Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Original Argument

Politics and history seem to have always interested me.  I’m not sure when or how that interest began.  My guess is that it has something to do with reading the newspaper as a kid.  To be honest, the comics were the main draw, back when they had two full pages and each strip was printed at a size that didn’t require a magnifying glass to read the print.  Classics like Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side are what I cut my teeth on.  To get there, though, since they were in the C section of the Deseret News, one had to work one’s way through the national, state, and local news, including the editorial pages.  I read a lot of the stories.  I am sure that I also heard my parents discussing elections and politics.  We had this Dodge minivan as a kid, and I usually sat on the middle seat behind the driver.  Back in the day when rear seats only had a lap belt, though, I would often extend it pretty much as far as it would go so I could sit on the edge of the seat, thereby having my head right up with the front seats, where I could hear my parents’ discussions.  I learned a lot and probably said plenty of dumb things (and now think that those conversations and my parents’ willingness to let me be a fly on the wall are something I could learn from as my own kids get to those same ages).  As for history, it has really just been inherently interesting, but things like war, exploration, and rebellion capture the mind of a young boy.  It was always easy to put myself in the place of the famous patriots fighting the British or as a Union supporter and an abolitionist.  Reading the news and wanting to understand politics showed me early on how history is necessary to understanding the situations we face today.

Book cover.In The Original Argument: The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century by Glenn Beck with Joshua Charles (ISBN: 978-1-4516-5061-7), an attempt is made at making history more accessible to the modern reader.  The book is essentially a translation of the majority of the famous Federalist Papers from the archaic language of the XVIII century to more en vogue English.  It’s still very high-level stuff, but it is simplified.  A good comparison might be a King James Bible and a New English Bible.  Glenn Beck has inserted some explanatory material at the beginning of each section (the papers are not presented chronologically, but in groups based on their major theme(s)) and in an infobox-like page for each paper.  The Federalist Papers were written, mostly by Alexander Hamilton, but also by James Madison and John Jay, in an effort to support the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which provided for a stronger central (federal) government than what the Articles of Confederation had.  They are considered to be invaluable because of the insight they provide into just what the Founding Fathers thought when they wrote the Constitution. 

The book was a great read, although not something that was necessarily easy to get through.  The reader’s brain really must be fully engaged to get through the argumentation of the concepts that were so basic to America’s beginnings.  It’s really a book that one studies more than simply reads.  The commentary was interesting, but, for me, quite secondary to actual text of the papers.  I checked on a few occasions how closely what I was reading aligned with the originals, and it seemed to be good, but there is no way I can guarantee that for the entire, rather thick, book.  I thought the principles behind the Constitution were brilliantly argued.  As I read, there were a couple instances where I didn’t think I agreed, but there were plenty of those for the people in the U.S. at the time, so I am really no different.  Many of those who were in favor of the Constitution had reservations, but they recognized that it was as close as it was going to get to being perfect and did provide a solid, inspired foundation for our country.  In the vast majority of cases, I agreed with the arguments.  It was interesting to note, though, how different the Founding Fathers’ vision of government was from what we have now.  The federal government’s roles and powers were severely limited.  National-level bureaucracies like the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency were not part of the plan.  The Founders abhorred taxes.  They recognized them as a necessary evil to pay for the recognized powers of the government, but otherwise they hated taxes.  They were religious men, who recognized the hand of God in our affairs (and those few who weren’t had no problem with those who were expressing those views and living according to their consciouses, even in the public arena).  They valued the rights of local governments.  Most people at that time saw themselves as citizens of their states first and citizens of America second.  That local government was perceived, rightfully so, as more responsive to the voters, so the Founders saw that as where more governmental powers should be.  It was all written in plain English, and even though these kinds of updated-language books really just make me want to go back to the originals, I thought the book provided a very clear idea of the way the writers of the Constitution thought.  Were people in better tune with these ideas from history, I think, some of today’s political questions might not be so big and today’s politically driven contention might not be so intense.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

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