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James Madison and the Mortal Disease(s) of the Body Politic

"Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail therefore to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice and confusion introduced into the public councils, have in truth been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations."

 

James Madison, Federalist, no. 10, 56--65 22 Nov. 1787

 

 

As a physician, I found Madison’s use of the disease metaphor to advocate for the newly ratified constitution intriguing. More so the process he followed from diagnosis of the challenges facing the American nation at its origin to initial treatment and then progress of assessment and adjustment. As a psychiatrist, I resonate with Madison’s understanding of human nature in general and the role of passion and factions as drivers of political action. More importantly, I ponder how he would incorporate current medical understanding to suggest a framework to “treat” the pathology of the “body politic” of the 21st century. I have come to believe that had Madison been alive today, (he would be amazed at the fact that the US has survived and in many ways flourished) he would use his skills, talent and passion to embrace and extend the disease metaphor to understand and  tackle the challenges facing our dysfunctional political institutions. He would seek a framework and suggest a process to facilitate a “more perfect union”. Madison’s contribution to our American Constitutional Republic for the purpose of evolving a more modern, up to date, treatment plan for the “mortal disease(s)” that have developed in our “body politic.” What is needed is an understanding of the foundation of our Constitutional Republic in order to evolve a more modern, up to date, treatment plan for the “ mortal disease(s)” that developed in our body politics.

 

Madison described the “symptoms” in his “Vices of the US Political System” of the political system of his time; study the history of political institutions, offer an assessment of the problem and provide differential diagnosis, engages in compromise, created a treatment plan, and then monitored and adjust the treatment plan to changing data and environment.

 

During the period of the constitutional convention the DNA of our political system was established. Building on Madison’s proposals the delegates devised a system for government that has survived over 231 years. The constitution has provided a lasting container for the body politic. Able to as Madison anticipated to contain the passions, and limit the mortal impact of factions in our politics. Will the framework developed for a nation of 13 states, 3 million people in a pre capitalist, pre industrial society educe to contain the challenges and complexity of life in the 21st century? Digital  technology’s impact on our society. A closer look building on Translational Democracy will serve us as we attempt to “modernize” Madison’s and the founder’s framework.

 

James Madison & the Mortal Diseases of the Political System

 

Madison’s understanding of human nature in general and the role that passions and factions play as a drivers of individual political action and impact on the body politic were central to the structure of the constitution. Madison’s remedy, Republican Government with checks and balances among the various branches, federal and state, to control the pathological impact of “factions” on society have mostly withstood the challenges to the body politic.

 

James Madison role  was crucial in establishing the constitutional framework for our government. He was instrumental in recognizing and calling for a constitutional convention, contributed greatly to the discussions that led to the acceptance of the constitution and subsequent ratification, calling the contribution to the American Constitutional Republic is unprecedented in order to evolve a more modern, up-to-date treatment plan for the “mortal disease(s)” that developed in our body politics. The article provides an overview of  Madison’s understanding of human nature in general and the role passions and factions play as a drivers of individual political action and impact on the body politic. Madison’s remedy, republican government with checks and balances among the various branches of government, as well as the states, to control the pathological impact of “factions” on society will be reviewed and critiqued. Building on Madison’s use of the disease metaphor to describe the pathology of the governments of his time, and the constitutional architecture that was informed by his analysis, the medical case presentation will be introduced as a framework to better understand and potentially intervene in our current complex political ecosystem.

 
James Madison and His World

 

James Madison was born in Belle Grove, Port Conway March 16, 1751, in a rather isolated plantation in Virginia. Some of his neighbors were also well-known Founding Fathers including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Monroe and Patrick Henry. Madison was a remarkable political philosopher, student of history, politician, collaborator, and communicator. He studied at the College of New jersey, now known as Princeton, and while still in his younger years, participated in authoring (and played an important role in the ratification of) the most remarkable and enduring political document in our history, the US Constitution. His method included researching the threats the nation, developing and participating in shaping the Constitution and contributing to getting popular ratification of it with the Federalist Papers. He also helped draft Washington’s Farewell Address, which provided reflections for future generations of Americans.

 

According to biographer Michael Signer, “Madison, as a thinker and person of note in our history, had a way of marrying both the hope and the aspirational potential of human beings with a very realistic and almost pessimistic take on our worst sides. The marriage of hope and pessimism, of idealism and realism is, I think, unmatched with our founding characters.”

 

Confronted by the dysfunction he saw resulting from the government established by the Articles of Confederation and the challenges associated with the role of the states at the time, Madison, along with a few other leaders, set to establish “a more perfect union.” His passion and skills included a vision, practical project management, and compromise, which were critical to overcome the many challenges in bringing about the revolution of the U.S. Constitution. In the years between 1786 and 1796 he, along with many other representatives, gave birth to the United States.

 

In 1786, 35-year-old James Madison supported by George Washington called for the Annapolis Convention to adjust the Articles of Confederation, the failing political framework that organized the thirteen states. Although the 1786 convention was poorly attended by representatives of the states, Madison and Hamilton, could call for a Constitutional Convention to take place in Philadelphia, starting May 14th the following year. That endeavor has served as a framework for the most remarkable and successful experiment in political life, the United States of America.

 

Moderation, compromise and respect

 

Madison was the most prepared delegate to the Convention. He however, recognized the importance of compromise and inclusion of other’s concerns into the structure of the proposed government. Because the Anti-Federalist demand for a Bill of Rights resonated with the public, Federalists like James Madison countered with a pledge to offer amendments after the Constitution’s ratification. As a representative from Virginia to the first Congress, Madison repeatedly insisted, over both indifference and vocal opposition, that the House take up the issue of amendments. In a now famous and much-analyzed speech, he introduced a list of amendments that he proposed be inserted within the text of the Constitution so as literally to “amend” or change it. For example, he proposed that “there be prefixed” to the Constitution a declaration that clearly defined the supremacy of the citizen and the role of government.

 

“It cannot be a secret to the gentlemen in this House, that, notwithstanding the ratification of this system of Government by eleven of the thirteen United States, in some cases unanimously, in others by large majorities; yet still there is a great number of our constituents who are dissatisfied with it; among whom are many respectable for their talents and patriotism, and respectable for the jealousy they have for their liberty, which, though mistaken in its object, is honorable in its motive. There is a great body of the people falling under this description, who at present feel much inclined to join their support to the cause of Federalism, if they were satisfied on this one point. We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution. The acceptance which our fellow-citizens show under the Government, calls upon us for a like return of moderation.”

 

Vices of the Political System

 

Madison was determined to be the best prepared and most knowledgeable delegate to the Constitutional Convention and studied and analyzed the histories of past republics, diagnosing the defects of the current American republic as well. Having served in the Virginia Legislature and the Confederation Congress in the 1780s, he had witnessed first-hand the failings of each under the Articles of Confederation and understood the passions of the citizenry and their complaints. As a result, the US Constitution has become the most unifying value of American body politics. A document that served as a framework for a government dedicated to life liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (The Articles of Confederation).

 

Providing a Treatment Plan

 

“Political theorists and constitutional scholars have focused too much on Madison’s concern for the diseases incident to republican government without paying adequate attention to the first “republican” in that sentence. Certainly Madison was concerned about the dangers of popular government and “the excess of democracy.”  But not just any remedy would do. The remedy had to be a republican remedy, a remedy consistent with the popular constitutionalism that was the fundamental premise of the Revolution and of Madison’s own life and philosophy. And he found his remedy, too, one that is, or rather could be made, as relevant and useful today as it was at our nation’s inception.”                       Larry Kramer

 
 
Reevaluating the Plan

 

Not unlike the political situation facing the US under the Articles of Confederation of his period, are the rage and passions of today; yet they continue to energize American political life. Madison was an astute observer of human psychology and its impact on political institutions. As a citizen and a psychiatrist, learning of Madison’s focus on individual psychology and foundational need to control “the violence of factions” which he believed were the “mortal disease” resonated for me. Anyone following the US political landscape today cannot escape the truthfulness of these observations of human nature. Influenced by the moral philosophers of his time, James Madison, asserts that:

 

“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

 

For Madison, containing passion, rage and anger were central to his political efforts

 

“to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

 

The Federalist Papers, especially Federalist 9 and 10, led the way to establishing the freedoms our citizens have enjoyed since the Constitution was ratified. The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Madison’s Federalist 10 takes over where Hamilton’s Federalist 9 leaves off.

 

Federalist 9, written by Hamilton, and Federalist 10, by Madison, state that “The Union be a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection.” These were written chiefly because of Madison’s understanding of the passions and injustices that existed then.

 

He identifies the symptoms of the government defined by the Articles of Confederation:

 

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. “

 

The causes for the dysfunction, Madison diagnosed,

 

“must be chiefly, if not wholly, [the] effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

 

For this malady, he identified two treatment options:

 

“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects”.

 

Madison then set forth two ways to remove the causes of faction — rejecting both, for one meant destroying liberty and the other changing human nature — and two ways to control the effects. His political schema involved the latter, extending the size of the territory and refining and enlarging the public views through the republican principle of representation. Madison summarized the accomplishments gained at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, on

September 17th, 1787:

 

“In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”

 

James Madison was not a physician, but he adeptly used a medical framework to shed light on the pathology of republican governments by providing both diagnosis and treatment plans to address the “mortal danger” of their ills. In what has been considered one of the most important works of political philosophy, Federalist 10, Madison demonstrates how the proposed constitutional framework can combat the mortal disease of faction with a republican cure.  

 

Madison writes

 

“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

 

He identifies the symptoms of the government defined by the Articles of Confederation:

 

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. “

 

The causes for the dysfunction, Madison diagnosed,

 

“must be chiefly, if not wholly, [the] effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

 

For this malady, he identified two treatment options:

 

“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects”.

 

Madison then set forth two ways to remove the causes of faction -- rejecting both, for one meant destroying liberty and the other changing human nature -- and two ways to control the effects.  His political schema involved the latter, extending the size of the territory and refining and enlarging the public views through the republican principle of representation.

 

Madison (exults in what he has accomplished) summarized the accomplishments gained by the constitution at the conclusion of the convention, on September 17th, 1787:

 

By enlarging the sphere of the republic, he boasts,  “In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”

 

The Role of Government

 

“We ought to consider, what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word happiness to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.”                  John Adams

 

Just as citizens today differ over the role their (federal) government should play, this was also a concern for the founders and the framers, which Madison understood well. Madison saw the importance of government serving to achieve the ideals of the Articles of Confederation and an understanding of why we need government at all. The same proves true today: although most citizens agree we need government and revere the Constitution, we as a country lack a shared vision of what role that government should play. This lack of shared vision is part of what Madison helped Washington write into (Washington’s) famous Farewell Address.

 

For example, he proposed that “there be prefixed” to the Constitution a declaration that

 

“Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

 

“ The best republic would be directed toward the objects of safety, liberty, and happiness.  It would secure its citizens against external dangers and internal tyranny, and the citizens themselves would be characterized by health, competency of fortune, virtue (defined by Madison as "the health of the soul"), and intelligence.”

 

“The Notes on Government are Madison's most complete picture of  republicanism. This picture is strikingly at odds with the liberal democratic  and the classical republican portraits. Here Madison makes clear that the structural arrangements of government constitute only one of numerous  factors that founder-statesmen must consider. The importance of institutional mechanisms is of low order when measured against the vital significance of public opinion. Madison's deepest concern is with the moral and intellectual character of republican citizens and thus with the decisive  influences on their character. He is emphatically dedicated to the effort to advance a common, republican opinion in the polity.”

 

“The political theory in the Notes presumes no abstract state of nature, nor does it offer as a solution any universally applicable, static, institutional schema. Rather, Madison approaches the study of government with an appreciation of the dynamics of political life. Amid the complexity of human and political things, Madison directs his attention first to the safety of the body, then to liberty, and ultimately to the excellence of the mind and soul. He fixes his gaze on the moral and intellectual virtues because they are what most profoundly matter-to the character of life in the polity and to the happiness of individual citizens.
 

Madison the Clinician: Diagnosing the Pathology of the Political System

 

James Madison was not a physician, although he did have numerous somatic challenges,  but he adeptly used a medical framework to shed light on the pathology of governments by providing both diagnosis and treatment plan to address the “mortal danger” of their ills. In what has been considered one of the most important works of political philosophy, Federalist 10, Madison used his disease metaphor to diagnose the condition of the continental US after the Declaration of Independence was issued and proposed the US Constitution as a treatment plan for the underlying dysfunction. In a way he was utilizing a framework familiar to clinicians to identify and propose a treatment plan for the pathology he was observing in his time. Madison described the “symptoms” in his “Vices of the US Political System” of the political system of his time; study the history of political institutions, offer an assessment of the problem and provide differential diagnosis, engages in compromise, created a treatment plan, and then monitored and adjust the treatment plan to changing data and environment.

 

Madison and Human Psychology

 

Madison’s psychological insights and use of the disease metaphor, likely a consequence of his experience with disease, resonated with me. It is clear to me that what is missing from our current politics is a structure for meaningful “debate”. Madison’s writing in Federalist 10 and 51, considered one of the greatest political articles, offered a framework. In what has been considered one of the most important works of political philosophy, Federalist 10, Madison demonstrates how the proposed constitutional framework can combat the mortal disease of faction with a republican cure.  

 

He identifies the symptoms of the government defined by the Articles of Confederation:

 

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. “

 

The causes for the dysfunction, Madison diagnosed,

 

“must be chiefly, if not wholly, [the] effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

 

For this malady, he identified two treatment options:

 

“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects”.

 

Madison then set forth two ways to remove the causes of faction — rejecting both, for one meant destroying liberty and the other changing human nature — and two ways to control the effects. His political schema involved the latter, extending the size of the territory and refining and enlarging the public views through the republican principle of representation.  Madison summarized the accomplishments gained at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, on September 17th, 1787:

 

“In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”

 

Like the action of a physician recognizing the evolving nature of the manifestation of pathology of the human body, and continuing to examine and assess the diagnosis and treatment based on evolving information and symptoms, Madison evolved his thinking of government and more importantly the role of the citizen and public opinion in the as a central “Check” on governmental function and legitimacy.

 
The Role of Citizens: James Madison and Public Opinion

 

Noah Feldman, in The Three Lives of James Madison notes that  Madison thought evolved “ From theories of constitutional structure and ratification, Madison was moving toward applied knowledge of how government actually worked. That knowledge would then form the basis for a concrete plan to change the balance of political power. Quoting from Madison’ December 19th, 1791 essay “Public Opinion”  in the National Gazette  essay declares “public opinion sets bounds to every government, and is the real sovereign in every free one.”

 

“Public Opinion is a book by Walter Lippmann, published in 1922. It is a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially of the irrational and often self-serving social perceptions that influence individual behavior and prevent optimal societal cohesion.[1] The detailed descriptions of the cognitive limitations people face in comprehending their sociopolitical and cultural environments, leading them to apply an evolving catalogue of general stereotypes to a complex reality, rendered Public Opinion a seminal text in the fields of media studies, political science, and social psychology.”

 

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner.  A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.... Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

 

— Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapter XV

 

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media is a 1988 book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in which the authors propose that the mass communication media of the U.S. "are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion", by means of the propaganda model of communication.[1] The title derives from the phrase "the manufacture of consent," employed in the book Public Opinion (1922), by Walter Lippmann (1889–1974).[2] . Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent Revisited

 

Americans must take an active role from their communities, to their states, to their federal government. We must all feel we are represented and are being treated fairly.

 

If Madison had his original way, our Constitution would have a two-part Preamble that includes part of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence before the current preamble.

 

On June 8, 1789, Madison told Congress the Preamble needed a “pre-Preamble.”

 

“First. That there be prefixed to the Constitution a declaration, that all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people. That Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.”

 

Intro to the Bill of Rights speech, June 8th, 1789 The Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, First Congress, 1st Session, pp 448–460.

 

Citizens have a right and a duty to see that they and all others benefit from both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that was incorporated into the Constitution from input during the ratifying convention.

 

“To give a new System its proper validity and energy, a ratification must be obtained from the people, and not merely from the ordinary authority of the Legislatures. This will be the more essential as inroads on the existing Constitutions of the States will be unavoidable,”

                                      Madison told Washington in April 1787.

 

James Madison’s underlying commitment to the value of public opinion.  Whether expressed through elections themselves or through the press, Madison believed that public opinion about constitutional matters was always authoritative in a democratic republic.  Professor William B. Allen notes that in the Virginia Resolutions, Madison even affirmed a role for constitutional interpretation at the state level, though he did not countenance nullification.

 

In affirming the authority of public opinion, in other words, Madison was preaching majority rule but not simple majoritarianism. Majority opinion would hold sway, but the majority opinion that should hold sway had to be more than the fleeting passions or preferences of the moment, more than the unreflective reactions of a transient majority of citizens. Colleen Sheehan explains:

 

“Madison did not simply equate public opinion with the will of the majority. Public opinion [was] not the sum of ephemeral passions and narrow interests; it [was] not an aggregate of uninformed minds and wills. Rather, public opinion require[d] the refinement and transformation of the views, sentiments, and interests of the citizens into a public mind guided by the precepts of reason, resulting in ‘the reason . . . of the public’ or ‘the reason of the society.’ “

 

This was Jefferson’s point when he urged in his first inaugural address that Americans “bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable.”

 

The Role of Public Education 

 

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

 

"Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty. They are the nurseries of skilful Teachers for the schools distributed throughout the Community. They are themselves schools for the particular talents required for some of the Public Trusts, on the able execution of which the welfare of the people depends. They multiply the educated individuals from among whom the people may elect a due portion of their public Agents of every description; more especially of those who are to frame the laws; by the perspicuity, the consistency, and the stability, as well as by the just & equal spirit of which the great social purposes are to be answered." 

James Madison to W. T. Barry 4 Aug. 1822

 

 

To reclaim and build on the radical principles that guided  the founders as they established the new nation in 1776. To understand the challenges of the political ecosystem they were seeking to address through the Constitutional Framework they authored in 1787. To embrace the process that led to its ratification by the thirteen states in 1787-1789,  To reassert the role for citizens in the body politic that governs them.

 

Conclusion

 

I have tried to outline the Madisonian approach to the problems of his day in hopes that readers will become active in finding solutions to problems instead of dividing against each other. At a time when America is searching for leadership and so many feel left out, it is crucial to our survival as a nation that we work together and seek the common good for all while preserving the liberty of individuals.

 

The current version of the United States operating system has been corrupted leading to the failure to actualize the vision of the founders of the US, at the cost of increasing inequality, an unjust legal system, failure to address climate change.  

 

To secure the pursuit of happiness, a central responsibility of government envisioned by the founders, has been hollowed and replaced by a political ideology that is anchored in the belief that free markets and their profit seeking and consumerization of all aspects of life are the only path to happiness. A new operating system, Citizenism  is needed. This version is fueled by the people. Reimagine the Constitution, The Case Presentation, Our Political Ecosystem, The Citizenry’s Toolbox and additional components are used as catalysts to reframe the current political conversation on our way to “Healing” our current dysfunctional political system

Shrink the Government

Psychological insight about our politics