I've never read "The Federalist Papers."
It's even more embarrassing because many of those debates have been with my conservative friend and collaborator Ben Boychuk -- and, well, he has read "The Federalist Papers." And he's drawn on them, not infrequently, to make his case against the arguments I've made. I've felt slightly overmatched at times, as a result.
In my defense, I don't think I'm alone in this. 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. (Everybody quotes Tocqueville, but that's another project.) I don't think it's because of any anti-intellectualism on the part of liberals: I suspect that liberals -- while respecting much of the founding legacy -- don't feel nearly as chained to it conservatives do. Conservatives, I think, feel that if you can successfully invoke the Founders, you've probably won the argument. Liberals, on the other hand, consider the founding vision to be a critical part of the argument -- but not the trump card. And truth is, I'm sympathetic to the latter vision. I don't think of the Founders as "dead white males" but I do think they built a government for a society that was more rural, more racist, more homogeneous and much less egalitarian than today's.
Still, I feel like I'm missing a critical piece of political literacy. So starting today, I'm going to start reading my way through "The Federalist Papers." And I'll be documenting my journey here. I'm not sure if it matters, but I'll be using a Bantam Classics version of the collection, complete with an introduction by Garry Wills. (Which, yeah, he rubs elbows in liberal circles pretty extensively -- but he started out in the conservative tradition.) I'll update my progress very few days.
Let's be clear, though. I'm not an academic. (Obviously.) I'm guiding myself through this as I go along. So ... I might go down some blind alleys in this journey. We'll find out.
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.