Recent posts and comments on my humble federalism oeuvre—prominently, Richard Reinsch’s sensational post—invite careful thought and reflection. The gravamen, as I understand my critics, is that I’m too enamored with political economy (rationalism, and economics) and too dismissive of the civic, democratic virtues that make government work and last. At the end of the day, that may be right; I’d love to think and argue about it. But I’m in Indianapolis today and at Holy Cross tomorrow and on Thursday back in class again. A few hasty questions, then:

  • Can you make republican government work for devils—in other words, create a machine that will go by itself? Heck no. Madison didn’t think so; I don’t think so; no one this side of Professor Kant does. But that doesn’t get you any closer to the federalism questions. As to which:
  • Is there a reason to think that the demos will be better behaved, and more likely to exercise civic virtues, locally than at the national level? I can’t think of one, and much empirical evidence cuts against it. Even conceptually, the point seems doubtful. If the dominant civic spirit says, “mind your own damn business,” localism may be the way to go. Conversely, if the spirit of civic “engagement” and “participation” says, “help yourself to other people’s money,” a national scale might provide a barrier: it’s a lot easier to organize theft on a smaller scale. Might: You’re playing the odds here. But it’s an empirical question, not one of first principles; and the answer is contingent on the content of people’s character, not on the scale of government.
  • Is it that local government instills civic virtue? My neighbors look perfectly congenial and sensible to me, and the social capital they invest is an enormous benefit. But they also “participate” in school and local “activities” that make me wish for a revolver. It’s very hard to tell where the balance lies. And I’m quite confident that local government institutions don’t instill or foster any of the good stuff. For the most part, they bring out the worst in people.
  • Is there a reason to think that the people’s agents will be better behaved at one level or the other? James Madison—the Madison of the Convention and Federalist 10—thought that an “extended republic” would produce (more precisely, select for) better politicians. The recognition that this is obviously nuts struck Madison in the very first Congress. But it strikes me as equally implausible that the hacks in Albany or Richmond will be any more deliberative or responsible. Some legislatures will be better than Congress, and others will be worse.

More thoughts later.

Michael S. Greve

Michael S. Greve is a professor at George Mason University School of Law. From 2000 to August, 2012, Professor Greve was the John G. Searle Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he remains a visiting scholar. His most recent book is The Upside-Down Constitution (Harvard University Press, 2012).

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  1. John Ashman says

    Disagree for several reasons.

    1. Local governments can’t print money. They are forced to pay their bills. They may go in debt, but they are forced to do something about it.

    2. People can see or not see the results. People do feel more comfortable being taxed when they see the results, that is true, but it is also true that they are in a better position, geographically and leverage-wise to demand accountability and results.

    3. You can see quite clearly that many state and local governments reject Washington style agendas and go after more workable solutions, like Indiana’s HSA plans.

    4. They elect more effective leaders, at least Republicans ones. Most Republicans are quite good at managing state wide issues, yet seem to have difficulty at the national level.

    5. People are more willing to cross party lines locally. Democrats are more willing to vote for Republicans that are responsible with their money, while still vote for a Democrat nationally that is irresponsible with other people’s money. Republicans will vote for an untainted Democrat over a scandal ridden Republican.

    6. People can vote with their feet, often moving just outside the city to avoid taxation or other issues.

    7. Okay, so what if Santa Monica buys $1m hydrogen buses that cost 10 times as much to run? Everyone else looked at that and said “nah”. Great example of bad government. Also great example of lemmings deciding to do a U-turn.

    8. Guys like Gary Johnson can run the show locally, but struggle to even get name recognition on a national level.

    9. Governors are very good at looking at what other states do as well, and going with what works over what does not. And they can shot 49 other solutions, rather than have a single one forced upon them.

    10. Bad government locally gets reversed pretty quickly in most cases. People are voted out, things entirely undone, back to before. Unlike in Washington, where bad mistakes linger for centuries and are considered to be “untouchable”, even by the Supreme Court.

    I could probably think of more reasons, but nothing is worse than what Washington has been doing. What Washington DOES do pretty well, maybe the only thing, is protect individual rights. Not against themselves, but against state and local government. No state would be allowed to run an NSA against its citizens as the Feds do, or detain people indefinitely like the Feds do, or even police its own borders like the Feds do. So, the less the Feds do, and the more they protect individual rights, the better government we have at all levels.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says


      The United States military is, for all of its bureaucratic insanity, an extraordinarily professional product of our national government, and something of which we as Americans should be proud. Our service academies in particular are public gems–institutions that are both honorable and responsible caretakers of an admirable republican (small-r) military tradition. This is very much, and properly so, a product of our national government. It is something, perhaps even the most important thing, that our national government does exceptionally well.

      • John Ashman says

        Meh. I disagree, again. Better than most organizations because of the requisite nature of military structure, and if anything, it does well DESPITE the nature of our government, not because of it. Military, historically, has always organized itself rather well, because to not do so leads to death.

        Look how the F35 has become an expensive boondoggle due to an incredibly misplaced theory that “one size fits all” is more efficient. Another major failure.

        Further, well, pet peeve, most military men don’t understand the Constitution they are sworn to uphold, and that is extremely problematic. I know, I argue with them all the time when they want to run off the immigrants and jail all the hippy pot smokers.

        Also, look at how it is misused to, not only “defend” States that don’t need it, but also to provoke enemies that we do not need, creating a vicious cycle of one hand creating the problem, the other trying hamfistedly to fix it.

        We continue with expensive technologies that are no longer required (quite literally to “save” jobs), while not investing in more useful technologies. And putting expensive bases everywhere, that simply prop up economies in other parts of the world, draining American resources and economic multipliers. The Pentagon is a stunning monument to our bureaucratic inefficiency, and how well a military structure succeeds despite of the incompetancy of the top-heavy bureacracy.

        We can, and should, do better.

        BTW, Air Force? Still not Constitutional after all these years.

        • Kevin R. Hardwick says

          I think we will have to disagree on this one. Your position strikes me as one sided. You emphasize the dysfunction systemic to all bureacracy, and fail to acknowledge the success. Argument from anecdote is always weak. I too have extensive experience on which to ground my claims.

          • John Ashman says

            But the success isn’t due to bureaucracy or overhead, it’s despite it. Of course, when you throw nearly $1T PER YEAR at something, it’s bound to be reasonably successful. But we have serious problems and we spend $billions on weapons systems that are often never even used, or are used only because have no round peg for the round hole.

            Imagine if the States each had their own military, each one resposible for a piece of the pie, that each of them was under the command of of DC, but had a greater degree of autonomy in arming and supplying their teams. There would be more emphasis on troop carriers, hand held weapons, fast, mobile platforms that were inexpensive to build, maintain, put into battle. Manufacturers would have 50 customers, not one, and they’d fight over the slice of the pie, not whether they got to have any. For instance, with the F-35, only 3 proposals were made, one withdrawn before the competition, the other painfully not ready for prime time. So, we rushed it into the process and here we are all these years later waiting to see them actually work well, and paying twice what we had intended. Would a state commit $1T+ to a failed design? No, couldn’t afford that. 1/50th? Not likekly. No, more likely, it would force, through thrift, companies to come up with designs that are more affordable, more basic, and more useful. We would have more drones, perhaps run by modified commercial aircraft that acted as flying command and control facilities, able to take a swarm of affordable drones into battle in combination with remote control from the ground. Do we even NEED an F22 or F35 at this point? Doesn’t matter! We’re getting them!

            I mean, look, it’s simple, bureacracy didn’t make the military great, militaries make themselves great and do so despite bureaucracy and Federal control. Federal bureaucracy and control is why we lost Viet Nam.

          • John Ashman says

            Also, I would say that efficiency is mostly likely to be maximized in relation to the number of customers available and the number of providers competing.

            The military is one customer, with an oligopoly of providers, which is how we end up with $600m planes that are already being surpassed before we’ve worked out the bugs.

          • Kevin R. Hardwick says


            My claim is much simpler–you are making fine distinctions that do not speak to the point at hand. Two claims, the first of which is completely basic, and the second a matter of judgment with which, at least in places above, you seem to agree:

            1. The military *is* a part of the Federal Government. This one is basic, obvious, and should be utterly uncontroversial.

            2. The United States military is very good; if not the best and most professional in the world, then right up there.

            That is it. Nothing more complicated than that. The Federal government is tasked by the Constitution with responsibility for national defense, and the Federal government does a fine job of meeting that responsibility. None of your counterarguments contradict either of these claims.

          • John Ashman says

            Eh. Again, it’s easy to be “the best” when you throw 4x more money at it than everyone else.

            Is it efficient? NOPE. Way too much bureacracy and congressional meddling for that.

            So the typical leftist argument that “government is good at the military” falls flat with me. The military is good at the military, despite government. If the military received all of its funding and spent its funding with out Congress involved, then it would no doubt be twice the powerhouse it is now.

          • John Ashman says

            Also, you stated that the military was a product of the Federal government, but it is far more accurate to say that the current Federal government is a product of the military. In any case, government didn’t make the military great, which is why I object to you giving it credit for something that the military manages to survive, rather than something that makes the military thrive.

        • Kevin R. Hardwick says

          Hmm. You criticize the military, and claim it can be better. I agree. But are you suggesting the military can be perfect? You do see the inconsistency re your earlier argument, no?

          • John Ashman says

            I’m not criticising the military AT ALL. In fact, it is a shining example of achievement against all odds. But the military structure deserves the credit, not Washington. How Washington is somehow getting the credit for military success is beyond me.

            Also, the military isn’t a piece of paper. Again, if there is a flaw in the Constitution, it would be that it contradicts itself, which it does not, IMO. The only flaw I see in the military is Washington DC. And yes, we’d have a more efficient, more prepared military without Congress trying to micromanage it and deciding what the military is going to get, instead of letting colonels and general decide how to outfit their troops.

          • John Ashman says

            Also, huge difference in saying something is “flawed” and saying it could be improved.

            Further, in order to be actually flawed, it requires more than one person’s opinion, especially when, I think, many, if not most, actually quite like it.

            Is vanilla ice cream “flawed”? And if you improve it, will everyone like the improvement? What if most do not, is it still an improvement? Is their such a thing as a perfect recipe?

          • Kevin R. Hardwick says


            I honestly find your terminology confusing. A flaw is a defect or a shortcoming. One synonym for the word is “imperfection,” and the opposite of an imperfection, arguably, is a perfection. But that is an overly narrow usage of a pretty commensical word, which has a wide range of other synonyms. The opposite of a defect is not perfection. Nor is the opposite of a “blemish” perfection. Nor is the opposite of “shortcoming” perfection. You are using words in ways that simply do not make sense to me. This is an honest reaction to your writing. I truly do not know what to say to this, other than it raises the rather frustrating possibility that your understanding of words is so utterly different from mine that we cannot effectively communicate at all.

          • John Ashman says

            I don’t understand your confusion.

            A design feature is NOT a “flaw”. You’re going back to Levinson’s smarmy comment that the Constitution is flawed. That’s means there’s an obvious defect, a mistake, an error that should be removed. But it is that way on purpose, therefore, it is not a defect, a mistake or anything else. It is a wonderful document that could arguably be improved and tweaked with care, or utterly screwed up because Congress (and SCOTUS) is largely manned by idiots, some actual, mostly willful.

            I don’t know how else to say it. If you say that an omelette is flawed because it has eggs in it, because you don’t like eggs, that’s just dumb. If you say that a van is flawed because it has sliding doors, that is just dumb. If you say a car is flawed because it’s green and you think it should be blue, that’s just dumb.

            And saying that something could be improved is not saying that it could be perfect. Saying that something is flawed implies strongly that something would be great, if not perfect, if only those flaws were removed.

            No need to overanalyze it. I might be overstating it by saying that he thinks it could be “perfect”, but he sure seems to think he has the secrets of what’s “wrong” with, my most any standard, the greatest Constitution in the world.

  2. Kevin R. Hardwick says


    What a nice thing–thank you for taking my questions seriously. You have done a thoughtful job of organizing this into questions, which to my eye are serious and demand reflection. I am no political theorist–my training is as an historian, so there is nothing especially authoritative or deeply informed in such responses as I can compose.

    I am quite earnest in my request for things I should read on these matters, to become better informed. Surely this question–the relationship of individual character to the maintenance of a free society–is an ancient one, that must have attracted its fair share of modern commentary?

    Like you, I have much pressing on my attention–but I will do my best to get back to this, if only to give John Ashman an opportunity to challenge my thinking :)

    Well wishes,

  3. Kevin R. Hardwick says


    I should add that I do not know your thoughts sufficiently well to have a critical response to them. The comment that started us down this particular rabbit hole stemmed from my mis-interpreting of an off-hand observation from you to which, it turns out, you are not intellectually committed. So it was not really a criticism of your thought, because I never engaged with the thought that matters.

    That said, I much welcome this turn in the conversation, since it hits me very much where I live. I teach an introductory course in American history–probably the most important class I teach, since it is the only course in American history that most of my students (over-whelmingly preprofessional majors) will ever take. What do these men and women need to know about our past, if the purpose is to better prepare them to be civically engaged citizens? Part of what I do is to teach from a large document collection, published by Hackett Press (CLASSICS OF AMERICAN POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL THOUGHT) , that aspires to track the evolution of American public ideals–in essence, to track the historical development of ideals that lie behind and structure the various public positions available for citizens to inhabit in the present. Much of the reason I am present on these boards is because I aspire to do a better job teaching this class.

    As an aside, one of the things I must do, when I teach such a class, is to attempt to present these evolving positions of aspiration and ideal as fairly as possible. That means locating and understanding sympathetically the political positions of people with whom I am inclined to disagree. As a professor at a public university, my job is to open up possibilities for students to consider–emphatically not to indoctrinate my students in my own public commitments. What is striking, it seems to me, is the degree to which so many vocal adherents of the various contemporary political positions fail to engage with the highest and best aspirations of the folks with whom they disagree. I think we must acknowledge what is best in the positions with which we disagree, if we are to engage in a politics that is anything better than a grasping for political power for the sake of punishing our political enemies.

  4. John Ashman says

    I didn’t read the book, but I take it to mean that the States willing give up and delegate powers that they have no authority to yield while the Federal government offers to accept those powers which they have no authority to wield.

    Such as when the Feds kindly offered to take immigration off of NY’s hands, and then the rest of the country, which is fine, right up until it leads to further breaches of the Constitution, further rights abuses, and a denial that states ever had the power in the first place. Or when the Feds generously offer to fund education, build roads, provide retirement plans, medical programs or other things they are not empowered to do.

    The States voluntarily, give up some power, and then involuntarily end up losing the rest.

    But then, this is why we have a Constitution, and why the originalists have it right.

    I notice a persistent fear of conservative intellectuals to do anything but deny nullification and originalism, for fear of being branded a “nut job” or “loony”.

    But that’s exactly the problem. Being right takes a back seat when courage is in short supply.

  5. R Ricard Schweitzer says

    Perhaps I am at the wrong seminar.

    But to return to Professor Greve’s original direction, rather than vivisection of any one mechanism of our governments, he touches upon a principal issue which is indicative of changes in the structure of our social order.

    Over the past 80 years (the writer is somewhat older than that) the modalities of human interactions in the US have undergone significant changes reflecting, and contributing to, a Transformation of the Citizenry.

    Many relationships that were formerly conducted **within** organizations are now conducted **through** organizations. Many (now perhaps, most) issues that were once resolved through adaptations in direct relationships in order to achieve cooperative efforts, are now dealt with vicariously through the mechanisms of our several levels of governments.

    On the separate issue, raised by Professor Greve, as to the appropriate selection of the particular level of government, local, state, or federal, the objectives of the citizenry in devolving the resolution of issues to vicarious mechanisms may be the controlling factor; or certainly, a major factor. If the objective is emancipation from burdens of responsibility, the devolution will tend toward the mechanism capable of broadest diffusion of the burdens (e.g., the federal level). If the objective is immediacy of response, diminution of conflict or disorder, the devolution will tend toward the mechanism of more immediate contacts (e.g., local).

    The Transformation of Governments (at the several levels) has been generated by the Transformation of the Citizenry (not the other way around) . That latter transformation appears to be indicative of changes in the attitudes of the members of society toward one another and in their expectations of one another.

    Thus, it is unlikely that the answers to the issues raised by Professor Greve can be found in simple analyses of the uses of the mechanisms of the various levels of governments.

  6. R Ricard Schweitzer says

    As to “Legislatures,” at various levels (e.g., Detroit, Chicago, Fairfax County; New York State, California, Georgia), the same effects of the Transformation(s) of the Citizenries apply.

    What are the functions assigned by the citizenry to the mechanisms “managed” by the legislators? How much is devolved to those legislators to establish rules and regulations for the interactions of human conduct? What have been the motivations for the devolutions?

    We can’t say we always “get what we pay for;” but, we would certainly always pay for what we get.

  7. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    Mr. Schweitzer–

    As I understand the issues at hand–in this thread, but also in the threads from which it originated–the key questions are:

    1.) Does free government require anything from citizens in order to endure across time? To this question, the general consensus here is “yes.” In Lowell’s memorable phrase, the machine does not go of itself. Come the end of the day, Madison’s finely tuned institutional structure, in which ambition counteracts ambition, is not sufficient to ensure the long term survival of free government.

    2.) If the existence over time of free government requires something from citizens, what precisely is it that is requisite?

    3) If free government, to survive across time, to avoid the death of the republic, requires habits, dispositions, virtues, from citizens, from whence do these things stem? Does the government itself have a role to play in inculcating these qualities in the citizens?

    4.) If the government does have a role to play in encouraging, inculcating, nourishing, teaching these qualities, how do we square that role with the libertarian value that each person should be maximally free to choose their own ends (pursuant to the usual limitations, like for example that my choice to place my fist where I choose in space should be limited to exclude that space where your nose begins)?

    5.) Following the line of inquiry opened up by Professor Greve, does the scale of government matter, when it comes to nourishing these qualities in the citizenry?

    Michael–how am I doing here? Am I doing violence to your understanding of what is at stake in this conversation?

    Well wishes,

  8. R Ricard Schweitzer says

    As indicated in the beginning of my first post, I recognize that I may be at the wrong seminar.

    I may also be of the wrong persuasions for these colloquies since I do not regard the concept of “The Government” As an Entity (n and or as a Wilsonian organic being). To me governments are mechanisms established within the social orders for particular functions required or desired by their members.

    “Governments” do not have interests, “compelling” or otherwise. Only people have interests. I have no idea of the concept of “free government.” Every government I have encountered, here in the United States and in Northwestern and Southern Europe (as well as all of those I have read about in history and current affairs) have costs (some more extensive than others) in both money and individual freedoms. Both of those costs appear to me to rise as more functions are assigned to those mechanisms, particularly the functions for cooperation among individuals.

    If we are talking about governments of “free” peoples, then I would answer the first four of your questions in the negative.

    As to the fifth question with its implication of a “nourishing” role of governments, my position is that governments are mechanisms, the teats for any such “nourishing” would be artificial and depend upon the existence of containers of some sort for a source of supply, which containers, in turn, would require people, human beings, with motives and objectives, to fill and refill with such substances as those motives and objectives determine.

    The mechanisms of governments can only put out and deliver to their citizenry from that which is put into those mechanisms from that citizenry. It is thus the citizenry that determines the nature of the governments and not the nature of governments which determines the qualities or characteristics of the citizenry.

    Very often, as the Iron Lady said, consensus “. . . Is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” That may not be the tenor of the consensus you suggest, but it does raise the question of what beliefs are held and what objections are constrained.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says

      Mr. Schweitzer–

      Regarding the term “free government.” I take that to mean the efforts and practice of men and women to order the institutions of government in such a fashion as to maximize the freedom of the individuals subject to the laws created and enforced by those men and women who comprise the government and who are authorized to act in its name.

      Note that to say this carefully requires making some pretty long winded statements–so much of the time people use a short hand, and say “the government” when they actually mean “the men and women who comprise the government and who are authorized etc. etc. etc.” The political scientist Graham Alison has a super essay in which he dissects the implications of assigning metaphorical agency to different levels of decision making–I do not recall the cite off hand, but there may be others here who do.

      Anyway, the adjective “free” describes the efforts, paraphrasing James Madison, to give the (people who comprise and are authorized to act for the) government the authority and power to do what is necessary to secure freedom for the people, while at the same time structuring it in such a fashion as to make least likely that it will itself become a threat to the liberties of the people. Madison states this very eloquently in Federalist 51. Something I would much like to read would be an analysis in Madisonian terms of the evolution of the Federal government from 1865 (eg. the 14th Amendment) to the present.

  9. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    With regard to the meaning of “free government,” John Locke, John Stuart Mills, and Adam Smith are good places to begin.

    People post comments for their own purposes, and that is to be expected. But as someone who has more than idle, recreational interest in this topic–this thread is not doing much to assist me with the dilemmas I confront in my professional life. That sucks, at least for me, but hopefully others are finding value here.

    • John Ashman says

      But, Kevin, are you looking for legal solutions or philosophical ones?

      Philosophy of government is great, but I prefer to look at the track record and we have a situatio where the Federal government is demanding to do what the state governments can already do pretty well, while simultaneously working hard to undo what they can do very well.

      While it is true there is a capriciousness to state government, it is also much more responsive to error, unlike the Federal government that is so gigantic, it cannot respond to error and makes only minor tweaks as it leaves the fundamental errors in place. Small government is quick to make errors and quick to change them.

      To paraphrase someone – you make your own thread, mister.

      • Kevin R. Hardwick says


        I am not, at least in my posts here, seeking solutions at all. I am seeking understanding–that is an entirely different endeavor. I would argue that it is usually good to understand a problem–a flaw, a blemish, call it what you will–before one tries to address it. I find political theory useful for this purpose.

        I should add as well that law per se is less useful than theory for the purposes most immediately present in my professional life.

        In so far as “looking to the track record” goes, another name for that is “history.” So of course I care about that a great deal. But here too, I am not fully convinced that I have a full grasp of the narrative–in part because so much of what passes for contemporary history–history of the last 80 or so years–is both teleological and polemical in nature. To the extent that is true, it is not good history. So part of the challenge in reading the history of more or less recent events is to sort out the distortions introduced by the people who are writing the history from teleological and agenda driven purposes.

        Well wishes,

        • John Ashman says

          Well, we’ve been talking about political philosophy for thousands of years and yet still don’t understand why humans do what they do. But why doesn’t matter. As I say with women, you don’t seek to understand them, you simply look for patterns and act accordingly.

          We know that one size fits all government works very poorly, while small, local government is littered with both successes and failures. We know that some things CAN work on a national level, but often because they are tested and proven on local level.

          Further, locality is closest to individuality. More is possible, including mistakes, because the group think will be more likely in tune. So while things may go well or badly, mediocrity is largely avoided. Mediocrity becomes the norm once large government gets involved, because it has to make one solution that is more or less agreeable to 50 different states with different needs, different populations, different customs. Large government only works with a homogeneous and boring culture. And probably not even then.

          In any case, I make my own philosophy, I really don’t want to understand theory, I want to apply solutions to reality. And history is littered with well-meaning people who thought they understood a problem and were horribly wrong about that.

          It’s like trying to understand how to be a great lover, having never actually done it. You understand by doing.

  10. R Ricard Schweitzer says

    Kevin –

    Taking no personal umbrage from the inference, my concerns with the functions of governments, the transformations of the citizenry, changes in culture and in the social order are not idle nor recreational.

    Without purporting to offer counsel with respect to the professional “dilemmas” you are dealing with, one place to start in any dilemma is to understand and test the basis for each underlying assumption.

    One of those assumptions seems to be that governments are entities, organic beings rather than derivative arrangements of the members of a social order; disregarding or depreciating the role of culture in the formation of the social orders out of which governments arise.

    Since you are a historian, may I suggest a very fine work by S. E. Finer, “The History of Governments” (Oxford 1997). You might also be interested in the work of Douglas C North. To some extent and a colloquy of about current conditions there is often the well-known difference in perspectives between “is” and “ought.” However, even with the current popularity of counterfactuals, we seldom find historians reciting “what ought to have been.” But we do find some scholars of history commenting on “what ought to be.”

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says

      Mr. Schweitzer–

      I intended no slight–I don’t know why anyone else posts here, but surely for some, the purpose for doing so is because it is fun. Thank you for the suggestion–North of course is a fine historian, and a scholar whose work I know. I do not know Finer at all, but will look him up.

      I do not think I am guilty of assuming that governments are anything other than the conventional arrangements of human men and women, but when one writes in a compressed fashion, it is easy to choose language that is not fully precise.

      The dilemma I am concerned with is the tension between, on the one hand, the notion that the republic, to endure, requires certain civic orientation from citizens; and on the other that in a free society, people should be maximally free to choose their own ends. There is a tension there that is, at least for me, not entirely straightforward to resolve.

      Going back to my five questions: for the first four, notice that they are structured such that if you answer “no” to an early question, then there is no need to proceed any further–you will answer “no” to all successive questions in the series. Question five stands to some degree apart from the others.

      I find the way you express yourself to be unobvious, if that makes sense. I would guess that you are working from a different intellectual training and a different tradition than am I. This is neither good nor bad–it just means it is hard for me to discern where our assumptions diverge. It would be fun, if and when time permits, to try to unpack that.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says

      With regard to counterfactuals–I do not find them to be especially popular among academic historians. Did you have any particular works of history in mind? Just curious–I found your comment out of step with my own experience, but that may mean I am reading the wrong books and the wrong journals. This is a distraction from the broader argument of your post–I am raising it only because I find the entire issue of counterfactual history to be intriguing, methodologically speaking.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says


      I do not think I make the error of implying that governments have external, organic existence aside from the human beings who inhabit them, and aside from the broader social and cultural agreements that create and empower them. If I have implied that in something I have written, it was inadvertent.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says

      I purchased the book by Finer–it is actually three quite substantial books, and I only purchased the third. Do you recommend the first two? I do not know when I will have the chance to read it–but experience shows me that I am much more likely to read a book if I have a copy in my library :)

      Many thanks for the recommendation.

  11. R Ricard Schweitzer says

    If you will look at the flyleaf in Volume III,, or any of the other Volumes you will note that the full title of the work is “The History of Government From the Earliest Times.” So, yes, for full benefit one should have access to the complete work. An important segment of the study is “The Conceptual Prologue” in the first 95 pages of Volume I.

    This work was compared to Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” in terms of its range in importance by reviewers and scholars back in 1997. Just as one cannot get the full sweep of Gibbon’s work by reading only the segments of the “Fall,” leaving out the learning conveyed in the much broader range of the “Decline,” one cannot expect the full benefits of this work to be found in its final volume.

    That said, this work was relatively expensive as I recall (almost as much as an American university textbook!) So, if one can have access in an academic setting to the full works that should be sufficient and a decision on owning the full set for reference can be deferred.

    • Kevin R. Hardwick says

      Regarding American history textbooks–I assign David Reynolds, AMERICA: EMPIRE OF LIBERTY, which is beautifully and intelligently written (by an Englishman who writes the Queen’s English with impeccable style), has no photographs, timelines, practice tests, study questions, color maps, or any of the other crap that the textbook companies add that jack up the prices so outrageously. My students can get it at Amazon for a smidge more than $10.

      One of the beautiful things about living in a capitalist society is that if you look for it, Mr. Market really does go to work for you :)


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