The Rise and Rise of American Power
As I noted in a previous essay, it was Alexander Hamilton who, among our Founding Fathers, had the sharpest vision of an infant nation’s need to acquire national strength, both economic and military. In emphasizing a program for the deliberate encouragement of capital strength in the United States, he was a prophet of the mightiest economic and military power the world has yet produced. Politics, for Hamilton, was the supreme power struggle. Thus, although he professed allegiance to republicanism in the Federalist Papers, his view of power caused him to speak of a “strict and indissoluble Union” where the state should be “in perfect subordination to the general authority.” His main concern was not that the federal head might stomp on its members, but rather that the state governments would encroach upon the power of the federal Union. In his private vision of himself as a new Caesar, Hamilton saw himself directing an energetic government, commanding a great army, and working to create a vast American empire. In his determination to employ all means (all are justified) in order to preserve the all-powerful state, he became a practicing Machiavellian.
Hamilton failed, of course, to achieve his goals, but why? Some have suggested it was because of a basic character defect, an all-consuming passion for power. This passion arose from a basic insecurity in life associated with his deep feelings of shame in being born out of wedlock and raised without fatherly affection. He thus had to find his way in the world by the use of his wits. This established the unifying thread in his constant associations with wealthy men and military leaders for his friends, his desire for commanding military and executive positions, and his willingness to resort to subterfuge to achieve his ends.
It should be clear by now why I see some contemporary manifestations of Hamilton in George W. Bush and with the neoconservatives in his administration. Perhaps even more important is Bush’s view that he alone can steer an independent course for America and save the dignity and pride of American democracy around the world. His position, to me at least, seems to be a compromise between a Puritanical emphasis on human corruptibility and the optimistic benevolence of a liberal Unitarian. The impulse to “help” others—with overwhelming force, if need be—seems to be his definition of patriotism. George W. Bush, in truth, personifies the repressive, authoritarian conscience. The only political order he can conceive of is order from above and from so elevated a power that people will not be able to question it. Self-construed order, intelligent cooperation—these Bush can neither understand nor trust. In fact, his behavior as president is as enigmatic as is his personality. On the one hand, he is suspicious to the point of alienating those who might have furthered his interests. On the other, where a more judicious man might have sensed outright hostility and acted accordingly, Bush possesses a childlike optimism. Weak where he should have been strong and strong where he should have been weak, he thus pursues a course that is leading to his own repudiation and that is accelerating the destruction of his party.
If it was Hamilton’s fate to be a leader without followers, it is Bush’s fate to be a follower without leaders. Not enough of a constitutionalist to please the Old Right nor enough of a liberal to win the support of the Far Left, he has cut the Gordian knot in pursuit of his own vision of empire. When Bush made the decision to go after nations instead of the terrorists about 9/11, he flung himself directly into the path of a whirlwind, apparently thinking that the ruin of the American economy was not too high a price to pay for personal revenge. In the great moral crisis of his career he wishes to be governed by compassion rather than by jealous self-interest, but his war on tyranny has only bred more of the same. He is, as I attempted to explain previously, in every way a full collaborator with the neocon power-brokers in their development and defense of the philosophy of democracy in strategic terms in a world where it is gravely threatened. In the test of fire that is actual politics rather than political theory, however, Bush is showing himself all too willing to overturn the very principles of constitutional government without which only the husk of genuine democracy can remain.
October 1, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. He is currently finishing his latest book, Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.