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Cross posted from Blue Virginia (seems appropriate, since James Madison was from Virginia)

Following yesterday's disgraceful votes in the U.S. Senate, which went against the vast majority (90% in the case of background checks, smaller majorities in the case of limits on the number of bullets, assault weapons, etc.), I thought a few thoughts from Founding Father James Madison might be relevant.

It was November 22, 1787, but it might as well have been yesterday, when Madison talked about the need for safeguards against domestic factions, like uh...the NRA? Here's Founding Father James Madison, speaking to us across the ages:

*"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." (That describes the NRA and other gun groups, which have a huge edge in passion over the MUCH larger number of Americans who want reasonable limits on gun ownership, firepower, etc. in this country, to a "t.")

*"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. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." (You can say THAT again!)

*"...the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects." (That's the question; in this case, they weren't removed OR controlled in their "adverse" 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."  (That's the answer right there: we need to toss out the Senators holding these "sinister views," who are attempting to "mask" their "violence under the forms of the Constitution.")

*"In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government." (The question today is, does this remedy still work in an era of massive corporate power and essentially unlimited ability of wealthy interests to purchase and subvert our political system? Did the Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, ever foresee Citizens United? Did they ever foresee the 2nd Amendment, which stressed well-ordered militias in the context of an agrarian society with no standing army, with low-accuracy and low-firepower muskets (no assault rifles with 100-bullet magazines or whatever in 1787), and with the imminent threat of war with the most powerful empire on earth, being twisted the way it has been by the Scalia/Alito/Thomas/Roberts Supreme Court? I doubt it. So now, the question is, can the system created by James Madison et al nearly 230 years ago adapt, and ultimately survive, at a time when the country is so wildly different - economically, technologically, you name it - from the 1770s? We'll find out, but I'd also remind everyone that it's OUR responsibility as citizens to fight for the vision of America we believe in. Nobody else is going to do it for us. But one thing's for sure: the monomaniacally-focused factions which Madison warned about are still here, whether it's the NRA or whoever, and we've still got to figure out how to deal with their subversion of our Republic...)

P.S. One question: can the power of one faction (e.g., Michael Bloomberg and perhaps $100 million, $500 million of his money spent in the 2013 and 2014 elections) counteract the power of another faction (the gun lobby)?

Originally posted to lowkell on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 05:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA) and Shut Down the NRA.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Damn. (15+ / 0-)

    Just finished writing something similar. Just not as good.

    Republicans represent both sides: the insanely rich and vice versa.

    by Crashing Vor on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 05:48:40 AM PDT

  •  Conservatives only talk about "original intent" (10+ / 0-)

    ..when it suits them.  Over the years when the subject of impeachment came up (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton), conservative friends would lament that it was hard to interpret the Framers' original intent, or "the Founding Fathers never thought of this kind of thing happening."  

    But point out to them that the founder's thought through exactly these types of political scenarios and, more importantly, put their thoughts and guidance to pen and paper - the Federalist Papers, journals, letters, etc - and watch them squirm.  Like the Second Amendment NRA-backers who demand that we strictly interpret/obey the fourteen words they like, and ignore the first half of the same sentence.

  •  our government is broken plain and simple (5+ / 0-)

    people tend to think that they get to vote on an issue, you only get to vote on a person who is supposed to represent your desire in Congress and vote accordingly. If 90% of the people want something yet it loses on a 54-46 vote, that is a sure sign our government is broken. Time for some major overhaul.

    "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

    by eXtina on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:50:31 AM PDT

    •  Sadly, Madison didn't anticipate that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      He thought it would work like this:

      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.
      Interesting that he used the term "republican principle." The party bearing the name "Republican" is the problem.

      "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

      by Lily O Lady on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:36:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting analysis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powered Grace

    Though I'm personally on the pro-gun-control side, if you told me that someone had applied Federalist 10 to this issue, my guess would have been that it was the other side:

    The faction would be the majority of Americans, whipped into an "impulse of passion" by recent events, attempting to take away the "rights of other citizens" to own firearms.

    But I guess that's the genius and timelessness of Madison's words.

    Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

    by cardinal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:15:42 AM PDT

    •  I think that "faction" usually implies (0+ / 0-)

      "small, passionate minority." I guess it's possible that a "faction" could actually be the majority. In this case ,the majority is on the side of limits on types of guns that should be legal to purchase, on the side of universal background checks, and on the side of limits to the number of bullets in a magazine/clip.  The problem is, the majority isn't as passionate as the minority (in the case of background checks, the 10% minority). Thus, the concept of passionate factions trumping the will of the majority, and the need for countermeasures in our system of government to prevent or ameliorate that.

      •  Not only could a (0+ / 0-)

        faction be a majority -- those were the ones he was worried about. As you quoted in the diary, "relief" against small factions "is supplied by the republican principle," by which he meant majority rule. However, in the next sentence he says:

        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.
        In other words, majority factions are the bigger problem, because simple majority rule can't ameliorate them. The rest of the essay outlines his solution, and is the first (and perhaps still the best) articulation of "pluralism," the idea that, in a large, centrally governed republic with a wide diversity of interests, majority factions will be unlikely to form. Hence, adopt this Constitution!

        (This was, of course, an attack on the very idea of political parties).

        Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

        by cardinal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:39:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The problem is, our system's not working. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Statusquomustgo, NWTerriD

          The corporate/special interests and wealthy individuals at this point have enormous power, while the Senate is basically paralyzed and the House is controlled by a bunch of Teahadists. Also, the Supreme Court is de facto controlled by Teahadists as well. And the masses of voters are "low information," in part because the corporate media has largely failed, in part because they're distracted with a million other things (e.g., making a living, getting/keeping a job). That leaves the passionate minority on issues like this one, or on climate change and clean energy (again, the overwhelming majority of Americans support action, but the oil and coal companies oppose it) with disproportionate power. I'm not sure the Founders envisioned this situation, exactly, or if they did, what they thought could be done about it.

          •  agreed. (0+ / 0-)

            There are many aspects of current society that the founders couldn't have envisioned. I'd be careful about glorifying the old days too much, though. Remember, we're talking about a small group of landowners, in whom society's wealth was largely concentrated, who crafted a Constitution that, in no small part, was designed to protect that wealth against the masses (who not only were "low information" -- they weren't even allowed to vote!).

            Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

            by cardinal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:55:31 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Oh, believe me, I don't in any way (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              glorify the old days. Having said that, i DO think the Founders got a lot right, particularly in the context of their times.  Gotta be careful about judging people in history by current day morals, mores, standards, etc.

              •  Yes, indeed. (0+ / 0-)

                And that's one point I always try to impress upon my students. For example, even if Thomas Jefferson didn't live up to our notion of "all men are created equal," his articulation of those words have served as a catalyst and talking point for every subsequent American who has tried to make society more truly equal.

                And the Constitution's flexibility and timelessness is so powerful that not even the current Supreme Court can totally muck it up.

                Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

                by cardinal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:21:07 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Your Question (0+ / 0-)
    Did the Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, ever foresee Citizens United?
    An emphatic yes.  (Just read almost anything Jefferson wrote)  IMHO, the Constitution is their attempt to prevent an aggregation of power by the "monied interests".  This is what makes the Supreme Court's decision so shameful.

    Here is another great thinker of this era on the subject of Money and Power:

    The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order (stockholders, i,e, the 1%), ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
    (my emphasis)  Adam Smith Wealth of Nations
    Money does not equal speech, money equals corruption.  So says Adam Smith.  So say our Founding Fathers.

    Is very bad to steal jobu's very bad

    by jobu on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:52:51 AM PDT

  •  Did the Forefathers forsee some of the things that (0+ / 0-)

    have recently gone wrong with this country?

    Absolutely they did and in the Federalist Papers they predict it will happen and they explain that that is why they have written Article V into the Constitution.

    So that when that day they predicted would arise actually did arise they could reverse its effects simply by calling on Congress to Convene an Article V Convention which would then undo the harm that had been caused by introducing new amendments to the Constitution that once ratified would rid the country of the ills caused by a Congress that had ceased being the servant of the People.

    There is a very simple way out of the mess we are in and is not by daily bitching our heads off.

    All we have to do is force the Congress to Convene an Article V Convention and all these problems we face today will go away.

    But everyone including this Blog has to get behind this movement or it won't work.

  •  Article 3, Sec. 2 exceptions clause anticipates (0+ / 0-)

    that an unelected Court could operate as a usurping faction, and provides the appropriate check and balance against Citizens United. Art. 1, Secs. 4,5 place elections under Congressional and state supervision. The separation of powers, once guarded by the political question doctrine, is now reduced to formality. The establishment of a titled artistocracy is prevented by Art. 1, Sec. 10, but inheritance, taxation and election laws get around that, McCutcheon will further extend billionaire control. Washington's republic was soon corrupted by enormous military budgets, standing armies that conducted the Mexican War, contested domestic debates like slavery, enforced corporate takeovers like Hawaii. The federalization of lethal self-defense, introduced into primary education, helps to roll back Enlightenment republican culture, Liberty Valence avenged. Post-WWII military budgets and planning are consistent with classification as a modified monarchy. As Bush, the creator of the Roberts Court, once put it, the Constitution is just a piece of paper.  

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