Starting Points

At Starting Points, we take the long view of American politics. Non-partisan and interdisciplinary, we aim to understand American politics by looking before and beyond our current political situation—before to the historical, cultural and intellectual roots of American politics, and beyond to the overarching ideas and guiding ideals of our unique political tradition.

LATEST ARTICLES

Omelas and Bensalem: Liberty and Utopias
September 6, 2018 by Alexandria Marie Putman
- Is it possible for a society to be good without liberty? Bacon's The New Atlantis and Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas both aid in exploring this important question.
Moving Beyond American Conditional Aid to Haiti
August 16, 2018 by Chang-Dae David Hyun
- A root cause of Haiti's poverty is the IMF's structural adjustment plan. A solution based on Chinese aid, unlike neo-liberal policies, allows Haiti to protect its rice and other industries.
Constitutional Individualism: The Ninth Amendment and the “Natural Rights of Man”
July 19, 2018 by Lucas Benjamin Drill
- The Ninth Amendment is not a one-off historical anachronism aimed at protecting nonexistent rights. Instead, it should be construed by the courts as a bulwark against undue governmental interference in people’s private lives.
Dante’s Philosophical Life: Author Interview with Paul Stern
July 9, 2018 by Starting Points
- A Political Theory Review interview with Paul Stern about his new book, Dante's Philosophical Life: Politics and Human Wisdom in Purgatorio
Henry Clay and the Spirit of Compromise
July 1, 2018 by Samuel Postell
- Henry Clay attempted to render compromise a political virtue. In a time of weak parties, sectional strife, and agitation from abroad, Clay understood that the Speaker of The House needed to appeal to Republicans and Federalists alike if he wished to unify coalitions and pass substantive policy to affirm American independence, facilitate self-government, and urge economic progress.
Tocqueville and the Earthbound American Spirit
June 21, 2018 by Starting Points
- This article assesses the gulf between Tocqueville’s claim that human beings have naturally transcendent souls and his observations of the democratic souls of Americans.
Why Honor Matters
June 17, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Tamler Sommers, Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Houston, about his recent book, Why Honor Matters
Why Won’t Free Speech Save Us?
June 11, 2018 by Bruce Ledewitz
- Ross Douthat wrote a May 27 column for The New York Times provocatively titled, Free Speech Will Not Save Us. The columnist was casting doubt on the argument that the best way to cure political polarization is with renewed respect for the right of people to speak.
The Founders on Race and the Rational Basis of Natural Law: Reply to Peter Myers
June 4, 2018 by Thomas G. West
- For the founders, the social compact is based on equal consent on both sides. Existing citizens should consent to new citizens, just as new citizens should consent before being admitted to citizenship.
Author Meets Critics: Thomas G. West’s The Political Theory of the American Founding
June 4, 2018 by S. Adam Seagrave
- The parochialism implied by the title of West’s book and reflected in much of its content contrasts with the universality of the founders’ rhetoric and with the timelessly applicable ideas of natural rights and the natural law.
Author Meets Critics: Thomas G. West’s The Political Theory of the American Founding
June 4, 2018 by Peter C. Myers
- The great contribution of West’s book is to bolster the argument that the founders are a formidable group, not only in their political prudence but also in their claim to genuine moral and political wisdom.
Natural Rights in America Today, with a Defense of the Founders on Natural Law: Reply to Seagrave
June 4, 2018 by Thomas G. West
- Adam Seagrave’s review of my Political Theory of the American Founding contains both praise and criticism. I will respond here to four of his most important concerns.
Symposium on Alexander Hamilton’s Legacy
May 17, 2018 by Quinn Carolan, Jack Sauter, and Wilfredo Najarro
- Hamilton is often sidelined in favor of other founders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Tocqueville Forum students featured here reconsider Hamilton’s legacy, aided by careful reading of Hamilton’s own writings.
A Practical Solution to the Death of the American Dream
May 10, 2018 by Pamela Larkin
- Has slowing class mobility caused the shift in American culture away from the traditional "American Dream"? Or has this shift in American culture caused slowing class mobility?
Boundaries of the International: Law and Empire
May 7, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Jennifer Pitts about her recent book, Boundaries of the International: Law and Empire
The Election of 1940
April 30, 2018 by John W. Jeffries
- While the war in Europe played a significant role in the parties’ nominations for the presidential election of 1940, it had a relatively small part, and less than is usually understood, in voting.
Equal Recognition: the Moral Foundations of Minority Rights
April 23, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Alan Patten about his recent book, Equal Recognition: the Moral Foundations of Minority Rights
Should Pornography that Patently Objectifies Women be Banned?
April 12, 2018 by Jared Kelly
- The debate around banning pornography that objectifies women fractured the feminist movement. Future attempts to outlaw pornography will follow the precedent set forth in Osbourne v. Ohio and attempt to ban pornography in order to protect public health and safety.
Defending Rorty: Author Interview with William Curtis
April 9, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with William Curtis about his new book, Defending Rorty: Pragmatism and Liberal Virtue
Congress in the Light of History
March 26, 2018 by David R. Mayhew
- What should we expect of a separation-of-powers regime interlaced with tough checks and balances? What should we expect of a legislature representing a heterogeneous public that seems to be growing more heterogeneous, not to mention more fractious, all the time? To think about these matters, it may pay to reach for historical perspective.
Bionic Wings
March 21, 2018 by Jacob Bruggeman
- “NOW!” screams Transhumanism—obsessed like Gatsby—refusing to take heed of others’ objections and so many warnings in the canon of science fiction and the timelessness of Murphy’s Law.
Supreme Court Expansion of Presidential Power: Unconstitutional Leanings
March 19, 2018 by Louis Fisher
- Starting with the Curtiss-Wright decision in 1936 and carrying forward to Zivotofsky v. Kerry in 2015, the Supreme Court has resorted to erroneous dicta and deference to promote independent executive power in external affairs. These judicial misconstructions have done severe damage to basic constitutional principles, including checks and balances and self-government.
Gaming the Framing: A New Way to Teach the Constitutional Convention
March 12, 2018 by John Patrick Coby
- Why study the Constitution through the medium of role-play? Students playing roles will better appreciate the difficulties of framing a constitution and better understand what was at stake and what was possible for the delegates who gathered in Philadelphia—better than if they simply heard or read about the event.
Ryan Anderson and the Continuing Challenge to Religious Liberty
March 5, 2018 by Scott Yenor
- The rubber for the marriage movement will meet the road on the issue of religious liberty. By conceding to “social harm” and “social meaning” arguments, Anderson and Girgis make it more difficult to defend religious liberty against anti-discrimination laws.
What Does “all men are created equal” Mean?
February 26, 2018 by Morgan Keith
- Two students from the University of Missouri take on this question at a time when many young people struggle with the promise of America juxtaposed against issues of institutional discrimination.
What Does “all men are created equal” Mean?
February 26, 2018 by Mackinlee Rogers
- Two students from the University of Missouri take on this question at a time when many young people struggle with the promise of America juxtaposed against issues of institutional discrimination.
Imagining a Federative Legislative Power
February 19, 2018 by Mariah Zeisberg
- To be rendered coherent in an age of US hegemony, the logic of our constitutional order calls for a legislative federative institution, through which the perspectives of domestic and foreign audiences can be considered in dialogue, and which can shape the way US power is projected abroad.
The Role of Christianity in Hobbes’s Political Project
February 15, 2018 by David Soper
- For Hobbes, religion is not inherently beneficial for society. Instead, good theology is required in order to make religion useful.
Common Core: Author Interview with Nicholas Tampio
February 12, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Nicholas Tampio about his new book, Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Democracy
Nietzsche’s Final Teaching: Author Interview with Michael Gillespie
January 29, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Michael Gillespie about his new book, Nietzsche's Final Teaching
The Problem of the West[ern]
January 18, 2018 by Kiley Duhn
- Three great Western films—Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the contemporary No Country for Old Men—delve deep into the American psyche and make a broad claim that the American way of mixing freedom and rule is inherently flawed.
Lessons from the Madness of Diogenes and John Brown
January 15, 2018 by Mark Benton
- Our politics has problems. There must be a way to bring the steadfastness of a Diogenes or a John Brown into public discourse uncompromised, but in a way that is also palatable to those who turn away from the words of someone so unusual.
Teachers of the People: Author Interview with Dana Villa
January 8, 2018 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Dana Villa about his new book, Teachers of the People: Political Education in Rousseau, Hegel, Tocqueville, and Mill
Does History Make Sense? Author Interview with Terry Pinkard
December 18, 2017 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Terry Pinkard about his new book, Does History Make Sense?: Hegel on the Historical Shapes of Justice
Neoliberal Evolution of the Space Exploration Industry in Relation to the Tech Industry
December 14, 2017 by William A. Preecs
- Ingenuity is a part of the American character. As Americans, we must reflect on the mistakes of our past in the evolution of Tech to best approach the coming evolution of the space exploration industry.
Gerrymandering and Gill in Constitutional Perspective
December 11, 2017 by Jay Dow
- Gerrymandering is as old as the republic itself. The siren call of court intervention is attractive but will eventually make the court just another political actor. A better solution to gerrymandering is smaller legislatures.
Are Intellectual Property Rights Moral?
December 4, 2017 by Gunnar Gundersen
- The case is hard for those challenging intellectual property. There is no coherent basis for a right to enjoy the creations of others without the compensation of or consent of their creator.
What’s New
November 20, 2017 by Starting Points
- What’s New will be a gateway for readers to learn and benefit from the accumulated wisdom of the excellent scholars working to further our collective understanding of the American political tradition.
Anti-Hispanic Sentiment and U.S.-Mexican Relations
November 16, 2017 by Jessica DellAquila
- The essay examines the racism present in the foundational period of foreign relations between the United States and Mexico that occurred between the 1840s and 1850s, seeking to show parallels between the racist rhetoric and policy of the foundational period of U.S.-Mexico relations and today.
Historical Records and Historical Narratives about the Constitutional Convention
November 13, 2017 by Lynn Uzzell
- It is both prudent and just to question the reliability of the records we use when forming our historical narratives. But it is no less prudent to question the wisdom of forming constitutional narratives that seek to replace the historical records with the historian’s speculations.
Is the Administrative State Legitimate?
October 30, 2017 by Joseph Postell and Jennifer Selin
- A Starting Points Conversation featuring Joseph Postell and Jennifer Selin
Do We Need A Compass?
October 16, 2017 by Andrea Radasanu
- A Starting Points Conversation featuring the founding editor of Compass, Andrea Radasanu
In God We Trust: Reconciling Religiosity in a Secular Nation
October 12, 2017 by Tess Saperstein
- The recent evolution of the Religious Right underscores the value that most Americans place on the separation of church and state. Religion is able to influence American politics only insofar as it reflects the expression of individual political opinions as motivated by religious belief.
Montesquieu and Despotism: Author Interview with Vickie Sullivan
October 9, 2017 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Vickie Sullivan about her new book, Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe
Exit Left: Author Interview with Robert S. Taylor
October 2, 2017 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Robert S. Taylor about his new book, Exit Left
Free Time: Author Interview with Julie Rose
September 25, 2017 by The Political Theory Review
- A Political Theory Review interview with Julie Rose about her new book, Free Time
What Did the Constitutional Convention Do with Slavery?
September 17, 2017 by Mary Sarah Bilder
- A Starting Points Constitution Day Conversation featuring Mary Sarah Bilder, author of Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention.
Living the Natural Law in an Age of Natural Rights
September 11, 2017 by Douglas Kries
- The natural law has much to contribute to our rights-focused political discourse. Three strategies can help those committed to the natural law to bring this contribution to bear in our time.
Do We Need a Natural Law Theory of the State?
September 4, 2017 by Lee Ward
- Is natural law equipped to ground a normative theory of the liberal democratic state in this era of the great struggle between globalization and its opponents?
Natural Justice and the Amistad
August 28, 2017 by Justin Dyer
- John Quincy Adams’ oral argument in the Amistad case is notable for its explicit appeal to the authority of the Declaration of Independence and to the practical political relevance of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

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