American Compact: James Madison and the Problem of Founding

American Compact: James Madison and the Problem of Founding

by Gary Rosen
     
 
For students of the early American republic, James Madison has long been something of a riddle, the member of the founding generation whose actions and thought most stubbornly resist easy summary. The staunchest of Federalists in the 1780s, Madison would turn on his former allies shortly thereafter, renouncing their expansive nationalism as a threat to the

Overview

For students of the early American republic, James Madison has long been something of a riddle, the member of the founding generation whose actions and thought most stubbornly resist easy summary. The staunchest of Federalists in the 1780s, Madison would turn on his former allies shortly thereafter, renouncing their expansive nationalism as a threat to the Constitution and to popular government.
In a study that combines penetrating textual analysis with deep historical awareness, Gary Rosen stakes out important new ground by showing the philosophical consistency in Madison's long and controversial public life. The key, he argues, is Madison's profound originality as a student of the social compact, the venerable liberal idea into which he introduced several novel, and seemingly illiberal, principles.
Foremost among these was the need for founding to be the work of an elite few. For Madison, prior accounts of the social compact, in their eagerness to establish the proper ends of government, provided a hopelessly naive account of its origin. As he saw it, the Federal Convention of 1787 was an opportunity for those of outstanding prudence (understood in its fullest Aristotelian sense) to do for the people what they could not do for themselves. This troublesome reliance on the few was balanced, Rosen contends, by Madison's commitment to republicanism as an end in itself, a conclusion that he likewise drew from the social compact, accommodating the proud political claims that his philosophical predecessors had failed to recognize.
Rosen goes on to show how Madison's idiosyncratic understanding of the social compact illuminates his differences not only with Hamilton but with Jefferson as well. Both men, Madison feared, were too ready to resort to original principles in coming to terms with the Constitution, putting at risk the fragile achievement of the founding in their determination to invoke, respectively, the claims of the few and the many.
As American Compact persuasively concludes, Madison's ideas on the origin and aims of the Constitution are not just of historical interest. They carry crucial lessons for our own day, and speak directly to current disputes over diversity, constitutional interpretation, the fate of federalism, and the possibilities and limits of American citizenship.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Rosen argues persuasively that James Madison has been unfairly criticized by historians, who charge him with inconsistency or political expediency throughout his career. Rosen demonstrates that Madison's shifts from Hamiltonian strong government views to Jeffersonian suspicion of big government were not really fickle accommodations to the prevailing political winds. Rather, he sees Madison as adhering throughout his career to his interpretation of the Constitution and the process by which it was founded. In his own idiosyncratic way, Madison stuck to a position between Hamilton's and Jefferson's. Rosen is associate editor of Commentary, and this book is a revised version of his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation. While heavy going for general readers, it should prove valuable for specialists and serious students of American constitutional history. Rosen offers perceptive analysis of how Madison continues to influence politicians and legal experts. Some of Rosen's points might be too strong (e.g., his argument that the Christian Right is one of the most ardently Madisonian movements in today's political scene), but he has done thorough research and argues his points cogently. Highly recommended for universities and large public libraries.--Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Political scientist Rosen, an associate editor of Commentary, looks into the thought of the US founder who staunchly supported the Federalists in the 1780s but later renounced their nationalism as a threat to the Constitution and popular government. He finds the key in Madison's understanding of and devotion to the venerable liberal concept of the social compact. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700609604
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
07/28/1999
Series:
American Political Thought Series
Pages:
252
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >