Last night, I gave the keynote talk at the fifth Carl B. Menges Colloquium at the Alexander Hamilton Institute in upstate New York. The title of the three days conference is “Binding the Minotaur: The Problem of Limited Government.” My remarks dilated on what I think is biggest political issue of the day: the ways in which the relationship between individual liberty and state power is up for fundamental renegotiation. We live at a moment when politicians of both parties (but especially one) seem bent on dramatizing, on acting out in real life, those famous paragraphs in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America where he describes the process of “democratic despotism.” Add to this the stupefying debt this country staggers under and you have a recipe for government unlimited. “Communism,” said Lenin, “means keeping track of everything.” Think about that the next time your neighbor buys a Chevy Volt (thanks to the $7500 you and your fellow taxpayers shelled out for the privilege) or you try to buy an incandescent lightbulb.
I’ve written about the phenomenon of democratic despotism in the age of Obama before in this space (most recently here). At the moment, I wish simply to sign the praises of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the study of Western Civilization. This young organization, not yet five years old, is located in Clinton, New York, near, but most definitely not on or as a part of Hamilton College, the elite, rich, reflexively left-wing and politically correct educational laughing stock that also resides in Clinton (See here, for example, or here or here). I’ve written about the birth, death, and rebirth of the AHI over at The New Criterion (e.g., here).
For the moment, I’d simply like to register my admiration for all the AHI has accomplished in less than five years. Operating on a shoestring budget, they have managed to forge a genuine educational alternative that is an important intellectual resource not only for Hamilton students and faculty looking for an alternative to the usual PC pabulum, but also for students and scholars at neighboring institutions. The great engine of progress at the Hamilton Institute is indefatigable Robert L. Paquette, the distinguished American historian who has the added distinction of having been a thorn in the side of the Hamilton College administration for decades. Paquette has achieved a remarkable success at the AHI in a remarkably short time, and it is a success that is spreading to (or, often, near) other campuses. Check out the AHI here. It’s remarkable what the energy of one man, armed with the right ideas, can accomplish.