One of my most contentious contentions is that if you want to learn about the Constitution, taking constitutional law at a law school is the last place you should do it. But undergraduate political science and history curricula are hardly better. Among other things, as Peter Berkowitz observes today in the Wall Street Journal, American higher education neglects what I call the “Owners Manual” of the Constitution—the Federalist Papers:
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. . . the progressive ideology that dominates our universities teaches that The Federalist, like all books written before the day before yesterday, is antiquated and irrelevant.
Kudos therefore to my occasional pod-world sparring partner from the Left, Joel Mathis (one half of the Infinite Monkeys Ben & Joel podcast), who decided a while ago that he ought to read the Federalist and see what us right-wingers were on about:
I’ve never read “The Federalist Papers.”
This is a little bit embarrassing to admit. I’ve spent a considerable portion of the last few years thinking and writing about government and politics, with arguments about the nature of the American Constitution often residing somewhere near the center of my debates. Yet I’ve never delved into the document that — outside the Constitution itself — does more to illuminate the thinking of the Founders who created the government that we still live with today.
I might be wrong, but I’ve noted that smart conservative commentators tend to invoke “The Federalist Papers” far more often than smart liberal commentators. . . I feel like I’m missing a critical piece of political literacy.
I’m hoping to prod Joel into commenting more fully on what he’s learned from leisurely reading of the Federalist. He offered that anything might be possible:
And who knows? Maybe I’ll get some “Julie & Julia” style book-and-movie deal out of this gig, with the interweaving stories of me reading the book and Alexander Hamilton dying a bloody, painful death.
More likely I’ll come out on the other side of this an Antonin Scalia-style originalist conservative. Anything could happen.
So step up Joel; right-wing operators are standing by.