James Madison and the Problem of Founding
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.
“Rosen argues persuasively that James Madison has been unfairly criticized by historians, who charge him with inconsistency or political expediency throughout his career. . . . offers perceptive analysis of how Madison continues to influence politicians and legal experts.”
“American Compact is a wonderful book. By placing Madison’s so-called twists and turns into the larger context of Madison’s political theory, Rosen deftly demonstrates that Madison remained remarkable consistent to his fundamental beliefs about republican government.”
—H-Net ReviewSee all reviews...
“With this book, Rosen goes a long way toward bringing Madison back into our public discourse; it is a great service to the discipline of history and the legacy of an important statesman.”
“This book is powerfully argued, elegantly written, and it represents an important contribution to the current renaissance in founding studies. For the serious student of Madison’s political thought, it is the place to start.”
—American Historical Review
“Rosen successfully demonstrates that Madison deserves to be studied as a political theorist and vindicates Madison against the prevailing view that he was a man of inconstant principle. Rosen’s analysis is lucid and thoughtful.”
—Ideas on Liberty
“A fine study of Madison that greatly contributes to our understanding of America’s most influential Founder.”
—The University Bookman
“Gary Rosen has given us the best study ever written of Madison's political thought and, therefore, since Madison had more to do with it than anyone else, of the principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States. This is an important book.”
—Walter Berns, author of Taking the Constitution Seriously
“By drawing our attention to Madison's rethinking of the social compact, Rosen enables us to appreciate more fully the Virginian's accomplishments both as a theorist of republican government and as a statesman.”
—Paul A. Rahe, author of Republics Ancient and Modern
“Rosen’s deeply thoughtful analysis reestablishes Madison's place in the history of political thought and reminds contemporary Americans of the ongoing utility of Madison's political teachings.”
—Richard K. Matthews, author of If Men Were Angels: James Madison and the Heartless Empire of Reason
“Focusing on Madison’s first principles, especially his complicated understanding of the social compact, Rosen sheds interesting new light on Madison’s republicanism.”
—Drew R. McCoy, author of The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy
“An illuminating and richly thought-provoking new interpretation of Madison’s entire career as a thinker and writer. Rosen’s book will transform our understanding not only of Madison but of the significance and the application, in our time, of Madisonian constitutionalism. This is a pathbreaking contribution to the study of the political theory underlying the American Constitution.—”
—Thomas L. Pangle, author of The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of LockeSee fewer reviews...
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.