America’s Constitutional Soul

Harvey Mansfield, America's Constitutional Soul (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991).


The institutional political science of our day, with its studies of constituted groups and accidental eddies of interaction in politics, is part of, and heir to, a grand movement in modern political science dating from Hobbes and Locke of which it is barely aware. That movement is both less and more than a comprehensive founding of the classical kind. It is less because it wants to establish a limited government that does not attempt to rule over economic and cultural life directly through laws on what can be said and done (though of course minimal and indirect regulation is necessary). Such political science can be called liberal because it is more concerned with liberty than with virtue, though it wants both. And it can be considered institutional because it believes it can achieve through institutions-in government either a sovereign power or separated powers-what previously was thought to be attainable only by inculcating virtue. Institutional political science is realistic since it does not try to “change human nature” but takes men as they are found, or even a little worse, preoccupied with self-preservation and self-interest; and then it uses incentives (as we say today) to channel those interests through institutions toward wholesome, or at any rate harmless, goals.