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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Madison and Active Citizenship

In an important new book, James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government, Colleen Sheehan makes an important point about Madison's thought:
The need to form an active citizenry whose ongoing participation in the life of the polity and responsibility for its destiny were no less part of Madison's republican vision than the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances. It was,
in fact, the more overarching concern for him. The modification of public opinion and the formation of the character of a republican citizenry is the crux of his political theory; it is the reason that he concentrated so much of his efforts on constructing a political environment that would encourage the commerce of ideas.

This analysis is very consistent with the approach that we take in our book. The chapters on citizenship and civic culture analyze the importance of individual duty. The chapter on public opinion distinguishes fleeting passions from deliberative opinions. And the chapter on the mass media mentions early efforts to foster the commerce of ideas.