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Dr. Matthew Raphael Johnson


The Antifederalist, the Constitution
and Postmodern Abulia

Rebellion Against Tyrants is Obedience to God

– from Thomas Jefferson's personal seal (Taken from Benjamin Franklin)

Government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive to the good and happiness of mankind.

Declaration of Rights of the State of North Carolina (1789)

    Political violence is, in itself, neither praiseworthy or blameworthy. In times of severe and all-pervasive corruption where even language itself is debased, violent, organized revolution is not an outrageous thing to contemplate. Due to total abulia and historical ignorance, Americans see violence (unless its against “racists”) as somehow evil inherently. Laughably, some try to claim its “anti-Christian” which would certainly be odd given the Christian empires that have existed in history.

    This paper will be a brief justification of rebellion in the US. In doing so, however, several caveats will be observed. First, there is no “American people” (see below) in any recognizable sense of the word “people.” Second, the sort of people that would be rebelling in the founding era, such as Daniel Shays, are very different than who would be rebelling in the US today. Third, the expectations and assumptions of the American population are radically different as well. In 1800, the typical American was white, Christian and patriotic.

    That is not the case today as even white Christians would be unrecognizable in 1800 America. Fourth, the experiences of the Soviet and Chinese communist states show that it is only the most violent and nihilistic that win revolutions. In other words, the traits that are required to win a war might be the complete opposite of that which is needed to establish a country. Finally, the weapons of war have changed so much as to render it extremely bloody. American battle deaths in the revolutionary War were 6,824. [1]

    Georg Sorel once argued that, capitalist society is so rich, and the future appears to it in such optimistic colours, that it endures the most frightful burdens without complaining overmuch: in America politicians waste large amounts of taxation shamelessly; in Europe military preparation consumes sums that increase every year; social peace might very well be bought by a few additional sacrifices (Sorel, 1999: 52).

    Those days are long over. No one sees the future as bright. This is manifest in the rule of finance capital that does not produce, but will strip bare what others have. No more burdens can be added with the present level of debt: this is the key variable in all contemporary economics. No one has faith in the System as it presently functions, and it survives both due to a lack of alternatives and a broad abulia which is the primary characteristic of postmodern Americans. In this respect, Sorel, much later in his famous book, says something that is true for all democracies:

    Electoral democracy greatly resembles the world of the Stock Exchange; in both cases, it is necessary to work upon the simplicity of the masses, to buy the cooperation of the most important papers, and to assist chance by an infinity of trickery; there is not a great deal of difference between a financier who puts grand-sounding concerns on the market, which come to grief in a few years, and the politician who promises his fellow citizens an infinite number of reforms, which he does not know how to bring about and which resolve themselves simply into an accumulation of parliamentary papers (Sorel, 1999: 221).

    When the lack of faith in the future is combines with a realization that parliaments have little power over how the economy functions, there are two possibilities: the first, to sink deeper into abulia, and the second, to withdraw from the system in more and more profound ways. Violence is out of the question since, as Michael Hoffman and others have well said, the System requires it.

    The Regime loves to paint its opponents as violent hooligans. Any revolutionary underground will have to deal with a Regime that has no qualms about machine-gunning a playground full of children to place the blame on their enemies. They will also have to deal with the fact that most will accept this. The most difficult thing to swallow, however, will be that the System, up to a critical point, will use, profit from and grow stronger due to this underground.

    The founders of the American state were far from perfect. They were divided, often naïve and occasionally cunning in covering over their real motives. Daniel Shays was crushed rather than taken as a continuation of the Revolutionary War which he was. High ideals were quickly traded in for the dirt of real politics and the worst fears of the Anti-Federalists became a reality very quickly. In general, however, these were decent men who looked to Rome as the foundation of all legitimate political order. One thing they did not disagree on was the need for political violence and even regular armed units whose purpose it would be to control the state.

    In an ironic mood, Abraham Lincoln states in his first inaugural address:

    This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it (Lincoln, 1861).

    This sort of rhetoric would not be present in politics at any level today. Part of the problem is that there is no “American people” that can be the subject of discussion. The founders had many racial and ethnic traits in common. The composition of America in 1800 was a white, largely Germanic and Celtic nation surrounded by Indian nations of varying size. Black slaves, of course, were involuntary residents. More migrants from Europe changed this picture and, beginning in 1964, American capital demanded a shift to third world immigrants.

    In this process, the “American people” lost all sense of unity and can no longer be called a nation. However, the American government itself was a federation of states, implying a federation of interests, regions and ethnic groups. When John Calhoun proposed a plural executive, he did so only by extending the federalist notion from the structure of state representation into the executive. The formality of state rule in the Senate and Electoral College also extends to the less formal decentralization of the US by race, region, and ethnicity.

    Thomas Jefferson writes famously:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

    The problem is that the Anti-Federalists turned out to be right. Shockingly prescient in their predictions made in the 1780s, the US Constitution was useless against the rise of mass society, corporate rule, finance capital and even the creation of an American empire. Again, Jefferson writes: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” James Madison said something similar: “The power of all corporations ought to be limited. . . the growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.” He also says in Federalist 48:

    Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of (Madison, no 48).

    There is a fine line between a popular and a state militia. The latter require no legal protection while the former do. The problem is far deeper than that, however. Nothing of the Old American Republic remains. On the corpse of a small, decentralized and agrarian nation rose a massive empire in a federation of races and peoples with nothing in common but increasing and pervasive mental illness. The rise of the left in the 20th century, created largely by old money foundations, destroyed any sense of unity among the population. The Regime [2] could then rule a deeply divided population with ease. Rather than political principles, the “state” is merely the arm of corporate capital. Rather than forcing the upper classes to serve the whole, they are privileged by being the source of the federal state's money supply.

    In general, a “militia” is quite distinct from a regular army. In general, especially when preceded by the term “popular,” a militia is all volunteer, supplies its own equipment, comes into being for a specific cause and then disbands and finally, have no real supreme authority in the state system. It exists either for the sake of enforcing law where no state exists or, otherwise, for rebellion. It is different also from a Posse Comitatus in that the militia is not necessarily about enforcing a specific law and need not be the exclusive prerogative of the sheriff. The Posse is called out in normal times to apprehend a suspect in a serious crime. A militia is far broader than that.

    The Marquis de Lafayette wrote: “When the government violates the people's rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Unfortunately, this was to the French Constituent Assembly in 1790, the general sentiment was the norm among American Founders regardless.

    In Antifederalist Number 9, the author is predicting the rise of the tax police once the federal state takes to itself the power to tax individuals:

    The excise officers have power to enter your houses at all times, by night or day, and if you refuse them entrance, they can, under pretense of searching for exciseable goods, that the duty has not been paid on, break open your doors, chests, trunks, desks, boxes, and rummage your houses from bottom to top. Nay, they often search the clothes, petticoats and pockets of ladies or gentlemen (particularly when they are coming from on board an East-India ship), and if they find any the least article that you cannot prove the duty to be paid on, seize it and carry it away with them; who are the very scum and refuse of mankind, who value not their oaths, and will break them for a shilling (1787, by “Montezuma”).

    This author, and the Antifederalists in general predicted the rise of the IRS and the regime that creates and justifies it. Yet, in the Declaration of Independence, the authors write about the usurpations of the British king: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Apart from the fact that the English monarch at the time had almost no power and the complaint was against the oligarchic Parliament, these minor inconveniences that led to the revolution pale in comparison to what governments and private capitalists presume to do every day.

    In the same Antifederalist paper, we read:

    Impressed with a conviction that this constitution is calculated to restrain the influence and power of the lower class – to draw that discrimination we have so long sought after; to secure to our friends privileges and offices, which were not to be … [granted] under the former government, because they were in common; to take the burden of legislation and attendance on public business off the commonalty, who will be much better able thereby to prosecute with effect their private business; to destroy that political thirteen headed monster, the state sovereignties; to check the licentiousness of the people by making it dangerous to speak or publish daring or tumultuary sentiments; to enforce obedience to laws by a strong executive, aided by military pensioners; and finally to promote the public and private interests of the better kind of people-we submit it to your judgment to take such measures for its adoption as you in your wisdom may think fit.

    The prophetic foresight of these men is remarkable. To predict the rule of money, of a corporate regime using politicians as tools was extraordinary for the time. In fact, there are few prophesies of the Antifederalists that have not come true, strongly suggesting how these men should be treated in modern America. The rule of money means the end of any sort of ordered liberty since oligarchy is a passionate drive to begin with. The same drive that brings the wealthy to rule over their social inferiors is the same that will permit the ruling (political) class to justify this. However, there is a problem as we read in Antifederalist 28:

    They well know the impolicy of putting or keeping arms in the hands of a nervous people, at a distance from the seat of a government, upon whom they mean to exercise the powers granted in that government. They have no idea of calling upon or trusting to the party aggrieved to support and enforce their own grievances, (notwithstanding they may select and subject them to as strict subordination as regular troops) unless they have a standing army to back and compel the execution of their orders. It is asserted by the most respectable writers upon government, that a well regulated militia, composed of the yeomanry of the country, have ever been considered as the bulwark of a free people. Tyrants have never placed any confidence on a militia composed of freemen. Experience has taught them that a standing body of regular forces, whenever they can be completely introduced, are always efficacious in enforcing their edicts, however arbitrary; and slaves by profession themselves, are “nothing loth” to break down the barriers of freedom with a gout. No, my fellow citizens, this plainly shows they do not mean to depend upon the citizens of the States alone to enforce their powers (Yates, no 28). [3]

    This gets to the heart of the matter. A militia of the small landowners and skilled labor of any region is needed to act as a check on federal and economic power. Presently, there is a Civil War in Ukraine where the illegitimate government there cannot count on the bulk of its own army, forcing the American empire to finance mercenaries from the Baltics, Chechnya and Poland. Ukraine and the US have one thing in common: they are controlled by an oligarchy. To put in bluntly, the armed population is required to begin counter-revolutionary measures when faced with a rapacious ruling class. The Federalist response to Shay's rebellion is sufficient to show they took this threat seriously.

    Who are we the militia? Are they not ourselves? It is feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom, Congress shall have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords , and ever other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state government but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people. (Coxe, 1788; The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 20, 1788)

    The current debates over “gun control,” like all these facile, choreographed media charades, use language mostly to conceal and deceive. For the writers of the Constitution to state that the “militia” has the right to bear arms is a redundancy if it merely referred to a state institution. It is obvious and not worth mentioning that states should have a well armed militia. Why mention this at all?

    The truth is that violence is written in to the Constitution. The people, that is, the yeomanry, generally homogeneous and independent of economic pressures from the outside, have the right to shoot government agents should the system overstep its Constitutional bounds. There is nothing wrong with this, but, showing the severe and pathological abulia of the American, causes screams of disdain when discussed.

    Patrick Henry, one of the most irreconcilable opponents to the Federalist ascendancy wrote on this same topic: “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined” (Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1778).

    In Federalist 82, a similar notion is offered by “Brutus” in respect to the domination of the judiciary in the Federalist system:

    A constitution is a compact of a people with their rulers; if the rulers break the compact, the people have a right and ought to remove them and do themselves justice. But in order to enable them to do this with the greater facility, those whom the people choose at stated periods should have the power in the last resort to determine the sense of the compact. If they determine contrary to the understanding of the people, an appeal will lie to the people at the period when the rulers are to be elected, and they will have it in their power to remedy the evil. But when this power is lodged in the hands of men independent of the people, and of their representatives, and who are not constitutionally accountable for their opinions, no way is left to control them but with a high hand and an outstretched arm (Yates, 1788: no 82).

    When this fails, as larger states oligarchies and the Federalist regime always do, “high hand and an outstretched arm,”that is, the well armed militia of these very same men, will act as the check on their irresponsible ruling class.

    At the time, the notion of “representation” was the yeomen of a country, mostly known to one another and having much in common, choosing one of their own number to take the part-time position for a brief time of serving in Washington. The representative was to be known personally by those he represented. There were to be no “campaigns” and no “public relations,” but a measured discussion among equals and friends (in Aristotle's sense). In Federalist 55, Melancton Smith writes:

     A small representation can never be well informed as to the circumstances of the people. The members of it must be too far removed from the people, in general, to sympathize with them, and too few to communicate with them. A representation must be extremely imperfect where the representatives are not circumstanced to make the proper communications to their constituents, and where the constituents in turn cannot, with tolerable convenience, make known their wants, circumstances, and opinions to their representatives. Where there is but one representative to 30,000 or 40,000 inhabitants, it appears to me, he can only mix and be acquainted with a few respectable characters among his constituents. Even double the general representation, and then there must be a very great distance between the representatives and the people in general represented (Smith, 1787: no 55).

    Today, it is one representative for 300,000 people. Clearly, the worsts nightmares of this movement have long come true. Now, part of the problem is that the Antifederalists were not swayed by the facile argument of the “separation of powers.” It is a single ruling class with similar interests. The branches of government will not check each other, but serve to mask the unity of this rapacious class.

The yeomanry is the proper ruling class of any region, as the Antifederalists strongly argued for an egalitarian distribution of land and skill to check the rise of a ruling class. Inequality creates oligarchy which then makes a mockery of the separation of powers and checks. Ultimately, the state should be a small, simple institution where each representative is known by and responsible to an armed cadre at home. He takes his life into his hands if he does anything else. In yet another prediction that came true, the different branches of the state, far from checking each other, served as functionally different units in the overall service of the ruling class.

    More than any other factor, it will be the federal courts that will destroy any liberty, balance or legitimacy to the federal system. In this case, the Antifederalists were nothing less than magical seers, speaking of events that were not to become clear to Americans for another 200 years. The arming of the population is a necessity because, even if the Federalist are correct and the abuses elsewhere in the Constitution turn out to be exaggerated, the Courts can overthrow the entire apparatus without the slightest input from the people.

    In Antifederalist 82, also likely written by Yates:

    Perhaps nothing could have been better conceived to facilitate the abolition of the state governments than the constitution of the judicial. They will be able to extend the limits of the general government gradually, and by insensible degrees, and to accommodate themselves to the temper of the people. Their decisions on the meaning of the constitution will commonly take place in cases which arise between individuals, with which the public will not be generally acquainted. One adjudication will form a precedent to the next, and this to a following one. These cases will immediately affect individuals only, so that a series of determinations will probably take place before even the people will be informed of them (Yates, 1788: 82).

    Not only has every letter of this prediction come true, but even the method, that of slowly acclimating the people to their usurpation is also well known today. The Court has absolute power over the government and the “check” on it as provided by the Constitution is weak and indirect.

    The courts would have to be supreme and absolute, since all functions of the rest of the government would have to be vetted by them. It is the unelected judge that rules the state, not the legislature or anyone else. This glaring omission in the otherwise well balanced scheme in the Constitution made the Antifederalists suspicious. “If, therefore, the legislature pass any laws, inconsistent with the sense the judges put upon the constitution, they will declare it void; and therefore in this respect their power is superior to that of the legislature” (ibid).

    John Adams was many things: a conservative, an abolitionist, but also a true Roman. His education and sentiments were purely from Cicero and Cato, just to name two. Concerning the state, he writes in his A Declaration Of The Rights Of The Inhabitants Of The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts:

    Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it (Adams, 1779: 252).

    This paper has argued that it is precisely this, in American political thought, that justifies revolution. It is the idea that when the common good is violated in a manifestly vehement and open manner, that commonality functions through insurrection. This need not be violence as such, but at a minimum in a withdrawal of support in such actions as a refusal to vote or pay taxes. A piece of paper cannot protect liberty. Institution cannot protect justice nor can they produce it. Ultimately, it is the people, those capable of independent judgment, that elect and recall those placed in charge of it. Of course, this sate was to be small, with almost no bureaucracy and the smallest means of defending itself. It is only force, when all else fails, that protects the property and freedom of those capable of understanding it.

    The armed citizenry are the militia to use violence against state agents when that apparatus grows beyond what its purposes permit. In no way would either faction believe that the present American global Imperium be remotely legitimate, a republic or connected to a Constitution at all.

    The times of the American Constitution and that of Sorel are long past. The peoples involved in any sort of violence in 2015 are far more vulgar, dumbed-down and mentally unstable than at any other time. This is one of the best arguments against violent revolution this writer can muster. Hence, the problem remains: the objective conditions for violence are present, but the material from which a new society can be built (or an older one restored) are not.

    On the other hand, what happens when society's most motivated, men who would otherwise be “winners” in society, no longer see a future for themselves? At a recent conference in Washington DC, this author's pessimism was given a happy rebuke by just this idea. A young, intelligent lawyer said to me “we have no future.” Is it possible that these people can become the engines for secession, revolution or self-sufficiency?

1. Sorel, Georg (1999) Reflections on Violence. Ed: Jeremy Jennings. Cambridge University Press (originally published in 1905-1906)

2. Kopel, D. The Posse Comitatus and the Office of Sheriff: Armed Citizens Summoned to the Aid of Law Enforcement. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminality 104(4): 760-850

3. Storing, Herbert J and Dry, Murray, ed (1981) The Complete Anti-Federalist. 1–7. University of Chicago Press

4. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison (1961) The Federalist. JE Cooke, ed. Wesleyan University Press, 1961

5. John Adams (2000) The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams. Selected and with a Foreword by C. Bradley Thompson. Liberty Fund: 242-248







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