Are We Living the Nightmare Outlined in Federalist #8?

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Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley. As an undergrad she studied history at UW-Madison with George Mosse, William J. Courtenay, and Brian Peterson (of Florida International University), among others. Her mother is Virginia Vanderveer Hamilton, professor emerita and the author of biographies of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and Alabama Senator Lister Hill. Her website is A longer article on George W. Bush appears here . She is writing a historically informed book about politics (and looking for a publisher).

Fear is what terrorism aims to instill. It is also what enables a militaristic state to flourish. In his new book Broken Government, John Dean writes that neoconservatives have long had “plans in the drawers” to strengthen the executive branch, build up the military, and weaken civil liberties. In the tumult after 9/11, these plans were quickly put into place before cooler heads could prevail. It’s the drift toward despotism that many of the Founders, steeped as they were in Greek and Roman history, feared.

In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argued for a strong federal government rather than a loose confederacy of states.  The latter would, he predicted, disintegrate into a group of rivalrous countries, and their subsequent history would resemble that of Europe, with its frequent wars between nation-states. A failure to ratify the Constitution would eventually result, Hamilton warned, in civil war.

Hamilton’s Federalist #8 is entitled Consequences of Hostilities Between the States. Much of #8 is hypothetical, but its speculations are based upon European history.Hamilton was himself no peacenik; he had risen through the ranks, as he had hoped to do as a boy, from captain of his own artillery company to Washington’s most important aide to Inspector General of the Army.His opinions in #8 should therefore be taken seriously by true conservatives as well as the anti-war Left.

Hamilton represents war and militarism as threats to American freedoms. In a passage that seems eerily appropriate to George W. Bush’s presidency, Hamilton writes:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

The “institutions” Hamilton refers to are primarily “standing armies,” which, he says, would inevitably come into being if the U.S. states and its western territory broke into two or more confederacies. (We might update these “institutions” to include Blackwater, the Patriot Act, and the shadier activities of the NSA.) Note that he does not say that love of liberty should give way to the dictates of national security. As the word “destroy” makes clear, he is issuing a warning about what he obviously regards as an undesirable possibility. 

Taking quotations out of their historical context is a time-honored taboo, but Hamilton’s observations in #8 have an internal logic that makes them applicable to the United States after 9/11. Here is another passage that resonates with our circumstances today:

They [these institutions] would, at the same time, be necessitated to strengthen the executive arm of government, in doing which their constitutions would acquire a progressive direction toward monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority” [Italics added.]

The passage not only refutes the old libel that Hamilton was himself was a monarchist—a term the Anti-Federalists wielded much as Joseph McCarthy and the Goldwater Republicans would later use “communist” or “pinko.” It also shows—whether in or out of context—that Hamilton foresaw how a militaristic state would override the system of checks and balances and the separation of powers.

If we consider the historical context of the founding era, the strong executive or commander-in-chief that Hamilton undoubtedly imagined was George Washington. Impetuous himself, he must have admired the caution and forethought of his former boss. As Washington’s first term was coming to an end, Hamilton begged him to stay on.  So did Jefferson, who also thought highly of Washington’s judgment.

George W. Bush is no George Washington. When he came to office, Washington had had a long military career that began with a spectacular error and ended with an astonishing success. That initial error in judgment, when he was a young officer during the French and Indian War, may well have been the cause of Washington’s later prudence. When Washington consulted his cabinet, he required them to defend their differing opinions in writing.

This practice resulted in the first debate over the interpretation of the Constitution. The debate opened with Jefferson’s letter in opposition to Hamilton’s proposal of a national bank. Washington read it and passed a copy on to Hamilton.  Hamilton responded with a rigorous, painstaking, almost Derridean critique of Jefferson’s language, as well as his arguments, and with his own counterarguments. Thus, it was Hamilton’s argument that persuaded Washington.

President Bush lacks not only Washington’s military experience but also his interest in substantive arguments about national policies. As Ron Suskind reported in his book about another Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill (The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill) Bush was unwilling to read so much as a brief internal memo. When O’Neill reported to him in person, the president seemed distracted, restless, or bored.  In all his nightmares of charismatic, manipulative demagogues, Hamilton never imagined such a president.

In Federalist #8, Hamilton develops his argument in favor of a strong federal union by imagining the dangers of multiple countries on U.S. soil:

The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government [of a localized confederacy] to be always prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant defense. The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionally degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories, often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors. The transition from this disposition to that of considering them masters, is neither remote nor difficult; but it is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such impressions, to make a bold or effectual resistance to usurpations supported by the military power.” [Italics added.]

Even taken out of context, this passage possesses its own internal logic, and, like the rest of #8, it resonates with contemporary political discourse. The warlike rhetoric of Republican hawks does suggest an elevation of  “the military state … above the civil.” Americans are frequently encouraged to regard the military with gratitude and awe. The founding generation vividly remembered when redcoats could burst into their houses to conduct searches. They knew the old, defiant English proverb, “a man’s home is his castle.”

Whether Federalist #8 is considered in its historical context or as a series of smaller arguments, it shows that Hamilton recognized an inherent rivalry, even an innate hostility, between the military and the civil. A frightened nation might cooperate in the loss of its liberties. And indeed, since 9/11, Americans have sat by while the 4th amendment and the writ of habeas corpus have lost their force. In so doing, we have been abandoning the very ideas that inspired the founding generation in their revolution and deliberate design of the new nation.

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Rares Marian - 3/15/2008

Aye. Hamilton was a Monarchist because he was an architect.

His warnings are hollow considering his own nature. His constant promotion of centralized banking, for example.

Humanity has been ruled in the past by mobs, hierarchies, and finally an engine.

We need more engineers.

Rares Marian - 3/15/2008

So wait that means that because Britain was in danger Britain never engaged in imperialism. Or the US. Or France. Or any other state that enjoyed the opportunity.

You are connecting danger to excuses for invasions. This is dishonest.

The threat from one country does not excuse the attack of yet some other country. Saudis attack, we invade Afghanistan, and when it gets too close to victory we hit Iraq. Drunken sailors at the helm, LOOK OUT!

Rares Marian - 3/15/2008

She said neoconservatives. Ok? Try reading more carefully.

"The Bush administration is not trying to set up a police state."

First, that's an assertion not an argument, so really it's pointless.

Second, Bush is not a conservative so he doesn't even belong in the second paragraph which seems to want to be related to the first.

Lastly, your whole first paragraph is a knee-jerk infested polemic. The rights referred were those related to privacy and NSA misoverestimation of their responsibilities. Nobody mentioned abortion.

Try to stay on topic.

Jonathan Pine - 11/18/2007

Come now Jason. At the end of the day you're just a useful idiot with a big mouth.

N. Friedman - 11/14/2007

Mr. slothrop,

You write: Let me get this straight: if a bunch of folks whose religious beliefs are fundamentalist somehow gain control over the region of this planet upon which they dwell and assert rights to the natural resources on and under such land, they present a threat to the rest of the world?

That is a cute characterization of what I wrote. It is, however, not a reasonable characterization. First, I said nothing about fundamentalists. My comment was directed at radical Islamists. I directed my comment at them because they posit that life is a struggle of Islam vs. the world for purposes of making Islamic law the law that governs the world.

While that view is, more or less, a common thread in Islamic history and theology, the impact of the Islamists has been to awaken that call from being something that had become akin to a millennial dream. To the Islamists, such thread of Islam can be realized in this contemporary era and is thus worth fighting for. Ergo the noxious call for Jihad fi sabil Allah.

So, no it is not that they hold fundamentalist views - since, perhaps, 90% of all Muslims hold fundamentalist views. It is that the radicals are acting on those beliefs in a struggle they are actively engaged in today.

You write: AS for the nuclear thing, Israel has far more nuclear weapons, the means to deliver them, and the Untied States standing behind them with an arsenal larger than any other country on the face of the globe.

The issue with the Islamists acquiring the bomb is there stated love of martyrdom. To those who do not see even their own lives as sacred, it is difficult to imagine they will have concern about annihilating others.

Moreover, it is difficult to imagine a means to deter people who hold such noxious views. They invite death as a ticket to the eternal life to come, a life filled with submissive, forever lovely virgins and eternal erections (as the literature on the subject shows in graphic detail).

As for the US having such weapons, that is certainly the case. And, the US, in a terrible war, used such weapons. Whether such is the (or, for that matter, even a) reason that the lunatics who rule Iran want such weapons is unknown.

What is known is that the president of Iran claim to have visions of the imminent coming of the occulted imam. He had such a vision, he said, in the UN itself.

In Shi'a Islamic theology, the return of the occulted imam is associated with an era in which the world has fallen into chaos and strife. In Iran, the group that Ahmadinejad is associated has paved roads on which the occulted imam will return so they appear to believe, albeit somewhat novel to the Shi'a tradition, that they can help herald the appearance of the occulted imam. And, that could very well, given what they have written, include the use of nuclear weapons, were they to get their hands on them, that increases chaos - again, as a means to cause the return of the occulted imam.

Please note that it is very likely the case that the Israelis have nuclear weapons. Of course, the Israelis, in two terrible wars, did not use them. In fact, in the case of the Yom Kippur War in which Israel was nearly destroyed, Israel chose not to use them. So, I very much doubt that Israel's possession of such weapons plays a serious role in Iran's thinking.

In fact, to the extent that we know about that thinking, we have the former president of Iran asserting that Israel could be destroyed with a just a few, well placed nuclear explosions while Iran, notwithstanding any retaliation, would survive. And, we have the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran saying that Iran can burn so long as Islam triumphs. Again: the return of the occulted imam would allow Islam to triumph over the whole world.

You might consider informing the Iranians that the US would stand behind the Israelis to the extent of destroying Islamic civilization entirely if Israel is attacked by Iran with nuclear weapons. Perhaps that might catch the attention of the radical Islamists who rule Iran. It would destroy their dream. Or, it might just confirm their path - if it is their path - towards self-destruction.

Anyway, lunatics with dangerous toys are even more dangerous. So, keeping lunatics away from dangerous toys is a really good idea.

henry tyrone slothrop - 11/14/2007

"In the Arab regions, the ability of radical Islamists to gain sufficient power to threaten the world's oil supply is important and significant. And, if a regime under the sway of the radical Islamists gets the bomb, that, I think, would be an imminent threat if the regime turns out to be suicidal, as certain elements in the Iranian government are alleged to be. But, as always, that is still speculation."

Let me get this straight: if a bunch of folks whose religious beliefs are fundamentalist somehow gain control over the region of this planet upon which they dwell and assert rights to the natural resources on and under such land, they present a threat to the rest of the world?

AS for the nuclear thing, Israel has far more nuclear weapons, the means to deliver them, and the Untied States standing behind them with an arsenal larger than any other country on the face of the globe.

We ought to be ashamed

N. Friedman - 11/10/2007


Whether you are correct or not, the fact is that the money spent on oil - like the money spent on diamonds - funds religious fanatics who want you dead. So, anything that takes us to purchase products that do not support nuts is a good idea.

N. Friedman - 11/10/2007


The issue as seen by the founding fathers is that politicians all want all the power they can get. So, the issue is whether circumstances exist where, in fact, politicians are not sufficiently restrained.

It seems to me that the longterm trend of an endless war against religious fanatics is a gradual wearing away of liberties. How that plays out, of course, is not clear. But, that the circumstances leave any president with arguments that would allow them to seize greater and greater power is not something to ignore. It is a real issue.

That said, if there is no defense raised against the Islamist fanatics, the world will be in a lot of trouble. So, I think it is clear that any president has a very good case for pushing the envelope. At the same time, those who love freedom have good reason to be wary - even if they think that a particular president is a saint.

Those who believe their politicians are saints are likely to be deeply disappointed.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/10/2007

The radical islamists have found a home in our jails, too, not just on the campuses and at CounterPunch.

Most of the world's oil is owned by governments, not private companies, and if it is such a wonderful business why did Exxon-Mobil lose money last quarter? There is no excuse for faux views on the oil situation as regards the publicly owned companies, who are all fully transparent. And, by the way, there is about 400 years (at least 200 years according to ALL experts) of oil in the ground at the present rate of consumption. If it were not for environment quacks and demogoguing fools with their "rich and poor" crap, we would have no ethanol disaster building, more refineries and much lower prices. I think we are headed for the latter, anyway.

Jason Blake Keuter - 11/10/2007

The threat to liberty that Hamilton wrote about was not based on imagining enemies on U.S. soil - there were enemies surrounding the United States until the conclusion of the war of 1812, and, even after that, the British and Spanish worked with Indians in Florida to menace the South. It was the existence of these enemies that made Hamilton an advocate of a strong central government that could direct a national military towherever it was needed. Prior to the adoption of the Constitution, that was made impossible as each state was unwilling to pay for or supply their militias for military engagements that they saw benefiting only other states. Not only that, they were all amenable to working out sweetheart deals with Foreign powers in order to get those foreign powers to stop sending Indians in on the frontiers. The Western frontier was tempted to join Spain in order to gain access to the Mississippi and the Northeastern states were always open to working out trade deals with the British - who sought to take back their territory.

I suspect the reason the author mistakenly thinks Hamilton was imagining foreign threats when in fact those foreign threats were not only very real but are really the dominant force driving American political life up through the acquisition of Florida is ideological. In order to reinforce the notion of America as an imperialist nation, it is important to establish that it has always been isolated and not threatened. This is especially important at the beginning of history, to which people seem to attach a kind of embryonic, deterministic significance. Any history that disregards, doesn't mention, ignores or, in the case of this article, doesn't even know of the existence of multiple, powerful, hostile forces battling for supremacy on the North American continent cannot rightly be called history.

It is ironic, however, that the same historians anxious to characterize America as imperialist are generally hostile to the notion of American exceptionalism. In arguing against exceptionalism, they really mean to belittle America's committment to individual rights, freedom, liberty, etc. But, in removing the role world affairs and hostile foreign powers have played in American history, they actually create a kind of exceptionalism : America as a nakedly aggressive Imperial Nation. In other words, other imperial powers could be said to have defensive reasons for taking over adjacent territory. After all, it could fall to a rival Imperial power if it was "free". But, in the American case, the myth of isolationalism removes from America's military history any kind of defensive rationale at all; thus America becomes simply nakedly agressive, pure imperialists. In other words, exceptional, but only exceptionally evil.

I suspect it is for this reason that Sovietology is no longer as fashionable as it once was. The academic left had long belittled the imaginary threat of the Soviet Union and since no one could go read Soviet Archives and government documents, then those who insisted the Soviets were a threat had to point to them conquering eastern Europe. So, in this era, the overt Imperialist power was really an imaginary threat invented by a right-wing whose real goal was to fool the masses into paying for bloated military budgetsthat would enrich the capitalists and pave the way for the closet imperialists to put their latent plans into operation.

The same lack of scholarship on Sadaam Hussein and other dictatorships points to the same kind of concerted effort to misrepresent dictatorship and real threats to democracy and human rights as benign in order to characterize the freest society in world history as in the hands of an evil cabal.

In other words, none of this comes from the Bush administration: this drivel has been drivelling for a long time.....

Oh, back to my inappropriate language, it is wewll in keeping with both Hamilton and Jefferson, who were not known for pulling their punches in the articles they wrote about one another. Compared to them, my rhetoric is that of an obsfucating, wishy-washy professor.

Jason Blake Keuter - 11/10/2007

no, the old school conservative were stuffy, dry, atrophied, arrogant but incompetent, protected, painfully dull, hyper-repressed, and used the kind of language that doesn't rattle because they were so easily "shocked" and "rattled" and found anything smacking of anything even remotely unseemly and contrary to the placid rhythyms of their cloistered, affluent life the be akin to a barbarian invasion.

their dispassion was not borne of a lucid and clear understanding of things, it was borne of an indifference and apathy and mental flabbiness that is the inevitable result of their isolation from real people. when politcal power was no longer their birth right, and they actually had to fight for it, they lost it.

And the kind of people they lost it to are those American conservatives who are seeking to conserve not the stuffy-drawing room rot of a traditional aristocracy but what was won by the American Revolution - INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY.

The language of people who have to fight for what they have has always been "distressing" to those who have it. Established "intellectuals" create an aristocratic code and then attempt to ostracize those who do not adhere to it and in this way they limit the intellectual establishment to people just like them.

They loved the era of FCC stranglehold on tv (before cable tv shock jocks); they loved the era of pre-internet (before they had to read what the masses they proclaimed to champion actually thought) - in other words, they loved the era of intellectual and cultural stagnation because they found it "refined" and "enlightening" while others saw in it....well, drivel that simply reinforced the social order dominated by a particular class.

And the old guard, now reactionaries ensconsed primarily in government bureaucracies (i.e. universities) lament the decline of culture because once freed, the masses did not look to the Brain Trust as their natural leaders and instead choose people more like them: pugnancious fighters as opposed to protected....well I wouldn't want to shock the system too much.

Jason Blake Keuter - 11/10/2007

Uh let's keep in mind a few things about Hamilton:

1. He urged the formation of a strong central state precisely to limit democratic excesses.

2. He believed that these democratic excesses severely hindered the new government's NATIONAL DEFENSE.

In other words, Hamilton wished to curtail state government power precisely because it was too democratic, fickle and its voters were unwilling to make any sacrifice to protect the new nation from its enemies who SURROUNDED IT (British to the North in Canada, West in Forts, and working with the Spanish in the South in Florida and let's not forget the Atlantic Ocean, where they routinely kidnapped American sailors and stole American trade goods).

Last, let's remember that Hamilton was advocating adopting a constitution without a Bill of Rights.

Hamilton's primary concern was national defense. His financial and manufacturing plans were designed to secure America's credit so that it could borrow money in what he thought was the immanent event of war with Britain. His manufacturing plan was designed to eliminate American depenndence on Britain. And his pro-British stance against was designed to keep the British at bay (it was also consistent with his anti-mobocracy principles, as it was as much a stand against the French Revolution as it was for the British).

Turning Hamilton into a pro-Civil Liberties, prophet of the dangers of a military police state requires the use of selective evidence.

In writing the Federalist papers, both Hamilton and Madison wrote with their anti-Consititution, pro-state government opposition in mind. What you read in them, therefore, must be recognized as an attempt to win over people fearful of centralized government and desirous to preserve the power and autonomy of state governments - something conservatives have long advocated, but the left has long abandonded - except when it comes to national defense.

Jason Blake Keuter - 11/10/2007

I take it you regard my language as an example of the kind of non-academic speech that nonetheless requires protection. But, like a conservative, you feel that such language is not entitled to a forum.

I believe it fits the forum just fine. The idea that the Bush administration is part of some long held "right-wing" dream of starting a police state is drivel. I am less impressed with professors than you are and the fact that Dean is one does not lend any credence to his argument.

As for the argument, it is supported by what? That one source. Are representative police-state wanna-be's mentioned? Not really, Are they quoted? Not really. In other words, the article is a shoddy piece of work - if you're going to put poorly substantiated, overtly politicized drivel on the web, expect to have it called that. It certainly doesn't rise to any standard that a legitimate history professor would defend.

This immmanent, fascist police-state nonesense has been bandied about by professors for a very long time and they anxiously seize upon any slim piece of evidence they can find to validate their paranoid, quasi marxist-leninist fantasies.

Your post classic hypocrisy: in my comments on an article that is filled with loaded language that obscures the truth, you attempt to taint me as a rabid right-wing radio fan. In order to make me appear both cruel and irrational, you must make out of the drivel something other than drivel, and the only thing you can resort to is some kind of regressive, medieval status worship where I am to bow my head in shame for my coarse language and show proper respect for the aristocrat with a title - professor.

N. Friedman - 11/9/2007


I find the Bushites scary. But, I also see the alternative as scary. I think we are in a period where clear thinking and open discussion are in radical decline. And, that means poor governance.

N. Friedman - 11/9/2007


A number of points. I am not remotely of the Podhoretz viewpoint. I merely note that what he writes about the radical Islamists does not come from Fantasy Island.

The issue with the Islamists fits, as I see it, the general category of a gathering storm but it is not an exact parallel with the 1930's described by, for example, Churchill. And, the distinctions are very important. But, at the same time, it is very important not to lose sight of the fact that there is quite a bit that does parallel the 1930's.

The mistake that the Podhoretz school of thought makes, as I see it, is take the general parallel, which is real, a bit too far so as to believe that the Churchill solution to the 1930's storm is the solution to today's storm. Contrary to Podhoretz's belief that we are making progress, I think that the evidence thus far is that preemptive war - i.e. the Churchill approach - in response to a gathering storm (which, to note, was Bush's terminology for Iraq just before the 2003 invasion) does not work as well as they envisioned.

By the way, I am willing to take the Bushites at their word when they say that, by invading Iraq, they are attempting to get at the societal engine which creates the Jihad mentality by bringing a more liberal society to the Arab regions. I just do not see it working out the way they think.

I think, instead, that the trend among Muslims and, in particular, Muslim Arabs is toward bringing religion into the public arena - which, in the case of Islam, means a society in which Allah's sacred law (Shari'a), not manmade laws agreed to by legislators, would govern. And, since the world has likely passed by the notion of theocracy, that form of governance can only mean terrible bloodshed but not a holy society that the radical Islamists say they desire. So, we have a train heading off a cliff.

For the US, which does not have a large radical Islamist population - although their scary ideology appears to have found a home on college campuses and with quite a number of people on the far left (e.g. the CounterPunch crowd) who appear to make common cause with the radical Islamists - the issue is merely to understand the Islamists for what they are. By doing that, we can maintain our civilization from the rising barbarism which is eating Muslim as well as European civilization alive.

For the Europeans, by contrast, it really is far, far too late in the day - they are way, way beyond Munich and without remotely realizing the extent of the mess they have made for themselves. As I see the matter, the future in Europe will, almost certainly, be dominated by more and more strife. Too large a group of people of very different cultural and religious background immigrated to Europe in too such a short period of time. Such immigrants have no imaginable reason or even need, given their numbers, to become Good Europeans - to use a Nietzschean term -.

So, it is the European Christians who will be pressured more and more to accommodate the growing demands of the Muslims immigrants - not the other way around. And, given that Muslims are becoming more and more under the sway of the radical Islamists, that can only mean strife.

As for oil and gas guzzling autos, I note the following point. Conserving energy is a policy aimed at what? Whatever good the policy may advance, it obviously also helps oil companies stretch out their businesses while commanding a high price. And, it also maintains the political power of oil supplying regimes in the Muslim regions - the very countries with populations which fund radical Islamists.

Consider: Oil is a finite resource. It will run out whether or not we follow a conservation policy. Perhaps, we can add a few years of supply, but, again, to what end? Consider: the sooner that oil power abates, the sooner the world will look at radical Islamist terror in a clearheaded manner.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/9/2007

"We are a supremely powerful country," true, but not so supreme if we lose the will to use our power. This is why so many Americans feel more comfortable with a president like George W. Bush in time of war than with a Hillary Clinton, a Bill Clinton, or a Nancy Pelosi. It would be absurd to have mortal fears about any external threats to the U.S. were it not for the legions of subversives who constantly attack our patriotism and military forces in the schools, media, and entertainment world. These pernicious forces exist, and they seem to be getting stronger. They believe they are saving America from jingoism, but may in fact be sowing the seeds of our destruction instead. They gave much aid and comfort to the enemy in the Iraq War, with much weaker arguments than they used in the Vietnam War. It is disquieting.

Carol Hamilton - 11/9/2007

You mentioned the need for oil a number of times in your comment. I live in an affluent neighborhood, only a few blocks away from the home of a former, recent Treasury Secretary, and the monstrous size of vehicles in my neighborhood evince a shocking disdain for the consumption of oil. When I'm not running my errands by bike, I drive a mid-size sedan, and these giants almost force me onto the sidewalk. In short, this country seems oblivious to the oil crisis you discuss.

Carol Hamilton - 11/9/2007

Oh, I'm plenty scared of the radical Islamists. As a woman, especially, I have not the faintest, most remote sympathy with what is clearly a reactionary, theocratic agenda. I agree that they pose a danger and that their grievances aren't of the sort that allows of any real-world solutions. I've imagined bombarding them with tv programs about science as one way to teach them about modernity. But that's just a fantasy. Still, nothing would make me an advocate of NP's ideas. Thanks for your post--very interesting, with a polite tone, which is always appreciated by writers for online publications.

N. Friedman - 11/8/2007

I also happened to hear Podhoretz speak. I think he is being misinterpreted. While I think his viewpoint is flawed for different reasons, it is not flawed for the reason that his facts come totally out of nowhere.

As for being misinterpreted, I think his point is that, ideologically, the views of the radical Islamists are every bit as dangerous as those of the Nazis - worse so because it is religion, not just political ideology, at work.

If you do not quite understand that point, see Raymond Ibrahim excellent book, The Al Qaeda Reader. That book will remove any illusions for you that the radical Islamists have grievances that can be ameliorated. The book is a collection of writings by the al Qaeda crowd directed to Muslims along with propaganda used by that group when it addresses the West. Interestingly, what is said to the West and what is said to Muslims concerns very different issues and problems. And, this is not something created by choosing non-matching texts. Which is to say, this is very fine scholarship by a fine scholar.

So, it is important to keep in mind that there is a real problem on the loose. The question, of course, is whether the ideology has a method to spread itself in a manner that is dangerous for the US. To the US mainland, the potential threat is, of course, not imminent by any standard measure. But, then again, in 1930's, neither was the Nazi threat.

I might add: Nazi Germany was not an imminent threat to the US in 1942 either. It could not possibly have landed an army here and expected any other result than the annihilation of that army. So, if we go by the standard definition of imminent, we do not quite get to the heart of why the Nazis were a danger to the US. But, it was an imminent threat.

The point made by people like Podhoretz that is valid is that people need to understand that the radical Islamists are a terrible danger and that their control of any country is, over the long term, an imminent threat.

To understand my point, I would recommend reading Winston Churchill's excellent account of the 1930's, which he calls, The Gathering Storm. Our period does have quite a bit that is common - although there are many very important differences that Podhoretz overlooks (e.g. that the US is a supremely powerful country). Hence, the flaw in his thinking.

That which is common was self-delusion. As Churchill notes in his book, all one needed to do to get the gist of what the Nazis were about was to read Hitler's Mein Kampf. It said everything he had in mind, clear for anyone willing to read it.

People kept talking about the legitimate grievances of the Germans that, if met, would keep the peace. And, of course, Germany had real grievances but that was not what the Nazis were about. And, people also saw maintaining relations with Germany as a way of containing the USSR - which it probably was -. And, there were business interests that favored Germany and there were cultural affinities at play as well.

The current issue with radical Islamists has at least one thing in common. People mistakenly think that the Islamists have grievances in the ordinary sense. They have grievances the same way the Nazis did, namely, satisfying the grievances could not possibly end the dispute because the dispute is not about the grievances.

And, like the Europeans before WWII, there are reasons today to ignore the danger of the radical Islamists because there are oil interests at play - which create both political and economic reasons to ignore the radicals (and, in the case of some Saudis, who actually pay humongous sums of money in the West to influence Western thought) - and because, in Europe, there is a large, growing Muslim population which, at least for now, is often unruly and demanding.

But, there are differences. In Europe, the ability of radical Islamists to seize power at the moment is nil. At present, all that can be done is to make demands which are at the periphery of public concern. That will change as the Muslim population grows if the Muslim population continues to be influenced more and more by the radicals - as is the trend, at least just now.

In the Arab regions, the ability of radical Islamists to gain sufficient power to threaten the world's oil supply is important and significant. And, if a regime under the sway of the radical Islamists gets the bomb, that, I think, would be an imminent threat if the regime turns out to be suicidal, as certain elements in the Iranian government are alleged to be. But, as always, that is still speculation.

The threat of the radical Islamists taken by themselves, however, is a serious threat. If they continue to blow up buildings and people, our life styles will have to change to survive. And, the real problem is that, at some point, the accommodations required to address to situation cease being seen as worthwhile and the Islamists could tend to dominate the world, albeit not by an army of occupation but by the inability of the West to control the interruption in normal life that all the terror activity would require.

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

I've heard this too. It's frightening. There's no sense that an immediate "remedy" would be worse than a remotely possible "disease."

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/7/2007

I think "devolved" is the right word, because most of the Democrats in Congress fell in line behind the administration in approving such measures as the Patriot Act.

As for "neocons" waiting to make changes, I think you can say a few, like Dick Cheney, had been on a mission to restore executive power ever since Frank Church emasculated our intelligence services 30 years ago... And in this Cheney has been proven correct by the inefficiences of handling the present emergency under Frank Chruch (or Russ Feingold) rules.

George W. Bush served six years in the TANG, which I think qualifies as military experience, and much more than early-out John Kerry had. Dubya had the same problem as Lincoln, with the same result--a very long search for the right general.

Your final paragraph about financial cost is your weakest argument. The falling deficit today, and record markets, and record airline passenger traffic, etc., testify 1) to the superiority of GOP fiscal polices and consequent ease with which we are paying for the war; and 2) the infinite wisdom of going over there to whip them instead of waiting for them to come here. The U.S. has too many targets, and it would be easy to spend more than $300 million a day to harden these and still not get them well protected. However, the spectre of Democratic fiscal policies, the opposite of what we got, is probably the most salubrious aspect of Bush's winning the electoral crapshoot of 2000. Grass would be growing in the runways today under President Al Gore.

Tim Matthewson - 11/7/2007

I happened to be listening one evening when Norman Podhoretz and some other commentator discussed "Islamofascism" and the policies that the US should follow to defend itself from Islamofascism. Podhoretz' comments were the most interesting because for him and other NeoCons, it is now 1938 all over again. According to him and his very shrill allies, the US faces a threat every bit as grave as that as 1938 or as great as that of the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s. Podhoretz rehearses these arguments in his latest book, World War IV : The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. There is not the slightest bit of evidence to support his claims did not deter Podhoretz from repeating, over and over again, the claim to Munich 1938 and the claim that the US is facing an unprecedented military threat.He acts as if all he needs to do is to repeat his claims, echo is incantations as often as possible, and that should be enough to provoke the Bush administration into attacking Iran.

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007;hp&oref=slogin

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

The constitutional law professor I was thinking of but did not name is Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

Quite true. He was worried about politicians who would whip up voters' emotions and get them to support policies that were against their best interest and the interest of the country.

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

I'm amazed that after six years, there are still people in this country who consider George W. Bush worth defending. Do you imagine that he knows what a "screed" is?

Actually, that piece is ultimately less about Bush than about the decline of literacy and reading. It's a rather conservative piece, as one academic has correctly observed.

Carol Hamilton - 11/7/2007

In this case you are arguing with John Dean and various constitutional law professors. But note the contrast between your language and mine: "drivel," "scumbags," "jam down the throats of," etc. This is angry language, quite in contrast to mine. I was trying to make a dispassionate argument with real examples and a careful weighing of words. Why do you take this virulent tone? It's not the tone of a thoughtful conservative but of someone afflicted with ideological road rage. Yours is the real voice of conspiracy, but it's not "conspiratorial drivel" so much as "conspiratorial fury." I liked the old conservatives better than the ones who call themselves conservatives now; the old school conservatives were confident, cool, and gentlemanly.

Jason Blake Keuter - 11/7/2007

Conservative have not long planned to curtail civil liberties - unless by that you mean conservatives have supported the right of local governments to run local schools; or conservatives have not championed the rights of law breakers at the expense of law abiders. The premise behind the allegation that conservatives have long wished to curtail civil liberties is that the Warren Court defines what constitutes civil liberties: the right to an abortion; the right to rob people of their fundamental right to determine their own life by expanding the protections accorded criminals (based in a hyper-liberal faith in the Jean Valjean like attributes of what are in actuality scum bags - at least for those who live amongst them) and the right of ideologues to hijack schools and jam their new left, cultural radicalism down the throats of students forced to attend school by law. Civil Liberties for the left really mean the right of a self-annointed ideological clique to undermine traditional culture and inculcate and promote their narrow, pathetic excuse for a culture.

I defy those who insist that the Bush administration is launching some kind of long dreamt of police state to produce any kind of a list of people who have been denied fundamental civil liberties for no good reason. They can't because that has not happened. They have to invent victims and, like the enemies of "conventional culture" from the 1970's, they must turn to a motley crew of criminals and turn them into icons of oppression - in other words, they must construct lies worthy of their own worst fantasies of what Madison avenue MArketers attempt to foist on the public.

Carol Hamilton - 11/6/2007

Thank you, but...

Consider what's going on in Pakistan today and yesterday. Mushareff has suspended their Constitution under the same rationale as Bush--combating terrorism.

And were these powers "devolved on them," or did they seize them? The Founders decided that Congress, not the executive branch, should have the power to declare war.

Check my first paragraph again. According to John Dean, neocons were just waiting for an opportunity to suspend habeas, discourage dissent, etc.

One of my points here is that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, unlike George Bush and Dick Cheney, had considerable military experience.

Consider, finally, the cost of this war, recently cited at $300 million a day. For far less than that we could beef up port security and airport security, keep the National Guard at home for domestic emergencies like Katrina and the fires in California, and avoid the accumulation of a trillion dollar debt--something that would surely shock Hamilton.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/6/2007

For Ms. Hamilton's real screed, see her piece about "Bush" which is linked above. It's laughable nonsense, and equates the president with Peter Sellers' "Chauncey," in "Being There."

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/5/2007

I agree almost completely with Alexander Hamilton and Carol V. Hamilton in this article. I think George W. Bush would agree, too. The jump he wouldn't make, and I can't either, is to suggest he and his people pose more than transitory "threats to our freedom," because of extraordinary powers devolved on them--by necessity--to combat the determined Muslim fanatics who have attacked us.

Gary Ostrower - 11/5/2007

Hamilton didn't delay until #8 to warn of the danger of weak government. In Federalist Paper #1, he asserted that "...the vigor of government [i.e., strong government] is essential to the security of liberty." But he also notes in the same paragraph that "...of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants."