James Madison Remembered

There is no monument to James Madison in Washington. There is a tall, austere monument to the tall (6"2"), austere man for whom the city is named, a man of Roman virtues and eloquent reticence. There is a Greek-revival memorial to Madison's boon companion, the tall (6"2"), elegant, eloquent Jefferson, who is to subsequent generations the most charismatic of the Founders. But there is no monument to the smallest (5"4") but subtlest of the Founders, without whose mind Jefferson's Declaration and Washington's generalship could not have resulted in this republic.

So this Friday, as an insufficiently grateful nation gives scant notice to the 250th anniversary of Madison's birth, pause to consider what he wrought, such as the Constitution, and the first 10 amendments, called the Bill of Rights. Pretty good work, that, but not more impressive than Madison's thinking that was the Constitution's necessary precursor. He became the Father of the Constitution only because he was the founder of modern democratic thought.

Before Madison produced his revolution in democratic theory, there had been a pessimistic consensus among political philosophers: If democracy were to be possible, it would be only in small societies akin to Pericles' Athens or Rousseau's Geneva--"face to face" societies sufficiently small and homogeneous to avoid the supposed threats to freedom--"factions." In turning this notion upside down--that is what a revolution does--Madison taught the world a new catechism of popular government:

What is the worst result of politics? Tyranny. To what form of tyranny is democracy prey? Tyranny of the majority. How can that be avoided? By preventing the existence of majorities that are homogenous, and therefore stable, durable and potentially tyrannical. How can that be prevented? By cultivating factions, so that majorities will be unstable and short-lived coalitions of minorities. Cultivation of factions is a function of an "extensive" republic.

Which brings us to what can be called Madison's sociology of freedom, explained in his contributions to the most penetrating and influential newspaper columns ever penned--the Federalist Papers, to which Alexander Hamilton and John Jay also contributed.

In Federalist 10 Madison wrote that "the extent" of the nation would help provide "a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government." He said: "Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens." Because "the most common and durable source of factions" is "the various and unequal distribution of property," the "first object of government" is "protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property."

The maelstrom of interestedness that is characteristic of Madisonian democracy often is not a pretty spectacle. However, Madison knew better than to judge poli-tics by esthetic standards. He saw reality steadily and saw it whole, and in Federalist 51 he said people could trace "through the whole system of human affairs" the "policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives."

Madison's 250th birthday comes at a melancholy moment. A banal and muddleheaded populism--call it McCainism--is fueling an assault this month on Madison's First Amendment freedoms of speech and association. In the name of political hygiene, advocates of "campaign-finance reform" are waging war against the Madisonian pluralism of American politics.

Madisonian doctrine considers factions inevitable and potentially healthy and useful. McCainism stigmatizes factions as "special interests" whose rights to associate and speak politically for their interests should be strictly limited and closely regulated by government. Madison's First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech... or the right of the people... to petition the government for a redress of grievances." McCainism advocates speech rationing by the multiplication of government-imposed limits on the right of individuals and groups to spend money for the dissemination of political speech.

McCainism says money "taints" politics. Madisonian theory asks: What would politics consist of if it were "untainted" by the vigorous, unfettered participation of factions on whose interests government impinges? McCainism aims to crimp the activities of political parties by banning contributions of "soft money" (used for party building, not for particular candidates' campaigns or for expressly advocating the election or defeat of specific candidates).

The Founders did not anticipate the necessity of political parties. However, Madison quickly came to think that parties could mod-erate factions by channeling and disciplining them. Campaign-finance reformers are always unpleasantly surprised by the un-intended consequences of their reforms. Were they to succeed in banning soft money, they would be startled by an utterly predictable result of the hydraulics of political money: Money banned from the parties would flow instead to other--often wilder--factions.

Then the reformers, who cannot see a freedom without calling it a "loophole" that needs closing, would try to extend govern-ment regulation of political speech to the speech of those factions. Madison, wise about the untidiness of freedom, would respond by reminding the reformers of his reform--the First Amendment.

Madison undertook the thankless task of explaining the implications for democracy of the unflattering fact that men are not angels, and posterity has not thanked him with the sort of adulation bestowed upon Jefferson. However, in 1981 the Library of Congress, which began with Jefferson's donation of his library, needed a new building and named it after the most supple intellect among the Founders--the James Madison Memorial Building. Perhaps that should suffice as a monument to Madison. Or maybe his monument is our constitutional government, which proves the possibility of liberty under law in an extensive--a continental--republic.

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