Does the Modern State Require Strong Government?
I’ve been reading Mark David Ledbetter, America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations. He makes a reasoned case for a libertarian view of the benefits of weak government in a more strict adherence to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. He discusses the efficacy of the state militias in winning the Revolutionary War, and argues that the strong government that Hamilton favored was based on a mercantilist view of economics which required a strong government, but that this mercantilist view has long been superceded by capitalism of one variety or the other. Nonetheless, he laments, the Hamiltonian view of a strong central government, and with it cycles of recession, debt, and limitations on freedom has prevailed in the 20th and now 21st centuries. Ledbetter maintains that our prosperity and liberty would be better served by returning to the limited government as envisioned by the creators of the Constitution.
At the same time I have started listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to American History by Professor Mark A. Stoler, from the Great Courses. Contrary to Ledbetter’s view of the efficacy of the militias in the Revolutionary War, he argues that it was only because the European powers, all monarchic, despotic and tyrannical, came to the aid of the colonists that the war was won for America.
Professor Stoler outlines the coup d’État that was the constitutional convention, and describes how the weak government of the Articles of Confederation left the nation unable to handle the crises which befell it. While many continued to advocate for a weak central government, the delegates to the convention disposed of the Articles in favor of a federalist Constitution which provided for a stronger central government.
The tenth amendment is a favorite of the small government proponents, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” While the Constitution was indeed an exercise in strengthening central government, the tenth amendment tells a different story, and allows us to continue the debate over the role and limits of government.
The Civil War further tested the ability of the government to hold the nation together. The fourteenth amendment is a further step in strengthening the position of the federal government in the American political sphere, limiting the range of state power.
There seems to be an implication that the modern state, particularly a large modern state, requires more central control to make it capable of dealing with the exigencies of modern life.