So total has been the wet-blanketing effect, in American founding history, of the banal binary between “Federalists” and “Antifederalists” that people seem unable to read my flat-out critique of the binary and its awful effect as anything other than my taking one side or the other in that same binary. No matter, that is, how loudly I shout, “This whole tired Federalist vs. Antifederalist thing is a distraction from more important matters!” the Federalists will call me Antifederalist and vice versa. It’s all they can see. It’s their, shall I say, idee fixe. (Too fed up to put in the diacritical.)
A case in point (i.e., the only reason I’m on this tirade at all): somebody has mis-read The Whiskey Rebellion as an Antifederalist screed, when in fact everywhere in the book I point to — actually, deliberately overemphasize — an entirely other way of looking at founding conflict. The book is as much a critique of Antifederalism, and of partisan Republican opposition to Hamiltonian high Federalism, as it is of the Federalist Washington administration itself.
But no: “In other words,” says the author, “Hogeland is no conspiracy-minded Marxist revisionist, just a recent competitor in our country’s fluctuating struggle between the spirits of Hamilton and Jefferson.” When that’s precisely the struggle whose supposedly overwhelming relevance my account of the rebellion calls into question.
No, damn it: I am a conspiracy-minded Marxist revisionist! Better that than this.
(Since the author relies on Jacob E. Cooke as an impartial source on the Whiskey Rebellion, the confusion is not surprising. Cooke is the great editor of Hamilton’s papers and a notorious Hamilton apologist with not an iota of realism about what happened to bring about events known as the Whiskey Rebellion.)
It’s just amazing to see a quotation in which I diss what would become the Jeffersonian opposition — “’Many of Hamilton’s congressional opponents,’ [Hogeland] writes, ‘wouldn’t have understood’ the ‘rural people’s peculiar economic relationship with whiskey’…” deployed to argue that I take up a Jeffersonian position. This is how mind-numbing the falsifications and banalities of our founding history have become. The author goes on to state the obvious: there isn’t much difference in certain pragmatic ways between founding-era Republicans and Federalists. Duh. Yet a fawning adulation of Hamilton, involving the usual whitewashing, is achieved, yet again, by ignoring the populist radicals my book constantly puts in the reader’s face.
Fawning adulation of Jefferson/Madison is just as misguided, as I thought my book showed — and as I state, in words of one syllable, in a piece in the current “Boston Review” (in print, not yet online). Yikes.
It is stupefying that hardly anyone, it seems, is inclined or able to see any of the countless shades of gray between the black and white false choice of “Federalist” OR “Anti-federalist,” or “Red” OR “Blue” for that matter. But, how can you yell any louder if people won’t hear anything over all of the background noise? How do you make reason and compromise sell and be sexy in a 24-hour news cycle competing with a social media gutter competing with “reality” TV competing with call-in radio? I’m not quite ready to give up entirely, but I don’t even see any difficult possible solutions, never mind clear paths back to some semblance of moderate debate. When I read or hear the word “founders” in the mainstream media it strikes me that politicians have over-used it to the point of draining it of any relevance. Seems like it’s more religious or mythical than anything remotely true to life. Monty Python & the Holy Founders anyone, the Meaning of Democracy maybe?
Having just read your Whiskey Rebellion, I must say that it’s not a bit obvious that you reject in some sense the Anti-Federalists, or even that you consider Jefferson part of the same crew. Glancing at some of your other interests on this blog, it seems as if you place a value on authenticity, especially folk authenticity versus elitism, regardless of other considerations. Herman Husband was a loon even for the eighteenth century I suspect, and engaging him and his ideas was a prescription for confusion.
I don’t “reject Anti-Federalists” — rejecting these groups and ideas isn’t what I’m trying to do. I can’t quite follow your Jefferson reference, but if it wasn’t obvious to you when reading “The Whiskey Rebellion” that I’m trying to bring attention to criticisms that have sources other than classic antifederalism, well, what can I say. A slightly longer glance at the blog might reveal that I don’t in any way place a value on folk authenticity over elitism. When it comes to useful ways of looking at Husband, obviously we disagree.