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The Federalist: Conflict of Interests

November 16, 2010

The previous post here poses one of the principle questions asked by The Federalist; who should be more feared, the people or the government?  On the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask when going about the establishment of a new country.  But what is not reasonable at all is the fact that James Madison, a member of the governmental elite who would go on to be President of the United States, is allowed to have such an authoritative answer to question with such conflicting interests.  How is Madison’s explanation supposed to be taken at face value when the extent of his political power is on the line?

At the time The Federalist was written, the United States of America did not exist. Instead, our country was a loose Union of states held together by the Articles of Confederation.  According to Madison, these states were representative of competing factions within the government.  These factions, a byproduct of inclusiveness of pure democracy, would continually clash and ultimately lead to the destruction of the government.  However, what was Madison actually more concerned with, the destruction of the government as a whole or the minimization of his own political capacity?

Over two-hundred years later, the question of which form of government, democracy or republic, better suits our country is wholly irrelevant.  Although our country has been forced to change throughout its history, our government has not undergone any radical change in format.  Instead, what needs to be analyzed now is who should have a say in the creation of government.  Although James Madison may have been pure in his intentions, he is still a political elite.  A government created every step of the way by the political elite will inherently best serve the members of the political elite.  This should be no surprise as our country has routinely struggled with political leaders who are out of touch with the public.

Whether or not we will need to redefine our government any time soon is besides the point.  Our country needs to establish a better system to include the people, and not just the elite, in major governmental decisions.  In the Federalist, Madison painted democracy as an evil, divisive system that was inferior to a republic. That being said, I’m positive that if a member of the general public were to have to opportunity to chime in, their answers would be quite different but nonetheless compelling.  There’s only so much the political elite can understand about the common people, and vice versa.  If both ends of this societal spectrum are given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully in political discussion, each group will be more accurately represented.  Unlike with The Federalist, if the political forum was not so tilted in the direction of the elite, the current government and future generations of government would stand to benefit.

One Comment
  1. madelineysmith permalink
    November 17, 2010 1:51 PM

    While you make a good point, I just want to point out that the Federalists do not want the people to have a direct say in things for a reason- that’s why they have the system of representation. It’s possible that the people would have had compelling things to say, but it would have also been just as self serving. Maybe our government should let people have a bigger say- but it’s hard to deny that many citizens are uneducated or misinformed about big issues, and often don’t have the motivation to find our the truth before deciding what their opinion is.

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