NR editor Rich Lowry wrote a great piece on Friday. You should read the whole thing, but here are the opening paragraphs of his column entitled “Our Founders the Realists”:
As a nation, we were extraordinarily blessed in our revolutionaries. It wasn’t just that they were brave and determined. So were the avatars of revolution throughout the 20th century who wrecked nations and peoples. No, what makes them so wondrously distinct is that they were also just and wise, grounded always in a clear-eyed view of human nature.
“There is a degree of depravity in mankind,” James Madison wrote in The Federalist, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust.” When revolutionaries talk of depravity, it is often to brand their class or ethnic enemies for destruction. Gas chambers, prison camps, and killing fields inevitably follow.
The depravity of which our Founders spoke was different. It ran through the hearts of all men, themselves included. It tempered their expectations of what they could achieve and what they should attempt. No secular millennium, no perfectly harmonious republic — because, as Madison wrote, “the latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man.”
“Enthusiasm there certainly was — a revolution is impossible without enthusiasm,” Irving Kristol writes of 1776, “but this enthusiasm was tempered by doubt, introspection, anxiety, skepticism. This may strike us as a very strange state of mind in which to make a revolution; and yet it is evidently the right state of mind for making a successful revolution.”
The Revolution was institutionalized in the Constitution, an inspired exercise in leveraging human failings against one another — “ambition counteracts ambition” — to create a stable structure of liberty.
I often wonder what the Founders would say if they could be brought forward in time and witness the modern American scene. I think it would make an excellent screenplay, if done right.