A Vindication of the Life of Alexander Hamilton and True Conservatism- Response to a Troll

On the Facebook page of USC’s Ann Coulter event, I was questioned by an individual believing himself to understand Alexander Hamilton better than I. I have copied his remark below. My response follows after the image of the great man.

“Hey Luke Phillips! Hamilton WAS NOT a Conservative – he was a STATIST in favor of a strong central government. Just WTF are they teaching in colleges these days. I hope you didn’t get that baloney at USC!” 

-One Mr. Joy


“Tis the portion of Man assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence, that every good which he enjoys shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction, save Virtue alone, the only unmixed good permitted to his temporal condition.”
“I have always seen it my duty to exhibit things as they are, rather than as they ought to be.”
“Men are reasoning rather than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.”
“My ambition is so prevalent that I would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station.”

-Alexander Hamilton

Thus are various quotations by the most dangerous of the Founders which I have committed to memory. And consider their precepts: That imperfection is endemic to human affairs, perfection and perfect goodness being impossible. That the truth of things is preferable and incomparably superior to any subjective desires. That the human mind cannot escape its own bias, and thus that beastliness and condescension must reign in men’s affairs with themselves and with each other. That nonetheless character and intellect, imperfect as they can be in any human iteration, are the most precious goods which can be striven for, and must be EARNED through unceasing labor, and vigilance to preserve them never dropped. 

The moral duplicity and uncertainty of human life- the elevation of what objective truth can be discerned- the distrust in the faculties of human beings- the utter reverence for personal betterment and discipline- THESE are the intellectual foundations of true conservatism, the reactionary mode of thinking which has existed so long as human society has had the capacity to change, in every land and every time. It is a mode of thought endemic to the human breast; it could be called wisdom, but would refuse to allow itself that esteemed title out of humility. The literature and treatises of Mankind pay it their respects, and the entire human experience silently bears witness to its truth.

Contrast to this the perfect world, the perfect men, envisioned by various other traditions of thought which have at all times competed with the conservative demeanor. These methods of thinking undoubtedly have had their benefits, their strengths, their contributions- conservatism has been opposed, in Modern Western Society since at least the 18th Century, by various iterations of liberalism, and had we no thinkers and leaders of the liberal intellect, we would certainly be an immeasurably darker and meaner society than the open and free one which we inhabit now. But the power in these schools lay, and still lies, in the vigor of their passion. And as is so often the case, such passion is only attainable for causes so good, so perfect, so beautiful, that they cannot, by any wise measure of history, hold up to the realities of the human experience.

What passes for ‘conservatism’ in American popular political discourse nowadays, and what you, Mr. Joy, refer to as ‘conservatism,’ is merely another iteration of the various liberal schools of thought so common in American popular politics- albeit one slightly more infused with conservative methods of thought than its leftier counterparts. The ideal of a free government and a free people, governed by laws, restrained by tradition, where the voice of the people is the voice of God to the enlightened civil servant, and where government governs least- is this not what those of your faction desire? At your rallies, on your blogs, in your hearts, is this not the future you seek? It is indeed a beautiful one, with one leg out of two embedded in the reality of things. But it is no less an ideology than the ideology of the Frenchmen who took their king to the gallows in 1793.

I have already detailed the conservatism of Hamilton, which is far more in touch with reality than the quasi-Reaganite populism which sweeps across the fields and cities of America today. Now I have nothing but respect for those of your tradition, of your method of thinking- indeed, I was brought up partly within it- but I cannot disagree with it more when the great issues of state and society come into question. Hamilton stared unblinkingly into the realities of the human heart and the amoral situation in which he achieved political maturity, and applied the eternal principles of politics and virtue to the problems which incessantly presented themselves. By a once-in-a-century gift of political creativity, he set about playing politics and enhancing his station, and doing so did much to lay the foundations of the American state for the subsequent two centuries. A strong federal government, unquestionably superior in writ to those governments of the several states, is not the legacy of Roosevelt, nor of Lincoln, but of Hamilton. The unholy alliance between urban finance, seagoing commerce, and rising industry which took the vast natural resources of these United States and fed them into the furnace of our economic machine and created our national power and prosperity, was forged by he. The American tradition of international power politics, so despised in Hamilton’s time by the Virginians, who sought nothing less than a democratic and moralistic foreign policy, was patronized by Hamilton. These three arms of statecraft so critical to any great nation’s power and influence, today certain realities which we know in political life, are ours thanks to the foresight of Hamilton and those who followed him.

Indeed, he WAS a STATIST in favor of a strong central government. And seeking not a golden heaven for the prosperity of democracy, but an immeasurably more favorable situation for his successors, pragmatic so far as possible, he was truly conservative.

Before you throw stones I might suggest you look into Hamilton’s actual life, rather than the caricature of him which validates your ideology. Read his works. Read The Federalist Papers, the Reports on the Public Credit, George Washington’s Farewell Address (penned mostly by Hamilton’s fiery ink.) 

And to better understand conservatism as an intellectual movement, Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles and Hans Morgenthau’s Six Principles of Political Realism aren’t all that bad- provided that the reader is intellectually mature enough to understand them.

And for your clarification, I was not taught any of this by my professors, nor my high school teachers. I was exposed, by chance, to a brief documentary of Hamilton’s life (you can find the link at the end of this) and months and months of thinking upon it, and certain other texts slightly more serious, kickstarted my political evolution, which brought me far closer to the light of truth than any ideological rant. I have taught myself and received help from others. My political understanding is my own; I am not clay to be molded but fire to be feared, gold to be desired, when juxtaposed to men whose ideological zeal prejudices their intellect.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton Rap

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