To Err is Human and The Founders Knew It

“As for the law–it catered for a human nature of which it took a naturally low view.” — The Forsyte Saga

Much has been said and written concerning whether America is or is not a Christian nation. Whether it is or whether it isn’t depends greatly upon how the term “Christian nation” is defined. Perhaps a less contentious subject is whether, and to what extent, the Founders were influenced by religion, in general, and Christian theology, in particular, when they wrote the Constitution.

There are obvious ways Christian principles influenced the Founders. The best example is their view of mankind. Basic to the Christian faith is the fundamental precept that man is inherently sinful, capable of redemption, not by his own efforts, but through the grace and mercy of the Savior. The Founders had an identical view of human nature. Perhaps the best example of this consistency is found in Federalist 51 where James Madison noted:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Precisely because they held this view of human nature, the Founders also had a dim view of democracy as a form of government.*

But this view of human nature and democratic government is not unique to Christian theology. The Founders were also aware of and influenced by classical history and philosophy, particularly that of ancient Greece. Aristotle identified six forms of government, three good and three bad. The three good forms were monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The three bad were tyranny, oligarchy, and licentiousness (i.e., mob rule or anarchy). Aristotle contended each of the three good forms tends, over time, to be perverted or corrupted such that it becomes absolutely bad. So, monarchy becomes tyranny, aristocracy becomes oligarchy, and democracy or popular government lapses into licentiousness. He posited a cycle through which all governments revolve. In other words, licentiousness leads to a monarchy, which decays into tyranny. The tyrant is replaced or supplanted by the aristocracy, which devolves into oligarchy. Oligarchy is supplanted by democracy, which descends into licentiousness again.

The Founders sought to craft a republic in order to break out of this cycle. We have progressively “democratized” their effort, most notably by and through the 17th Amendment, but there are other examples. As a consequence, are we in the throes of a descent into mob rule?


*A recent article, Utopian Statists versus Optimistic Realists, posted at examines the opposing views of the Founders and modern Progressive regarding human nature.


“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”, Wolfgang Krudel, Wikimedia Commons

Crop of “The School of Athens”, Raphael, Wikimedia Commons


About SCrosnoe

I serve as a watchmen on the wall. In that effort, I have been a grassroots activist for over forty years (first in Texas and now in Oklahoma). I am a conservative, limited government freedom lover. I live in Bartlesville Oklahoma.
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