This book provides a complete overview of the American Founders' political theory, covering natural rights, natural law, state of nature, social compact, consent, and the policy implications of these ideas. It is a response to the current scholarly consensus, which holds that the Founders' political thought is best understood as an amalgam of liberalism, republicanism, and perhaps other traditions. Against that view, West argues that the foundational documents overwhelmingly point to natural rights as the lens through which all politics is understood. The book explores in depth how the Founders' supposedly "republican" policies on citizen character formation do not contradict but instead complement their "liberal" policies on property and economics. Additionally, the book shows how the Founders' embraced other traditions in their politics - such as common law and Protestantism - was always guided and limited by overarching principles derived from the laws of nature.
Thomas G. West holds the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Endowed Professorship in Politics at Hillsdale College, Michigan. His research areas include American political thought, natural law and natural right, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, and Leo Strauss.
This book is paperback and is recommended reading for Hillsdale's free online course, "The Real American Founding: A Conversation"
"Some claim that the founders were early-modern liberals. Others argue that the founders were primarily exponents of republicanism. Still others claim that the founders bequeathed to us an amalgam of these two strains of thought, together perhaps with still other influences. West’s great ambition with this book, one that he achieves, is to show that in their self-understanding the founders grounded the American regime on natural law and natural rights, and sought to promote virtue, and in particular the virtues necessary to a self-governing people seeking to secure their natural rights. The combination of natural rights and virtue promoted by the founders does not come from two separate streams of thought. Rather, natural rights and virtue are, so to speak, two sides of the same coin."—Luigi Bradizza, VoegelinView
"By reintroducing the moral underpinnings of the founders’ natural rights republic, Thomas G. West has made an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of American political thought. He shows that the founders’ republicanism is a part of their liberalism; that duties and rights, properly understood, are not at odds. In doing so, The Political Theory of the American Founding not only helps us better understand America’s principles, it explains why we ought to cherish them and fight to restore them to their rightful place in our political life."—Vincent Phillip Munoz, University of Notre Dame