Saturday, February 26, 2005

What Would Madison Say

James Madison has long argued that the causes of faction cannot be removed from a system of governance that values liberty. He believed that removing the causes of faction can only be achieved by either destroying liberty or normalizing passions, opinions, and interests among the governed. However, he points out that the former is simply incompatible with the values of the republic, thus, impractical, and the latter would be unwise, if not grotesquely naive. Madison’s chief preoccupation had to do with the dangers that a majority-led faction pose to the preservation of public good and private rights. In Federalist 10, he explains that there are two means of securing public good and private rights: (1) preventing the existence of the same passion and interest in a majority at the same time, or (2) dispersing and fragmenting the passions or interests of the majority so that they are unable to coalesce into an effective force of oppression.

In Federalist 51, Madison argues that the structure of the federal government in the republican union of the United States should be firmly based on two uncompromising principles: (1) Separation of powers; and (2) Checks and balances. He calls for separate government entities with independent powers that are effectively balanced within a system-wide structure and explains that institutional fragmentation is essential to ensuring government accountability. He argues that only by pitting different entities against each other and arming them with constitutional remedies that ensure their independence from each other, that the power surrendered by the people be properly used. In fact, he writes that since men are not angels, “ambition must counteract ambition” in order for the government to control itself while controlling the governed.

In simple terms, James Madison offers institutionalized fragmentation as an antidote to the tyranny of the majority and the dangers of faction. To questions like "what should be the official religion of the republic" or "what should be the dominant political philosophy of the nation", he answers that a sustainable republic calls for as many interest groups, religious affiliations, political currents, and social orientations as possible for he believes that only amidst such diversity, that the interests of all society can be justly protected. As to the inefficiencies and complexity that the republican remedy to popular government holds, Madison counters by stating that the intended outcome is the prevention of an oppressive will that may “execute and mask its violence under the forms of the constitution.”

The proposal to amend the federal constitution in order to ban gay marriage, today, warrants a re-reading of the logic embodied in the U.S. constitution; a brilliant document written by some of the most brilliant politicians in history. A reconsideration of the Farmers’ intent is in order because this has ‘tyranny of the majority’ and ‘dangers of faction’ written all over it. Madison writes that the republic must “guard the society against the oppression of its rulers”, as well as “guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part.” So it is thanks to the intellectual brilliance of the founding fathers that such an amendment at the national level would be extremely difficult to succeed. It is thanks to: the built-in complexity of the legislative system especially when it comes to securing the passage of constitutional amendments; the principle of a nationally-distributed majority; the sovereign rights of states; and the separation of powers; that the wishes of a simple majority can not reverse the clock on minority rights in this great republic.

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Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I disagree with amending the Constitution in this manner, but for a different reason. I believe that we should avoid creating very specific amendments, because it adds unnecessary confusion. Just remember what happened with the Prohibition amendment which led to another amendment just to overturn it when it created more harm that good. No, there must be some other ways to deal with the gay marriage issue.

February 26, 2005

Blogger Jawad said...

You are approaching this from an interesting angle. But both our approaches lead to the same conclusion. I am someone who is convinced in the positive evolution of the constitution. Constitutional reform in this country has always taken place to grant people more rights and freedoms, especially minorities. I have a problem with a proposal that seeks to reverse that trend and effectively inject prejudice in the constitution.

February 26, 2005

Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

You see, I view marriage in a slightly different terms. It's already defined in a very specific way. A relationship between two homosexuals may be analoguous to the heterosexual one, nevertheless it is not identical precisely because two men or two women are different from one man and one woman. A new term should be created rather than redefining the old. As far as political rights are concerned, they should be expanded not just to civil unions, but to whomever wants to use them -even best friends (visitation rights, inheritance, insurance).

February 27, 2005


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