Part 1: What’s So Great About Our Constitution, Anyway?
Essay 10 – The Problem With Factions
“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
– James Madison, Federalist 10
He was referring to the problem with factions.
Factions are any group of people that join together in order to further their specific cause, often times at the expense of other individuals or groups.
These special interest groups are formed for any cause, idea, or purpose imaginable. Modern day examples would include such factions as the NRA, environmentalists, evangelical Christians, Black Lives Matter groups, the NAACP, the Chamber of Commerce, the KKK, LGBT groups, veterans groups, the National Organization for Women, pro life groups, pro choice groups, animal rights groups, unions, restaurant associations, manufacturing associations, students, men, women, old, young, and the list goes on and on.
The problem with factions are that they will try to implement policies that are specifically beneficial to their own interests and will often be at the expense of others’ interests and natural rights.
Factions can be big or small and range from a small minority to a large majority of the whole people. In a system of government whereby the majority rules (a pure democracy), a faction that is a minority can do little damage, but a faction that is a majority can be very problematic.
“Tyranny of the majority” is a situation where a majority of the people can vote for a particular policy that would abuse the rights of the minority.
For example, if the majority of people voted to allow slavery on the minority. Or the majority of the people voted to only have taxes on the minority of rich people. Or the majority of people voted to place all Muslims in internment camps. Or the majority of people voted to send all gay people to institutions in order to “fix” them.
Those who created our Constitution and our form and structure of government were extremely concerned about this.
They had done their homework and knew the history of such things (they always lead to the demise of the society) and were determined to develop a system that would not allow this problem to occur. They went to great lengths to include protections within the system.
As Madison explains in Federalist 10,
“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.”
Removing it’s causes would not be possible without removing liberty or somehow making all people think the same way. Joining with other like-minded people is part of human nature, so we’re not going to stop that without force…without taking liberty away. And as long as individual’s have their own mind and reason, we will not succeed in making people think the same way.
Therefore, the only remedy to the problem with factions is to control its effects.
The Founders concluded that we needed a system of government that would not be a pure democracy where the majority rules in all things.
A representative republic was the way to go…one with the separation of powers and checks and balances throughout.
Where we’ve gone wrong…
The Founders argued that having such a large and diverse number of people in the republic would actually help avoid the problem with factions because the larger and more diverse the people, the less likely to be any faction that would become large enough to be a majority.
However, over the years, the major political parties have found various ways to get around that. One main way is to create “alliances” between many smaller different factions, such that the whole of them would become a majority.
The left combines factions such as pro-choice, LGBT, African-Americans, unions, and others, while the right caters to the NRA, pro-life, evangelicals, etc.
Each of these relatively small factions have different interests that could not have much political weight by themselves, but when allied together, they become a bigger force. In order for this to work, the political parties need to continue to divide people into these groups and cater to their specific wants.
What we end up with during the election is a “binary choice” because these alliances have become so big, other choices have no chance. This greatly limits our ability to choose the best people for our elected positions. And the tyranny of the majority becomes a real problem, by way of these alliances.
The more people are informed and aware of how all of this works, the better chance we have of fixing it.
About this series:
The People Are Sovereign! is a series of 30 essays that will be posted on a daily basis. The series will continue tomorrow with Essay 11 – Republic vs. Democracy
To view the previous essay in the series, click this link: Essay 9 – Human Nature
To view the next essay in the series, click this link: Essay 11 – Republic vs. Democracy