The Public Interest

The rights stuff

William A. Galston

Fall 1997

IN From Parchment to Power, † the eminent constitutional scholar Robert Goldwin has given us the first full narrative of the creation and adoption of the Bill of Rights. I take Goldwin’s full subject to be not only this specific historical episode (as obviously important as it is) but also the nature of statesmanship in a democracy—the artful conjoining of political wisdom and popular consent. “Lesser democratic politicians,” Goldwin observes, “try to satisfy public opinion by following the lead of the crowd, seeking out and doing whatever is calculated to be popular.” Madison’s statesmanship consisted, in part, in the ability to discern the difference between what the public was demanding and what it could be persuaded to accept. What could be of more relevance to our current poll-obsessed politics, in which abject, misguided fear of the people induces our politicians to avoid issues of great moment for our future?

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