By RIC LLEWELLYN
Have you ever read The Federalist? It is a volume of 85 essays addressing an array of topics regarding the United States Constitution. Written and published in 1787 and 1788, the essays speak to the philosophy behind and the purpose of our federal government. That's not to say there isn't plenty of political wisdom that we can utilize right here, right now on a local level.
Politics has always been contentious. But partisan acrimony has really pervaded the political scene for close to 20 years. Every two years we have an election -- a dirty, vitriolic election. And don't forget the primaries!
Just when I feel like I can relax a little and enjoy my simple life in Bakersfield, the cycle begins again.
It's not just national politics either. State and local issues seem to foster nasty confrontation as well. Remember Proposition 8? The California Dream Act?
While we all wish the process could be rid of the hostility, we also continue to align with bitter polarization. I think there is a cure to be found in The Federalist.
The essays cover many controversial government-related issues of the time. Although the papers are more than 200 years old, the principles are still valid.
The first issue dealt with in the essays was the issue of the union. The context is very different today, but the value of "union" to individual rights and social contentment is just as essential.
Or expressed in the negative: factions are detrimental to individual rights and social contentment.
It is easy to embrace doctrine we find personally pleasing and reject ideas we have learned to despise. There is a natural tendency to fall into factions. With just a little partisan goading we find ourselves bitterly opposing the other opinion.
We can look around today and see that this is not good for the public happiness. But it is also not good for individual liberty.
From Federalist number 10. "Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, ... that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided... by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. ...These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations."
Sound familiar? The so-called fiscal cliff, immigration and guns are some of today's issues tainted by a factious spirit.
Liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist, Hispanic or Anglo -- we all complain that the special interests of "rival parties" push policies that disregard the public good. But what can we do about it?
The answer is not in defeating any specific policies. Rather the answer is to defeat the general impact of factions.
In every controversy, peace in the community and individual freedom are adversely affected by factions. Union will best resolve Hispanic-Anglo controversies, Christian-atheist controversies or liberal-conservative controversies.
Not unity, union.
The original union was composed of 13 states with varied interests. The Federalist essays acknowledged them and discussed how union among the states would be more practical and beneficial to all states than contention among them.
In union a strong national authority that administered policies for the public good without bias mitigated the conflict that was inherent in many issues. Without union, though, self-interest exacerbated conflict, reduced cooperation and increased oppression.
Focusing government attention on the interests of LGBTQ activists or Wall Street bankers is detrimental to everyone's freedom. Concentrating government energy on bullet trains or public service pensions stirs public discontent.
That approach is factious. It ultimately reduces freedom and increases discord.
The ancient instruction of the Federalist papers reminds us that governmental power -- national, state and local -- should be focused on policies that are good for everyone. For example, working to promote commerce generally, not bankers or solar panel companies specifically, is better for everyone.
This idea should animate government. And it probably means pulling back from the narrow focus we see today.
A union is a partnership. It is an opportunity to realize benefits through cooperation rather than confrontation. It is union, though, not unity. It requires compromise while it builds stability. Union will enhance liberty and foster social tranquility.
Or we can continue to hold on to our bitter and factious approach to the issues that face us today. If we do we can expect to continue to yield our freedom and be unhappy as we do.
-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week: Heather Ijames.