Posted by: George | March 16, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 10

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 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. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

James Madison, Federalist No. 10

 

Madison is arguing that bigger is better—more precisely, that bigger is less dangerous. In consort with Hamilton and Jay, as I have remarked in posts on earlier Federalist essays, Madison assumes we humans are deeply flawed. Thus, we should expect the new government will need to guard against those who advance “unjust and dishonorable purposes.” If we adopt the proposed constitution, if we have a stronger central government, then factions will be less successful with their “wicked projects.” Interestingly, within the larger theater of a national government, with its more diverse terrain, we can find security in our distrust of each other—in other words, the factions of flawed humans will be checked by the human flaws of other factions.

This is a strikingly optimistic view of human imperfection. We will be saved from bad people by pitting more and more bad people against each other.

It is almost like Madison is taking us into the Bizarro World of Superman comics where everything is inverted. Instead of idealistically hoping for security through harmony among factions, we can add more factions and thlet them beat each other to a pulp until they are too weak to do much harm. There’s a logic here, maybe one more Machiavellian than first-century Christian, more dystopian than utopian, but a logic nonetheless.

In 1988, the Democratic National Convention was in Atlanta, and I was teaching at Georgia State University. One of the designated protest zones, the areas where protesters could legally congregate without disrupting the convention or attracting press coverage, was Woodruff Park, just a block from my office. So, I often walked down to the park early in the morning, before the protesters sauntered off to non-protest zones where they hoped to further their cause, whatever that was.

I was curious, maybe also a little bored by being enclosed in my office during the relatively cool summer mornings. And, I was feeding a vague nostalgia for the 1960s—vague because the protests seem to have no focus and the protesters little grit.

Each morning, I watched the youth of America, thirty or forty of them, who wore their anarchy on their tattooed arms and legs, make plans to disrupt the political order. Each morning, they would gather in one large group, arguing about where to go and what to chant. They couldn’t agree on much of anything, as is typical of anarchists, and other humans, but especially anarchists. Eventually, they would split into smaller and smaller groups until little protest movements of two or three people would drift off in search of oppression to press against.

Then, as I watched the artfully tattooed youth, I palpably felt myself aging, my nostalgia slowly sweating out my pores. Now, in this new Bizarro World of Trump comics, I am seeing some hope in the dark side of human nature.

Then, the young anarchists couldn’t get organized. Now, we have a key presidential advisor talking about “deconstructing the administrative state,” the Speaker of the House proposing a new health care plan that is opposed by many key Republicans and maybe even President Trump . . . Democrats and Republicans joining together to say that a Trump tweet about Obama “wire tapping” Trump Towers is pretty much a lie.

To quote Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, “Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together . . . Mass hysteria.” Yes, anarchy, factions distrusting each other . . . maybe not such a bad thing.

Consult http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at http://www.homoacademicus.us.

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