John Caldwell Calhoun is usually recognized as one of the main figures in American political thought, but most observers attempt to minimize the philosophical significance of his work by arguing that Calhoun was merely a champion of sectional interests or that his ideas were antiquated even during his lifetime. This book will suggest that Calhoun was in fact a seminal political thinker who spoke not only to his own time and place, but also to the modern world. We will show that he had a coherent, systematic view of human nature and society and made a lasting contribution to constitutional and democratic theory. He also made a notable attempt to reconcile the need for popular rule with the ethical preconditions for its survival.
Calhoun's critique of majoritarian democracy forms part of a philosophy of humankind and politics that has relevance beyond the American experience. Calhoun's idea of popular rule was original, but was related to earlier attempts in America and elsewhere to limit the power of the majority and to protect minority interests. As we shall see, Calhoun stood in the American political tradition and attempted to rearticulate some of its central elements for coming generations. In the ensuing pages, we will explicate Calhoun's idea of the concurrent majority and examine how it has been presented both by his critics and by his supporters. We will compare Calhoun's ideas to those of Jefferson and Madison, as well as to the more legalistic and unitary constitutionalism of other nineteenth-century political thinkers. We will also relate Calhoun's thinking to current theories of popular rule.
This book will attempt to examine Calhoun's views of popular rule as part of an integrated philosophical whole. It will bring together for the first time the political theory of the Disquisition and Discourse