America’s Better Self: Martin Diamond, James Madison, and the Foundations of the American Regime

Alan Gibson. "America's Better Self: Martin Diamond, James Madison, and the Foundations of the American Regime." The Political Science Reviewer 28.1 (Fall 1999): 102-20.


Martin Diamond made inestimable contributions to the study of the American Founding. During the 1960s and 1970s, he set forth a series of subtle interpretations that either remain in place today or have set the terms upon which much recent scholarship has been based. In particular, Diamond established the novelty and hybrid character of the Founders’ conception of federalism, argued that the Founders formed a thoroughly democratic political system, corrected those who erroneously sought to understand the original design of the American political system in terms of mixed government, and defended the American political system from critics (both left and right) who argued that it was designed to “deadlock democracy.”

But in addition to his substantive interpretations, Diamond also did more than perhaps any other scholar to enhance serious reflection about the foundations of the American political system and the content and viability of the Founders’ legacy. Diamond achieved this, in part, by ably defending the study of ideas and principles of the American Founding at a time when an array of critics including New Left, Marxist, and Progressive scholars charged that the Founders’ ideas were nothing more than reflections of their underlying interests. He also refocused attention upon the Founding with his bedrock contention that an understanding of the original principles of the American constitutional order was necessary for addressing contemporary political problems. For these and other reasons, the renewed attention that Diamond’s scholarship is currently receiving and the concomitant growth of his already considerable reputation should be welcomed by scholars of the American Founding.

First Principles [pdf]