Lessons of Liberty from the Musical: Hamilton

Have you ever awaken in the morning with a song in your head?  I bought the music from Hamilton on LP (vinyl records), and aside from the fact that the music is outstanding, much of it also carries a profound libertarian, or at least conservative, slant.  The song I had in my head when I woke up was not very libertarian though – it was the song King George of England sings when he received the Declaration of Independence.  The lyrics are below, and you can listen to the King himself sing it here.

You say / The price of my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay. / You cry / In your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by.  / Why so sad? / Remember you made an arrangement when you went away. / Now you’re making me mad. / Remember, despite our estrangement I’m your man.

You’ll be back. / Soon you’ll see. / You’ll remember you belong to me. / You’ll be back. / Time will tell. / You’ll remember that I served you well. / Oceans rise, / Empires fall, / We have seen each other through it all, / And when push / Comes to shove, / I will send a fully armed battalion / to remind you of my love!

Da da da dat da / dat da da da da ya da / Da da dat dad da ya da!

The King actually goes on from that start to explain to the fledgling American state that they are still his subjects, (‘My favorite submissive subjects’), and that they’ll find governing themselves to be much harder than they imagine.

The King sings again after Washington steps down as President, to the same tune, telling the United States that Washington was the only truly regal person they had, and that without Washington acting as king, we would end up crawling back to King George.  King George laughs and laughs at the thought of John Adams as President.

It occurs to me that the King George character in Hamilton was right.  Governing is hard, and most of us would prefer to be governed than to govern.  If you google ‘Libertarianism is,’ the second most popular ‘suggestion’ to finish the clause is, ‘astrology for men’.  The forth suggestion is ‘wrong’.  The sixth is ‘dangerous’, followed by ‘fascism’, ‘a fantasy’, ‘dead’, and ‘a cult’.  Seven of the top ten searches starting with ‘libertarianism is’ are negative, and the other three are neutral: ‘the political ideology that’, ‘the view that’, and then just ‘Libertarianism is’ without a suggestion.  There is no top search for ‘Libertarianism is freedom’, ‘Libertarianism is wonderful’, ‘Libertarianism is the American way’, or anything else that spins libertarianism in a positive light.

I also thought about something I closed a post with a few days ago that a number of people shared (as far as I know, making this quote The Daily Libertarian’s first meme).  You can see this quote in it’s full context on that post:

We know what does work – free market capitalism has brought more people out of poverty than have all other human creations combined – hence the picture opening this article.  The expansion of free market capitalism reduced world poverty (as defined by the UN) by more than 80% over a 36 year period, and even as the world tries as hard as it can to move away from free market capitalism, capitalism is still pulling people out of poverty faster than any other construct known to man.

And yet socialism is still popular.  Everywhere around us where people are born free, they ask for chains.

I have an article that defines ‘libertarianism’, here.  To put the definition in a nutshell, libertarians believe that liberty (and equal treatment under the law) is more important than equality of outcome, and that the primary role of government is to enforce the Non-Aggression Principle, which simply says that all transactions should be voluntary, that nobody should be forced to do anything against their will, and that nobody has the right to violate the Non-Aggression Principle in dealing with others.  Under libertarianism, each of us would be free to live our lives however we wished, provided that we allowed everyone else to do the same.  The top searches on Google call this ideology of freedom, ‘astrology for men’, ‘wrong’, ‘dangerous’, ‘fascism’, ‘a fantasy’, ‘dead’, and ‘a cult’.

Never mind that libertarianism is quite literally the opposite of fascism – I’ll leave that topic for another day…

We claimed freedom in 1776, created a nation that, at least at the Federal level, was based on libertarian values in 1789, and expanded those values to all people in 1864 and/or 1868 (with the 13th and 14th Amendments).  Since that time, and in some ways since 1789, we have been slowly crawling back toward the exact same kind of authoritarianism we left when we told King George to go to hell.  We took a lot longer to return than King George expected, and we did not look to England for our King, but we have again began to look at ourselves as ‘subjects’ or someone we hold higher than mortal men.

A quick note on the 14th Amendment..  Everything provided for in the Civil Rights Act is in there.  The Civil Rights Act should never have been necessary, and only was because Democrats on the Supreme Court ‘interpreted’ the 14th Amendment to mean something other than what it actually says.  Those who love expansive government should learn from that…  But I digress…

On the left, Obama is held is incredibly high esteem, and as the left looks to 2020, the battle cry is to regain the magic of the Obama years.  Not to be outdone, many on the Right champion Trump as if he were the Second Coming of Christ.  Trump himself said that he could kill someone in broad daylight and his supporters would still follow him.  After saying that (and a host of other regrettable things), he was elected President of the United States.

Much of the anti-Obama rhetoric from the right during the Obama years had absolutely nothing to do with the specific policies Obama was pushing.  I personally supported Obama when Obama was doing things I agreed with.  I voted for him in 2008, and though I very rarely agreed with him once he became President (and sounded very different than when he ran), when he did something I agreed with, I supported him on it.  Many Republicans cannot say the same thing.  Many Republicans would rather have seen the country burn than have seen Obama succeed.

Not to be outdone, the anti-Trumpism on the left today is completely over the top.  Even when Trump calls out a Republican Senator as being ‘afraid of the NRA’ (something I do not entirely agree with but that those on the left generally should), the left gives him absolutely zero kudos, and even attacks Trump for it.  There may be Democrats who support Trump when Trump does things the left generally wants, but I have yet to meet one of those Democrats.  Most Democrats, if not all, hate Trump with a vitriol that is as personal as it is dangerous, and they would rather see the country burn than see Trump succeed.

Our political discourse is so polluted that one side actually attacks the other side for agreeing with them.  How do you compromise when you hate to agree?

I want to spell out something very clearly to both the political left, and the political right: when you put personality over policy, you create a cult of personality, which is exactly what a monarchy looks like.  When you hate or love someone based on who they are rather than what they do, policy means nothing, and you are asking to be made a subject, just as King George predicted Americans would, in the musical, Hamilton.

There is another line from Hamilton that is equally telling.  In the song Right Hand Man, George Washington asks Hamilton to join his staff, essentially as Washington’s personal secretary.  This was during the war.  Alexander Hamilton had already proven himself an able commander, but Washington could not run the entire Continental Army by himself, and needed someone on his staff who could make decisions in Washington’s place.  Washington needed someone he could trust as much as he trusted himself; Washington needed Hamilton.

Being a general is a whole lot more exciting than being a secretary, and Hamilton, who was willing to die for the cause of liberty, wanted to say no.  The words Washington said that changed Hamilton’s mind were simple words, but they resonated with such a power truth that Alexander Hamilton could not say no.  Washington said, “Dying is easy, young man.  Living is harder.”  He actually said more than that:

We are outgunned, / outmanned, / outnumbered, / out planned. / We gotta make an / All-out stand. / Ayo! I’m gonna need / A right hand man!…

<A little later in the song – to Hamilton> I called you because our odds are beyond scary. / Your reputation proceeds you, but I have to laugh. / Hamilton, how come no one can get you on their staff?

Don’t get me wrong, you’re a young man, of great renown. / I know you stole British cannons when we were still downtown. /   Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox wanted to hire you.

It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger. / I was just like you when I was younger. / Head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr?

Dying is easy, young man.  Living is harder.

I’m being honest. / I’m working with a third of what our Congress has promised. / We are a powder keg about to explode. / I need someone like you to lighten the load. So?

If you listened to the song, you’ll notice that I left out Hamilton’s responses.  I also left out the beginning of the song, where Hamilton, who had been raised penniless in the Caribbean before immigrating to New York, expresses the desire to ‘rise up’ and become someone.  Hamilton knew that commanding a force in the field would be the best way to ‘rise up’, but he does end up joining Washington’s staff, in spite of his desire not to.  Hamilton decided to put the needs of the country first.

For us, being subjects is easy.  As subjects, we bear no responsibility for the decisions we make, but rather do as the government says, exerting command only within whatever confines the government sets for us.

Being free is harder.

If we look around us in the world today, or look throughout history, we can plainly see that people want to be ruled.  Tyranny is not some mythical creature from a children’s story, but is, and has always been the norm.  Ours is the exception, and yet it was liberty that turned the United States into the most powerful economy the world has ever seen.

If you would have told King George, in 1776, that in less than 140 years the US economy would be more powerful than not only England’s, but most of Europe’s combined economy, King George would have laughed in your face, and yet by the start of World War One, our economy was easily the largest, most powerful economy in human history.  We have grown even stronger since.

When I was a child, and Charman Mao Zedong was still alive, China’s economy was a ruinous mess.  China has, since that time, expanded the personal liberty of their people to levels Mao would never have allowed, and we have, in the meantime, given our government powers our founders would never have allowed government to have.  We and China have quite literally been moving in opposite directions.  As a result, we have been watching China ‘rise up’, somewhat at our expense.  Our influence on the world stage withers: Obama was a follower rather than a leader who took his lead from Angela Markel, and Trump is openly laughed at and mocked by many foreign powers, like Angela Markel.

We have gone from a nation bathed in blood and baked in liberty, to one that cowers when it is time to fight, and calls liberty ‘astrology for men’, ‘wrong’, ‘dangerous’, ‘fascism’, ‘a fantasy’, ‘dead’, and ‘a cult’.  I would laugh at us too, were I not on the receiving end of the joke our country has become.  We are still an economic and military super power, but we have withered from within.  Our moral and intellectual fortitude is dying almost as quickly as is our willingness to preserve it.

We are at a cross roads.  We can either stick a fork in the dead American ideal, or we can regain our fortitude as a nation in which anyone can strive to be whatever they wish to be, with no artificial barriers holding them back.  Hamilton is a story of an imperfect man from humbling beginnings who rose up to become one of the most important forces in the building of our nation.  Just as Hamilton was imperfect, so to our country is imperfect, and our past is imperfect as a result.  Hamilton made his choice; Hamilton rose up, enabling the rest of us to follow, and our lives today are still better off, by his example, than they would otherwise be.  If we do not rise to the challenge and regain our national identity, we will do as so many great nations have done in the past; if we do not rise, we will fall.  And just as we are bigger than was Rome, so too our downfall will be more ruinous than was the fall of Rome.  If we fall, the world goes into a dark age.

Imagine a dark age in which the warlords have nuclear weapons.  That is what is at stake.

Our future is not written.  There is no destiny.  We will become whatever we make ourselves to be.  Will we choose freedom, or tyranny?  Which song will we sing, that of Alexander Hamilton, or of King George?  I choose freedom, and I ask you to join me.


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Historical Note:  Alexander Hamilton had a bit of a change of heart once he became Secretary of the Treasury, and constantly urged Washington to interpret the Constitution as giving government unlimited power to do whatever it wanted, other than those things the Constitution expressly forbade government from doing.  If you read the 10th Amendment, the Constitution expressly forbids Congress from doing anything other than those things specifically listed in Article 1, Section 8, but though Hamilton read the 10th Amendment, he ignored it after Washington made him Secretary of the Treasury.  As such, making Hamilton a libertarian hero might rub some the wrong way.  To those, I ask that you look at Hamilton in the light the musical portrays him in.  This article is about the Alexander Hamilton of the musical more so than the actual historic figure. The real historical figure was a bit of a double-edged sword, rabidly supporting the Constitution until it was ratified, and then radically changing perspective once made one of the people the Constitution constrained.

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