Spence Green

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I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Church and State, Part II

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Hamilton first argues against the popular theory–originating in Montesquieu–that the colonies’ size precludes effective republican government. In lesser known writings, Montesquieu had promoted the “confederate republic” as an effective remedy to this defect. Municipalities and states cede certain powers while retaining the authority to nominate legislative and judicial representatives. Thus local governments secure a measure of sovereignty while acquiring ownership in the national “assemblage of societies.” Particular manifestations differ only in the degree of federalism, which remains a matter of discretion. Distinctions between the Union and Montesquieu’s grand society appear “more subtle than accurate.”

In No. 10, Madison continues the same disquisition, analyzing the efficacy of such a system in a liberal society. “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed union” he begins, “none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” He describes a faction as follows:

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…adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison defines such a group in the negative, but for the purposes of my inquiry this distinction need not apply.

Factions appear because of the diversity of human faculties. Different creeds, preferences, and tendencies form an ideological brew that can become volatile, impeding the operation of civil society. Governments may prosecute two strategies to winnow the more subversive strains. First, they can remove the liberty that is “essential to its [faction’s] existence.” Madison immediately concludes that this solution is worse than the disease. Second, the authorities may enforce a homogeneous set of opinions, passions, and interests. This primitive yet effective approach has appealed to many tyrants. Mao’s cultural crusade during the 1960s comes to mind as a dramatic example. Neither strategy appeals to an enlightened electorate.

One idea predominates the new system: “The protection of the faculties is the first object of government.” A third, more difficult, solution thus exists to the problem of faction: the regulation of competing interests. Since a government cannot remove–nor should it–the causes of faction, “relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” The Constitution’s authors considered several systems before arriving at a tenable solution.

Pure democracies have several fatal flaws, most obviously an inability to scale. Also, a majority tends to seize and consolidate power in a pure democracy. The U.S. government’s mechanisms for coping with such a tendency were apparent most recently in the 2000 election. A republican government can emasculate rogue movements through objective means, for “the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.” Indeed, the infant government quelled both the Shays’ and Whiskey Rebellions before those provincial “conflagrations” infected other communities.

Hamilton and Madison, although later violently disagreeing on the degree of federalism necessary to maintain order, insisted upon liberty as a precondition for prosperity and harmony. This protracted examination is not meant as a Anglo-centric panegyric. Instead, it demonstrates the merits of a redundant system that arbitrates in a relatively decentralized way between competing interests. Consider the critical academic review process as another example. A cursory examination of this system reveals important similarities, although I will not do the manifold intellectual labor here to qualify such a comparison. The journal/review cycle quickly discards misbegotton theories before they propogate. The transparency inherent in such a system, though, hastens the spread of fruitful ideas.

We thus see that in general, liberty is a healthy thing. I further submit that if America’s–and later the West’s–central idea is liberty, then the Middle East’s is Islam (insofar as we can make such a broad statement). At issue is the specific character of such an ideological–I use that term out for convenience, not precision–hegemony and its consequences. Why do Muslim countries almost uniformly regulate the press (Al Jazeera serving as the notable exception)? Why do they still require radio stations to play REO Speedwagon and Styx? Why are fair general elections still such an exotic species? My next piece will examine the political character of Islam and its local effects.

Written by Spence

November 25th, 2005 at 9:59 am

Posted in UAE

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