The American Experiment:
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
It is said that the American system of constitutional, democratic self-government presupposes a virtuous people; it is unsuitable for any other. When asked what kind of government the Founders established, Benjamin Franklin replied famously: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” James Madison defined the central challenge of the new American system in Federalist No. 51 as enabling the government to govern, while limiting itself. Madison recalled that if men were angels, no government would be necessary. But, among men, every power and position would need a countervailing power and position to achieve a balance, limiting the exercise of power. The Anti-Federalists were skeptical concerning a federal government that could concentrate power at the center, undermining the states and the God-given, inalienable rights reserved to the people. They did not want another king. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled in Democracy in America (1835-40) at the American genius where the unifying role of religion–despite a great diversity of denominations—anchored a moral-cultural framework animating self-rule. Yet Tocqueville foresaw the democratic penchant for equality of condition as necessitating ever more government intervention and concentration of power at the center ultimately endangering both liberty and equality. Can a nation long endure that is now divided not only along class, but racial and ethnic, fault lines, while its religious and moral inheritance has attenuated? Can the American experiment in popular self government be revitalized by strengthening civil society rooted in moral-spiritual renewal?
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Abstracts (250 words) due: May 1, 2017