Conservatives, Liberals, and the Constitution: Martin Diamond’s Political Science

David Nichols. "Conservatives, Liberals, and the Constitution: Martin Diamond's Political Science." The Political Science Reviewer 28.1 (Fall 1999): 75-97.


Martin Diamond once said that what drives most Americans is not ideology but the spirit expressed in a country and western song by Tom T. Hall titled “Faster Horses, Older Whiskey, Younger Women, and More Money.” The reference to race horses and whiskey may seem anachronistic, but if we can judge a nation by its leaders, younger women and money are still more important than ideology. As Americans we understand when people cut a few corners regarding love or money and we are willing to tolerate a few vices even in a President as long as the economy is strong. We may even find comfort in the fact that our leaders’ standards of private morality present little challenge to our own actions. We do without the harsh judgmental moralism that animated more virtuous republics. In the proper institutional setting private vice might be the best support for public virtue.

Diamond liked to use examples such as Hall’s song to puncture the pretentions of both academic idealists and partisan ideologues. Academics often see politics in terms of abstract models based on either mathematics or philosophy. But Diamond believed that neither mathematical behaviorism nor philosophic detachment offered the proper perspective from which to understand human nature or political life. Politics could not be reduced to simple formulas or utopian ideas, because people were neither simple nor dispassionate.

First Principles [pdf]