A Quote to Ponder

“If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”-James Madison, Federalist 10.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. wr says:

    Yeah, but what did he know?

  2. al-Ameda says:

    “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”-James Madison, Federalist 10.

    James Madison considered the possibility of a tyranny of the minority. Speaker Boehner could move us away from this position, and let there be a straight up-or-down vote on most of this, but he lacks the courage, he wants to keep his job as Speaker.

  3. Tony W says:

    This is a double-edged sword however. Imagine if the minority is gay folks, or freed slaves, or migrant farm workers – or coffee shop owners. Constitutional protections are critical to preserving those minority rights from the very same ‘republican principle’ lauded above.

    My guess is that if you have tea bags hanging from your hat, you probably feel a bit like those other oppressed minorities – albeit because you are more and more prevented from imposing your will on others like your forebears did.

  4. Jen says:

    Federalist #10 has much to say that is relevant right now. I wish everyone would read (and understand) it.

  5. bill says:

    @Tony W: they hate it when you use that against them.

  6. @Tony W: Indeed, democratic governance is more than just majority rule.

    Of course, in context it is important to also understand what Madison meant by “faction”:

    By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    I find it odd the progressives are worrying about the will of the majority on the same day that progressives were in front of the Supreme Court arguing that a State of Michigan constitutional amendment passed by 58% of the voters was wrong because it banned the ability of non-whites to have separate and unequal treatment by the government http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/15/20975390-supreme-court-takes-on-affirmative-action-in-michigan-ban-case?lite

    If progressives want to claim that majority rule is good, it should try following the majority when it supports something that progressives do not like. What is the point of arguing that majority rule is good when progressive continually find ways to thwart the will of the majority when it goes against what the ruling elite progressives want.

  8. Jen says:

    @superdestroyer: You realize, I’m sure, that is not what Madison is getting at, correct? Which is why he says, as Steven points out above:

    whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

    Federalist #10 is not about “majority rule.” It is about how a properly formed republic presents the best ability to “break and control the violence of factions”–again, whether they amount to a minority or majority of the whole.

  9. @superdestroyer: I (nor Madison) is arguing for majority rule in all things in all ways. As I noted above, democracy is more than majority rule. However, majority rule, especially in the legislative process, is rather foundational to the process.

    Beyond that, and to get back to Madison’s def of “faction”– at the moment, the Tea Party faction of the GOP is operating against the “aggregate interests of the community” by attempting extortion over the debt ceiling. To bring it back to the original quote, the majority does not want this to happen, so it is time to resort to “the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.” And yet, the chamber isn’t voting.

  10. Anderson says:

    That is a very interesting quotation for interpreting the Guarantee Clause, re: what was understood by “republican form of government.”

  11. @Anderson: That clause is actually far more straightforward than some make it out to be: it is a guarantee of representative government (and also a guarantee of no aristocracy, to go along with the prohibition on titles of nobility.”

    Also from #10: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place,”

    And #14: ” in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents.”

  12. rodney dill says:

    …unless the minority successfully appeals to the Supreme Court.

  13. @rodney dill: Again, there are times when minority views have to hold sway in a democratic system. However, within the basic legislative process ought not be one of them, especially when it is a minority within one part that controls only one chamber of the legislature (a minority of a minority, in fact).