Sunday, November 27, 2011


The following is an edited excerpt from Lecture 7 “The Madisonian Republic” by Thomas L. Pangle, published as part of the series, “Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution,” published by The Teaching Company

(this is an introductory paragraph is lifted from Lecture 8)
The anti-federalist following the classical republicanism are concerned to prevent or repress the spirit of faction from becoming prevalent in the citizenry. The anti-federalists are still guided by the ideal of a homogeneous and harmonious fraternal citizenry while the new Madisonian vision not only accepts faction but makes the spirit of faction an animating spirit of the republic.

(the following is from lecture 7)
Madison’s definition of faction in the 10th paper. “By a faction I understand a number of citizen’s, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse, passion or of interests adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent or aggregate interests of the community.”

Faction for Madison implies the predominance of passions and interest that moves groups of citizens in ways that threaten injury to the rights of others citizens or to the good of the whole community. It is crucial that we keep this precise and pejorative definition of faction firmly in mind as we follow Madison’s argument through the 10th Federalist Paper, or otherwise we won’t recognize how radical or shocking his argument is.

Madison proposes that this new constitution frames the first kind of republic in all of human history which has an “effective tendency” to break and control the violence of faction. And the new unclassical spirit of the Constitution becomes clearer when we follow Madison’s argument when we follow his argument how this breaking and controlling of the violence of faction is to be accomplished.

Madison begins by submitting that there are only two methods of curing the “mischiefs of faction.” The one by removing its causes. The other by controlling its effects.

The first method, removing its causes, means somehow preventing factions from becoming major factors in civic life. And there are only two ways of accomplishing this. The first is despotically doing away with liberty, and thus preventing citizens from being able to form politically effective interest groups which would attempt to dominate or exploit one another. And this suppression of groups is out of the question for Americans.

The second way is to that the path of the classical republican tradition, that is to try to make the population homogeneous in its outlook, a fraternal community. ... An this is what Madison makes clear is what the Constitution rejects as impracticable.

The proposed constitution is based upon the deep premise that any attempt to build a fraternal community of public spirited citizens, sharing the same outlook, is simply against human nature. As Madison put is, “The latent causes of faction are thus sewn in the nature of man, and we see them everywhere.” ... “The first object of government is the protection of these faculties from which the rights of property originate.”

And then Madison observes that when government succeeds in this prime purpose of protecting the acquisitive selfish faculties the necessary result is the emergence of different degrees and kinds of property and thereby great economic diversity and great economic inequality among the citizens. ....

This faculty for acquiring property are themselves unequal or unequal distributed and this necessarily divides society into mutually opposed parties or factions from the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

But it is not only the competing economic interests that necessarily split human society into warring factions. Madison also stresses a zeal for differing opinions concerning religion as the first in a list of differences of opinions that always have this effect of creating factions of mutually hostile groups. The list also includes zealotry for conflicting political opinions. But also zealotry for all sorts of other opinions in theory and in practice. And in addition attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for preeminence in power. ....

... Madison’s conception is complex. He does not rule out the role of enlightened statesmen. But He insists that such statesmen rarely prevail over the immediate interests of which one party over another. ... He also recognizes strong bonds of friendship among Americans but he contends that such natural bonds are by no means strong enough to prevent the more natural emergence of fierce and mutually hurtful factional competition. Economic competition is the most powerful source of the natural hatred and animosity that overwhelms kinship and public spirit. ...

.. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and “involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government.” This last phrase is pregnant and a most important phrase in the entire Federalist Papers. ... In their new solution to the problem of faction, the spirit of faction, what he call mutual animosity, is going to be accepted as a routine intrinsic and even necessary part of American republican government. Faction is going to be used as the primary tool to combat and control faction. The new American government will fight fire with fire. ...

The new American republic is to be the first republic in history that is going to tolerate and foster and in some measure depend on promoting faction. Mutually antagonistic competition among selfish groups seeking to exploit one another throughout society and inside the government itself. ...

Madison’s next step is to argue that once we have admitted this basic and rather grim truth we have to realize that in a republican society where the majority has the preponderant power, where the majority is the legitimate authority, the most serious danger is not from any minority faction but rather from the majority if and when it becomes united as a faction. For since the majority has the greater power and the greatest legitimacy, it can defeat in the long run and over all a check on a regular basis all minority factions. But who or what can check the majority if an when it becomes a united single faction?

The experience of the failure of classical republicanism shows that most likely and most pernicious single faction is most likely to be the poorer factions uniting against the wealthy who are always the fewer. The poorer faction often proceed under the leadership of demagogs to place the rights of property under such threats that either the economy is ruined or the property classes are compelled to fight back in ruinous civil conflict.

It’s this problem of majority faction that is the great problem of all past republics that has never before been solved. And this is why the cause of republicanism has fallen into disrepute. So its the solution of this problem, the problem of majoritarian faction which is then the great object of which our inquires are directed. ... By what means is this object obtainable? ...

Either the existence of the same faction or interest in the majority must be prevented or the majority having having such a passion or interest must be rendered by their number and local situation unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. In order for either of these effects to happen we must avoid setting up a pure democracy. What Madison means by democracy is “a society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person.” For is such a pure democratic society the assembled assembly has direct political power, and will easily coalesce into a unified faction. Some degree of mob rule guided by demagogues is the all too common fate of direct democracies.

Madison is here contradicting a basic premise of the Anti-Federalists. ...

What we must set up instead of democracies in the classic sense is a republic by which he means, “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” ... The two great differences between a democracy and a republic are: First, the delegation of the government to a small number of citizens elected by the rest. Second, the greater number of citizens and the great sphere of country over which [the republic] may be extended.

Here we see the heart of the new Madisonian republican vision. The new American constitution aims not a confederacies of small democratic participatory republics. But instead at one large extended mass republic where the people never can assemble to govern directly. And hence the majority can never unite and become directly oppressive of minorities and individuals.

But the most important consideration in this regard is not simply that the country’s territory and numbers will be too big for the majority to ever physically assemble in one place. More important is the fact that the majority will be so diverse, and so riven by conflicting factional interests trying to oppress one another, especially economic, that it will rarely share the same interests. Or when it does it will have great difficulty in becoming aware of that sharing.

As Madison puts it in his most important single statement explaining what, as he puts it, “what principally is to render factious combinations less to be dreaded” is to extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests. You make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens. Or if such a common mode exists it will be more difficult for all to feel it and discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.

Hence it clearly appears that the same advantage that the republic has over a democracy in controlling the effects of faction is enjoyed by a large [republic] over a small republic, is enjoyed by the union over the states composing it.

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states but it will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy, but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. ...

Madison places the Anti-Federalist argument on its head in two major respects. Where the Anti-Federalists follow classical republican theory in seeking homogeneity of the populous to avoid clashing of interests, Madison is saying that such clashing is the key to maintaining liberty in a republic.

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