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The Tea Party as a Faction?

November 19, 2010

In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton,  John Jay, and James Madison warned against the danger of factions.  Factions, as they described them, are

A number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

The Federalists warned against factions, especially majority factions, because they feared that they would trample the rights of the minority.  Also, at the time The Federalist was written, The United States had just earned its independence from Great Britain and had just formed its own Constitution.  If a faction had emerged, it could have possibly ruined all that they had fought for.   Nevertheless, factions were of great interest to the Federalists.  But, how would they react to the current political climate, namely the Tea Party?

Whether the Tea Party can be called a faction we must first clarify.  According to the modern interpretation of a faction, the Tea Party is indeed a faction.  according to the definition given by the Federalists, the Tea Party is not exactly a faction.  Nevertheless, let us assume that the Tea Party is a faction.  Does this mean that we must control the effects of the Tea Party as the Federalists say we must?  According to the Federalists, minority factions must be defeated by overpowering them through the ballot.  This, I believe, is the best and most effective way to deal with the Tea Party.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against the Tea Party movement.  Tea Party members voice many legitimate concerns and they have a right to do so.  But, I personally do not believe that they have earned the respect and trust of enough of the American people quite yet.  One area in which they must improve considerably is their perceived racist attitudes.  The Tea Party has a solid base, but what they must do now is develop a message that is more inclusive rather than exclusive.  So, until the Tea Party makes some changes to their message, and demographics, they will continually be controlled, and will never become a legitimate political movement.

  1. matteric9 permalink
    November 20, 2010 9:43 AM

    By some standards, I can see how one could interpret the Tea party as a faction. Like you said, a faction was described as “A number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” So lets use this definition to determine whether or not the Tea party is a faction. The Tea party is certainly a a number of citizens amounting to a minority of the whole. They are again, certainly actuated by some common impulse of passion or interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to permanent and aggregate interests of the community. Doesn’t that fit all the categories described as a faction? I think in the sense described by the Federalists it most certainly does! So to answer your poll question. Do you think the Federalists would appose the tea party movement? I think they would appose the Tea party for the reasons described above.

  2. maqianhu permalink
    November 20, 2010 1:02 PM

    In the Federalist Paper, the writers warned the people that fractions might trample minority rights. However, the lack of fractions is not equivalent to the protection of minorities. The reason why the Tea Party formed was because they believe their rights were disregarded. To gain back what they have lost, they formed this fraction. In this position, fractions protect minority rights instead of trampling it as we would have expected. So in this particular case, I do not think the Federalists would oppose the Tea Party. Without this fraction, their rights would remain unprotected.

  3. neilrab permalink
    November 21, 2010 2:16 PM

    What needs to be considered is the fact that millions of people live in the United States. What does also means is that there is bound to be inequality among the people, as a result leading in factions. When there are groups of people with similar needs and no one to satisfy them, it is common for them to unite and try to acquire them, sometimes through political action. While it is bad to let factions gain enough influence to affect minority groups and even worse if they affect a majority, it is necessary for them to exist. How do you think the major political parties got started? The Democrats and Republicans started off as smaller groups and gained enough power and popularity among the people to grow to what they are today. Factions are created and destroyed often, but only those that are are viewed as beneficial by the public grow enough to have an influence on the nation; therefore, I don’t completely agree with the Federalists’ view on factions.

  4. joshuacy permalink
    November 21, 2010 2:50 PM

    I’ve got to agree with matteric9 on this one. The Tea Party is attempting to trample on the rights of minorities (gay marriage), and even non-minorities (“pro-life”). They claim to want less government involvement (anti-“Socialism”, lower taxes), but only where convenient.
    However, I disagree with The Federalist in “his” assumption that the effects of the Tea Party should be controlled. The existence of the Tea Party and the growing membership are unavoidable realities. Furthermore, the group should be able to speak freely (Mill), gathering members, even if their ideas are different from, and even destructive to, the ideas of the majority. It’s up to the public to realize that the Tea Party movement is hypocritical and to not follow (and hopefully stop paying attention to) it.

  5. Will Butler permalink
    November 21, 2010 5:06 PM

    I think it is incredibly odd that many of the founders, including George Washington in his farewell speech, warned about the dangers of parties and factions. This is a very legitimate concern that they felt would inevitably bring down America. However, today we have a party system within de facto factions even within those parties.

    While I certainly respect the founders immensely, I feel that a democracy as large as America’s would not be able to function without the party system or factions. How would voices be heard? How would anyone have any indication of who to vote for in terms of smaller, lesser known positions? How would regular people be able to navigate the system without lobbyists or special interests? People love to berate parties and other factions, but they inevitably let your interest, concerns, and desires be heard without putting the burden on you to do it yourself.

    So that being said, I am not a fan of the tea party, but they certainly have a right to exist and express their opinion. Even if we did try to control the tea party’s effects, as joshuacy states, it would be impossible.

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