Article V. Madison’s Wishful Thinking

“A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure [for faction] for which we are seeking.” — Publius

In Federalist 10 Madison offers two reasonable principles on which to base the cure to the vexing infirmity of faction.  First, that the size of the group selected to represent and administer the common and individual interests of the public must be sufficiently large to guard against the “cabal of the few,” yet not so large as to be subject to the “confusion of the multitude.”  And, second, that enlarging the size of the republic brought under the sphere of a central government would lead to an increased number of sufficiently distinct factions which would, somehow, militate against any single faction acquiring sufficient “common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.”

But, something is horribly wrong with this.  Almost from the moment the Constitution was ratified, Madison’s wishful thinking — that a large republic afforded the promise for a cure to faction — is apparent.  In the first case, Madison implies that there exists some magical number that can be used to distinguish cabals from multitudes, and that the use of this number to properly size a group will protect members of the group from becoming confused and corrupted.  But the value of this number is nowhere defined, no means to determine its value are provided, no evidence of the existence of such a number is offered, and no argument to explain how such a number can ensure the wisdom and incorruptibility of the group is provided.  In the second case, Madison implies that members of special interest factions lack sufficient motivation and cunning to propel their views into the majority.  If that ever was the case, it certainly is no longer.  All we have to do to expose the gross lack of protection afforded by the Constitution against faction is to review how prevalent has become the tyrannizing of our politics by extreme special interest groups during the last three decades.

So, it turns out that Madison’s phantom remedies did nothing to stop the pall of faction he was so right to be concerned about.  The lack of effective remedies left an opening for the disease of partisan factionalism to take hold since the early days of the republic.  Almost immediately upon Washington’s inauguration in 1789, factional coalitions began to form to wrangle for favors for the privileged few at the expense of protecting the faculties of fellow citizens more broadly.  For over two centuries the fragmentary effects of faction festered essentially untreated, and metastasized to the point that, today, our government is completely under the sway of well organized special interest factions and institutionalized political parties.

While I marvel at the genius of the founders to have achieved their immediate objective to preserve the fragile Union established by the Articles of Confederation in the wake of the Revolution, and I marvel at the majestic rhetoric they used to argue for and rationalize their proposals, I am appalled at the manner in which they came to exploit the American public for private advantage so early — casting a blind eye to the long term detrimental effects of faction which, today, everywhere undermines the perfection of the union they established.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor


[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 12:00  Comments Off on Article V. Madison’s Wishful Thinking