“Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?” [UPDATED]
Because that’s what we’ve just seen — the tyranny of the majority, eked out by bending rules, making deals, breaking arms, buying votes. As many problems as I have with parts of the health care reform bill, my major problem is with the way it was passed (not that the two are unrelated). “Majority rule” does not mean that 50.8% of the people(‘s representatives) can simply overpower the other 49.2% without real damage to the country. (And that’s if the representation were representative, which the polls indicate it is not.) McArdle spells out the form some of that damage is likely to take: Republican retaliation. I guarantee you, tonight’s exulting Democrats won’t like it when they’re on the short end.
Never before had landmark legislation – the bill reshapes one-sixth of the American economy – been passed without even a smidgen of bipartisan consensus.
And here are the consequences: “the beginning, not the end, of a grinding, all-out war.” Conservatives and tea partiers believe they’re fighting the second American revolution — against the narcotizing fate of a soft tyranny, an enervating European-style socialism — and that is a thrilling and energizing mission. They’re not going to be lulled out of it.
It so happens that in the course of a work assignment, I just reread James Madison’s Federalist X. Good timing! Read the whole thing, but listen to this! How utterly contemporary it is:
The latent causes of faction are [...] sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. 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. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government. [...]
The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.
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. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. [...]
By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. [...]
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union. . . .
You’re going to laugh at me; but putting this together with what McArdle said, I just really got for the first time why the Democrats are called the Democrats and the Republicans are called the Republicans.