Critics agree that The Federalist is a great work of political theory, but they do not agree on what it says. It is venerated as a guide to the mysteries of American government and as a fount of political wisdom in general, but the content of that wisdom is a subject of considerable debate. This celebrated tract is variously regarded as favoring a powerful central government, a weak central government, states’ rights, the total eclipse of the states, the rule of special-interest groups, the submersion of special-interest groups, and numerous other mutually contradictory ideas.

 

The work has been quoted on both sides of a great number of heated political controversies, and many diverse factions claim to take inspiration from it. We Americans might find ourselves somewhat at a loss, were we to try to heed the injunction of Machiavelli that for “a religion or a republic. . . to live long, it must be often brought back to its beginnings.”

 

The Federalist is probably the single best source of information we have on the intentions of our Founders, but there seem to be about as many different readings of that volume as there are political sects now jockeying for power.  To definitively decide between these various competing opinions is not a simple task.