Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Colleges Don't Teach the Federalist Papers

Bruce Kesler has Peter Berkowitz's essay at Maggie's Farm.

It's behind the subscription wall but check the top result at Google ("one day free pass") or Memeorandum.

And here's a key passage:
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of The Federalist for understanding the principles of American government and the challenges that liberal democracies confront early in the second decade of the 21st century. Yet despite the lip service they pay to liberal education, our leading universities can't be bothered to require students to study The Federalist—or, worse, they oppose such requirements on moral, political or pedagogical grounds. Small wonder it took so long for progressives to realize that arguments about the constitutionality of ObamaCare are indeed serious.

The masterpiece of American political thought originated as a series of newspaper articles published under the pseudonym Publius in New York between October 1787 and August 1788 by framers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The aim was to make the case for ratification of the new constitution, which had been agreed to in September 1787 by delegates to the federal convention meeting in Philadelphia over four months of remarkable discussion, debate and deliberation about self-government.

By the end of 1788, a total of 85 essays had been gathered in two volumes under the title The Federalist. Written at a brisk clip and with the crucial vote in New York hanging in the balance, the essays formed a treatise on constitutional self-government for the ages.

The Federalist deals with the reasons for preserving the union, the inefficacy of the existing federal government under the Articles of Confederation, and the conformity of the new constitution to the principles of liberty and consent. It covers war and peace, foreign affairs, commerce, taxation, federalism and the separation of powers. It provides a detailed examination of the chief features of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It advances its case by restatement and refutation of the leading criticisms of the new constitution. It displays a level of learning, political acumen and public-spiritedness to which contemporary scholars, journalists and politicians can but aspire. And to this day it stands as an unsurpassed source of insight into the Constitution's text, structure and purposes.

At Harvard, at least, all undergraduate political-science majors will receive perfunctory exposure to a few Federalist essays in a mandatory course their sophomore year. But at Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley, political-science majors can receive their degrees without encountering the single surest analysis of the problems that the Constitution was intended to solve and the manner in which it was intended to operate.

Most astonishing and most revealing is the neglect of The Federalist by graduate schools and law schools. The political science departments at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley—which set the tone for higher education throughout the nation and train many of the next generation's professors—do not require candidates for the Ph.D. to study The Federalist. And these universities' law schools (Princeton has no law school), which produce many of the nation's leading members of the bar and bench, do not require their students to read, let alone master, The Federalist's major ideas and main lines of thought.
I teach Federalists 10 and 51 every semester, as they are included in my textbook (and any decent introductory American government text should have them, really). I also bought a paperback copy of The Federalist Papers when I was an undergraduate. It seemed like a cool thing to do.

Hey, there's also an excellent introductory text focusing on James Madison's contributions, Republic at Risk: Self Interest in American Politics.

Also at Power Line, "Papers? We Don't Need No Stinking [Federalist] Papers!"