Starting Points Journal: “James Madison’s Federalist Essays as Aristotelian Political Education”
By Kevin Cherry
“In the words of Marvin Meyers, ‘all roads lead to Federalist 10,’ the essay in which Madison famously argues that the extended republic of the United States will control the effects of factions: By taking in a diversity of interests, opinions, and passions, it is less likely any one of them will be able to constitute a factious majority able to use political power contrary to the rights of citizens or to the good of the community. Yet the careful reader will note throughout this essay a variety of qualifications: For instance, it is the Constitution’s ‘tendency to break and control the violence of faction’ that Madison praises and explains in the essay. Compared to small republics, large republics are ‘most favourable to the election of the proper guardians of the public weal.’ Factions are ‘less to be dreaded’ in large republics, for diverse interests are ‘less apt to pervade’ the union; the greater variety of parties and interests makes it ‘less probable’ a factious majority will arise and, if so, ‘it will be more difficult’ for such a majority to act. The national representatives are ‘more likely to possess’ enlightenment and virtue, and the diversity of a large republic affords ‘greater security’ against any one part being a majority and poses ‘greater obstacles’ to such a majority’s factious activity.
As a variety of scholars have shown, Madison believed that the new government ought to have the power to ‘negative’ state laws that resulted from factious majorities—a power akin to that of the British king to veto acts of Parliament contrary to the good of the empire as a whole. He never determined the precise manner in which this power would be exercised; even a narrower version, as presented in the Virginia Plan, met with little support at the Constitutional Convention. Yet Madison’s dissatisfaction was evident in a letter sent to Thomas Jefferson after the Convention, almost half of which consists of what Madison himself calls an ‘immoderate digression’ lamenting the absence of the negative from the final document…”
Kevin Cherry is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses in the history of political thought. His book Plato, Aristotle, and the Purpose of Politics was published by Cambridge University Press (2012), and his articles have appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, History of Political Thought, Political Science Reviewer and Political Theory. He is currently at work on a book about the way various political theorists have understood and sought to ameliorate the problem of faction.
Professor Cherry is a JMC faculty partner.
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