Beard Gives Madison High Marx (Federalist 10)

While watching a Hillsdale College Online Course on The Federalist Papers, I discovered why I so intensely dislike John Green.

It seems that Charles Beard, a noted political scientist of a progressive mindset, caused an uproar in academia in 1913.

Beard, in his own studies of the Federalist Papers, came to a startling conclusion regarding the political philosophy of James Madison.

It all came down to Madison’s definition of “factions.” Madison defined them in Federalist 10 thusly:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

The problem arose when Beard determined that James Madison’s talk of “factions” in Federalist 10 was not in reference to what we today call “special interests.”

According to the Dr. Paul Moreno, Beard instead believed that Madison was actually referring to political parties, which included Madison’s own Federalists, along with Washington, Adams, and so forth.

If this is the case, then the inference can be drawn, as Beard evidently did, that Madison was glibly alluding to politicians like himself quarreling over the right to exercise power and expand their personal interests.

Such reasoning led to Beard being called a Marxist, but his book nevertheless remained quite influential.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters mainly because Beard’s ideas, which I believe are recorded in his 1913 book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, have been extraordinarily influential in modern, popular accounts of American history.

This was plain to see in a 2004 PBS documentary on the American Revolution which I saw on a Netflix DVD a few weeks ago.

Much emphasis was placed on the Founders’ desire to achieve gentlemanly dignity on the level of the crowned heads of Europe.

Similar cynicism is on display at John Green’s YouTube channel CrashCourse, which includes a playlist on American History.

In one video which is characteristic of all of his content, Green takes every opportunity to portray the leaders of the American revolution as greedy, power-hungry bigots.

His annoyingly smug display of ignorance is, I’m quite certain, attributable to an understanding of American history stemming from Charles Beard. I would not be surprised if recreational marijuana use was also a factor.

(Incidentally, I highly doubt that Green, best known for authoring The Fault in Our Stars, has enough historical literacy to even comprehend that Beard’s philosophy was likely popularized by the late Howard Zinn, which was in turn disseminated in legions of American public schools.)

Charles Beard’s linking of James Madison’s talk of factions to Marxist theory has thus led to scholarly confusion, resulting in ignoramuses like Green endlessly spreading misinformation about history.

(For more on Green’s ignorance, see this blog post by J. S. B. Morse.)

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