“Through metaphor, the past has the capacity to imagine us, and we it.” -Cynthia Ozick, in “The Moral Necessity of Metaphor”
American federalism is nothing more-und nothing less-than a metaphor.
This was how lames Wilson, the most prominent lawyer at the Philadelphia Convention, came to approach the novel problem of understanding and conveying what federalism in a modern republic should mean. The Federal Republic created in 1787 was, for Wilson, more than a mutter of ingenious political design, more than a mutter of the “new science of politics,” and more than a mutter of constitutional law or constitutionalism itself-unless the Constitution were seen to “comprehend” the moral purpose and moral promise of the new nation.
To Wilson, this view of the importance of the moral content of republican federalism was entailed by the “knowledge” that he took to be the necessary foundation of the Republic. It was this knowledge of certain fundamental principles- of “moral science,‘I human nature, and the nature of language, and, more generally, of “cultivation” us a political and social process that was also an end in itself-that ultimately justified “the People” us the “sublime” metaphor governing American constitutional theory.
Yet, for all Wilson's faith in figurative “comprehensiveness,” his distinctive approach to securing the New Republic through a federal union of the American People seems to have proved less and less compelling to his contemporaries the more he tried to pursue it as far us his vision of a politics of cultivation directed.