Magazine September 7, 2009, Issue

Madison and Public Reason

A portrait of James Madison in 1816 ( John Vanderlyn/White House Historical Association)
James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government, by Colleen A. Sheehan (Cambridge, 224 pp., $22.99)

Many myths surround and obfuscate the American Founding. One is that the Founders and the Constitution they created had a peculiarly modern and atomistic view of society. According to this myth, the Founders concerned themselves not with the formation of citizens engaged in a common enterprise, but with institutions that played individuals and interest groups off against one another in order to prevent the dominance of one or another faction. Another myth, invented and perpetuated by progressives, suggests that the Founders (and Madison in particular) were guilty of anti-democratic elitism. And still another relies on the more positive but still

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