The American Political Philosophy

The American Political Philosophy 

The U.S. constitution is only 232 years old, and yet is the longest-lasting constitution in the history of the world. It is estimated that at least 160 countries have modeled their constitutions off of ours, including Canada and the Philippines. Written in just 4,543 words (the equivalent of an 8-page double-spaced essay), it contains some of the most influential and versatile words that one could ever imagine in a political document. So detailed yet so vague, the Founding Fathers, regardless of if you are a fan of them or not, were absolute political geniuses as they were able to craft, what I like to call, a play doh-like constitution. 

 

I am not going into the exact words of the document, because that would be pointless since anyone can just look that up online or in a U.S. history textbook. Instead, I will be writing about the philosophy that lays beyond the actual words. 

 

Why should I care?

Although not everyone is a fan of U.S. history and politics, as I am not a fan of math or science, the study of theory and philosophy has benefits that can actually improve your performance in the subjects that you enjoy learning about. Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. It teaches critical thinking skills, close reading, clear writing, and logical analysis, which can be used in many aspects of your academic career. I am giving a brief introduction to American political philosophy, which is one of the five main types of philosophies. The other four are aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics. 

 

Checks and Balances

The Framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure that the government they were creating did not get too powerful. The three branches of government that we have on both on the federal and state level all have their own responsibilities and powers, but at the same time check in on each other therefore creating a balance. 

 

The Founders were influenced by French judge and political philosopher Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, or typically known as just Montesquieu. During the Enlightenment, the idea of government was reimagined. Montesquieu believed that finding ways to prevent corruption in government would improve human life and reduce society’s problems. 

 

His theory of the separation of powers was developed to curtail corruption in government as much as possible. Under the separation of power, the responsibilities of the government are divided into individual branches. Here in the United States, we have the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch, both on the federal, state, and sometimes local levels. 

 

Federalism v. Anti-Federalism

In September of 1787, the Constitution was almost ready for ratification. In order to be ratified, it needed 11 out of the 13 states to vote on it. In the end, the process took nearly two years. The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists emerged and had heated debates. Overall, the Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Marshall, and John Jay, were in favor of ratification. They believed that a strong central government was essential to keep the country running smoothly. Meanwhile, the Anti-Federalists were against the ratification of the constitution. According to Anti-Federalists, who consisted of mostly common folk both living in the cities and the countryside, a strong central government might be too much like a king. From this, they wanted to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution in order to guarantee the people the freedom to be protected from the government. 

 

The system of government that we have today is a central government on the national level, a central government on the state level, and even sometimes a central government on the local level. Can you imagine what it would be like if we only had a central government and no state governments, or vise versa? 

 

Constitutional-Republic

The United States is not a Democracy. Just because citizens vote, it does not make us a democracy. Canada and the U.K also vote for government elects, but they too are not democracies, they are Constitutional-Monarchies. We are a Constitutional-Republic or sometimes referred to as a Constitutional-Federal-Republic. A republic is based on the idea that the supreme power of a state is held by the people. The doctrine of classical republicanism emphasizes the importance of the community or the people. Specifically, what makes a good government is the furtherance of the common welfare. According to American political philosophy, republicanism coincides with free government. Citizens are freer under Republics than they are under any other type of government. 

 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

In the second paragraph of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” John Locke is to thank for his philosophical influence on the Founding Fathers. According to Locke’s theory, men (this should be viewed as all people today) are born naturally free. Through this, people have the right to live their lives as they please. Therefore, a good government should be structured to promote the general welfare of its citizens.