Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias posted this statement on his Facebook page on July 4: “Freedom can be destroyed, not just by its retraction, but also by its abuse.” That is a profound reminder for everyone who claims to be a lover of freedom. And if I may be so bold as to add to this statement, I would suggest that freedom is most likely to be abused when those who possess freedom fail to understand freedom–what it is and what it is not, where it comes from, how it is preserved and so on.
In the United States of America one way to gain a more complete understanding of freedom and what it means in the U.S. is to understand what the Founders were thinking and doing when they formed the framework of this nation following the accomplishment of independence from England. As a student of American history, I would suggest that one of the best ways to understand what the Founders intended when they wrote the Constitution is to read the eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers. These essays were originally published in newspapers between October 1787 and August 1788 in order to present the case for the ratification of the Constitution. The complete collection of essays was bound into two volumes in late 1788 and have been available in single or dual volumes ever since. For those who prefer to read on their computers or e-readers, the text of all eighty-five essays is also available (for free) on the Library of Congress web site as well as a number of other web sites. For more than two centuries they have been the authoritative source understanding the thinking and intentions of the Founders.
Historian Richard B. Morris said that The Federalist Papers form “an incomparable exposition of the Constitution, a classic in political science unsurpassed in both breadth and depth by the product of any later American writer.” Thomas Jefferson called them the best commentary ever written about the principles of government. The Federalist Papers website quotes James Madison as writing that “a people who mean to be their own governors must be armed with the power that knowledge gives.” Alexis de Tocqueville visited the young American nation and wrote in his book Democracy in America that Americans of that time were “far more knowledgeable about government and the issues of the day than their counterparts in Europe.”
Why bring all this up? Because, according to a recent article by Mindy Belz entitled “Against the Mental Grain,” The Federalist Papers are now being ignored by the most respectable institutions of higher learning in America, including its law schools. Belz quotes Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, as pointing out that Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley no longer require their students to read any of the Federalist essays, and these are the schools that “produce many of the nation’s leading members of the bar and bench.” Berkowtiz goes further and explains that not just the law schools, but the political science departments at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford do not even require undergraduate or graduate students to study The Federalist. Berkowitz writes, “The progressive ideology that dominates our universities teaches that The Federalist, like all books written before the day before yesterday, is antiquated and irrelevant,” and that by letting students acquire an education without studying such important writings as The Federalist Papers, “our universities also deprive the nation of a citizenry well-acquainted with our Constitution’s enduring principles.”
The Federalist Papers Project, whose web site I linked above, has this states purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Papers Project is to get people the history, government and economics lessons they never got in school and to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” And to bring this discussion full circle, please note that “the erosion of our liberties” is but another way of saying, in the words of Zacharias, “an abuse of freedom.” Founding documents are important, whether the Ivy League schools think so or not. Let us, as Madison urged, arm ourselves with knowledge that we might defend against the abuse of our freedoms by those who have ignored the limits on government intended by our Founders.