We live in an era in which news, pseudo-news, fake news, opinion are intertwined; Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and websites: who can we believe? The news cycle never ends, and, we’re never sure what is “news” and what’s campaign rhetoric. We do know that “sex, scandal and violence” garner the most “hits;” sadly, we seem to get the “news” we want!
A president can tweet, dissemble, insult, in past it was the supporters of the president. now, it s everyone.
Politics has always been a rough and tumble “sport.”
The concept of politics has its origins in Athens. Aristotle, in “Politics,”
… calls a city (polis), or as he likes to call it, a “political association;” cities are designed and created with the purpose of achieving happiness … all human actions have a positive intention. The highest form of community is the polis, standing ahead of other political associations such as the household and village. Aristotle … believes the public life is far more virtuous than the private and because people by nature are “political animals” and goes on to further say that people by nature are worse and more savage than animals.
Our founding fathers, the elites of our nation, were well-read, from the Greeks to the bible, to Hobbes and Locke; a compendium of scholarly works.
One of the prime purposes of “politics,” the polis, was to restrain the savage side of mankind so that the people could achieve “happiness.”
Our founding fathers, Madison and Hamilton, were well aware of the nature of man.
From April till September of 1787 the fifty-four members of the Constitutional Convention, by the way, a secret meeting, no press, no scrutiny, no minutes, slowly, crafted our founding document, our Constitution.
Prior to the Constitution the thirteen states functioned more like thirteen nations, their own militias, their own tariff barriers under the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation the existing government had no power to tax, states could ignore laws and the consent of all thirteen states was necessary to amend the Articles.
The successor document, the Constitution, required ratification by nine states and its ratification was uncertain.
Madison and Hamilton wrote eighty-five essays called the Federalist Papers, today we’d call them op eds, published in newspapers across the nation urging voters to ratify the Constitution.
Federalist # 10 addresses the question of factions.
AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.
Madison saw faction as a “mortal disease,”
The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished
Madison defined faction,
By a faction, I understand 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, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Madison had undoubtedly read Aristotle,
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
Madison was well aware of the duality,
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Factions are commonplace throughout our history.
Joanne Freeman, a history professor at Yale, in her recent “Fields of Blood,” describes Congress (1830-60) in which fights on the floor of Congress were common occurrence.
Representatives and Senators were frequently armed on the floor of Congress.
So, you think Congress is dysfunctional?
There was a time when it ran with blood — a time so polarized that politics generated a cycle of violence, in Congress and out of it, that led to the deadliest war in the nation’s history.
Jefferson and Hamilton were bitter enemies, Andrew Jackson was despised, the Civil War rent our nation and ended the stain of slavery, created the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, the imposition of Jim Crow reintroduced slavery by another name, the Great Depression, the Ku Klux Klan, the rise of the American Nazi Party, the McCarthy era: the list of factions is long, yet, in each case the nation survived, albeit at a cost.
Winston Churchill’s quip on democracy is widely quoted,
‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’
A few years after the ratification of the Constitution Benjamin Franklin warned future generations,
“Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
Politics can be messy, frustrating and, at times, we fear that factions will rip the country apart or one faction will move us from democracy to autocracy.
Too many of us throw our hands in the air and withdraw, we may display our anger for all to see on Facebook; we also fail to vote, we just complain.
Politics in our nation, from its very origins until today, yes, is messy, and the messiness is one of our strengths, our rights of freedom of speech, of the press, freedom of assembly, allows us to involve ourselves and exercise our rights. Our greatest weakness is our apathy.
Don’t revile politics, involve yourself in the process and make the process better.
We’re celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment,
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
From the Seneca Falls Convention (1848) until 1919 women, Black and white, fought for the right to vote, they were a faction, ignored for decades, a thorn in the side of the white, male establishment, until Congress, by narrow votes passed the Constitutional Amendment and the states, one by one ratified.
Those annoying factions have moved out nation, from women’s right to vote, to the civil rights legislation of the sixties to the right to marry whomever you please. (same-sex marriage and interracial marriage)
Vote, advocate, and get involved, apathy is democracy’s greatest enemy.