Monday, February 07, 2011

Little Big Man

Myron Magnet on the vision of James Madison:

Yet once a free people gives government the power to use force as the Framers were doing through the Constitution, a further problem arises. Men must administer that government, men with the same human nature as everyone else, often with its worst defects in abundance. What motives, after all, drive men to seek elective office? “1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent.” Such men often have “interested views, contrary to the interest, and views, of their Constituents,” whom they easily hoodwink by masking their “base and selfish measures . . . by pretexts of public good and apparent expediency.” Since “power is of an encroaching nature,” Madison warned, “all men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” You can argue that “honesty is the best policy” or that considerations of reputation and religion ought to make officials behave virtuously, but experience shows that they don’t—and they especially don’t in large groups like legislatures, where “passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

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