The Foundations of American Citizenship: Liberalism, the Constitution, and Civic Virtue

By Richard C. Sinopoli | Go to book overview

4
The Psychology of Citizenship: The Scottish Connection

Antiquity always begets the opinion of right; and whatever disadvantageous sentiments we may entertain of mankind, they are always found to be prodigal both of blood and treasure in the maintenance of public justice.

DAVID HUME, "Of the First Principles of Government"

Perhaps no phrase of David Hume's better displays his remarkable capacity to mix wit with a dose of cynicism to yield a rather profound insight. 1 However much we may think ill of our fellows we at least have to credit them with a prodigal willingness to spill each other's blood (for, of course, a good cause). Contained in this gibe is the observation that stable government rests on its ability to engage both the interests and the affections of its subjects. How it comes about that government does this is Hume's question.How it can be made to come about, given strict limits on appeals to antiquity, is a question addressed by the authors of The Federalist and their Anti-Federalist rivals.

The originality of the Americans' reflection on this subject derived largely from the fact that, unlike Hume, so new a nation had no "antiquity" to which to appeal. Also unlike Hume, the constitutional founders had to address the pressing issue of whether, or how, loyalties to one sovereign could be passed to another. This problem was compounded by the fact that the original sovereigns -- the states -- had a stronger claim to whatever psychological bounty antiquity could provide than did the new national government. If the Anti- Federalists were generally creative in dealing with the issue of civic allegiance, it should be no surprise that, given this additional strain, the Federalists were more creative still.

However much the constitutional founders fashioned their own answers to this perpetual political concern, they drew upon their political heritage and contemporary European political thought to do so. Particularly apposite were the ideas of David Hume and other major figures of the Scottish Enlightenment who grappled with problems in moral and political philosophy, including Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid. Hume was particularly useful to Madison and Hamilton in that he provided the best available discussion of civic

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