Levinson (Law and Government/Univ. of Texas; Framed: America's 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance, 2012, etc.) takes us through each of the 85 essays composing The Federalist, looking both at key arguments in those landmark documents and at their enduring relevance.
The author, who has written extensively about constitutional issues, doesn’t explicate every issue in every Federalist essay; rather, he focuses on those with remaining resonance today—and there are plenty. Although he makes allusions to notable philosophers and political thinkers (Montesquieu, Niebuhr, Hobbes, Machiavelli), literary heavyweights (Emerson, Tennyson, Whitman), and contemporary thinkers, he never sinks into the swamp of excessive quotation. Instead, Levinson shows—very clearly, in prose to appeal to all sorts of readers—the struggles that the various writers of the Federalist (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison) had with various features of the Constitution, which was under consideration at the time. One principal theme that emerges for “Publius” (the pen name all the writers used) was a fondness for the Federalist system and a mistrust of the states. In essay after essay, Publius clearly reveals his preferences—as does Levinson. His asides and comments reveal him to have liberal sentiments, although he does not refrain from commenting negatively about presidents Clinton and Obama; he notes, for example, that today, “the political right…has substantially taken over the Republican Party.” The author also states several times that it is time to revisit the Constitution and to make alterations due to changes the framers did (or could) not foresee. Interesting to readers today will be the (naïve?) belief that only good men would pursue higher office and that lifetime appointments for federal judges are a good idea.
A cleareyed description and analysis of the thinking of some of the most iconic figures in the political history of the United States.