November 04, 2007

Faction, Democracy, and the Federalist Papers

The below is a Civics topic paper. I figured I might as well post it here, as it is quite relevant to this blog's theme. If anything, this goes to show just how useful most useless courses actually are.


Shortly after the American War for independence, a group of three writers, John Jay, Alexander Harrison, and James Madison, composed eighty-five newspaper articles which were later termed the Federalist Papers. In papers #9 and #10, the main topic for discussion was Democracy and Faction, two opponents to liberty as the authors saw them.

Although heralded by many in both ancient Greece, the age and place of philosophy, and in modern America as a synonym of freedom, the government of Democracy is centrally flawed. In Democracy, either a number of people with certain, usually high, status all vote on public matters, or everyone votes on all issues. The problem with the former, according to the trio of writers, is that the personal interest of the higher group will supercede the desire for the common good, and thus tyranny of the majority will be instilled. If everyone votes, however, “a common passion or interest will…be felt by a majority of the whole…and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party…” according to the authors. “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention” they conclude. (The Federalist Papers, pp. 56)

Faction is perfectly explained by the two-party system that is in operation today in America. A group of people bond together in an attempt to instill their opinions (formulated in self-interest) upon the nation by sheer number of votes. This is manageable so long as no one party attains a majority, or if there are more than two parties in operation. If a party becomes dominant, then the voice of the people cannot be heard and it “convulses society”.

It is interesting to note that the same people who built the constitution decried the foundation of the people who abuse it today. Madison, Jay, and Hamilton all clearly state that Democracy and Faction are evils, and that they lead to an assault on liberty. Yet Democracy and Freedom are used interchangeably, and the two-party system is as firmly established as the Hoover Dam. Perhaps America needs to look at its founding centuries ago for the answers to the problems of today.

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Blogger Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Amazing, isn't it? But I'm used to modern people being uneducated in these things. What really amazes me is that the founding fathers themselves would have done a btter job if they'd listened to themselves better. What do I mean?

"No man is allowed to be judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgement, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity." ~James Madison

Yet the men who wrote the Constitution sat in judgement on it, unwilling to realize that it would be tested in practice by men who did not know it the way they did. The party system was just plain unforeseen, but many another evil (most notably the judicial oligarchy) was predicted by the Anti-Federalists based on the way the Constitution could, even without the nonsense of "interpretation" meaning "making the original text irrelevant to our ideas we claim to base on it", be interpreted differently than its makers thought. Still, despite the fact that they would soon hand over its pwoer to who knows who, the guys who wrote it thought that since they knew it best they should be the ones to decide whether it was good or not.

"[A] rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union, than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State." ~James Madison

Yet they would not accept the possibility that the Anti-Federalists were correct in warning that the ruling portion of the Union, if powerful enough and if it wiggle-wormed its way out of the limits that were supposed to be imposed but weren't very well protected by the way the Constitution was written, could corrupt whether the whole did or not. True, the rulers came from different portions of the whole, but if once they combine in something too strong it will not matter that they formerly were of different portions. On top of that the party system helps them combine, as Ambrose said (and as I am fond of pointing out whenever people sound loyal to a party). Now we have the people we trust telling us that those things are not evils but are to be desired, and there is little we can do to stop them.

Oh the sorry state of the world. Shoulda' spent more time deliberating, improving and, with any luck, added an anti-party clause since they knew well parties would be dangerous. But no, the Constitution was fine and we could always patch it up later if it turns out to need patching. Never mind the fact that being allowed to change it makes it even less binding against corruption of the government it defines. Never mind the fact that it could be interpreted very differently if anyone besides us looked at it. Never mind that taking a little more time to refine it certainly wouldn't mean scrapping it altogether or anything like that. It's good and we weren't going to delay for the concerns of people who obviously don't listen to us (never mind the fact that if we listened to ourselves we might have their concerns anyway)!

Sorry. Some time ago I got over (well, for the most part anyway) being amazed that people today don't know the first thing about what the Constitution and its makers actually said. People today have all kinds of stupid ignorance. What I still can't get over is that the guys back then who sound so wise compared to the guys now were still so blockheaded.

November 04, 2007 8:41 PM  

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