The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

August 20, 2017

Diamond, Martin
Jeffrey O. Nelson - 04/25/12
Lifespan: (1919–1977)

Martin Diamond was an influential political theorist who probed the meaning of American federalism. A colleague and friend of many seminal conservative thinkers, including Willmoore Kendall and Irving Kristol, Diamond obtained his doctorate in 1956 from the University of Chicago. Like Kristol, in his youth he was attracted to the political Left, once working for and supporting Norman Thomas (a biographical fact he shared with Russell Kirk, who voted for Thomas and his failed presidential bid in 1944). Diamond’s distinguished teaching career began at the Illinois Institute of Technology (1952–55) while he was still pursuing his Ph.D. He was appointed assistant professor at Claremont University and Claremont Graduate School in 1955, and it was at this institution that he would spend most of his academic career as Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions (1955–71). Diamond moved to Northern Illinois University in 1972. In 1977 he was appointed to a chair at Georgetown University, but he died in July of that year just moments after testifying before a Senate subcommittee against a proposed amendment that would have eliminated the Electoral College. Diamond was an Earhart Fellow, a Rockefeller Fellow, and a fellow at both the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Diamond was known to a generation of students as a superb teacher and one of the first students of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago to turn his attention to the American political tradition, particularly the founding period.

In a seminal essay published in the American Political Science Review (1959), “Democracy and The Federalist: A Reconsideration of the Framers’ Intent,” Diamond challenged the progressive understanding of the founders’ intentions, viz., that the Constitution was a “reactionary” document designed to protect vested minority interests. Using The Federalist as his point of departure, he endeavored to show that the aim of the founders was to provide for deliberative self-government with prudential safeguards against the excesses that had proved fatal to the smaller republics of antiquity. His analysis and conclusions, fleshed out more fully in subsequent articles, have had a lasting impact on contemporary students of the founding period. Diamond, deeply concerned about the growing concentration of powers at the national level, was also a strong proponent of the principle of federalism and administrative decentralization. In ground-breaking essays such as “The Federalist’s View of Federalism” (1961) and “What the Framers Meant by Federalism” (1962), Diamond demonstrated how our modern conception of federalism differs significantly, in both substance and scope, from that held by the framers.

Further Reading
  • Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. Rev. ed. Wilming-ton, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1996.
  • Schambra, William A., ed. As Far As Republican Principles Will Admit: Collected Essays of Martin Diamond. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1992.
  • Stevens, Richard G., ed. “Martin Diamond’s Contribution to American Political Thought: A Symposium.” Political Science Reviewer 28 (1999).
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