From Bloggingheads: “Michael Lind Discusses His New Book ‘Land Of Promise'”

Full diavlog here.

Lind, a co-founder of the New America Foundation, advocates a return to thinking about America in terms of the  Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian traditions, particularly in the hopes of resuscitating a Hamiltonian nationalism for Democrats (he used to be a conservative some decades ago).

A brief summmary of the discussion:  -At the time of our founding, Hamiltonians wanted government to intervene on behalf of business (Hamilton was the 1st secretary of the Treasury and had a big hand in the Federalist Papers). Big banks and a strong central institution managing the banks was the model. Hamiltonians were generally more cosmopolitan and wanted a stronger Federal structure on many levels, including many more taxes and tarriffs to regulate most economic activity. They weren’t generally advocates of free trade either (partly because Hamilton thought free trade gave the Crown too much power, and the colonies needed to be protected and organize a stronger response to it).

-Jeffersonians, on the other hand, wanted government to intervene mostly to protect individual liberty and smaller entities.  They thought the Hamiltonians were too comfortable with the aristocratic and monarchic methods they were implenting through Federalism (re-creating the conditions that led the colonies to revolt against the Crown).  Jeffersonians were more agrarian (the city corrupts, banks abstract people from honest labor) and generally supported States and individual rights against the Federalists.


On Lind’s view, both groups have used the government to serve the interests of the people throughout our history and it’s the Hamiltonians who primarily have been successful.   Furthermore, we’re on the cusp of a Fourth Republic (he explains his reasoning, of which I remain skeptical, here).  So, in addition to being at the end of the third incarnation of our Constitutional Republic (incarnations which have always begun after a war) from which a fourth will be born, we’re also ending a cycle of Jeffersonian ascendancy and we need a team of Hamiltonian-types (Democrats, presumably) to build anew.  Lind is ready with some policy prescriptions as well.

In fact, at the end of the diavlog, he advocates permanent federal employment programs for low skilled people in order to get back to where we were in the 1950’s regarding income inequality.  The jobs that aren’t coming back need to be created and subsidized by government in our globally competitive economy.  He also advocates for federal work subsidies in say, the mining industry, which has lost jobs due to automation (now much less labor intensive) in order to get people working where we’ll need them in, say, home health-care.

For Lind, government is the lever to direct individuals’ lives by directing economic activity and ultimately managing and driving economic growth. Deep down, it seems the social contract is one for Lind in which he might have trouble with people voluntarily directing their own lives, and managing their own self-interest, apart from these structures.

Here’s a line from David Leonhardt’s NY Times review of the book:

‘The chapters on the most recent years are a fairly standard liberal version of events, with deregulation and modern finance as the main antagonists.’



Lind also has little patience for libertarians, regards them as extreme, and busy importing the struggles of Central Europe through Friedrich Hayek, the Austrians (heavy on philosophy and metaphysics), and the Chicago School to the detriment of where the real action is:  the two party American system which can revisit previous economic successes through greater government direction within a Hamiltonian federalist structure.

Many libertarians I know understand themselves to be inheritors of the true classical liberal tradition (there is an anarchic libertarian tradition as well), because socially, politically, and economically, the modern American Left has unable to uphold the values libertarians see as central to a liberal society.  Partially, this is because the Left has also been deeply influenced by Continental ideas, including many actual Communists, Marxists, Neo-marxists, the New Left and the “personal is political” crowd.  Such folks are not exactly Hamiltonians.  We’ve also seen the rise of modernism, post-modernism, and moral relativism especially in our universities, all of which have done much to erode many religious and cultural traditions that tend to preserve individual liberty and the Jeffersonian outlook.  Perhaps such libertarian bulwarks are needed against the collectivist and sometimes authoritarian impulses within much of modern liberalism.  I don’t think Lind has convinced me at all such thinking isn’t useful, at the very least.

Generally, these classical libertarians also champion individual liberty, the autonomy of the individual and the vital connection between economic and personal liberty.  This often puts them in greater alliance with modern conservatives (in the Jeffersonian, Republican tradition) than liberals.  It also puts them at odds with religious conservatives in many cases, and anyone who would use the laws to infringe upon their definition of liberty.


This blog remains skeptical of the political and philosophical ideas that promote a redistribution of wealth or resources beyond a very limited scope for government, because it’s not clear that less injustice results, nor more equality, nor even more freedom, except for some who are in charge as they pursue their own self-interest and others in their wake becoming dependent upon and molded by that system.  Lind argues otherwise.

Any thoughts and comments are  welcome, as I’m aware I haven’t responded directly to much of what is essentially, a book on American economic history and current politics, but it has policy implications, especially for the Left and where Lind might want to take the Democratic party.

A review at the New Republic here.

Thomas Jefferson closed his inaugural address of 1801—which was made possible by Hamilton’s continuing influence over the defeated Federalist Party—by reminding his congressional audience that “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” It may also be the case that we are all Hamiltonians, all Jeffersonians, and that, for better or worse, this is a part of the genius of our American system.

Related On This Site:  The voluntary exchanges that occur between people pursuing their own self-interest in the marketplace has been the greatest driver of human freedom and the greatest liberator from the natural human conditions of poverty, privation and want, according to Milton Friedman.  He merges Adam Smith’s invisible hand and Thomas Jefferson’s liberty and separation of powers, including other influences:  Free To Choose

Noam Chomsky also shares a view that the individual ought to be free to enter into voluntary cooperative action (community councils or faculties in universities), but believes that to be achieved by perhaps only anarchy (where he retreats) or anarcho syndicalism, or libertarian socialism.  I don’t find anarchy to be tenable in protecting individual liberty.  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge.

Leo Strauss may not have been a believer, but he did want the individual to be free from the structures that developed in Europe these past centuries.  The triumph of Reason (historicism and positivism which lead to relativism and nihilism) over some form of Revelation, or revealed truth.  From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke into a strong, libertarian defense of the individual, and also responded to Rawls distributive justice: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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