Today we are faced with a presidential election filled with contradictions. The presumptive Republican candidate claims to speak for the middle classes yet is one of the wealthiest men in the nation. Our leading Democratic candidate claims to represent the working and poorer classes but is clearly a member of the New Liberal elite of professionals and meritocrats. Who are they but the 20th and early 21st century versions of Hamilton’s 18th and early 19th century cronies of “landholders, merchants and men of the learned professions, whose experience and wisdom travel beyond the circle of their neighbors”?
An interesting “review” in today’s NYT of Hamilton, the musical discusses how the play only portrays Hamilton’s more positive traits and forgets his elitism.
He is usually the one to whom this quote is attributed: “The Masses are asses.”
Whether he said it or not isn’t the point. One of the reasons there is an electoral college, was because many of the founders felt the people could not select the best person to be the president of the United States. Hamilton was instrumental in the creation of the electoral college, and made his point that the masses couldn’t be trusted with this huge responsibility. Today’s Democratic party incorporated this attitude when it decided to have super delegates.
Hamilton mistrusted the political capacities of the common people and insisted on deference to elites…. Many of the Convention participants feared the “excess of democracy,” but Hamilton went much further.’The people are turbulent and changing,’ he declared. ‘They seldom judge or determine right.’ They must be ruled by ‘landholders, merchants and men of the learned professions,’ whose experience and wisdom “travel beyond the circle” of their neighbors. For America to become an enduring republic, Hamilton argued, it had to insulate rulers and the economy as much as possible from the jealous multitude.
Hamilton, with his contemptuous attitude toward the lower classes, was perfectly comfortable with the inegalitarian and antidemocratic implications of his economic vision. No founder of this country more clearly envisioned the greatness of a future empire enabled by drastic inequalities of wealth and power. In this sense, too, ‘Hamilton’ is very much a musical for our times.”
In fact, Hamilton was a bundle of contradictions. As he said
“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
It seems to me we face the opposite dilemma in 2016.
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first oblige it to control itself.