A Founder Left Behind By The Left

by Dish Staff


Christian Parenti advises liberals to look to Alexander Hamilton for inspiration, not Thomas Jefferson. He especially praises Hamilton for his far-reaching economic insights:

Hamilton was alone among the “founding fathers” in understanding that the world was witnessing two revolutions simultaneously. One was the political transformation, embodied in the rise of republican government. The other was the economic rise of modern capitalism, with its globalizing networks of production, trade, and finance. Hamilton grasped the epochal importance of applied science and machinery as forces of production.

In the face of these changes, Hamilton created (and largely executed) a plan for government-led economic development along lines that would be followed in more recent times by many countries (particularly in East Asia) that have undergone rapid industrialization. His political mission was to create a state that could facilitate, encourage, and guide the process of economic change — a policy also known as dirigisme, although the expression never entered the American political lexicon the way its antonym, laissez-faire, did.

Parenti goes on to suggest how an appreciation of Hamilton might connect with a pressing contemporary issues – climate change:

Even today, Hamilton’s ideas about state-led industrialization offer much. Consider the crisis of climate change. Alas, we do not have the luxury of making this an agenda item for our future post-capitalist assembly. Facing up to it demands getting off fossil fuels in a very short time frame. That requires a massive and immediate industrial transformation, which must be undertaken using the actually existing states and economies currently on hand. Such a project can only be led by the state — an institution that Hamilton’s writing and life’s work helps us to rethink.

Unfortunately, many environmental activists today instinctively avoid the state. They see government as part of the problem — as it undoubtedly is — but never as part of the solution. They do not seek to confront, reshape, and use state power; the idea of calling for regulation and public ownership, makes them uncomfortable.

(Portrait of Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1806, via Wikimedia Commons)