Saturday, February 25, 2012

Washington-Adams vs. Madison

As [Jonathan] Rauch [in an article in Reason magazine] notes, Santorum finds the historical antecedent of his own views far earlier than 1960, in "the liberty our Founders understood," which he defines as "freedom coupled with the responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self." Rauch concedes that some of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and John Adams, held the view that it was necessary for government to promote virtue. But "Washington and (especially) Adams stood at one end of a spectrum of debate, and it was a debate that they ultimately lost," writes Rauch:
Other Founders—notably James Madison, the father of the Constitution—were more concerned with power than with virtue. They certainly distinguished between liberty and license, and they agreed that republican government requires republican virtues. But they believed that government's foremost calling was not to inculcate virtue but to prevent tyranny. Madison thus argued for a checked, limited government that would lack the power to impose any one faction's view of virtue on all others. . . .
Goldwater and Reagan, and Madison and Jefferson, were saying that if you restrain government, you will strengthen society and foster virtue. Santorum is saying something more like the reverse: If you shore up the family, you will strengthen the social fabric and ultimately reduce dependence on government.
-James Taranto in "Right Wing Lice," from his column Best of the Web in yesterday's WSJ.

 This distinction that Rausch draws between between Washington and Adams, on the one hand, and Madison, on the other, and how it applies today, is interesting and helpful - as is the whole of Jonathan Rauch's article.

No comments: