Do you lean toward Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson? Proponents of their political and economic philosophies have been jostling for the upper hand since the beginning, and the Founding Father you favor will often define your political and economic views.
In her Real Clear Politics piece on Monday, Salena Zito says we are currently transitioning from a “Hamiltonian meritocratic-elitist, centralized-power society to a more Jeffersonian Main Street focus, with state and local governments as the primary powerbrokers:”
Prone to rambling, his clothes slightly worn, Jefferson was creative; his prose was almost poetic, his delivery scattered. The author of the Declaration, his vision of America was of a decentralized federal government, with power spread out to state and local governments.
His vision of an agrarian nation, with mild laws and a deep belief in man’s goodness and liberty’s importance, contrasted sharply with Hamilton’s vision of a Washington-centric government, with power concentrated among the elite few.
Well-dressed, with a very organized mind, Hamilton believed humans were inherently flawed and, left on their own, made poor choices. His vision was to promote an economy based on commerce, wealth and strict laws, advancing toward a technological age and European-style collectivism.
Zito claims the Democrats are Hamiltonians and the Republicans are Jeffersonians, but this is not the case. At least over the past few decades, both parties have favored Hamilton in the ways they approach economics, domestic affairs, and foreign policy. (That’s why conservatives like David Brooks and William Kristol are such fans.) We certainly see Jeffersonian trends today — the Tea Party movement, the popularity of buying local, increased discomfort with centralized power — but I’m not sure the minds of the current powerbrokers are really changing.
The Hamilton vs. Jefferson debate has been going on for two centuries, and will probably continue through the life of the nation. Engaging with the two positions helps us clarify our own beliefs about what the United States is and should be. Here’s a brief summary of the two positions, if you’re interested.