Continuing with Thomas Pangle’s course on the Constitution, I am struck by how modern populist conservatives, those with affinities with the Tea Party, for instance, seem to have a lot in common with the more democratic republicanism of the Anti-Federalists as Professor Pangle describes them; but also with the visions of national greatness which the Federalists were more likely to promote. I am curious about how these two strains of thought might intermingle and still remain compatible.
The Anti-Federalists believed in a democratic republic, opposing the stronger government that the Federalists imagined and the Constitution put into place. They seem to have an almost idyllic vision of citizenry in a small republic, little government, and lots of participatory democracy. While the Articles of Confederation were the ideal vehicle for this vision of the republic, the Constitutional Convention was convened because it was generally acknowledged that the Articles were not effective and the republic could not survive without at least a somewhat stronger central government. True to their conservative sentiments, the Anti-Federalists favored merely tinkering around the edges of the Articles, rather than a major overhaul.
But the Federalists insisted that the nation could not survive without a stronger central government. One of the main arguments they made was that the central government needed a standing, professional army, to defend the country in need, but also to fend off any ambitions other countries might entertain to subdue the American republic. The Federalists went further, if somewhat surreptitiously, promoting a stronger nation, hinting at a nation of grandeur to take its place among the great nations of history. The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, opposed a standing army, preferring state militias which could be called up in time of need.