July 28, 2010

Madison’s Federalist #51: Corporate Power vs. the Naked Citizen


In his Federalist #51 James Madison writes of how the government of the temporally strong is merely a form of chaos.

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.

This is true, as we know from the corporate statist chaos (where all state action only disintegrates and assaults according to the dictates of corporate power) we now endure as the great terminal scourge of the previous stage of American history. As we’re now undergoing the transition to the next stage of history, a transition being forced by Peak Oil, by the terminal collapse of the exponential debt economy, and by the vicious forces of neoliberalism itself, we must make the most pivotal choice we’ve had to make since the 18th century.
If Madison’s proclaimed desire,

[I]n the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties…

was ever honored in practice, has long since been overthrown. I suppose the kind of cretin who sincerely worships “the strong” as defined by the souldead corporate system, which exalts only the lowest kind of thugs – belligerent, grasping, obnoxious, free-loading, unproductive, lazy about everything except stealing, anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, ugly, loutish, basically stupid except for some level of animal cunning – I suppose the type (like Bush or Obama) who worships this subhuman cohort can be content with this state of affairs.
But freedom-loving human beings must deplore and revile it from the core of our souls.
So we must seek to reconstitute a “government”, by which I mean human communities, which will in fact as well as in words nurture and protect all productive, freedom-loving parties, while smashing all criminals.
From that point of view, we have to look back at #51 with great suspicion. Whatever Madison’s intent for it, today it presents sinister aspects.
The subject matter is federalism, how to achieve the necessary checks and balances to both augment government power but also keep it in harness, and maintain the reins in the right relation to one another. Along with #10, #51 is viewed as Madison’s great epitome of this federal ideal which both increases and harmonizes power.
His two main points are:
1. The United States will have a double federalism, that of the federal government vis the states, and that of the divisions into branches within the governments at both levels.
2. The question of how to prevent predatory factions from overtaking the government. That’s our main concern today.
Here Madison offers two ways of constraining faction.

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.

So we can have either an asocial power center like an hereditary aristocracy which stands outside politics itself, or politics can be somehow forcibly fragmented and splintered. Society must be divided into so many fragments and possible combinations that no tyrannical faction is likely to arise. Madison is cryptic about how this splintering is supposed to occur.
Indeed, this and subsequent passages, when we compare them to the history which has ensued, cry out to be read in a Machiavellian way. Madison broaches the possibility of an “independent will” among yet outside the community? In his telling this will would be majestically asocial yet somehow would operate for the community’s benefit. Since Madison immediately disposes of the idea, one could try to argue it’s unfair to him to subject it to close scrutiny.
But this would be wrong, because what has US history since produced, as by now its overwhelming feature? Precisely this independent will: But in the form of corporations, this will is not at all impartially “next to” yet outside the community. It’s not asocial, but aggressively anti-social. It’s not impartial and apolitical, but radically destructive of all politics.
And needless to say, it has not operated to the community’s benefit, but to our harrowing detriment as the corporate assault has ravaged our communities, our economy, our social stability, our happiness and peace of mind, our freedom and humanity. These are all the charred corpses strewn about on the scorched earth of corporatism. That’s where the real manifestation of what Madison called the “will independent…of society itself” has gotten us.
And what about this community fragmentation, which Madison himself calls his desired policy? Why would atomizing the citizenry be so important if the people truly agreed on social and economic basics? Because in everything he and Hamilton and the other federalists write, they’re anxious to obfuscate the facts of class war and set up a system where the rich can dominate.

….creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself.

This is a recipe for disaster, as they should’ve known even in 1787-8. A clue to the federalist pathology is how they’re constantly saying it’s the peasant majority who threatens the minority of their economic and alleged social betters; how the real threat of tyranny is from the bottom up. But even then it was the fact that throughout history tyranny had almost always come from the top down, the power elites oppressing the majority.
And so it has been though American history. Whatever Madison’s intent, we can read this only one way today. Since at least the latter 19th century, the whole trend of US history, radically accelerating over the last 40 years, has been a double assault according to Madison’s prescription in #51, but inverting his proclaimed intent.
1. The elites have constructed the corporate will outside society, as a predator against it, as the vehicle of class war upon it.
2. At the same time they’ve sought to atomize the people, to dissolve all social, economic, and political bonds so that each individual stands naked, confused, demoralized, and alone before the awesome corporate power.
This puts the “anarchy” passage in perspective. Here Madison drops the misdirection of playing off the terms “majority” and “minority” against one another and substitutes the more ecumenical “stronger” vs. “weaker”. Now when we read this it becomes clear that the predator minority is “the strong”, while the vast majority of the people are expected to be the weak.
Toward the end Madison reintroduces the concept of the “independent will”, this time with an unmistakable tone of menace:

…whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself.

Today I can’t help reading that as written in totalitarian code: Since the numerical majority is likely to resist the tyranny of the elite minority, the minority will have to construct an aggressive shock force outside society and politics to assault both society and politics. This shock force will be the corporation


  1. Great post… and series!

    Very valuable to recognize the problem of corporations as fundamentally amoral and anti-social factions while the people are handicapped by the social atomization you mention.

    And on top of that our shill political parties serve as tools advancing corporate factions while encouraging the social atomization of its citizens… The worst of all possible worlds.

    Its Stupidity on Steroids!

    Money and the Machinery of Representation

    Comment by Tom Crowl — July 28, 2010 @ 10:16 am

  2. I couldn’t help but borrow one of your Madison quotes and use it over in a comment on the BaselineScenario bit on Elizabeth Warren this morning…

    (but I gave your blog credit and a link as the source)…

    Comment by Tom Crowl — July 28, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    • Thanks, Tom. I’ll look for it when I check that thread again. (I have two comments there myself.)

      I tried to post a comment on your post linked above but two tries both failed. (Error messages both times.) I can never figure out that blogger submission form – it always seems to be hit or miss.

      So here’s what I was going to say:

      Those are some interesting ideas, Tom.

      You peg it right that belief in the fairness of the system is supposed to be pivotal. I’ve seen quite a bit of speculation on what the effect will be of a critical mass losing faith in the fairness of the system.

      Unfortunately, I’m starting to lose “faith” (let’s say optimism) that it’ll make any difference, what with the extreme inertia of this populace.

      Comment by Russ — July 28, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

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