Charles Kesler’s Crisis of the Two Constitutions

I’ve written a review of Charles Kesler’s recent book Crisis of the Two Constitutions for National Review. The book is worth reading. Its insights on issues ranging from Federalist 10 to Washington’s conception of civility are excellent and characteristic of its learned author. But I do pick a few fights. One is whether Kesler can maintain his seemingly bemused aloofness from Trumpism. Another is how conservatives should treat the rhetoric of crisis. I’m an originalist. I think the Constitution got a lot right in 1787 and that many of its imperfections have been corrected by amendment. Moreover, I agree that … Continue reading Charles Kesler’s Crisis of the Two Constitutions

Madison as the Virtuous Mean

I had this essay at National Review last weekend. It’s a foray into the populism/conservatism wars. I remain unconvinced that populism is conceptually compatible with conservatism, but the alternative doesn’t have to be either aristocratic elitism or technocratic expertise. Madison’s republicanism, which uses public opinion as raw material but “refine[s] and enlarge[s]” it, is a middle ground. Continue reading Madison as the Virtuous Mean

Federalist 10 and the Search for Common Ground

The caricature of Federalist 10 is that Madison aims to fracture majorities to prevent factious rule—what Tocqueville would later call “the tyranny of the majority.” That reading is wrong on several levels, including the fact that Madison never actively fractures anyone. He simply observes that the natural conditions of an extended republic make it difficult for majority factions to form or, if they do, to prevail. In his Preface to Democratic Theory, Robert Dahl spotted what he thought was a fatal flaw: “[N]o modern Madison has shown that the restraints on the effectiveness of majorities imposed by the facts of a pluralistic … Continue reading Federalist 10 and the Search for Common Ground