Harvey Mansfield
Political Theorist; Author; Professor, Harvard

Have we veered from what the founding fathers wanted?

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Harvey Mansfield discusses how we've strayed from the vision of the founding fathers.

Harvey Mansfield

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.


Question:  Have we veered from the intentions of the founding fathers?

Harvey Mansfield: We’ve veered away from our founding by, in some cases, ceasing to believe that a founding is possible.  Some people think that it’s not possible to have permanent principles or semi-permanent principles, but that everything changes with history.  And so you would have something called the living Constitution, or a kind of historicized Constitution that the progressives first thought of in the early 19th century.  Woodrow Wilson was a great example of that.  And I think that … I think that’s a very popular view today.  And yet when it comes down to crises, I think people look at our three branches of government, the separation of powers, the fact that we have a representatives for limited terms – all these fundamental things in our Constitution – and hold onto them and still … and still believe them.

Recorded on: 6/13/07