Madison's Conservatism of Doubt


A reader writes:

You wrote:

"The entire mechanism of American government was designed to ensure that as little as possible is ever done by government, that doubt is welded into the core system"

Exactly! Madison's writings in the Federalist Papers are about the merging of the conservatism of doubt with a post-revolution political landscape. While his words are a recipe for soothing the doubts expressed by many critics of the new Constitution, his own doubts about the power of the government are inherent in his arguments - he understands and embraces them. The fact that the movement toward independence was so deeply conservative is the very reason, in my opinion, that the grand experiment survived and thrived. The passions of the people were largely held in check - by themselves and government in the American movement, while in France the passions flamed out of control and its own revolution became disastrous. It is also why ideological purity such as reflected in the writings Thomas Paine, fell mostly out of favor in America in the post-Revolutionary period.

Doubt-based conservatism, in other words, is not just Burkean and English. It is Madisonian and American. This reckless era of big government fundamentalism is exactly the time to recover and celebrate it.