As a distinguished historian of political thought at the University of Milan, Italy, Professor Marco Bassani brings a cosmopolitan perspective to the study of American political thought unencumbered by such self-congratulatory myths as “American exceptionalism.” He views America as an extension of European civilization. Having unleashed the modern state upon the world, Europeans now had the problem of how to control its inherent disposition to centralize power. In this they failed.
This was not the case with the American founding. Whereas Europeans were burdened with heavy taxation, debt, and stood in fear of large standing armies, Americans, after 1800, paid no inland federal taxes, and by 1835 the national government was out of debt. By 1860, the national government had actually diminished in power to tax, spend, and incur debt from what it could do in 1790–while central power in modern European states grew continuously during that period. Yet Americans fought two major wars, built the industrial revolution, and more than tripled its territorial size. Bassani explains how the Constitution made this possible and how it was derailed by Lincoln’s decision to invade and conquer eleven states that had lawfully voted to secede, rather than negotiate a separation.
A combined majority of the House and Senate today is 269 (or 136 if both use a quorum). These small numbers will spend close to $5 trillion this year. Never has so much financial power been put in the hands of so few. Bassani’s study shows that this did not have to happen.