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Mr. Ulmschneider's Forums > AP Government: Madison, Paine, and Politics
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James Madison: The Man behind the Mask

posted Dec 16, 2012 23:18:27 by AidanParker
Was Madison the “Father of the Constitution?” Did he set out to create an overarching, time-transcending American political philosophy at the Constitutional Convention? Many an American history student might answer yes to both of those questions. However, Woods correctly reminds us that the idealized Madison we have learned about since elementary school is not a particularly accurate representation of the real Madison. In questioning whether two sets of philosophies and policies mean two different politicians, Woods brings up one of the fundamental problems of historical study: interpretation. “Thus, in our efforts to relate his very time-bound thinking to our present predicaments, we run the risk of seriously distorting the world and what he was trying to do.” Before you can consider a historical question as Woods does, you first separate fact from interpretation. As he shows with many quotations from Madison’s writing, the man we consider the philosophically most important Founder has become distorted by time and interpretation. “As these studies by political scientists and political theorists become more and more refined and precious, they seem to drift farther and farther away from Madison’s eighteenth-century reality.” One particular problem he points out is a desire “to treat as America’s foremost political philosopher.” Clearly, this difficulty is not limited to Madison but probably applies to most historical figures and events. The more a historical subject is interpreted and “repackaged” for the author’s own purpose, the farther it becomes from reality.
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3 replies
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LellaWake said Dec 17, 2012 04:52:06
I agree that we've certainly distorted Madison much beyond what he ever intended for people to pull from his ideas, but would you say that there's no modern application of Madison's ideas? Although it may be hard not to embellish his ideas and grant him excessive foresight, I think that especially his ideas about what representation people need are something still debated today, and that his concerns and plans to give power appropriately still apply, though in a modified context of the government we've already set up.
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njantrania said Dec 17, 2012 06:02:00
I agree with Lella - I think Madison's ideas can be applied to modern interest groups, because Madison said that people naturally split into factions based on their interests, and we can see that in today's pluralism and hyperpluralism of interest groups. I also think that Madison's ideas about federalism and the balance of power between the national and state governments is applicable to modern society because it is still an ongoing argument today. Many people argue about which rights belong to the state and which to the federal government, just as they did in Madison's time. Although Madison's views on federalism were overly ideal, he offered one solution to this apparently timeless debate and so I think his ideas are still at least a little relevant.
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AidanParker said Dec 17, 2012 21:43:13
Yes, I agree with both of you that Madison's philosophy could be applied to modern American politics, but it would be wrong to continue to think of them as "Madison's ideas" because it was never his intent for them to be applied to anything other than his time. If you separate his ideas from their intended time period then you must also separate them from him, since you would no longer be discussing his philosophy, but rather the underlying principles of his writing.
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