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April 30, 2007

The accompanying article draws on material contained in Thomas Jefferson’s Early Political Initiatives. Negotiations for the publication of this book are currently in progress. The analysis it presents is offered as a foundation for a new political discussion. The time is well-past to begin it. The fact that a majority of Americans no longer participate in the political process–that they have abandoned their inherent and hard won right to govern themselves–shows that the current slowgathering transformation of America’s political society has reached the critical point. The change that is occurring marks the effective end of both the majoritarian system established by America’s founders in 1787 and the Political Age that Thomas Jefferson inaugurated with his victory in the “second American revolution” in 1800. It also confirms the failure of the political and social theories that underpinned these enlightened experiments. Current political discussions miss these essential points, it seems, because the “talking heads” who conduct them are too busy manipulating public opinion to notice what is actually happening. The essential political problem is not that the system is riddled with corruption– which it is. It is not that “they” are implementing wrong political ideologies–which they are. The problem is the inherently destructive nature of majoritarian politics. The divisions that have undermined civil society in America (and elsewhere) and are driving its members away from the political process are the natural consequence of a system in which the power to define the common good belongs to the most powerful, aggressive faction. America’s founders knew that this political warfare destroys the willingness of “the people” to pursue a common good. Having now reached this point, the majority faction no longer has the moral authority to bind its nonmembers. This marks the effective end of majoritarianism. The functional end of this system of government cannot be far behind.

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American Political Society: Past Time for a Reassessment

All of history’s political societies have failed. This article will explain why the creators of America’s republican system of government thought they would avoid this fate and why they were wrong.

This discussion begins with John Locke, a 17th century English physician who helped to establish Politics as a modern social science. Locke’s great contribution to this enlightened new branch of knowledge was a concept of government in which the common good is defined in terms of the majority’s will. Thomas Jefferson set the stage for America’s long heralded Lockean experiment when he applied Locke’s so-called “right to revolution” to justify American political independence from England. It is ironic therefore that it was Jefferson who set it on it inevitable path to failure which he did in 1800 by launching and winning his “second American revolution” against the federalist politics of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. It was irrelevant to Jefferson and his patriotic compatriots that Locke’s political science did not in fact authorize their rebellion against England. Nor did it matter to Jefferson or the members of his republican party that Locke’s concept of majority rule was fundamentally flawed. These “convenient” oversights have bearing today because Locke’s distorted picture of man in society, and the subsequent distortion of Locke by America’s revolutionaries–most notably Thomas Jefferson–have produced a false and inappropriate perception of the political age that Jefferson inaugurated with his victory in the presidential election of 1800. After more than two hundred years of demoralizing and increasingly destructive political warfare, the time is well past to set the record straight. Lockean “political science” was wrong in several important respects: ○ In the first place, it is not science. Locke applied the dialectical method of Hobbes to 2

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April 30, 2007 refute the politics of Sir Richard Filmer (among others), not the analytical method of Isaac Newton. Since his method was not scientific, the political rights he deduced do not qualify in any formal sense as “laws of nature”.

Locke’s political “science” rests on a social theory that is observably wrong: modern political states are constituted of many societies, not a single society large percentages of their residents, being unaffiliated with any of its sub-societies (factions), reside in a Lockean “state of nature” these unaffiliated individuals, having never relinquished their natural sovereignty, are at Lockean liberty to join together in new societies which they do regularly the better to promote their common good. individuals who form new Lockean societies have a Lockean right to form their own “legislatives” and make laws that promote their common good. Lockean majoritarianism is therefore a competition between these societies for the power to impose the will of their majority on their unaffiliated neighbors. Lockean political theory does not in fact authorize the exercise of this political power.

Locke fails to distinguish between civil society, which has no need for political mechanisms because it does not function by the majority’s will, and political society, which can only function if mechanisms exist to form political majorities. Locke fails to notice that the political society he advocates can only exist if it is supported by an underlying civil society.

Since Locke did not live in a modern political state, it is not surprising that he did not understand how modern political societies actually work: he did not understand, or at least he did not acknowledge, that modern political states are governed by and for the factions that join together to form their majorities. he did not understand, or at least he did not acknowledge, that factions are formed and run from the top down by political agents who aspire to exercise political power. he did not understand, or at least he did not acknowledge, that factions in 3

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April 30, 2007 themselves and the governments they administer are never run by the people. he did not understand, or at least he did not acknowledge, that the competition between political factions destroys the civil societies which are needed to support the political processes of majoritarianism.

Lockean majoritarianism does not actually exist in modern political states because true social majorities are never actually affiliated with the factions that possess the power to define the common good and to make the laws to accomplish it. Because they are not, (most) political minorities are not (in Lockean political theory at least) obliged to obey the will of the “majority”..

Lockean definitions of “rebellion” and “revolution” are unworkable and do not provide usable frameworks for explaining or resolving the conflicts that inevitably destroy political societies. The radicals who precipitated and managed the American revolution, whom John Locke

would have condemned as “male-contents”, “Rebellantes rebels” [#227] and “the common enemy and pest of mankind” [#231], became interested in Locke’s political science in the early 1760's when England’s Parliament enacted a series of unprecedented revenue policies that infringed on their authority as colonial legislators. They built the first modern political movement on the claim that Parliament had violated their rights as Englishmen by enacting laws to which they had not consented. Political independence (which can be understood here as having the power to define the common good and to make laws that promote it) became the movement’s avowed objective after the meeting of the 1st Continental Congress in 1774. The better to support this political objective, the movement’s leaders modified their foundation assertion. The argument from right ceased then to be the complaint that the English Parliament had violated British Americans’ common law right to consent to the laws by which they were governed. It became instead the claim that the King of England was violating the natural right of the American people by obstructing them in their pursuit happiness. This transgression was justification, Thomas Jefferson famously asserted, to alter or abolish England’s colonial government and to institute a new one “laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” When the 2nd Continental Congress ratified Jefferson’s reformulation 4

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of this “Lockean right to revolution”, it defined the character of the American revolution. Jefferson’s lofty phrasing allowed what might otherwise be remembered as a political power grab by a cadre of Lockean “malecontents” to become an enlightened crusade for the political rights of man. “All men are created equal,” Jefferson asserted in Lockean tones. “They are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Who (apart from the King of England) could object to this? Jefferson must have asked himself this question as he manufactured the right for his radical compatriots to overthrow a legitimate Lockean government and to replace it with their own enlightened constructions. It is an interesting reflection on the character of America’s Lockean rebels that they would spend so much intellectual energy creating a theoretical foundation for their rebellion. Had they understood Locke better, these efforts might be explained as an attempt to distinguish their rebellion from the criminal act that Locke condemned in his 2nd Treatise. (Locke’s system of government hinged entirely on the obedience of every member of his contractarian society to the will of its majority. He therefore had no sympathy for minorities that refused to abide by the majority’s will.) In view of this, it is somewhat ironic that the spokesman for America’s independence movement would appeal to Locke. Locke had, however, established a useful precedent in the course of rationalizing England’s Glorious Revolution a century before. He had argued then that the English Parliament had the right to retrieve the sovereignty of the English people from a monarch who, parliamentarians asserted, was abusing the power the people had settled upon his person. This Lockean logic of right and revolution created an opening for the Americans. The fact that Locke did not condone insurgencies by disgruntled minorities was of no consequence. Who cared? Not Thomas Jefferson, who probably never studied Locke and had no special interest in the details of his political science. The political logic that Jefferson unveiled in the Declaration of Independence was Lockean in the sense that it derived political power from certain inherent rights and that it pictured politics as a social constructive. Apart from this, however, Jefferson’s famous work was a systematic departure from Lockean political theory: ○ he ignored Locke’s pronouncement that the Law of Nature law is Moral Law - America’s revolutionaries needed a Law of Nature that conveyed political rights. 5

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April 30, 2007 he ignored Locke’s claim that natural rights are alienable – according to Lockean social theory, individuals who join together in political society transfer their sovereignty to the community which, in this way, acquires the authority to define the common good and make laws to accomplish it on behalf of the community. Having surrendered their sovereignty to the community, members of Lockean political society have neither common law rights nor natural rights. Instead, they have whatever rights they agree to in their founding contract. America’s revolutionaries were invoking their right to leave an existing Lockean society and to found a new one. To do this, disaffected members of society had to have liberties that were superior to their contractual commitments. They had to have, in other words, inalienable rights.

he ignored Locke’s position in respect to property – preservation of property, which Locke defined as life, liberty and estate, is the common good that society pursues. According to Locke, if a political society fails to do this, it has no justification for existing. America’s revolutionaries (at least to the extent that Thomas Jefferson spoke for them) abandoned this idea altogether and replaced it with the more dynamic and malleable political concept that the pursuit of happiness is a right by nature.

he ignored Locke’s social contract – individuals who join Lockean political society agree by “contract” to be “concluded” by the will of the majority. In return, they have security in their property, which seems in Jeffersonian parlance to be the right to pursue happiness. America’s revolutionaries were preparing to establish their own government. For this government to have the sovereign authority it needed to make and administer the laws of the land, they needed to formally renounce their obligation to obey the will of the Lockean majority of their English motherland. Locke is somewhat ambivalent on this point, but he finally sides with Hobbes who asserted that the parties to a social contract have no right to abrogate it.

he replaced Locke’s “right to revolution” (in which the majority is at liberty to defend its sovereignty against usurpations by minorities that refused to be “concluded” by the majority’s will) with a “principle of freedom” in which “the people” can alter or abolish 6

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April 30, 2007 their government if it becomes “destructive”of their life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.” in Jefferson’s construction, disaffected minorities had what amounted to carte blanche in respect to abrogating their contractual obligations and to replace the majority’s government whenever it pleased them to do so. If Jefferson is a Lockean, in other words, he distinguished himself by either

misinterpreting or purposely altering Locke on virtually all of his essential points. The incongruities are substantial enough to separate the political logic of the two men. In his 2nd Treatise, John Locke presented a theoretical justification for England’s Parliament to defend its traditional practice of defining the common good and making laws to promote it on behalf of the English people. England’s Parliament had the legitimate authority to exercise this power, Locke suggested, because it was a duly constituted legislature and created policy and law by the will of the majority. This theoretical right, in Locke’s view, supported all majoritarian governments against usurpations by all minorities who refused to obey the will of the majority as expressed either by themselves or by their representatives. The political logic that Thomas Jefferson unveiled in the Declaration of Independence conveyed a “right to revolution” to a disgruntled minority whose raison d’etre was to dissolve the public bands which connected the American colonies to their mother country and its legitimate Lockean government and to establish a government administered by the representatives of the American people. Beyond this, Jefferson conveyed this right to every social minority that cared to “rouze” itself. These two political logics have this fundamental cross-purpose. This tends to be overshadowed, however, by the optimism they share, a frame of mind that was characteristic of their enlightened age. Both rationalized revolution against “tyranny”. Both endorsed a form of government which relied on the processes of politics to promote the common good. And both accepted that government by the people would protect the citizenry against the evils of political tyranny. In respect to this inherent optimism, it bears mentioning that neither man had lived in a majoritarian political society when he wrote his revolutionary text. That is to say, neither John Locke nor Thomas Jefferson had first hand knowledge of the political processes they tacitly endorsed. Both men theorized that these processes would conduce to the common good. Both 7

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Locke and Jefferson assumed that their body politics would be constituted of men of good will; that these men would deliberate in good faith in public forums; and that in these deliberations they would synthesize their separate interests into consensus. They both assumed that consensus, which they accepted as the will of the majority, would guide the people’s representatives who would then make the good law that is necessary to achieve the common good. Viewed in this context, politics becomes is a social constructive. History is an ongoing illustration of the fallacy of this idea. When men (and women) are at liberty do these things, they don’t. Instead of promoting their common good, they compete for the power to define the common good and to make the to accomplish it. In this way, they divide themselves and fall into social conflict. As their common interests fade, they cease to be a society. At this point they can no longer resolve their differences by applying the processes of politics. This effectively ends their political society and its system of government. Locke fell into error because he naively believed his fellow countrymen would always appreciate that submitting to the will of the majority was a reliable way to protect their life, liberty and estate. This false assumption was a reflection of the enlightened spirit of Locke’s time. It disposed Locke and his audience to focus on the virtues of political majoritarianism and to ignore its flaws. Yes, basing government on the will of the majority and rooting the common good in private interest precluded the sort of tyranny that led England into civil war. But to accomplish this Locke re-opened the door to the kind of social decay that undermined Pericles’ Athenian democracy, the republic of Rome and the republican government England’s own Parliament established after beheading its autocratic king. Locke, in other words, suppressed the evils of autocracy by re-activating the evils of politics. Locke paid virtually no attention to the processes of politics in the Second Treatise. The vague portrait he painted there bears little resemblance to the creature itself. Political issues, Locke suggested, rise from nowhere in particular. The body politic is comprised of men of good will who share common visions of their society’s ends and means. Majorities of these men coalesce naturally. The policies they enact serve the common good. In constituting his body politic from a homogenous class of free, property-owning males, Locke did all that was within reason to create a polity in which these benign characteristics would obtain. He could not, however, rationalize away the corrosive nature of politics. Political 8

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issues do not simply pop up. They are invented by parties (individuals and groups of individuals) acting in their own interests. Political majorities form when a sufficient number of individuals, prodded to take a side, determine that an issue advances/impairs their interests. The first business in political society is to create the mechanisms to shape public opinion and to form the body politic into political majorities since without them there can be no government. The men who build and operate the machinery that does this work form a political class. These men have no sure concept of the common good, nor is this their essential concern. Like all other Hobbesean creatures, the primary concern of members of the political class is to preserve themselves. They do this by creating constituencies whose interests they can then promote. Members of the political class serve their own interest by implementing policies that suit the majorities they manufacture. The relationship between the politician and his constituency is thus not that of a servant to his master, but rather of a shepherd to his flock. Skilled politicians manage their flocks in ways that promote their own interests. As more of these shepherds form more of these flocks, the community at large separates into a collection of what Rousseau disparagingly referred to as “smaller societies”. Competition between these increasingly autonomous communities produces conflict. This conflict eventually undermines commonwealth. Jefferson, whose job it was to generate public support for the patriotic cause and political independence spent no more time than Locke thinking about the machinery that would be needed to manufacture political majorities. This may be surprising in view of the fact that he had produced three thought-filled drafts for a constitution for his native state of Virginia. His chief concern there, however, was obstructing the usurpations of tyrants, not insulating the body politic from the corrosive forces of politics. It certainly never occurred to him as he drafted his early political masterpieces that the process of creating political majorities would divide the people and undermine their willingness to pursue a common good. The men who ratified the American Constitution in 1787 were not so naive. They had read their histories and were well aware of the corrosive nature of politics. Indeed, this knowledge caused them–and every other enlightened soul who had contemplated political democracy before the members of the 2nd Continental Congress endorsed Jefferson’s constructive political logic–to doubt that “the people” could govern themselves. These thoughtful men agreed 9

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that the common man was not capable of sustaining his society in a way that conduced to his own well-being or the well-being of his community. (Thomas Jefferson went so far as to design a system of public education that would, said Julian Boyd, find men of genius and virtue and render them “by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” “This implied,” Boyd observed, “the establishment of a ruling elite that would promote public happiness by wisely forming and honestly administering the laws.” “The Bill recognized,” Boyd continued, “natural gradations and disparities among men; it saw nothing dangerous or inimical to the liberties of the people in accepting and making use of such a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent.”1) At this critical moment, James Madison distinguished himself in the annuls of political history. Madison claimed, essentially, that the poison of politics, which he called “the violence of faction”, could be denatured by scientific government. In Federalist #10, he observed that “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 minority party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”2 According to Clinton Rossiter, “noting that factions are the product and price of liberty, [Madison] searches for ways to control rather than to suppress them, and finds the best of these ways to be a system of representation and an extended territory. He, like Hamilton, looks to ‘the extent and proper structure of the Union’ for a ‘republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.’”3 “Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests,” Madison reasoned, and “you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens: or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.”4
1Boyd, Vol. 2; p. 534.

2The Federalist Papers, Clinton Rossiter, Ed.; A Mentor Book, 1961; p. 77.
3Ibid., p. XX. 4Ibid., Federal #10, p. 83.

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April 30, 2007 Madison insinuates in this hopeful theory a Lockean naivete about politics. While

oppressive majorities may well “invade” the rights of minorities, politics is a threat to society itself. In retrospect, one can see that Madison’s system had no special capacity to constrain the tyrannical tendencies of majorities–was the civil rights movement, for example, triggered by a surplus of social justice? Madison’s system is failing, however, because its has no capacity to purify the degenerative nature of politics. That is to say, there is nothing inherent in Madison’s application of the science of politics to assure that the political agents who operate his enlightened system are motivated by an interest to promote the common good. What Desmond Lee calls “natural growth” society does this without political machinery. This is the definition of a civil society. It grows out of the family and village. It operates like a living organism or modern “eco-system”. Each cell has a function. By performing its particular task, it sustains the organism in health. The healthy organism in turn sustains its constituent cells. This all occurs without political rights, machinery to form majorities, or agents to direct political construction. Natural-growth communities are also marketplaces in which individuals exchange what they produce for things they need–material, social and spiritual. In this respect, the organism of society is not just a common place. It is a commonwealth. Commonwealth continues so long as citizen cells profit in their trade. This is facilitated by social customs and traditions–public virtue–which incline individuals to follow ways that conduce to the well-being of the community. The members of a political society can withstand being divided into political factions only so long as this sort of overarching commitment to the interests of the community continues to exist. Rousseau asserted that once a community separates into sub-societies its concept of a common good disappears. History supports his analysis–on this point anyway. Once a people divides into smaller societies they become a collection of political entities which may well have no overriding (unifying) common interest. The self-destructing tendencies of political society are less the result of an improper structure of government, as Madison suggested, than of a political process that divides “the people” to create majorities. John Adams knew from experience that these majorities form only when men with unwavering political commitment–men life himself–form them. Adams was a fitting illustration of the personality this system creates–a relentless, partisan whose mission in life is to advance the interests of his side. One such agent begets another. The reason that 11

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Newton used to discern the true system of the world, that Rousseau twisted into advocacy rhetoric, descends with Adams into “political discussion.” That is to say, it descended into pamphleteering, propaganda, distortion and outright public deception–all for the purpose of gaining political advantage. That Adams and Madison refused to acknowledge that other political men would apply their methods with the same relentlessness to promote opposing views–not to mention new ones even more odious–shows their pre-occupation with their own political cause. Madison’s scientific government was never in fact capable of preventing this sort of social fragmentation. History shows that it is nothing more than a stage for the political free-forall his reclusive mentor initiated a decade after Madison’s enlightened new system was implemented. Thomas Jefferson’s victory in the “second American revolution” completed the transformation of America into a political society. Since the presidential election of 1800, America has been governed by–and for–its most powerful, aggressive, and well-organized faction. While the factions that have competed for the power to define the common good and make the law to accomplish it have distinguishable ideologies, and while they tend to advocate and enact different policies, they all have the same self-serving objective, and they all use the same political methods to accomplish it. That is, they all seek to channel political power into their own hands and they all exercise this power to secure their own preeminence. Doing this for two hundred plus years has gamed Madison’s system. In their continuing efforts to gain political advantage, the directors of these factions have extended the boundaries of the “political discussion” until there is no point where it stops, no point at which their competition for power ends. Every aspect of life is thus a subject for political debate. Every political debate is important to win. Individuals are encouraged–bullied–to exercise their political right to be for or against seemingly everything. When they join one side or the other, they effectively transfer their allegiance from their civil society to a political faction. Madison was wrong to think that this degenerative process could be overcome by scientific government. His problem lies ultimately in his failure to correctly conceptualize the problem of faction. History’s earlier political societies did not collapse because their members simply divided against themselves and fell into conflict. They collapsed because their leaders divided against each other and organized the people into factions so they could defeat their rivals in their competition for the power to rule. Throughout history, society’s leaders–not its 12

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followers–have undermined the capacity of “the people” to pursue a common good. This is the worm in the political apple. Politics in Madisonian reality does not work the way it does in Jeffersonian theory. In theory, men of good will deliberate together and, having done this, make laws that promote their agreed-upon interests. In fact, the party men (and women) who conduct these deliberations are not of good will. Their overriding objective is to gain political power. To do this, they undermine their opponents by whatever means are productive towards this self-serving end. The political agents who engage in this poisonous competition, cynics who manipulate public opinion in an unceasing effort to diminish their opponents and enhance themselves, promote social discord. The ill-will this engenders leads to division and ultimately to social conflict. This is the reality of politics. It never was the social constructive that John Locke and Thomas Jefferson postulated. Politics undermines civil society. Anyone who follows current events on television, for example, knows this. Few, however, bother to calculate what this means. What does it mean? By promoting the interests of factions, politics undermines the common ways (which constitute according to utilitarians society’s moral standard) and the social unity that make gathered groups societies. As these ordering forces lose their binding power, shared interests fade. As the vision of a common good dims, politics loses its power to generate consensus. When there is no consensus, it is impossible to produce political majorities or to define their will. At this point, majoritarianism ceases to be a viable form of government. This gives a context to the “multi-culturalism” that we as civic-minded Americans are now supposed to celebrate. Multi-culturalism has all characteristics of societal decay. Both feature collections of smaller societies that are in aggressive pursuit of their own Jeffersonian happiness. In both cases, these smaller societies have no common custom, no common vision of the good they are pursuing and no inclination to abide under anyone else’s. The fact that so many of our political leaders endorse this empty combination as a framework for a new American “society” shows just how much poisonous gas has collected in the mine shaft. No wonder people are leaving in droves–there’s going to be an explosion. The bottom line is this. The enlightened experiment with Lockean majoritarianism is over–it doesn’t work. At the same time, the Jeffersonian Political Age is ending–politics is not a social constructive; nor can it promote the common good when there are no social majorities to define 13

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it or sustain it. Savvy pundits don’t need to tell us which way the political wind is blowing–most of us already know. What we need now is for the chattering classes to get out of the way and let the civil societies that are going to replace their failed political machines take root.

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