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.Published in