This is the finely told story of how the Scottish enlightenment emerged from "the most drunken nation on earth" and established the guiding principles of democratic government.
What I like most about the book is the overview of perspectives that resulted in "the American experiment." Readers looking for Christian founding fathers will find them, but a composite father dubbed "Common Sense Man" gets credit for the experiment's success,and he is mostly Scottish.
Among the many Scots who participated in America's founding, Thomas Reid (b. 1710) is the guiding "founding moderate," who advocated the "self-evident truths" of common sense and exemplified "Common Sense Man."
The author writes:
"In America his (Reid's) impact was huge. Thomas Jefferson knew his writings, and put Reid's best-known work on his recommended book list. It was very probably from Reid that he borrowed the idea of self-evident truths for the Declaration of Independence. He also put Reid at the center of his planned curriculum for the University of Virginia."
Thomas Paine used Reid's catch phrase, common sense, as the title of his treatise and pamphlet on the necessity of American independence, which was "the single most popular pamphlet of the American Revolution."
Notions of law and justice that resulted in "the balance of powers" and the Supreme Court were largely informed by Reid, who insisted: "The better ordinary people understood the law, the better for the law, and the better for democracy." The only way "such a complicated architecture of counterbalancing powers and countervailing interests could avoid permanent gridlock" was by agreement upon the self-evident truth of common sense by which sound judgment and compromise could proceed.
The author concludes: "The great insight of the Scottish Enlightenment was to insist that human beings need to free themselves from myths and see the world as it really is . . . As the first modern nation and culture, the Scots have by and large made the world a better place. They taught the world that true liberty requires a sense of personal obligation as well as individual rights . . . The Scottish mind grasped how, in (David) Hume's words, liberty is the perfection of civil society."