from Roger Kimball at The Wall Street Journal. Since Men Aren’t Angels:

Madison, Hamilton and other supporters of the Constitution worried about the potential incursions of federal power just as much as did the anti-Federalists, who opposed adopting the Constitution because it seemed to bring back many of the infringements on liberty that they had all risen up against in 1776. But they concluded that the creation of a strong state was the best guarantor of liberty in a republic. Hence the irony, as the historian Bernard Bailyn notes, that “now the goal of the initiators of change was the creation, not the destruction, of national power.”

Madison’s central insight was that power had to be dispersed and decentralized if it was to serve liberty and control faction. In Federalist 51, a companion to Federalist 10, he elaborated this idea of balancing interest against interest to remedy “the defect of better motives.” “Clashing interests” would not be stymied but balanced against one another. If men were angels, Madison noted, government would be unnecessary. But 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.”

There are two ways to extinguish factions. The first is to extinguish the liberty they require to operate. The second is to impose a uniformity of interests on citizens. Some collectivists have actually experimented with these expedients, which is why the pages of socialist enterprise are so full of bloodshed and misery.

Eliminating the causes of faction, as Madison put it, offers a cure that is far worse than the disease. If protecting both liberty and minority rights is your goal, then the task of government is to control the effects of faction. How can this be done?

Talented statesmen are sometimes successful in balancing the contending interests of society. But—understatement alert—“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”


This essence of controlling special interests is nothing less than genius, yet I remain concerned that too many political operatives are neither inclined are able to understand this concept. This same structure that sets faction against faction also inhibits the function of government. This is the core of the intellectual political debate for the last century.