Alexander Hamilton: “Why liberals have embraced our most dangerously reactionary founder.”


I intended to post this link last year (the essay was published in March of 2017), but it wasn’t exactly a period of precision or lucidity for me.

Let it suffice that every time someone mentions Hamilton: An American Musical, I think of Stoller’s words. Only the conclusion is excerpted here; set aside 20 minutes and a stiff drink to think about it.

The Hamilton Hustle, by Matt Stoller (The Baffler)

Why liberals have embraced our most dangerously reactionary founder

The Obama era looks like an echo of the Federalist power grabs of the 1780s and 1790s, both in its enrichment and glorification of financial elites and its open disdain for anything resembling true economic democracy. The Obama political elite, in other words, celebrates Hamilton not in spite of Hamilton’s anti-democratic tendencies, but because of them.

Set in contrast to the actual life and career of its subject, the play Hamilton is a feat of political alchemy—as is the stunningly successful marketing campaign surrounding it. But our generation’s version of Hamilton adulation isn’t all that different from the version that took hold in the 1920s: it’s designed to subvert democracy by helping the professional class to associate the rise of finance with the greatness of America, instead of seeing in that financial infrastructure the seeds of a dangerous authoritarian tradition.

In 1925, Franklin Roosevelt asked whether there might yet be a Jefferson to lead the forces of democracy against Hamilton’s money power. Perhaps someone—maybe Elizabeth Warren, who pointed out on PBS that Hamilton was a plutocrat—is asking that question again. That said, Hamilton is a great musical. The songs are catchy. The lyrics are beautiful. But the agenda is hidden, because in America, no political leader, not even Donald Trump, can credibly come right out and pronounce democracy a bad thing and agitate for rule by big finance. And the reason for that is that Alexander Hamilton, despite his success in structuring Wall Street, lost the battle against American democracy. Thank God for that.