Did Madison Think This Through?

According to James Madison’s argument in the Federalist No. 10 from The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, factions are essential in any healthy government system. He explains that, “latent causes of factions are sewn into man” (Madison, 169). Therefore, they are unavoidable and the only way to prevent the separation among citizens as well as other negative affects is to figure out how to cancel out their influence. He suggests two possibilities:

1. Extend the sphere

2. Representation

By increasing the number of factions that exist, and thus the polity, Madison speculates that they will cancel each other out and naturally get rid of their influence in government. This is an interesting method that he proposes and one that many analysts might agree with. However, Madison underestimated the possibility of factions looking to one another for support and eventually increasing their influence as a result of grouping together to create a larger faction.

According to the Federalist No. 10, factions can be defined as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” In short, in order to qualify as a faction, there must be a group of people bound together by a common interest, either fighting against the rights of other citizens, or fighting against the status quo.

Looking at a modern day example, we can see that Palestinian political groups such as Hamas and Fatah certainly fall under this category. They are both composed of groups of people who are fighting against the status quo oppression of the Palestinian citizens. Although they represent people of the same nationality, they are different in many ways and are competitors of each other. If we were to analyze these two factions according to Madison’s views, their competition would be seen as a positive thing. Madison would probably guess that these two groups will spend the majority of their time fighting one another and never get to have any influence in the politics of Palestine and Israel proper. Kind of like this…


But not so fast Madison.

According to news sources, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, hailed a new “partnership“. Could it be that these factions are not only not destroying one another, but actually may be empowering each other? The Arab-Israeli conflict has existed for more than half a century now, with the United States completely supporting the Israeli government, even with money that it does not have. According to the Congressional Research Service’s “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel”, written by Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, the Obama Administration requested $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel for the fiscal year 2011. With the United States entirely supporting Israel, it seems that these two groups have decided to become allies and rely on one another for support.

This is exactly the type of thing that Madison did not take into consideration when he proposed increasing the number of factions as a means of canceling them out. With these two influential groups joining together as one and Palestine recently becoming a full member of UNESCO, it seems that the U.S. authorities are afraid that they will no longer have the power that they once had over the situation. Instead of canceling each other out, these two factions appear to be empowering one another and collectively representing a larger constituency that each group separately.

Of course Madison might make the argument that perhaps the sphere is not wide enough, and that the number of factions needs to increase. However, if we look at any country, the majority of political systems are under the influence of two groups. Even in our own country we have two major parties in control, the Democrats and the Republicans. According to University of Michigan professor Dr. Vincent Hutchings, “The way election laws are written in this country, for all practical purposes, a third party or faction has not shot”.

Makes you wonder, did Madison really think this through?

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