Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Spirit, Statesmanship, and the New Sciences of Politics: Montesquieu, the Federalists, and the Anti-Federalists
by German, Zachary Kyle, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 2017, 291; 13836179
Abstract (Summary)

In one sense, the debate over the Constitution of 1787 amounted to a battle to determine the true heirs to the new science of politics as expounded by Montesquieu. Scholars frequently note the relationship of Montesquieu to the American framers, usually emphasizing such topics as small republics or the separation of powers. This dissertation takes a different approach by comparing the ways that they considered the relationship between institutional design, the character of a people, and social, cultural, and other factors, to be relevant to institutional design and statesmanship.

This comparison has largely been overlooked, even though the central concept of Montesquieu’s political science is what he calls “spirit.” For Montesquieu, social, cultural, political, and natural factors together form what we might call the national character, collective consciousness, or “spirit” of a society. He maintains that attention to a society’s spirit should guide and limit legislators’ decision-making in their efforts to promote political liberty. Chapter 1 frames the dissertation around the consideration of the knowledge that statesmen require in order to legislate well. Chapters 2-5 then explicate how Montesquieu indicates that the concept of spirit informs political practice, both generally and particularly in the cases of the English model, monarchies, and republics.

Chapters 6-7 conduct a comparison between Montesquieu and the American framers. Neither Federalists nor Anti-Federalists simply apply Montesquieu’s science. As this dissertation demonstrates, each modify his thought in meaningful ways. In The Federalist, Publius takes account of the circumstances and the character of the American people. Publius also, in effect, adapts Montesquieu’s English, monarchic, and republican models in order to render them fit for the American people. In contrast, the Anti- Federalists part ways with the Federalists, in part, because of their own emphases and applications of Montesquieuan themes. First, the Anti-Federalists stress the limits of politics and the dangerous uncertainties of innovation. Second, they desire to conserve both the American spirit and diversity among the states. Finally, they exhibit an awareness of the social dynamics of the separation of powers.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zuckert, Michael P.
Commitee: Deneen, Patrick, Zuckert, Catherine, Zuckert, Michael
School: University of Notre Dame
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 80/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: American founding, American political thought, Anti-Federalists, Federalists, Montesquieu
Publication Number: 13836179
ISBN: 978-0-438-83312-8
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