Date of Degree
American Politics | Arts and Humanities | History | Philosophy | Political Science | Political Theory | Psychology
The Federalist Papers, Human nature, The Constitution, constitutionalism, American politics, political psychology, moral psychology, moral philosophy, faculty psychology, seperation of powers, Natural Law, Natural Rights, Republicanism, Liberalism, Political Theory of the American Founding
This paper is an analysis of the account of human nature found in The Federalist Papers. This interpretation assumes The Federalist is a work of political rhetoric and advocacy, but also one of genuine significance as political science and philosophy. As a book, The Federalist is a coherent whole, which offers a coherent account of human nature, despite the collective nature of its authorship, the time pressures of its publication, and the piecemeal nature of its workmanship. This understanding of human nature is the thread which runs through all its analysis and numbers. Its arguments asserting the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation and the advantages of the Constitution are all grounded in key presuppositions about the nature of man.
There are two central facets of human nature depicted in The Federalist. First, was the claim that human nature harbored its own moral Law of Nature, articulated by the Declaration of Independence, which provided the ends of the Constitution. Second, was the belief this nature exhibited universal laws of conduct gleaned through an assessment of the diverse facilities of the human soul which determine man’s motivations. These ironclad motivations were the psychological matter the Constitution had to negotiate. Through its orchestration of social and political circumstances, the Constitution is able leverage those reliable and durable motives in the interest of the constitutional good. Because of its practical nature the Constitution had to be more than a parchment celebration of cherished principles, it had to work with man’s constitution and devise a solid architecture of powers and procedures which both depend on and restrain human nature. Therefore, the Constitution’s arrangement of powers which shape, channel and restrain man’s motives provides the constitutional means, to achieve the ends celebrated in the Declaration and Preamble.
Lastly, Madison tells us that government is nothing other than the greatest reflection of human nature. This makes political science and statesmanship a permanent quest for sufficient knowledge of human nature. The science of politics is the science of human nature. All government is rooted in some opinion regarding the nature of man. The Constitution is then designed to be an arrangement of political powers commensurate to the nature, needs and faculties of man. Publius described the provision of the Constitution as “inventions” rooted in “prudence,” not prophecy or revolutionary zeal.
Hamilton claims the project they undertook was to create a “limited constitution.” The limited scope of the powers provided by a limited Constitution necessarily produce limited government. The powers of government must be limited because men are neither gods nor angels. Since there are only ever imperfect men to rule over other imperfect men, it was necessary to permanently inhibit their powers. Thus, a limited constitution was devised for a middle being, forever caught between Heaven and Earth, who was himself fallible and limited. Part of the prudence of their inventions was to abandon the “deceitful dream” of utopian hopes and the perpetual perfectibility of man. The enduring success of the Constitution has been a product of their willingness to take, and even appreciate, man as he is rather than try to change him into what he is not and cannot be. Publius and the Founders understood that human nature fundamentally transformed, is human nature abolished.
Smith, Jeffrey P., "The Federalist Papers' Account of Human Nature" (2021). CUNY Academic Works.