Sunday, February 5, 2023

Redoubt: The Founding Fathers Point Us True on Bitcoin

Redoubt: The Founding Fathers Point Us True on Bitcoin

The Federalist Papers — authored by early American political geniuses James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton under the pseudonym of Publius — are the arguments that gave rise to the U.S. Constitution. And, in reading through “Federalist No. 51,” one is reminded of how bitcoin will become strongest — through the proliferation of the “multiplicity of interests” on the Bitcoin network.

Also see: Didn’t Pay Crypto Taxes? Amazon’s Approved Patent May Concern You

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Madison: ‘Society Itself … Broken Into So Many Parts’

In a cultural and political sense, The Federalist Papers are among the most important documents America has ever produced. In these papers, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay laid out their best persuasive arguments for why the then-unratified U.S. Constitution should be voted into law.

Any of its +80 essays are worth a read sometime, but “Federalist No. 51” seems to particularly speak to the potential of the Bitcoin network to strengthen itself. How? Through further decentralization.

Now, I realize that’s the definition of “preaching to the choir” in the cryptoverse, particularly in the Bitcoin community. But I say it’s always worth hailing the wisdoms of the past to keep us true in the here and now.

Breaking Down No. 51

Of course, the comparisons will be a bit “apples and oranges,” since James Madison outlined in No. 51 his vision of the “federal republic of the United States,” whereas I’ll be talking about Bitcoin some two-hundred years later. Even still, there’s definitely some relevant food for thought in the essay.

No. 51 itself is about the complex network of intra-governmental and intra-society checks and balances that would prevent any one faction in the republic from usurping control over the others. Reasonable folks can disagree about whether these balances are still intact in modern times, but we won’t shoot Madison a la 1788 as the messenger.

In the second half of the essay, Madison writes:

“[I]n the federal republic of the United States […] Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will broken into so many parts, interest, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”

Again, we can debate if that’s the case in America today. But let’s examine that paragraph through the lens of Bitcoin. Exchange “federal republic of the United States” with “Bitcoin” and “society” with “network” and the notion of decentralization rises to the fore.

What Madison’s getting at is the idea that there should be no hegemony of the “Same” — the health of the republic, or in our case the Bitcoin network, always rests on its constituents being varied and thoroughly distributed in their interests.


Think of all the drama that’s been playing out in recent weeks in the space over Bitmain and Halong ASIC miners. A vocal plurality, it seems, is theoretically concerned, as Madison was, with “interested combinations of the majority” taking too much control.

Of course, I want to be careful not to unnecessarily suggest anything unkempt of Bitmain or Halong here — rational action theory suggests these crypto-mining plays have everything to gain (read: $$$) by not compromising networks. It just seems that the answer to such concerns is the proliferation of more users, i.e. worldwide adoption, so that networks are all the while further decentralized into “so many parts” that the minority will “be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”

Sounds good on paper, right. But worldwide bitcoin adoption like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey projects isn’t just going to self-materialize, either. It’ll take more evangelizing, just like the authors of The Federalist Papers evangelized for their beliefs.

“The degree of security,” Madison wrote in No. 51, “will depend on the number of interests and sects.”

So here’s your latest reminder from the Founding Fathers to keep decentralizing and evangelizing. If “Justice is the end of government” as Madison says it is, then maybe bitcoin’s the start of justice.

What’s your take? Do you see any parallels between No. 51’s arguments and decentralization? Sound off in the comments below. 

Images via Famous Biographies, Pond5

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