Saturday, July 4, 2009

"If men were angels..."

On this Independence Day, Rich Lowry celebrates our Founding Fathers, especially James Madison, whose understanding of human nature was not the least bit Utopian:
"There is a degree of depravity in mankind," James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, "which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust." When revolutionaries talk of depravity, it is often to brand their class or ethnic enemies for destruction. Gas chambers, prison camps and killing fields inevitably follow.

The depravity of which our Founders spoke was different. It ran through the hearts of all men, themselves included. It tempered their expectations of what they could, and what they should attempt to, achieve. No secular millennium, no perfectly harmonious republic — because, as Madison wrote, "the latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man." ....

"It may be a reflection on human nature," Madison wrote in the famous passage in Federalist No. 51, "that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." ....

They didn't let their view of reality get obscured by abstruse theories or sunny abstractions of the sort that perverted the French Revolution. No philosophes need apply. Instead, a residual Calvinism tinged their worldview. ....

In keeping with their lively view of human fallibility, our revolutionaries set about circumscribing government to limit its abuse. .... [more]

1 comment:

  1. I was searching for "If men were angels..." from James Madison and ran into your excellent blog.
    Thanks for sharing this editorial!
    Very well written. God bless you brother.

    "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie
    the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not
    become the legalized version of the first."
    ~Thomas Jefferson


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