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Federalist No. 10 – The Union as a Safeguard Against Faction

Td Note #7 – Federalist No. 10.:
The Union as a Safeguard Against Faction
(James Madison)

A faction is a group of citizens, a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and motivated by a common interest that is adverse to the rights of other citizens or the society as a whole. Factions in public forums are the predominant means of defeating liberties. Too often the halls of Congress are controlled by vocal factions rather than the interests of the citizens as a whole. In the midst of crisis, factions push for restraint of liberties; and when they succeed, the liberties are destroyed, never to find reinstatement by the masses, that did not support the policies adopted during the crisis.

Prior to the Constitution, advanced societies averted the republican form of government. Societies turned away from republics because they inevitably enabled factions and their oppression of citizens. The American republic experienced success largely due to its ability to control factions. Nations can eliminate the oppression of factions by removing their causes and controlling their effects.

Removing the causes of faction:

A society can eliminate factions by eliminating liberty; for factions do not occur in the absence of liberty. This cure is worse than the disease. Eliminating liberty, because it fuels factions, is like eliminating oxygen because it fuels fires. Like oxygen is necessary for life, liberty is necessary for a society that chooses not to be subject to tyranny. Without liberty, there is tyranny.

In a republic, the ultimate power rests with the people, who are represented by people chosen by the people. The people cannot exercise their power without the liberty to do so. Liberty is the foundation of the United States’ government; without liberty the government, and society with it, fails. A society without liberty is an autocracy or oligarchy.

A second means to eliminate causes of faction, is to give “every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. However, this solution is not practical for two reasons. First, man is fallible. The fallibility of men creates differences in reasoning. Differences in reasoning produce people with different opinions. A man’s passions and opinions are linked: his passions attach to his opinions. The stronger his opinion, the greater is his passion for the issues connected to the opinion. Diversity of opinion creates diversity of passions, which creates factions.

Second, men have different faculties. The difference in faculties produces impassable obstacles to uniformity of interests. Fewer faculties means less property: more faculties means more property. The division of society along lines of property possessed is inevitable, i.e. unpreventable. Different property interests create factions. The unequal distribution of property is the “most common and durable source of factions.”

Other causes of faction are inseparable from the nature of man. Embedded in every man are passions for opinions about religion, government, family, and many other aspects of life. However, although all men are passionate about their opinions, they do not all have the same opinions. The differences come from their creation and the environments continual formation of a man’s opinions.

Also, man is attracted to men of power or in the pursuit of power. The power can be political or from apparent success in some aspect of life, e.g. business, sports, entertainment, etc. This attraction to men of power divides men, creates animosity between them, and causes a lack of cooperation for the common good.

“It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests and render them all subservient to the public good.” In other words, it is err to rely on the moral and religious motives of men. First, man is fallible: an enlightened statesman is an oxymoron. Second, even if enlightened statesmen existed, they would not always be in the positions necessary to make public policy decisions for the good of the public as a whole.

Even a statesman, desirous of consistently deciding for society as a whole, is subject to the immense pressures of the immediate and falls short of deciding based not only on the immediate, but also on the intermediate and long-term impacts of current public policy.

This leads to the conclusion that the causes of factions cannot be eliminated. The only other alternative to curing the ills of factions is to control the effects of factions.

Controlling the effects of faction:

When a faction consists of a minority, the vote of the majority will prevent the minority from harming the public good or infringing the rights of others. The minority can disturb society and hamper the functioning of government, but it cannot prevail.

When a faction consists of a majority, a popular form of government enables it to inflict its position on the rest of society, despite ill effects on the society as a whole and violations of citizens’ rights. This is the shame that, up to the time of the Constitution, prevented the adoption of a republic in advanced societies. In other words, if at any time a republic fails to effectively address this issue, i.e. oppression, the republic will fail.

How is society to prevent oppression of the minority by the majority? History leaves no doubt that society cannot rely on the morals and religious values of men. History also shows that as the number and volume of those in majority grows, or as the need for protection against oppression grows, the effectiveness of those relying on morals and religion diminishes and eventually falls away.

Therefore, a pure democracy will not prevent oppression. In a pure democracy, a small number of citizens administer the government. Those in government are driven by their own motives and those of the majority. Such a structure is no inhibition to the will of the majority, i.e. the “mischiefs of faction.” Advocates for a pure democracy assume that if the political rights are equal among the people, the government will represent them equally. This assumption ignores the discussion of disparity in opinions, passions, and property discussed above.

Unlike a pure democracy, a republic is capable of curing the ills of faction. A republic differs from a democracy in two principle ways. In a republic, the government (1) is governed by a small number of citizens elected by the other citizens; and (2) can extend over a greater number of people and geographic area.

In regards to the first difference, as long as the elected representatives do not deceive the voters to get their votes and then betray the voters once in office, the difference allows all the people to speak through their representatives. The representative, acting with the collective knowledge and wisdom he receives from the electorate, can seek and find what is best for the citizens as a whole. Facing the ballot box is an inhibition to the representatives sacrificing voter interests for the sake of the representative’s personal interest, including the factions he favors.

To overcome the potential of elected representatives to betray those who elected them, a question arises at to whether small or extensive republics better protect the citizens against such betrayal. Small groups are dangerous in that it is easier for a conspiratorial group to engage in mischief due to the lessened probability that others will detect their conspiracy. On the other hand, the representative group cannot be so large as to hamper management of the group to the point of complete dysfunction.

The greater the number of citizens from which a representative is chosen, the more difficult it is for the elected representative to engage in deception. And the larger the number of citizens, the more free the citizens will feel in the exercise of their vote. However, for the House of Representatives, the number of constituents must not get so large as to cause the representatives to lose the close connection to the people that is necessary for them to effectively fight the separation of powers battle.

The greater the size of the geographic area and the number of citizens of the republic, the less apt factions are to engage in successful oppression of others. This is the greatest deterrent to factions. Smaller republics have fewer parties and interests. By increasing the size of the republic, the number of interests and parties increases. Thereby, the chances of faction are decreased.

“[T]he fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.”

The bottom line for Madison in Federalist No. 10 is that the greater the diversity of views that society allows, the less apt factions are to succeed in oppression. A key to fostering a diversity of views is a strong First Amendment. The U.S. is currently experiencing significant pressure on the First Amendment, the only Bill of Rights amendment with staying power to date.

Law enforcement and progressives are attempting to stop people from expressing themselves on Facebook and other social media. The government is pervasive in its intrusions into our private lives. Consequently, speech is squelched due to fear of government action against people expressing anti-police or other anti-government messages. The next Note will take up the some of the current First Amendment issues the country is facing.

Contact Trent at trent@boaldinlaw.com with any comments or questions about this Note.

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