Gordon Wood’s “Revolutionary Characters”

Just finished reading Gordon Wood’s “Revolutionary Characters”, a study of the role of character and virtue in the founders of the U.S. at the end of the 18th Century. It’s a great read, taken purely for relaxation. I didn’t know much about American history, which was why I bought the book

There’s two related points of interest for philosophers, however. The Founders are in many ways European. But Wood shows how the democratic developments of Independence render the aristocratic virtues obsolete. Any reading of Kantian morality, for example, which can be recognised in Washington and Jefferson, needs to address Wood’s argument.

Secondly, the book is also a work in political philosophy. It shows the theoretical and practical connections that the founders combined. The essays on Hamilton and Madison are illuminating in this regard. Discussion on state sovereignty could usefully revisit this history where sovereignty was being hammered out in some ways and not others.


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