So what’s the best paradigm for understanding the Founders’ philosophical underpinnings?

31 Jul

Very helpful essay from Professor George Carey:

There is no dearth of studies on the political thought of the American founding era. Yet there is no consensus on what theories, values, or goals were uppermost in the minds of the founding generation. On the contrary, on a number of critical theoretical issues and concerns, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the scholarly attention devoted to this era and what we can affirm with certainty. What we have are competing “paradigms” and schools of thought, each with different approaches, perspectives, and assumptions. And while it is clear that the Framers believed in limited government as essential to prevent oppression and tyranny, these paradigms point to significant differences among them over what these limitations should be, how they should be enforced, and how they might be maintained.

We can begin our survey with a brief examination of the most prominent of the early and adversely critical accounts of the Founders and their motivations: that of the Progressives. It is best to start here, because limited government was one of their central themes: they were against it. In significant ways, as we will endeavor to show, the progressives also provide the background necessary for understanding the modern paradigms, as well as for the differences between them. Finally, by way of assessing where we are today, we turn to modern conservative thought to see in what ways, if any, our political and social evolution over the decades has “unleashed” government, posing threats to limited government that could not be anticipated by our forebears.

Read the whole thing here

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