Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 14, 2009

Scott McDermott
Pages 245-269

Orestes Brownson and the Contract of Government

Orestes Brownson’s doubts about the social contract theory expressed in America’s founding documents have been cited by some Catholic scholars against the legitimacy of The American Republic. Did Brownson reject the American experiment as an atheistic usurpation of legitimate authority—and if so, was he justified? This paper considers Brownson’s critique of democracy in The American Republic in the context of his other writings. Brownson’s organic vision of American polities, derived from Hegel, is of lasting value. But Brownson’s attack on social contract theory ultimately founders because of its failure to distinguish the “contract of society” from the “contract of government.”