Democracy, Acquisitiveness, and the Private Realm: Martin Diamond on the Reasonable Optimism of the Founding

Thomas K. Lindsay. "Democracy, Acquisitiveness, and the Private Realm: Martin Diamond on the Reasonable Optimism of the Founding." The Political Science Reviewer 28.1 (Fall 1999): 48-74.


Martin Diamond’s analysis and defense of the philosophic and moral foundations of the American Constitution took the form of a multi-front war. To his left was arrayed more than a half-century’s work of various historians and political scientists who had convinced themselves, and most others, that the Constitution is a decidedly un- or even antidemocratic document. According to this view, American history, understood as dialectical progress, consists of a series of democratic “breakthroughs” —e.g., Jeffersonianism, Jacksonianism, etc.—against the “thermidorean” intentions of the Founders.

To Diamond’s right stood the defenders of states’ rights, most of whom agreed with the left that the Constitution aims fundamentally to frustrate majority will. Unlike the left, the right cheered the ostensible anti-power orientation of the Constitution. According to this view, the Founders were so frightened by the prospect of tyranny emanating from the central government that they deliberately fashioned a constitutional system that could be relied on to “deadlock” national power.

Above and behind him, so to speak, stood the third and last challenge to the American regime, which entailed the questions and concerns of classical political philosophy, as taught Diamond by his mentor, Leo Strauss. In Diamond’s eyes, classical political philosophy offers the most acute critique of all. From its elevated perspective he came to glean the price America paid for the benefits bequeathed it by Publius. Precisely by virtue of its acuteness, the classical critique also offers potentially the most salutary challenge for those who, like Diamond, understand that the true friends of American democracy must not be its flatterers.

First Principles [pdf]