This brief essay will argue that the anti-Federalists were right: the American government is too large and the constitution has ceased to be an effective check on the expansion of the size of the state itself. The American system of government was never meant to be a large interlocking series of bureaucracies, the judiciary was never meant to make the law and the presidency was never meant to become the seat of an emperor. Yet, in 2009, all of this has become the norm for the United States. This paper will seek to use the anti-Federalist argument to hold that the American state has destroyed liberty in the name of security.
Ultimately, the United States, relative to the mentality of its founders, is a centralized empire rather than a democratic republic. Hilaire Beloc wrote that the modern state has become “the servile state,” where individuals have become dependent upon favors granted by government to the detriment of their own abilities. At the same time, James Burnham has depicted American and all western governments as managerial, that is, run by a faceless bureaucracy that does not value leadership or vision, but rather the effective running of the bureaucratic machinery and the support of the state as an entity in itself (Burnham, 166).
While both these classic approaches are correct, the reality is that the American government has become the omni-state, that is to say, that the American system has fostered a society where not a single element in the US population is either not dependent on the state or does not plan to. Putting it differently, at one time or another, the entire American population is either dependent upon the state or planning on being sop dependent. The large federal apparatus has bred a society of dependency.
Belloc held that it was the reign of Henry VIII in England that led to the social idea that property is somehow within the purview of the state rather than with the producers of products. That the state, in other words, had “rights” in itself over producers. This idea became part and parcel of the growing literature on the state and its rights within society. Furthermore, this development led to the idea that the state can “lead” a society to “higher goods” that it does not desire in itself. As capitalism continues to burrow its way into modern societies, the state grows stronger and stronger to help control it and benefit from it.
As a result, the state becomes a partner with the capitalist elites rather than guiding the population and enforcing legitimate laws (Belloc, 82-83). While not using such modern language, the Anti-Federalists made similar claims about the rise of state power. The Constitution of the US explicitly provides for three branches of government with few powers and duties. Money is to be coined and raised only by the popular branch of the state, that is the House of Representatives. The Judiciary was to be consultative only, and no mention is made of judicial review in the constitution itself.
Government was to be local, under the rule of states and local elites who would be known by all and hence judged solely on their personal merits rather than on a political machine. The Anti-Federalists made several arguments that have all been proven correct over the centuries concerning the problems with the Constitution eventually passed by the Convention. These arguments were predictions about the future growth of the state that would extinguish liberty with promises of security. First, the anti-federalists held that the system of federalism would soon break down.
That is, the government of states with a weak center would eventually decay into a single, basically centralized state (“Farmer,” 260). “The Federal Farmer” writes: “But a new object now presents. The plan of government now proposed is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our condition as a people. Instead of being 13 republics, under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government. ” With this would come high taxes, a strong standing army and a large bureaucracy that would oversee the mass development of the central government over the states and localities (“Pennsylvania Minority,” 242-243).
The anti-Federalists held that the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution would be eventually interpreted as the loophole the statists would exploit to expand the powers of the state (“Farmer” 232). The basic argument of the Anti-Federalist corpus might be reduced to this: the “general welfare” clause will be used to expand the scope of federal competence. Then, once this is done, the “necessary and proper” clause will be used to expand the policing and taxing powers of the state pursuant to these new goals.
As a result, the powers of the states will be overthrown and the federal government will indeed become a “general government. but a general government is a bad thing: it makes reference to a state of affairs where a distant capital, with its own “political establishment” will control all elements of the political life of the American people and hold states as dependencies, always hungry for federal handouts (Johnson, 2001). All of this, of course, will be enforced by the large standing army the anti-Federalists predicted would maintain this state and the dependency of the population. Professor Matthew Johnson writes in his seminal article on the mentality of the anti-Federalists:
Much of the political wisdom found in the Anti-Federalist writings comes in this form: that of realizing the limitations of institutional structure. They realized that, regardless of the institutional checks on federal power, a loophole can always be found by the unscrupulous or tyrannical. In other words, institutions matter far less than the caliber of people running them (Johnson, 2001) The general point is that the current size of the American government is not an accident, but is built into the very structure of the Constitution.
While the Constitution was only meant for a small state, there are several clauses that frightened the anti-Federalists into predicting, correctly, that the statist mentality would use these to control the growth of the state in their interests. What results is a distant bureaucracy that does not know or understand the problems of people far distant from it. The above considerations on the Constitution and Federalism might lead one to formulate a model of the American state like this: The expansion of the federal government was made possible by loopholes in the Constitution such as the “general welfare” clause.
But the expansion of the state needed a clientele, that is, a dependent class or classes in the population that sought the expansion of the state (such as during the Depression, or after the Civil War, or the Civil Rights movement) for their own specific interests. Therefore, each element within the expansion of the state was brought about by the state itself in response to demands of certain elements within the population. Hence, the state and its massively increased powers over the last 60 years are the result of the development of interest groups that eventually realized that capturing state power meant benefits for themselves.
From corporate welfare to Civil Rights, each expansion of state power has had a clientele powerful enough to assist in the expansion of government force (Buchanan, 337-340). The model then looks like this: the American general government is a series of interest groups that benefit from the expansion of state power in their interests. Notice that the state itself is one of these groups, but merely one. The loopholes int eh constitution and the existence of a powerful interest group, in other words, are necessary and sufficient causes for the state to grow.
But how did such a situation come about. The answer, again, is within the pages of the anti-Federalist, specifically, in 1787, where “Brutus” writes: The number [of federal representatives] will be so small that but a very few of the sensible and respected yeomanry of the country can have any knowledge of them. Being so far removed from the people, their station will be elevated and important, and they will be considered as ambitious and designing. They will not be viewed by the people as part of themselves but as a body distinct from them and having separate interests to pursue.
The consequence will be that a perpetual jealousy will exist in the minds of the people against them; their conduct will be narrowly watched; their measures scrutinized; and their laws opposed, evaded or reluctantly obeyed. (328) In other words, the electoral process itself and the nature of Constitutional representation brought about a situation where the state was so distant from the population that it became the essentially secret realm of interest group politics.
What “Brutus” is trying to say is that as the country physically expands, and the power of the central state grows accordingly, the difference between the representatives in the capitol and the average “yeoman” would grow proportionally. This prediction is difficult to deny. What is being claimed here is that even a huge representative assembly in the capitol of a large country could never be aware of what is occurring in the hinterlands.
Brutus is appealing to a notion of representation that holds local politics is central: the voters should personally know those who are being sent to the capitol. But in a large country with a large central government, what matters is not representation, but the “managerial democracy” condemned by Burnham. Without true representation, the state then becomes, not a representative democracy, but a managerial one, where the political success is not representing the population, but successfully balancing interest groups and the bureaucracy.
It is difficult to deny that the anti-Federalist movement successfully predicted the rise of the central state and the means for effecting that rise. It is also difficult to deny that the powerful central state has been harmful to liberty, taking a fill $2 trillion in its yearly budget out of the population and still running up a massive debt that will likely never be repaid. For all the good that a central state can do, it can do as much evil. For all that it gives, it can take away.