You are on page 1of 14

Article 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

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 slow-
gathering 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 non-
members. This marks the effective end of majoritarianism. The functional end of this system of
government cannot be far behind.

Article April 30, 2007

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
Article 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
○ 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
- 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
- he did not understand, or at least he did not acknowledge, that factions in
Article 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
Article April 30, 2007

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.
Article 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
- 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
- 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
Article 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
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
Article April 30, 2007

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
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
Article April 30, 2007

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
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
Article April 30, 2007

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

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.
Article 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
Article April 30, 2007

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-for-
all his reclusive mentor initiated a decade after Madison’s enlightened new system was
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
Article April 30, 2007

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
Article April 30, 2007

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.