Tuesday, October 13, 2020

HAMILTON II

It is not, however, my design to dwell upon observations of this nature. I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable—the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. 

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. 

Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Alexander Hamilton. The Federalist Papers (1). Roma Solodoff. Kindle Edition.

Friday, October 9, 2020

GOOD MEN

Madison had begun his statements on this question in Federalist LV and LVI, published in mid-February 1788: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind,” he then wrote, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” Four months later he elaborated the point in what was for him a remarkable outburst. It was touched off by Mason’s insistence, in the Virginia ratifying convention, that legislators will do everything mischievous they can think of and fail to do anything good. Why is it not as reasonable, Madison replied, to assume that they will as readily do good as evil?—not that one should “place unlimited confidence in them, and expect nothing but the most exalted integrity and sublime virtue.” And then followed this statement of his basic philosophy:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.

Other federalists, equally convinced of the power of self-interest, greed, and corruption, said the same. Washington wrote Lafayette that the guarantee that the American government would never degenerate into despotism lay in the ultimate virtue of the American people. John Dickinson asked, “will a virtuous and sensible people choose villains or fools for their officers? Or, if they should choose men of wisdom and integrity, will these lose both or either, by taking their seats? If they should, will not their places be quickly supplied by another choice? Is the like derangement again, and again, and again, to be expected? Can any man believe that such astonishing phenomena are to be looked for?” Similarly, the federalist Reverend Samuel West in the Massachusetts convention demanded to know whether it was likely that people would “choose men to ruin us…May we not rationally conclude that the persons we shall choose to administer [the Constitution] will be, in general, good men?”

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (369-370). Harvard University Press. [1967, 2017] Kindle Edition.

Friday, October 2, 2020

ACADEMIC FITNESS

 

Academic Fitness

A few years ago I was at a conference of a few hundred History/Social Studies educators, consultants, etc. at the Center for the Study of the Senate in Boston. I was introduced, as The Concord Review and I had recently been the subjects of an op-ed column in The Boston Globe.
 
After several presentations and some discussion of History/Social Studies in the schools, I asked the question: “Is there then a consensus that high school students are incapable of reading a complete History book?” No one objected to that suggestion.

We have talked for several decades about “Varsity Academics®” and we now have that as a trademark. We have wanted to call attention to the possibility that work on academic expository writing in History could be seen as parallel to the work that goes into preparing a young athlete to be accepted on varsity sports teams in high school. 

We still think that academic writing should start at about the same time as Little League and Pop Warner, giving students years to learn more about and to get better at term papers, especially in History. 

We are now claiming a need for the same long-term preparation for academic reading, so that high school seniors, instead of being judged incapable, in advance, of reading a complete History book, would turn out to be quite capable of doing so, as a result of many years of serious nonfiction reading at growing levels of difficulty, during their school years. 

At present, most of the focus in our schools is on writing that is personal or creative, and that has led to widespread incompetence in academic expository writing. Similarly what students are asked to read is mostly fiction, leading to incompetence in managing actual History books. These disabilities can be remedied by the regular development of academic fitness, in nonfiction reading and writing, especially in History, all through the years in school.


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review