Response to Jonathan Rauch’s “How American Politics Went Insane”
In a lengthy article in The Atlantic, How American Politics Went Insane, Jonathan Rauch diagnoses dysfunction in American politics as being caused by a breakdown of party structure and the rise of extremist outside groups such as the Tea Party who can’t be controlled. Rauch’s proposed solution to our political dysfunction is to bring back strong party machines that can enforce discipline and fight off extremists. Rauch wants to bring back pork-barrel spending, secret negotiations in smoke-filled rooms, and control by party bosses and committee chairs.
But what’s to prevent extremists from taking over party machinery? The main problem is extremism (on the right) fueled by donations from self-interested corporations and rich people.
This question was addressed by James Madison in Federalist Paper #10, where he worried both about extremists factions taking over the government and about majorities oppressing minorities. He thought that the large number of representatives, interests, and electors would make it difficult for factions to take over. He thought that no single self-interested faction would be large enough to become a majority capable of oppressing others. He thought that the voters would tend to select worthy representatives. Apparently he was overly optimistic.
Madison explored majority rule v. minority rights in this essay. He countered that it was exactly the great number of factions and diversity that would avoid tyranny. Groups would be forced to negotiate and compromise among themselves, arriving at solutions that would respect the rights of minorities. Further, he argued that the large size of the country would actually make it more difficult for factions to gain control over others. “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.”