Podcast (mike_church_preview): Play in new window | Download | Embed
Subscribe: Google Podcasts | Email | RSS
Mandeville, LA – Realistic though they were about human weaknesses, the Framers sought to promote the common good. They looked in particular to the republics of Greece and Rome for models as well as warnings.
The Constitution was to protect the better self of the American people against bouts of ignorance, intoxication, or fear. – Claes Ryn.
Without [r]epublican virtue—self-discipline, modesty, and devotion to the public things—their constitutional system could not work. They wanted to increase the likelihood that people of wisdom, moral character, and the right experience—potential statesmen—would have a disproportionate influence over policy. For generations of Americans, George Washington stood out as the quintessential republican leader.
Though the Framers favored a system of popular consent, they dreaded demagoguery and short-sightedness. They feared a majority agitated by merely partisan interest, what they called a “majority faction.” Such rule would endanger minority interests and threaten the general welfare. A representative system should, in the words of James Madison, “refine and enlarge the public views.” The Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court illustrated particularly well the effort to promote “the deliberate sense” of the people. The Constitution was to protect the better self of the American people against bouts of ignorance, intoxication, or fear.
Directly relevant to foreign policy is the Framers’ deep concern about the tendency of the powerful to want to lord it over others and to behave arbitrarily and ruthlessly. The inclination of the strong to consider themselves always right is at once prominent and dangerous. The weak need to be respected and protected. Though self-restraint and modesty are of the essence of republican leadership, all power has to be subject to sturdy institutional checks.
Genuinely to aspire to serving the common good is not the same as to know just what that good is in particular circumstances. Life is complex and the facts rarely clear. Statesmen will be predisposed to recognize the interests of different groups and to compromise. War may become unavoidable, but good leaders are predisposed to defuse conflict. Nothing could be more antithetical to America’s constitutional ethos than to demand of opponents that they surrender unconditionally. – Claes Ryn, Demanding Unconditional Surrender Is Not An American Ethos