the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

Generation was the beneficiary of an american society

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generation was the beneficiary of an American society that offered greater access to latent talent than any other society in the world. On the other hand, on the predemocratic side of the historical equation, political leadership in this premodern world remained blissfully oblivious to democratic mythology about the uncommon wisdom of the common man or the superior virtue of that mysterious congregation called “the people.” Hamilton and Madison were the most outspoken critics of any democratic perspective that assumed that the majority of the American citizenry could be expected to behave virtuously or to subordinate their own personal agendas to some larger definition of the public interest. These were not merely theoretical conclusions but hard-earned lessons learned by Hamilton while serving in the Continental Army and by Madison while serving in the Confederation Congress. Both believed that any government based on unadulterated democratic assumptions would be founded on a seductive illusion that had been exposed as such during the war and then in the state governments under the Articles. Perhaps the best way to describe their achievement, then, is to argue that they maximized the historical possibilities of their transitory moment. They were comfortable and unembarrassed in their role as a political elite, in part because their leadership role depended on their revolutionary credentials, which they had earned, not on bloodlines that they had inherited. They were unapologetic in their skepticism about unfettered democracy, because that skepticism was rooted in their recent experiences as soldiers and statesmen, and no democratic mythology had yet emerged to place them on the defensive. They straddled an aristocratic world that was dying and a democratic world that was just emerging, theoretically an awkward posture that they managed to make into a graceful synthesis they called a republic. The Constitution they created and bequeathed to us was necessarily a product of that bimodal moment and mentality, and most of the men featured in this story would be astonished to learn that it abides, with amendments, over two centuries later. It has endured not because it embodies timeless truths that the founders fathomed as tongues of fire danced over their heads, but because it manages to combine the two time-bound truths of its own time: namely, that any legitimate government must rest on a popular foundation, and that popular majorities cannot be trusted to act responsibly, a paradox that has aged remarkably well. Not their hubris but their humility has made the lasting difference. They knew they did not have all the answers, and any political elite that thought it did was surely destined to find itself languishing on the trash heap of history, as the French philosophes and then the Marxist ideologues eventually discovered.
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