Today I begin my live-blogging journey through Thomas James DiLorenzo’s most recent book, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution—and What It Means for Americans Today.
The book, 209 pages in length and dedicated to Dr. Murray N. Rothbard, “a brilliant scholar and tireless defender of the free society,” is about exactly what you would expect given the title. Alexander Hamilton, revered today by both nationalists on the right and social engineers on the “left,” was in actual fact a manipulative engineer for the undermining of the Constitution and Liberty.
On the one side, we had Thomas Jefferson—a defender of limited, decentralised government; of “strict constructionism” with regards to the Constitution; of free trade and minimal taxation. On the other, we had Hamilton.
Hamilton wanted for America a strong, centralised state—the more centralised, the better. He took this so far that, at the Philadelphia Convention, “he proposed a permanent chief executive who could veto all state legislation—in other words, an American king” (p. 2). The contrast between Jefferson and Hamilton could not be more stark.
DiLorenzo explains that Hamilton “wanted to use this centralized power to subsidize business in particular, and the more affluent in general, so as to make them supportive of an ever-growing state. As treasury secretary, he was a frenetic tax-increaser and advocated government planning of the economy. He championed the accumulation of public debt, protectionist tariffs, and politically controlled banks; belittled politicians like Jefferson who spoke too much of liberty; and believed that the new American government should pursue the course of national and imperial glory, just like the British, French, and Spanish empires” (Ibid.). Given that the United States have adopted all of these evils, it should come as no surprise that DiLorenzo quotes George F. Will as saying we now live, despite our honouring of Jefferson, “in Hamilton’s country” (pp. 3–4). The American Revolution has been betrayed, and in large part thanks to the surviving influence of Hamiltonianism (p. 4).
It seems DiLorenzo was moved to write this book as a means of dispelling various myths that have arisen surrounding Hamilton’s legacy. For example, Ron Chernow has called Hamilton “the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America,” and neoconservative commentator David Brooks has claimed that Hamilton somehow single-handedly “created capitalism.” Correcting this error, DiLorenzo points out that Hamilton’s “hyperinterventionist approach to the economy was anything but capitalism” (p. 5).
Thus far, it appears my only main contention with DiLorenzo is going to be with his use of vocabulary. On page six, Professor DiLorenzo associates liberalism with its big-government, modern-day imposture by referring to the Brookings Institute as a liberal think tank. This would be more reasonable if the author were to place “liberalism” in quotes, thereby distinguishing it from the real liberalism of Jefferson, Thoreau, and Mises.
Professor DiLorenzo also describes traditional conservatism as an ideology opposed to big government. It seems to me, on the contrary, that traditional conservatism arose as an ideology aimed at defending and restoring the ancien régime. What better or more succinct way to describe Hamilton’s objective? I can think of no man who better exemplifies in my mind “traditional conservatism” than Hamilton, save for possibly Thomas Hobbes.
Perhaps the author understands this, but chose to describe conservatism as an ideology favouring smaller government because, after all, self-described conservatives often do use small-government rhetoric, even if their policies do not reflect said rhetoric. Reagan, for example, called government “the problem,” and it’s not hard to overlook the fact that his big-government policies never lived up to his limited-government talk. In any event, Crown Publishing Group—the publisher of this book—appears to be a conservative-oriented publisher.
This, it currently appears, is my only notable problem with DiLorenzo’s book. His main thesis, that Hamilton and his Federalist Party betrayed the revolution, is certainly credible and deserves to be promoted.
—Alexander S. Peak