Two Great Americanists


Diamond first caught the eye of the profession in an article he published in the American Political Science Review in 1959, in which he delivered a harsh blow against the first two pillars of the progressives’ temple of anti-constitutionalism. In retrospect, much of what Diamond had to say seems commonsensical, even obvious. It is true, he conceded, that one does find in the historical record many statements by founders expressing reservations about and finding fault with democratic institutions in the states or in ancient history. But he argued that these statements were being grossly misunderstood. The Americans were concerned about the deficiencies of democracy precisely because they were committed to a form of “popular republicanism,” not because they were turning away from it.

The founders sought ways to make democracy more competent, effective, and just than it was proving itself to be in the states and had shown itself to be in places like Athens and Florence. They sought, as Diamond repeatedly emphasized, to find a republican or democratic remedy for all the defects to which democracy was prone. Their complicated system of federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, and so on were not means to produce governmental inaction and stalemate, as so many of the progressives claimed, but rather means to temper the passions without curtailing the power of majorities. They sometimes sought to delay the transformation of popular will into public policy, but not to deny that will its ultimate authority.

National Affairs