Americans are preoccupied with the Founders, and that is not at all a bad thing, yet much of the contemporary discussion of the revolutionary generation and the early years of the republic is appallingly shallow. In my view, too little attention has been paid to James Madison’s political philosophy—which is surprising, since Madison is the principal author of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Founders did not speak in one voice, and careful attention to the substance of their debates (which were in many ways far more acrimonious than our own cable TV spectacles) can help clarify contemporary controversies, especially when so many of our present political combatants are merely reenacting old debates in seeming ignorance of the principles that were originally at issue. Madison provides a particularly apt perspective on our current predicament because as a politician he devoted much of his energy to fighting precisely the sort of corruption that has swamped our political system. Madison was the intellectual and political force behind the republican opposition to the Federalists, who very much like the present-day Republican Party saw themselves as the natural rulers of the United States. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, sought to protect a narrow financial oligarchy from the interests of the great majority of American citizens. Hamilton’s ambition was to bind his “moneyed men” to the state through an innovative financial program that would at the same time lay the foundations for an international commercial empire.
more from our pal Roger Hodge about his new book, The Mendacity of Hope, at Harper’s here.