The genius of the Constitution was that 18TH century men created a new system of government. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that our Constitution still endures. It is today, still a marvel, a model for other countries to emulate. One of the Constitution’s key attributes that has contributed to its longevity is the fact, that a Bill of Rights was included. Those rights that were enumerated, were written to ensure that individual liberty was protected against unwarranted and unwanted governmental intrusion into the private lives of we the people.
The very first amendment expresses the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and the right of the people to petition their government if they wish to seek redress for any grievances that may have occurred to we the people. It is interesting to take note that the founders recognized the importance of protecting the people from any government who might wish to establish a religion or keep the people from the free exercise of whatever religion they may wish to believe in.
France for example, prohibits individuals from wearing certain clothes that are part of their religious practices and principles. That policy would not be allowed in America.
We, as a people, are so casual about the freedoms that we do have, and in that comfort, apathy can rear its ugly head and without realizing it our freedoms that we often take for granted can disappear.
We are so fortunate to have our rights as citizens so expressed and protected.
Our founders instituted into this new system of government a series of checks and balances. With the three branches of government, each branch was given the power to check another branch from overreaching and giving unto itself too much power.
No matter how well constructed a government may be, we are still dependent on people to choose their leaders wisely. You do get the government that you deserve. We are dependent upon an educated and informed electorate. The system may be designed as well as humans can construct a government, but we are still subject to the frailties of human beings and the self-interest of individuals over the general welfare, of we the people.
We live in an era where candidates are sold to the public like soap. Thirty second commercials hound us on the airwaves. Negative ads abound, with the object of the commercials being the lowering of the esteem of a candidate in the eyes of the electorate. Madison Avenue packages a candidate. Candidate debates are more about appearance than a thorough discussion of the serious issues that we face.
Now we can add to that equation, movement politics, which is designed to inflame the public and keep the contributions coming in. Movement politics stresses social issues such as abortion. It becomes more about how you frame the issue with the choice of the right words such as the right to life and a woman’s choice.
What is the greatest danger to our liberty? If one reads Madison in Federalist #10, he elaborates on his concerns regarding faction or what might be called in current terms, partisanship.p/p>
Except for the pure ideologues of today, most of us would admit that our system of government’s effectiveness is diminished substantially by extreme factionalism.
Madison stated that “among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments, never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.The instability, injustice and confusion introduced into the public councils, have in truth been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have every way perished.”
Are we not facing that peril today? Are we not seeing men and women, elected to office, to represent we the people and who swear on an oath to see that our laws are faithfully executed, be a part of factions which perhaps are unwittingly destroying this country’s republican government?
Madison then goes further, “by a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Is this not what is going on today? At this very moment in time we have very passionate citizens united in what is now being termed as movement politics. It is either my way or the highway type of politics which is not politics really but rather it has taken the form of extremism, extreme partisanship. Their actions or inactions are but reactions to their current unhappiness with their own individual lives. The current position of factions is that they must stand on principle. If you do, you are doing a good thing and the rest of the country be damned. This is not governing but rather anarchy.
James Madison, who some refer to as the father of our Constitution, suggest two cures for the evils of let us call it partisanship. The suggested cures are the removal of the cause of the dispute and the other choice is to attempt to control its effects.
It would be unwise to attempt to cure the cause. As Madison said, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction.”
Can you control the effects of faction? Madison believed that it is impracticable to attempt to do so. “As long as the reason of man continues to be fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other.”
It is perhaps part of man’s nature to develop opinions that are so strong as to endanger the very comity we share with our fellow citizens. This passion can manifest itself with as Madison, again warned, such a “zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government.” An affection towards a leader and attachments to such 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 cooperate for their common good.”
One sees the reality of this today, as the common good and the national interest have taken a back seat to partisan political gain.
Madison continued with the most relevant political observation when he stated, that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.”
The last time we have seen such a separation of income disparity was in the waning days prior to the onset of the Great Depression.
One is left with the only alternative of remedying the disparity and to attempt to control the effects of the factions that disturb the tranquility of a civil society.
Madison offers two cures for the problem of faction. “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.” In other words, you have the choice of voting those whose judgment is clouded by passion and a reactionary sense of governance by simply voting them out of office. Term limits are not needed but what is needed is the awareness that you sometimes have to throw the bums out, so to speak.
The danger of a majority making up a part of the faction, and thereby causing a tyranny of the majority can be overcome through the benefits of a republican form of government. A sufficient number of representatives, representing a nation rather than the several states would check the illness of factionalism. But those representatives would need to respect that their oath be faithfully executed.
The recent murders in Charleston, South Carolina illustrate a long time aversion to dealing with an important source of discord in our country. We have for too long attempted to sweep the very real existence of racism and hate in our country. We can no longer look away when the murder of 9 African Americans occur while attending church. We may have a difficult time affecting the hate that caused Mr. Roof to murder 9 innocent people. But by facing the problem of hate and by dealing with the effects of racism we come a long ways towards living together in a greater sense of peace and harmony.
Wall Street has now recognized the folly of supporting reactionaries and they have now vowed to seek candidates who are more moderate and pragmatic.
We on the other hand if we are to return the control of our own government to the people, we must take it back from a small faction called an oligarchy.
The real test of democracy and our republican form of government is not only to protect ourselves against such forms of faction and radicalism as we have just witnessed but to question ourselves and challenge ourselves in the future. The challenge is to what ends can democracy take us.
Justice Brennan threw down the gauntlet regarding how far democracy can take us when he said the following: ” We do not yet have justice, equal and practical for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses. Ugly inequities continue to mar the faces of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”
It is my fervent hope that we will march forward along a path where the promise of America is more greatly fulfilled and equality of opportunity becomes more of a reality for all. May we someday finish the business of forming a more perfect union for all Americans whether they be rich or poor.