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The complexity, and principles, of the American founding: a response to Alan Gibson

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Alan Gibson has invited me to discuss publicly some of the issues I raised in my (at the time anonymous) referee's report for History of Political Thought on his article ‘Ancients, Moderns and Americans: The Republicanism- Liberalism Debate Revisited’. I gladly accepted, not least because a dialogue on views of the American Founding is fitting both for the subject and Gibson's instructive characterization of it. The Federalist opens by identifying candid debate as a fundamental achievement for young America, giving hope that reflection and choice, not just accident and force, can govern humans. Similarly, Gibson's argument that America's formative political thought comprises ‘multiple traditions’ — including Lockean liberalism, the republicanism of English opposition writings, and other influences — seems to define the Founding as not a monologue but a lively dialogue. I agree that complexity and not a single, pure strain of thought defines America's Founding, but this is not to say there are no fundamental principles for which the Founding stands. In the spirit of candid exchange, I will not discuss the many points in Dr Gibson's article with which I agree but those where one might interpret the American Founding differently or find an important dimension overlooked.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, Fairchild Hall, US Air Force Academy, CO 80840-6258, USA.

Publication date: April 1, 2000


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