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If Men Were Angels: James Madison and the Heartless Empire of Reason Hardcover – January 18, 1995

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; 1st (full number line) edition (January 18, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700606432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700606436
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,288,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Matthews (government, Lehigh Univ.) here presents the second of a projected three volumes offering a revisionist interpretation of our Founding Fathers. He writes with gusto and authority, and his conclusions will bring both respect and controversy. With finesse and fairness he delineates how his views contrast with those of other recent authors such as Lance Banning and Forrest McDonald. Matthews argues that Madison was a consistent liberal throughout his career; he placed high value on personal liberties as well as on a strong, rational state. While the author admires the power and integrity of Madison's thought, his evaluation of Matthews is finally negative. He claims that the victory of Madison's views has produced a country that is vulgar, materialistic, and anti-intellectual. Matthews regrets that the early republic did not take the route of Jeffersonian idealism. For general and academic collections.
T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover

"Highly opinionated, iconoclastic, controversial, and immensely imaginative. A provocative and deeply stimulating reading of Madison that deserves to be part of the never-ending conversation Americans have about the meaning of America."--Isaac Kramnick, author of Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism: Political Ideology in Late Eighteenth-Century England and America

"Outstanding. Certainly the most systematic, comprehensive, and penetrating analysis of Madison's political thought, the volume is engagingly written, tightly argued, and persuasive in its interpretations."--Jack P. Greene, author of The Intellectual Construction of America and editor of the Encyclopedia of American Political History

"A controversial and compelling case for Madison's consistent liberalism. Deserves a prominent place on the bookshelf of anyone who takes seriously the study of American political thought."--Michael Lienesch, author of New Order of the Ages

"This book will make a major splash among both historians and political scientists and should have substantial appeal to the general reading public. Its most significant achievement is the discovery and explication of the themes that make Madison consistent despite his many changes of position over a long and varied public career."--Forrest McDonald, author of Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By cpen22 on July 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I would recommend that anyone looking to understand James Madison reads his actual writings. The Federalist Papers may be a somewhat difficult read, due to the archaic English, but they completely demolish any theory of a James Madison that wants a powerful central government. Better yet, The Original Argument: The Federalists' Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century has updated the language for an easier read. The title of the book even references such a quote, although it does not give full context. Just for those interested, the full quote is below:

"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. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

The author is right about one thing, and one thing only. Madison was a consistent liberal. However, only in the 19th century definition of that word, which meant a very limited and constrained government, and a maximum of personal liberty. The belief that government power and personal liberty are not at odds is something only an irrational person could possibly believe.
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28 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Integrity Reviews on July 23, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Only a professor writing for a university press could get a book this poor published. Matthews views are on the most extreme fringes of revisionist interpretations of American history, and may be summarized as follows: Thomas Jefferson was idealistic and good, James Madison was materialistic and bad. If you are inclined to think that this is an exaggeration, I will quote 4 sentences from the very last page of this book (consistent with's guidelines, I am limited to only 4 sentences of quotations): "It was Madison, not Jefferson, who designed the system. Madison's...dream has, as he knew it would, turned into a nightmare for increasing numbers of marginalized Americans. Instead of the chance to pursue happiness, they have neither the opportunity, the hope, nor even the illusion of either. America....has metamorphosed into an intriguing Orwellian-Kafkaesque labyrinth, where a few Ks still search for the reality behind the ideological myth, while the rich find meaning in each of their possessions." If you think that this makes sense, if you believe that this even remotely resembles the vision of James Madison, one of the fathers of our nation and its greatest expert on the American Constitution he did so much to create, then this is your kind of book. If not, I recommend that you save your money and order other books of real value on the life and works of Madison.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful By G. F Gori on January 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
This work is truly goundbreaking. The comparison of the liberal/commercial views of James Madison with the radical democratic views of his close friend, Thomas Jefferson are truly enlightening. Matthews shows how Madison was closer to Hamilton than to Jefferson in political philosophy. Madison was obsessed with balance, and order in the liberal tradition. Jefferson,on the other hand, had a vision of radical democracy in the republic. Ward republics, and local democracy were infused into Jefferson's thought. Madison was more concerned with balancing the interests of society and controlling "factions". He viewed government from a more Hobbsian view than other Jeffersonians.Madison was far less trusting of human nature and more concerned with "stability" in society than with experiments in government. This book goes against the grain of current scholarship which unites Jefferson and Madison in philosophy when in fact in many ways they were poles apart. A great book.
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