall how, in writing the Laws, Plato places a very strange Athenian stranger as the figure that can ultimately best discuss the nature of foundings. For surely, what are we to make of the Socrates’ fate? Or again, following classical political thought itself, why exactly is it Aristotle ——not precisely an Athenian—– who in his The Athenian Constitution provides us with such a critical history of the democratic tendencies that developed in the Athenian polis? And that this may turn out to be a valid question, at least partially, is itself defended by Professor Pangle when he writes elsewhere recalling his Professor’s words:
“The political scientist’s proper role in the conflict among regimes and over the regime is neither that of a partisan nor that of neutral “scientific” observe engaging in merely “comparative “ politics. The political scientist’s proper role is that of an unofficial umpire or judge” (WIPP, 80-81) (Leo Strauss: An Introduction to his Thought and Intellectual Legacy, pp. 95-96)
But surely we are seeing things through a dark lens here, aren’t we? Because as Professor Pangle shows, he CAN and DOES provide us with the recovery, not of a set of repeatable schemata, but rather with a living DEBATE that allows for a position which moves beyond partisanship and careless “scientific” observation. But one still wonders whether, for instance, an American citizen would be in fact the most qualified to discuss the recently hotly contested issues regarding immigration, or whether a new Tocqueville would have much to add in this regard.
4. Likewise, one wonders why exactly none of the Lectures focuses more fully on the question dealing with the Founder’s views on religion. Of course we know Professor Pangle HAS treated the matter elsewhere, (1989 “Religion in the Thought of Some of the Leading American Founders.” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics. and Public Policy 4: 37-50.), but still one might be tempted to believe that such a “thorny” issue is not included because it would require a set of Lectures to itself. But even if this were true, still one finds it quite puzzling to see that the Anti-Federalists themselves, who bring the question of religion to the foreground, do not push the issue in a much more fundamental way. That is to say, one wonders whether in fact the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists are all that different in their respective interpretations of the role of religion within modern commercial republics. Perhaps BOTH camps are speaking of religion in a very secularized version. But if true, if truly religion becomes itself simply a means for political health, then one cannot see clearly how the deepest challenges that the Bible set forth for our modern spiritual make up can be truly and fully recovered. Professor Pangle DOES allow us to recall Benjamin Franklin’s insistent demand that the New Constitution make explicit reference to God ——-as the Articles of Confederation in fact did, and as the Colombian Constitution in fact does——- but in reading some letters by Franklin one feels a certain aloofness as regards the core issues which could in fact represent dramatic challenges to our modern foundations. Here is Franklin’s 1790 letter to Ezra Stiles:
“Here is my creed. I believe in one God , the creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. …. .. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us is the best the world ever saw or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with some to the present dissenters in England, assume doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it; and think it it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” (Benjamin Franklin, p. 343.)
Leaving aside Benjamin Franklin’s characteristic and always welcome Xenophontic humor, one fails to feel that he is actually gripped to the core by the issues. Franklin is no Wiliam James. Or put another way, when one reads the story of Cain and Abel we see how challenging the Biblical tradition can result to both Federalist and Anti-Federalists alike. For it is in this short Biblical story that we are pointed in a direction quite different that that of the Founding Fathers. Why so? Because it is Cain, not Abel, who founds the first city of the Bible. And in this way, what the Bible might be getting at when discussing the issue of a Founding, might be an altogether different matter.
5. Though we have pushed the question to the side ——following Pangle’s lead—– so that we may see the richness of less obvious arguments and dilemmas as they were taken up in the debates by the debaters themselves, still it may appear striking to see that not ONCE does Professor Pangle take up the issue of slavery in the texts themselves. Perhaps Professor Pangle has done so for some precise reasons: 1) to be able to focus the debate beyond its obvious future failings, in this way aiding us in overcoming our indignation from the very start; 2) to signal to its presence by being absolutely silent about it (as when Plato is absolutely silent about the body in the Republic); but perhaps it is also, and more likely, 3) because the rise of Abraham Lincoln as President and his admirable confrontation of the crisis presented by the American Civil War —to the point that under Lincoln we speak of a “Second” Founding—– was indeed made possible precisely BECAUSE of the nature of the republic which arose thanks to the argumentative example which were the debates over confederation. And that the rich fertile soil from whence such debates arose was still alive at the time of Lincoln is clearly exemplified in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Moreover, it is in Lincoln’s “Speech on Reconstruction” that we see how the greatness of the initial Founding itself allowed for the appearance of a statesman of such stature. Had it been otherwise, the collapse of the Union would have been most likely. As Lincoln writes, in a tone which allows us to better understand the living example of one who, capable of righteous indignation and of leading decisively a war, nonetheless in victory chose to promote the conditions for leisure that we saw above classical republicanism recognizes as necessary for securing a happiness beyond domination:
“We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into the proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier, to do this, without deciding or even considering, whether these states have been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the act, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.” (Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, 1859-1865, “Speech of Reconstruction”, p. 699)
Professor Pangle’s 12-lecture course has provided us with a clear example to follow in terms of learning how to prudently secure the health of a republic politically, while at the same time opening for us —–to explore for ourselves—— critical avenues that alone can provide a more just appraisal of the alternatives to the modern republican ethos. He provides us, in thought, a certain kind of challenging liberation that better prepares us as citizens, in our souls, to confront the crisis of our time. And that Professor Pangle indeed has much to thank the Founding Founders himself, can easily be seen in such truly awe-inspiring letters as that of Benjamin Franklin in a speech he gave towards the conclusion of the deliberative process underpinning the Great Debate:
“I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does, and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded live those of the builders of Babel, and that our states are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purposes of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best ……. Moreover the strength and efficacy of any government, in procuring and securing the happiness of the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope, therefore, for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, that we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution.” (Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography and Other Writings, pp. 325-326, Bantam 2008)
Such wisdom, such prudent wisdom, cannot but leave us humbled and aware that there is much in ourselves that we must do in order to become the very best citizens that we can become. In allowing us to come into contact with such leaders, Professor Pangle allows us to regain lost powers that are without a doubt required in order to comprehend and confront head on the crisis of our time.
A) Related bibliography by Professor Thomas L. Pangle
A1. Allowing myself a personal note, it is indeed striking that in the honorary essays written for Professor Thomas Pangle ——-Recovering Reason: Essays in Honor of Thomas L. Pangle, Edited by Timothy Burns——- there is not one single specific essay dedicated to his recovery of the Debates over the American Founding and the history of the American civic heritage.
A2. Professor Pangle’s illuminating books dealing directly with the American civic heritage include:
1988: The Spirit of Modern Republicanism; The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1992: The Ennobling of Democracy: The Challenge of the Postmodern Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
1993: The Learning of Liberty The Educational Ideas of the American Founders, co-authored with Lorraine Smith Pangle. Lawrence. KS: University Press of Kansas. American Political Thought Series.
A3. Professor Pangle’s illuminating articles dealing directly with the American civic heritage include:
1989: “Religion in the Thought of Some of the Leading American Founders.” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics. and Public Policy 4: 37-50.
1993: “The Accommodation of Religion: A Tocquevillian Perspective.” In The
Canadian and American Constitutions in Comparative Perspective, edited
by Marian C. McKenna. 3-24. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.
1999: “The Classical and Modem Liberal Understandings of Honor.” and “George Washington and the Life of Honor.” In The Noblest Minds: Fame. Honor, and the American Founding, edited by Peter McNamara, Lanham. Md.: Rowman and Littlefield. Co-authored with Lorraine Smith Pangle.
B) External links
B1. Online Library of Liberty, where most of the texts dealing with the Debates over Confederation, and specially those of the Anti-Federalists, can be found: here