Martin Diamond and Douglass Adair on “The Federalist”

Morton J. Frisch. "Martin Diamond and Douglass Adair on The Federalist." The Political Science Reviewer 28.1 (Fall 1999): 27-47.


Martin Diamond and Douglass Adair differ in their interpretations of American political thought. This difference is shown in the irrespective analyses of The Federalist. According to Adair, there is a fundamental ambivalence in American political thought and this is shown by the fact that The Federalist has a “split personality.” Diamond, on the other hand, believes that clarity and consistency can be found. This is not to say that Diamond denies the existence of great differences among statesmen, including different interpretations of the meaning of the Constitution.

Martin Diamond regarded it as still an open question whether the authors of The Federalist “had themselves fully reflected (on the ends or purposes of government), or whether they treated them as settled by thinkers like Locke and Montesquieu, or whether crucial premises in their thought were reflectively taken for granted.” It would be impossible to read Locke and Montesquieu and fail to notice the ways in which their formulations anticipated, suggested or guided the prescriptions of the American Constitution, but it cannot be denied that statesmen advocate courses of action they are proposing, or defend actions already taken that they find difficult if not impossible to explain in clear theoretical terms. It is questionable whether practically oriented political thought, as it becomes more complex, comprehensive and reflective, ever becomes truly transformed into political philosophy in which theoretical matters are pressed to their farthest limits.

First Principles [pdf]