Political discourse in America devolved into slander, shouting, slogans, and sound bites some time ago. People repeat talking points to no avail. There is no willingness to explore issues to their fullest. They form political opinions on a whim, untethered from reality, history, or any objective truth. Meanwhile, we live in a society that has no idea how our nation was designed to function. What’s the solution? Get back to the original documents.
I worked for a legal and civic education non-profit whose mission was to promote civic virtue and to promote the restoration of our noble legal heritage. My boss would frequently bring up an encounter he had with Justice Scalia while on a field trip to DC when he was a pre-law professor in suburban Chicago. In his best Scalia impression, he’d ask “how many of you have read the Federalist Papers?” Much to his chagrin and Scalia’s, nobody raised their hands.
The Federalist Papers are the key to understanding how and why our government functions the way it does. Without them, the constitution is gradually distorted with each generation. There has to be some unmovable standard for our government. Though they may be difficult to understand, the Federalist Papers perfectly frame the debate for a variety of issues. The opinions of Madison, Jay, and Hamilton provide everyday Americans with the reasoning for what America was meant to be.
Take for example an article I saw on The Resurgent from Erick Erickson (Congress needs to pass this law). The topic was Trump’s tariff plan. The argument was not about free trade or fair trade, but rather the roles of congress and the president in terms of foreign policy and the implementation of duties or tariffs. This is the type of discussion Americans should be having! Not about the practicality of a certain policy. Not about the utility of a certain viewpoint. Until Americans know what our government was designed to do, very little progress can be made in terms of actually seeking good policy.
You want to know why we technically don’t have co-equal branches? Read the Federalist Papers.
You want to know why we have short term lengths for politicians? Read the Federalist Papers.
You want to know why we have a bicameral legislative branch? Read the Federalist Papers.
You want to know why revenue bills have to start in the house? Read the Federalist Papers.
You want to know why we have a bill of rights? Read the Federalist Papers.
This brings me to my point. A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Kyle Kashuv, recently tweeted about gun rights and tyranny. He directed the reader to Federalist 43. Ok so what? In Federalist 43, Madison posits several scenarios in which the general structure of the nation would come undone. He discusses civil unrest and invasion as well as tyrannies of the majority/minority. Is it necessarily the best choice for analyzing the founder’s views on gun rights and the prevention of tyranny? Probably not, but any context is helpful. The point is this: we don’t view the constitution or the bill of rights in a vacuum or strictly in light of modernity (or now post-modernity I guess). We view these documents in light of what the framers were trying to avoid or achieve. We view them with the understanding that the founders knew of bedrock principles enshrined in the works of thinkers like Locke and Montesquieu as well as the Common Law. I took AP classes in high school and I hadn’t even started reading the Federalist Papers until my junior year of college. Kyle gives me hope. Hope that young Americans will want to know about the history and the structure of our government, not because it benefits their viewpoint, but because democracy can’t survive without an informed citizenry. People are currently questioning the basic principles that uphold our republic because they aren’t informed. Right, wrong, or indifferent, knowing the reasons why our government is structured the way it is will always be the lifeblood of American political discourse.
And I guess we didn’t lose the pulse. Yet!
P.S. Read the Federalist Papers