In 1975 the Trilateral Commission published The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies, a report on the political state of the United States, Europe, and Japan. Central to the report was the assertion that the prevalence of movements advocating myriad social, economic, and political reforms stemmed from an excess of democracy, the vitality of which produced “a substantial increase in governmental activity and a substantial decrease in governmental authority.”
The report’s concern was not unique to that time; it can, in fact, be traced to the origins of American democratic thought. The Constitution’s foremost thinker, James Madison, feared democratic power would enable a majority citizenry suffering from growing inequities to put into place a system of governance in which the state’s resources were more evenly distributed (i.e., agrarian reform, or, welfare policy). We find in Aristotle’s Politics a similar concern. He, too, viewed the redistribution of property through democratic means as unjust.
His solution, then, was to reduce inequality, ensuring the problem never arises. Madison, though, came to a wholly difference conclusion. He designed a system that deterred democracy, rather than facilitate it. One in which power was placed in the hands of the wealthy, “more capable set of men.”
For Madison, the primary goal of the government was, after all, to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Making use of various historical, sociological, interpretive, and philological devices, such as textual analyses and close readings of the debates of the Constitutional Convention and the notes of early American thinkers, this essay explores the oft-appropriated intellectual origins of American democracy (e.g., the Madisonian Model) and its various manifestations to better understand, and offer origins for, divisive contemporary issues such as growing inequality, the increasing concentration of political power, the divergence between public opinion and implemented policy and legislation, the fracturing of political constituencies, and the exploitation of racial conflict.
To the goals of this conference on the subject of “Law and Democracy,” such an examination is useful, indeed necessary, to contemporary discourse on modern political systems attempting to meld democracy with state-capitalist policy.
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