The Lost Soul Of The American Presidency By Stephen Knott Book Review

Length: 5 pages Sources: 1 Subject: American History Type: Book Review Paper: #72298368 Related Topics: History, War, Constitution, Democratic Republic
Excerpt from Book Review :

The Despotism of Federalism Why Hamilton was Wrong

Stephen Knott opens his book by quoting Alexander Hamilton, the original promoter of despotism, who, via The Federalist Papers, advocated for a strong central government—like that which the American Revolutionaries had just opposed in the Revolutionary War. It is ironic because, in that opening quote, Hamilton is talking about the risk of despotism, a risk which he made all but certain would become a real problem, as the Anti-Federalists pointed out. Jefferson was one of these, and Jefferson is criticized in the book as a populist president who thought he knew better than the framers of the Constitution. It is my argument that he did know better and that the framers of the Constitution—particularly Hamilton—were power-hungry centrists craving the moment when they themselves could demonstrate the kind of despotism they lamented in their writings. Such despotism is seen all throughout the history of the American Presidency, yet it is when that rare example of a president who represents the will of the people instead of the will of a handful of elitists that Knott makes his objections. That is why he singles out Jefferson and Jackson in particular (he also singles out Wilson and Lincoln—but they were far from populists).[footnoteRef:2] Knott is like many commentators on the Left today: they see the rhetoric of what they take to be an impolitic president; they see vulgarities dropping from his lips on a daily basis; they see a living threat to their politically correct worldview—and they set out to identify him as evidence that the soul of the Office of the Presidency has been lost. They then point to other so-called populist presidents to identify a trend in American history, arguing that populism equates to despotism. In actuality, today’s bloated bureaucracies and governors like Newsom, DeWine and Whitmer exist in echo chambers—their job, in their eyes, being to do the will of the Establishment represented by guys like Fauci et al. rather than to do the will of the people. The people, in their eyes, do not deserve a voice and ought not to be permitted to think for themselves. Such a view is evident in Knott’s Federalist-adoring perspective. [2: Stephen Knott, The Lost Soul of the American Presidency (University of Kansas Press, 2019), xvii.]

Knott begins the book’s first chapter by extolling the merits of the Federalist perspective. There is not even a hint of acknowledgment that the opposing viewpoint of the Anti-Federalists might have been valid—even though history has proven them correct. After all, Hamilton argued for a strong central government in order that it might prevent states’ entanglement in foreign wars. How well has that worked out? America’s strong central government has had the nation in wars non-stop for more than the past 100 years.…rights?—tsk tsk) and upheld as sacred when it suits them (the framers were not populists! They had everyone’s best interests in mind even though they were not populists! They just knew better than the people what was good for them! Foreign wars for example are good for them—the people are just too foolish to get it!). Such is the underlying line of thought throughout Knott’s work. Compared to other contemporary histories, such as Stone and Kuznick’s, it comes up short in terms of honest self-assessment. Indeed, Stone and Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States at least exposes the problem of the endless wars and does not attempt to invalidate populism. Even something like Ron Paul’s End the Fed has more honest truth and perspective in it—and Paul considers himself a staunch Constitutionalist. Yet Paul also expressed some very populist beliefs—like ending foreign wars, auditing the Federal Reserve, and ending the welfare state. Paul viewed the Office of the President as one that should basically be very small, for it was his belief that people need very little in the way of governing if they are simply allowed to be free, as the Founders desired. It was Hamilton and the Federalists who sought despotism through Federalism. [5: Stephen Knott, The Lost Soul of the American Presidency (University of Kansas Press, 2019), 219.] [6: Stephen Knott, The Lost Soul of the American Presidency (University of Kansas…

Sources Used in Documents:


Knott, Stephen. The Lost Soul of the American Presidency. University of Kansas Press, 2019.

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