Sunday, November 27, 2011


The following is an edited excerpt from Lecture 8 “The Argument over Representation” by Thomas L. Pangle, published as part of the series, “Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution,” published by The Teaching Company.

(the following is from lecture 8)
The anti-federalist following the classical principles want to keep the reigns of government more directly in the hands of the people. And so they worry about the distancing of the representatives from the people and from the people’s control. But for Madison it just such removal of the representatives from their constituents that is one key to safe as well as effective government.

And Madison states even more emphatically and explicitly that the new constitution aims at the unclassical goal of excluding the people as a whole from any direct role in their government. In Paper 63 he says that while the classical republics were not totally unfamiliar some version of representation the true distinction between the classical democracy and the new American republic lies in the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity from any share in the government. Unlike the citizens of any classical democracies and republics, the American citizenry will be only indirectly engaged in the politics and governance of their society to a much greater degree than in the classical republic. The American people will be absorbed in their private factional pursuits and they will become politically engaged chiefly in order to protect those factional pursuits and the private liberties they express.

It appears that Madison’s republican vision is based upon the assumption that virtue can be dispensed with, or mostly replaced by the checking and balancing of the competitive struggle of economic selfish interest groups. But this impression is very incomplete. It’s too simple, and one sided. And we must look now at the higher ingredient in Madison’s republican vision. For Madison has in Paper 10 additional argument for the new conception of representative government removed from the populous.

He praises such representative government not only for its ability to channel the selfish interest group struggle, but it can have a crucial elevating effect by putting the levers of power in the hands of a tiny minority of representatives elected by the rest. It has the effect of refining and enlarging the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interests of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it [the true interests of the country] to temporary or partial consideration.

Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people will be more consonate to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves convened for the purpose. For this we see that Madison does continue to count on virtue, on wisdom, on patriotism, on love of justice, as he says, but as found in the few of a tiny minority elected by the rest.

Madison reveals here that his new republicanism does not all together break with the classical republican tradition in its original aristocratic dimension, as opposed to its Montesquieuien more democratic dimension. Madison even indicates here that his new republican vision hopes to succeed better at achieving some measure of that original aristocratic aspiration, than the classical republics themselves ever did in practice.

But we must immediately note that Hamilton in the subsequent Papers 35 and 36 explains more concretely that the character of the representative elite expected in this new American system is rather unclassical. The new elite that the American system expects will be dominated by what Hamilton calls “the members of the learned professions,” which is a flattering term for what he means, namely lawyers. Who he expects to feel a neutrality to the rivalships among the different branches of industry. And be likely to be an impartial arbiter between them.

So the virtuous are not so much expected, as they were in the classical republican vision to be found among the farmers great and small. The virtuous in this new republican vision are expected to be much more sympathetic to commerce and to commercialism, to money making, to material acquisitiveness than were the elite as envisage in the classical republicanism.

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