Book Review: A Student’s Guide To American Political Thought

A Student’s Guide To American Political Thought, by George W. Carey

I am of somewhat mixed feelings regarding this book.  On the one hand, I love the book’s content and have found myself pondering the sort of issues this book discusses concerning the implications of the political thought of the founders on contemporary political issues [1].  On the other hand, though, I  think this book’s focus on the founders might confuse many readers of the book, since I thought it was going to focus on contemporary political thought and not constitutional thought, although there is a great deal of overlap between the two, in that one’s political thought has implications on one’s constitutional thinking and vice versa.  The author is certainly to be praised for grasping the nettle of America’s founding politics and laying out the various views of the American founding that are present in the contemporary academy as well as the author’s own worldview.  Given that the book is about 100 pages, it makes for a quick read and also a genuinely informative one, one that many people will appreciate, especially if they do not come into reading this book with a firm knowledge of the continuing relevance of the constitution on contemporary political thought.

The contents of the book itself are surprisingly focused.  A book as short as this one can either focus on breadth of subjects touched upon or focus in depth on what it views as fundamentals and essentials, and the author of the book has chosen the founding of the United States as the essential aspect of American political history that needs a lot of focus, with less attention paid to the outgrowths of that.  After a short introduction, the author spends a lot of time talking about the “common ground” of discussions of American political thought in the era of the founding, including the search for the deeper meaning of the founding, questions as to whether the founders were sincere or disingenuous in their approach, a look at the broader picture of historical and contemporary comparative political science, the serious complications and multiple influences that the founders dealt with in their own attempts to construct a harmonious republic, the relationship between the Constitution and the Federalist essays, as well as the competing traditions that carry on to this day in the aftermath of the passage of the Constitution.  After this there is discussion about the continuing issues of federalism as well as the challenge of the separation of powers, before the book closes with a discussion on limited government and the thorny problem of virtue.

In looking at this book, there is a lot more that I wanted.  For one, I wanted the author to provide a selection of books that would help the reader to better grasp American political thought, including the writings of the Founding era and the Federalist and Antifederalist papers, which can be found inexpensively, along with some of the most thoughtful discussions of American political history and political philosophy.  I would have liked to have seen more information about the Civil War and the falsity of the connection made both at the time and to the present day by neo-Confederates relating to slavery and state’s rights.  To be sure, some mention is given to these matters, but there is a lot more that could have been said.  However, all of that aside, one reviews not the book one would have preferred to have read, even if it would have been longer and more contentious, but rather the book one has actually read, and even with some reservations about what it does not include, this is still a worthwhile and enjoyable book.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/14/the-enduring-usefulness-of-the-electoral-college-a-constitutional-essay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/30/the-fugitive-slave-clause-a-constitutional-essay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/09/puerto-ricos-road-to-statehood-a-constitutional-essay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/01/30/powers-denied-to-congress-a-constitutional-essay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/02/09/powers-denied-to-the-states-a-constitutional-essay/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: A Student’s Guide To American Political Thought

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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