The Founders’ Fears

There are undoubtedly many reasons that the American Revolution succeeded and the French Revolution failed. Indeed, history shows that most revolutions end in violence and tyranny. But one reason must surely be that while other revolutions sought to remake man and human nature, the American Revolution explicitly grappled with man’s unchanging nature. In his editorial last week, the editor disdainfully dismissed the Founders’ concerns about mob rule as “well-worn.”

If the editor will forgive me for quoting some more “well-worn” folderol, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.”

But the Founders were just as worried about minority factions as they were about majority factions. What is a king if not a minority of one? Madison defined factions as “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.”

This is why the Constitution intentionally seeks to pit factions against one another — so that neither the minority nor the majority will be able to tyrannize the other. The House of Representatives is elected directly by the people. The Senate was originally elected by state legislatures, themselves elected by the people of the states. The president is elected by electors, originally selected by the state legislatures, later by popular election. The Supreme Court justices are appointed by senators and the president. At every step, the legitimacy of our constitutional Republic stems from the people, whose passions are filtered through layers of representative government.

The ideas of our founders may be well-worn, but they have sufficed.

The Tyranny of the Majority

In 1787, James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist No. 10, warned against majority rule in pure democracy: “Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

It is just this type of tyranny of the majority that lends support to demagogues such as Bernie Sanders. When Sanders says that it is “immoral” for the “top 1 percent” to have as much wealth as the “bottom 90 percent combined,” what is he advocating? For that matter, what did Hillary Clinton mean (other than that she was trying to lean as far to the left as possible) when she tweeted, “The top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined. That’s not acceptable.” What is she proposing that the teachers (the majority) do to the top 25 hedge-fund managers (the minority)? Donald Trump, who decided to call himself a Republican about five minutes ago, is no less a demagogue than the other two when he appeals to the silent “majority” who have been taken “advantage of.” All three are suggesting that the “majority” punish the “minority.”

Madison, like so many of the Founding Fathers, worried deeply about the dangers of pure democracy. Federalist No. 10 is devoted to mitigating the tyrannical effects of majority rule; Madison wishes to achieve this through factions (parties or other interest groups that arise naturally due to human nature). “The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” The Constitution, drafted largely by Madison, creates a divided government in which power is intended to be balanced. We do not live in a democracy, and so long as we follow the Constitution, we can avoid the dangers inherent in such a form of government.

Maynard Thomson (Letter to the editor of the Granite State News, March 31) is right to ask us, “If 51 percent of the voters want something, are they justified in using government to force the other 49 percent to support that undertaking?”

Spending More Is Still Spending More

In their editorial on March 31, the editors of the Granite State News wrote of the county budget that it “included reducing the budget for the fishing expedition known as the forensic audit from $200,000 down to about $140,000 – still a waste of taxpayers’ money, but less of a waste.” I share the editors’ frustration when it comes to wasting taxpayer money.

In a previous letter to the Grunter, I wrote about budget maneuvers by which legislators raise spending less than they had initially intended and then claim it as a “cut.” This is a perfect example. The county did not cut spending on the forensic audit from $200,000 to $140,000. Let me repeat that: The county is not cutting spending on this. It is not a cut. The county will be spending $140,000 on a budget line that did not exist in the previous budget. That, my friends, is a spending increase.

Say I go to buy a new car. The dealer shows me a new Mustang for $50,000. Then he shows me a used Chevy S10 for $4,000. I want the Mustang. But I can afford the S10, so I buy that. Did I cut $46,000 from my car budget?

When you increase spending less than you had originally planned (or than you wanted), you are still increasing spending.