To carry out his purpose, Beard discusses, among other subjects, the making of one nation out of many peoples and nationalities, the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, the rights and liberties of citizens, the theory of checks and balances, the role of political parties, the Republic in the world of nations, and the coming fate and fortune of America. Above all, he deals philosophically with the eternal conflict between power and freedom, security and liberty.
In form, the book is a series of conversations among friends. The author and two public-spirited citizens carry the main burden of the discourse, and other figures are introduced to present special but prevailing points of view. In this way the reader not only feels that he is participating in a search for the truth, but discovers that his own point of view has here an able sponsor. Beard has taken a theme of majestic scope and presented it in terms that are warm and human and immediately relevant.
Barrow's takes Beard seriously as a political theorist, while challenging many misconceptions. For example, Beard's method of economic interpretation has been dismissed as Marxist, but Barrow carefully reconstructs the sources of Beard's thinking to demonstrate that his method owes more to historical and institutional economics and that his concept of state-society relations was in fact derived from Madison's Tenth Federalist. Barrow reconstructs Beard's theory of American political development using his concept of realistic dialectics, which viewed the clash between democracy (Jeffersonianism) and capitalism (Hamiltonianism) as the engine of American political development. During the 1930s, Beard suggested that the United States was making the transition to a higher form of social and industrial democracy that would supersede the contradiction of American political development. Notably, Beard was a critic of the New Deal and the liberal welfare state, because they failed to reconstruct the economic relations that reproduce inequalities of income, status, and power.
Beard went on to voice his concern that at crucial junctures in American history, class struggle is diverted into international conflicts as popular leaders back down from a direct confrontation with the dominant capitalist elite. He analyzes American foreign policy as an extension of domestic economic policy and, in particular, a result of the failures of domestic economic policy. Beard's conception of American history plays itself out in a tragic cycle of imperialism and diversion that left him a disenchanted realist. This incisive study will be of interest to those intrested in the evolution of historical thinking.