There is an excellent (and rapidly growing) literature examining the influence of James Wilson's Scottish philosophical education on his later political ideas. In this Article, Professor Ian Bartrum makes two contributions to that scholarship. First, he reexamines several of the most important Scottish moral sentimentalists with a particular focus on the specific ontological and epistemological accounts that influenced Wilson. Second, he dissolves the seeming contradictions in Wilson's political thought by showing that, while he understood that representative bodies were essential to legitimate government, he nonetheless distrusted these institutions because they work to obscure, or even subvert, their members' individual experience of moral obligation. In short, power-particularly the self-reinforcing normativity of a group power dynamic-tends to corrupt. Thus, Professor Bartrum concludes that, at the most fundamental structural level, American popular sovereignty exists as a manifestation of the founders' belief in our common, independent ability to understand morality and experience moral obligation.
64 Buff. L. Rev. 225 (2016).
Bartrum, Ian C., "James Wilson in the State House Yard: Ratifying the Structures of Popular Sovereignty" (2016). Scholarly Works. 1195.