THE FEDERALIST PAPERS PROJECT - Part 9. A link to Project Gutenberg's free source edition of The Federalist Papers.
In Paper No. 10, James Madison takes the wheel for the first time, addressing the criticism of opponents to the proposed republic that public good and the rights of minorities end up being ignored in conflicts because of "the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority." I can think no paper of the ten that we have read thus far more applicable to our present political climate.
Madison parses the mechanisms that motivate and mitigate factions, defined as groups of citizens united by a common purpose that is adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the greater good. The biggest motivator it appears is human nature.
As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self- love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.
Egotism clouds judgment? I've never heard of such a thing! He continues:
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning Government...an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to co-operate for their common good...
Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest..
Different interests are desirable features of a diverse democratic society but they also divide people into groups such as political parties. It is the need to regulate competing interests that is the job of the law because, goodness knows, neither morality nor common sense can be prevailed upon for the more powerful to police themselves.
No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.
Clearly Paper No. 10 has not been read in some time. And as for the claim that "enlightened statesmen" will be able to govern their own interests and always act for the greater good, Madison only says:
Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm...
Ain't that the truth.
How can a government mitigate the behavior of factions, Madison asks? Well, government can prohibit its existence altogether, even though the contrary passion is held by an opposing faction. For a contemporary example, abortion can be outlawed. Madison sees this means of control anathema to the American constitution, a case where the remedy is worse that the problem.
...it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
If the idea is that the stronger political will is allowed to bully the other, we will forever seesaw between the primacy of one of the two interests, every time one side or the other gains an edge, as we witness today.
Madison explores how distinctive governmental structures act differently upon factions. "Pure Democracy," he writes, is when a small number of citizens administer government and the unchecked majority impose their will upon everyone. He is critical of such a government in that:
...there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property...
The alternative to pure democracy is a republic, in which a larger populace assigns their governance to a small number of citizens. He sees this elected body as one...
whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.
We see precisely the opposite occurring today, where temporary advantage is the primary consideration of the ruling party, as in rushing a Supreme Court justice through the confirmation process. It's not unconstitutional, but it is contrary to the purpose stated here of a government considering the rights of the minority, not simply pushing through any legislation possible because they temporarily hold the upper hand.
Madison anticipated that possibility too that "Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs...may betray the interests of the people." He saw the best protection in an increase in the number of representatives, but cautioned balance - a large enough number to protect against power by a cabal of zealots interested in some matter of importance only to themselves at the expense of concerns of greater scope, but a small enough number to guard against confusion.
In contrast to Montesquieu (as discussed in Episode 8), Madison saw advantages in a republic of expansive extent, as it encompassed a greater variety of interests, making it less likely that the party in influence will "invade the rights of other citizens." This is only true when representatives actually represent a breadth of interests, something that is undone by techniques that work the system for partisan gain, such as the gerrymandering of districts. When Madison writes of a variety of parties increasing the security of our representation, it really makes a case for overthrowing strangle hold of the two-party system. The imposed either-or structure encourages binary, simpleminded thinking and discourages collaboration between parties.
What is apparent in Paper No. 10 is the desire of the proponents of the Constitution to attenuate the influence of the zelously partisan, the fallible, and the egotist in governance, but especially the bully, in limiting the liberty of fellow citizens who do not hold a majority and who still have a right to expect a government that represents them.