Lin-Manuel Miranda is My Spirit Animal
Thanks to the mega-musical, Hamilton*, manifested by the lyrical-mixmaster and bonafide genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, there’s been a renewed interest in other Founding figures.** Nerding out has never been so cool.***
Take The Federalist Papers. Originally published as a series of essays to promote ratification of our Constitution, they were ‘authored’ by “Publius” (a noteworthy historical name drop on Season 3 of Scandal). In fact, that was a shared pseudonym for an inestimable trio of thought leaders (or megalomaniacs, depending on your politico-historical bent): Alexander Hamilton wrote the biggest chunk, anywhere from two-thirds to three-fourths of all the papers, but there’s some dispute over a couple (Not Yeezy-TSwift level dispute, but almost as dramatic). A few of the essays were written by John Jay, who became our first Chief Justice, and was the New York State governor who fought to end slavery ahead of the national movement for emancipation (not that we’re bragging). Then there’s James Madison, one of the original political flip-floppers (“strong central government…no, states rights…no…”), but mostly known as ‘the father of the Constitution”.
Why the history lesson? Well, with the elections everywhere, and all this lively discussion about the Supreme Court, there’s a lot of passion, anger, and fear about justice/injustice. I was kind of inspired.
A general theme running through the Federalist Papers is the separation of powers among divisions of government, but in my reading of Federalist 51, I found unique insight into the issue of justice in a diverse society:
“In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society would seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good…”
If this essay is taken to heart, then Madison could be interpreted as proclaiming that a society, with the size and complexity of interests as exists in the United States, should be enough to prevent a majority from accumulating too much power and wielding an unfair advantage over the minority. However, Madison accounted for failure of this diversity to overcome corruption in warning us that, “experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” And so, the need for checks and balances was made evident, to maintain justice among those governing, as well as for the governed, to protect the overall goals and needs of the republic.
It would seem that Madison was implying that justice was a shared end to be met cooperatively for both government and civil society. However, even Madison himself could not imagine that government and civil society, or human beings in any part of the population could always envision justice in the same way, or trust that the other could be charged with its effective undertaking. Madison knew they would often be on opposing sides of the struggle.
In an oft-quoted observation, Madison warned society of the need to monitor against oppression by its government and among its fellow citizens: “Men are not angels.” Given the strong feelings about government abuses and overreach, one might observe that the justice often sought by government (and by those espousing similar views) and the means by which they procure it are frequently viewed by civil society as anathema. The plot has changed, as if government was seeking not justice, but the literal end of civil society.
With the rise of justice-seeking platforms like Black Lives Matter, we could see these movements as a defense for civil society’s allegations against government, a justification of their fears of a contemptible abuse of power by government- in the form of an inadequate, inefficient and unequal system of [insert basic institutions here: education, employment, law]. Maybe it is rational – and not radical – to use protest as policy. Consider how different protestors’ goals are from Madison’s: democracy and justice. Oh, wait…yep.
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*I like PBS and all, but I take issue with how they introduce Lin-Manuel Miranda (“…the son of Puerto Rican immigrants…”) in this News Hour clip. Since 1917, when the U.S. wanted to find a way to conscript subjugated peoples into their wars, Puerto Ricans have been American citizens, and therefore can’t be immigrants to America.
**Yes, I did opt out of referring to them as ‘founding fathers’- not to diminish their contributions, but to acknowledge that Cokie Roberts put a lot of work into pointing out it they weren’t the only ones.
***Speaking of nerding out, I hugged Lin-Manuel Miranda at a nonprofit fundraiser on October 9, 2014. In fact, I hugged 2 Tony Winners that night:
Featured image courtesy of Less Wise, More Dangerous Tumblr.