Monday, October 1, 2012

Federalist #10

So take that look out of here, it doesn't fit you
Because it's happened doesn't mean you've been discarded
--Big Country

In Federalist #10, James Madison considers a central problem inherent to democracies. Special interest groups, what Madison calls 'factions,' can gain control of the majority vote. Factions reign supreme and suppress liberty of those in the minority.

Madison argues that the Constitution (which was undergoing the process of state ratification at the time) helps address this problem through a republican design. A republic where people are represented by a few politicians is likely to mute tyranny of the majority and localize political issues.

Unfortunately, Madison did not anticipate what many anti-federalists did--that the federal government would consolidate power over time, thereby stripping localities of their political influence and focusing people's attention on Washington. This centralization has essentially overpowered the republican design envisioned by Madison and other framers.

Early in the essay Madison offers several other remedies to the faction problem, such as abolishing liberty and assigning similar interests to all individials. Madison dismisses these out of hand, although I am not sure that these alternatives are anything but straw men conveniently placed in front of Madison's argument.

What he does not consider as a cure to faction is what we have often cited on these pages (recently here). Take away the resource stream that government controls, and watch the market for political favor wither. Limiting the power of central government defeats tyranny of the majority.

I am somewhat surprised Madison does not discuss this here. Not only were such limitations designed into the Constitution, but Madison discusses these limitations at great length in other contexts.

In any event, this is an important Federalist Paper. It demonstrates that the problems associated with democracy were on the minds of the framers.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.
~James Madison