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Walter Berns

Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, professor emeritus of government at Georgetown University, Washington

The Constitution, [the American founding fathers] said, provided a remedy for the 'diseases' most incident to democratic government, and The Federalist (written to persuade the people to give it their consent) leaves no doubt as to what they understood to be a disease: zealous opinions 'concerning religion,' 'tyrannical majorities,' 'angry and malignant passions,' 'a factious spirit,' the dangerous ambition that 'often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people,' and those who begin their careers 'by paying obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.' To guard against these democratic diseases, or vices, the Constitution, in addition to consigning religion to the private sphere by separating church and state, withholds powers, separates powers, and excludes the people in their collective capacity from any share in the exercise of these powers. In a word, republican (or limited) government would be possible under a Constitution that excluded, or at least inhibited, the zealous, the angry, the morally indignant; and this, in turn, depended on confining the business of government to issues that did not give rise to zeal, anger, or moral indignation. Throughout most of our history -- if we ignore the slavery issue and the Civil War -- the Constitution succeeded in doing this.

Feb. 09, 1997 - from a collection of essays published under the title "On the Future of Conservatism" by Commentary magazine