How does Hamilton
Thomas Jefferson, his enemy
Hamilton: An American Musical
Ever since the immensely popular Broadway musical and a PBS series made Alexander Hamilton a newly-celebrated founding father, his unusual life and death have captured the imagination of many.
Tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-collecting show with the original cast can set you back thousands, but you can read this post for free. I can’t say it will compare in cleverness and entertainment value, but you will understand a few facts about the American icon.
Hamilton is one of the most important political philosophers in America’s history. The views he took on the issues of his time are still relevant. It is no accident that his Federalist Papers are read over and over for insights into the American Constitution.
Here I share one of five of his core convictions, all of which remain germane to the problems of today.
One is who should have the power to make decisions on how our society is run.
Those with experience and expertise should make rules
In the GOP nomination process of 2016, grass roots Republicans voted for Trump, while party elites (think Mitt Romney or Bill Kristol) opposed him. As Trump racked up primary victories in succession, smashing his rivals, establishment Republicans groaned in dismay.
Party regulars as I write this are scheming to overturn, or at least subvert, the primary voting results to deny Trump the GOP nomination. But Trump was the peoples’ pick. Riding a wave of voter anger, he knocked out all 16 GOP rivals, to the dismay of party regulars such as McCain and Romney. The 91-year-old ex-president George Bush, the Old Guard of the GOP, hurled footwear at the television screen where Trump resides.
In this situation, we ask the question, can party officials legitimately deny Trump the nomination? Hamilton would say overturning the popular will is justified in this situation. While Trump might be the people’s pick, some believe he will lose disastrously for the entire party in November. GOP lifers fear the loss of the entire Congress, because a Trump ticket will drag down every Republican candidate down to dog catcher.
The Hamiltonian idea is to have those with the most experience able to overrule the popular will when necessary for a greater good. Hamilton believed these experts should have the most say in which laws are made and enforced. He rejected popular passion and mass popular will, thinking that the masses of people are too emotional and turbulent in their passions to perceive the greater interest.
Who decides whether we go to war?
A Hamiltonian issue in our society today might be: Who should decide if marijuana becomes legal? The medical establishment (Hamilton’s choice) or the people’s vote, as happened in Washington and Colorado in 2015?
California votes on the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016. Should the issue be decided by the masses? Hamilton would claim that lung and brain doctors and psychiatrists should decide. Hamilton would mistrust the masses.
In deciding to withdraw from Iraq or Vietnam, should we listen to military and political experts like Rumsfeld or McNamara, or to the voices of the citizens who pay the price?
Alexander Hamilton believed that property owners, those with demonstrable wealth, are more stable and reliable than people without, and even that only those with demonstrable wealth should be able to vote.
People who don’t have anything or who are debtors, he believed, are not qualified to decide for others with more at stake. Who takes better care of a house, its owners or its renters?, a modern Hamilton might ask.
Who would take a rental car for an oil change? No one would.
Would you want airplane passengers to democratically vote upon which buttons to push in the cockpit? Or do you demand that a trained, professional pilot operate the plane?
Hamilton would say that popularity with the masses does not make something in the best interests of society. The masses of people might want and be willing to pay for to-the-death gladiator fights on Pay Per View. This would certainly be a popular and lucrative type of program, but it doesn’t make it good for our country.
So what do you think?
Did you learn from this post anything new about Hamilton? Subscribe to get the rest of the five-part series.