Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. v

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

This book deals with the disruptive and destructive contingencies that roil politics, but it is itself the product of very favorable contingencies. I had the good fortune to begin working on this project in the Government Department at Cornell University, which provided an intellectual environment that fostered interesting, adventurous, and even idiosyncratic work. The examples set...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

Order is essential to the very idea of law. The aim of law is to create order where it does not exist and to stabilize it where it does exist. Law pursues many other, sometimes conflicting, aims— justice, equality, the protection of individual rights, the expression of communal values, the preservation (or transformation) of the status quo, the consolidation (or dispersion) of power—...

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1. “So Many Unexpected Things”: Contingency and Character in Modern Political Thought

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pp. 11-37

Niccolò Machiavelli’s insight that contingency is the single constant in politics forms the backdrop for any serious investigation of executive power in modern political and constitutional thought— if not for the study of politics as such. Any theory that supports energy and flexibility in the executive must take as its starting point a Machiavellian understanding of how...

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2. “Without the Prescription of the Law”: Virtue and Discretion in Locke’s Theory of Prerogative

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pp. 38-82

The liberal conception of limited government is perhaps most closely associated with its commitment to the “rule of law.” The rule of law is frequently (and rather indiscriminately) identified with the advancement of democracy, justice, and a host of other lofty ideals, but within liberalism it is most closely associated with juridical guarantees of individual freedom...

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3. “All Was Confusion and Disorder”: Regularity and Character in Hume’s Political Thought

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pp. 83-123

There is general agreement among scholars that the guiding principle of David Hume’s political philosophy is the proposition that “politics may be reduced to a science.” Hume’s claim that the scientific study of politics would make it possible to deduce “consequences almost as general and certain . . . as any which the mathematical sciences afford us” meant that “stability” in...

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4. “The King Can Do No Wrong”: Blackstone on the Executive in Law

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pp. 124-156

Popular assemblies have been celebrated as bastions of freedom against the encroachments of monarchs and ministers in a variety of political traditions that predate the rise of parliamentary government. Throughout the seventeenth century, Anglophone political thinkers typically looked to legislative assemblies as the guardians of liberty and sought to enhance their constitutional...

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5. “It Squints towards Monarchy”: Constitutional Flexibility and the Powers of the President

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pp. 157-207

Americans at the time of the Founding were taught to be deeply suspicious of executive power. Their knowledge of England’s violent constitutional struggle over royal prerogative in the seventeenth century, their acquaintance with Commonwealth condemnations of the corruption wrought by ministerial influence, their intimate familiarity with Whig political thought, and...

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6. A “Patriotic and Dignifying President”: Republican Virtue and the Presidency

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pp. 208-252

The conventional wisdom among eighteenth-century political writers was that the fate of free government ultimately depends on the public virtue of ordinary citizens. For Americans steeped in the writings of Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero, Machiavelli, Harrington, Milton, and Sidney, virtue denoted a willingness to place the public good above private...

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Conclusion

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pp. 253-276

Liberal constitutionalism has become so closely identified with the rule of law that any exercise of political power not explicitly sanctioned by law is viewed either as a betrayal of its core principles or as a sign of its inherent shortcomings. But as the preceding discussion indicates, strict adherence to the formal requirements of law was never considered sufficient to the fulfillment...

Notes

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pp. 277-341

Index

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pp. 342-352