Political Philosophy Term Paper

  • Length: 6 pages
  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #54459358

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles about the United States Constitution. These are a series of eighty-five letters written to newspapers in 1787-1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, urging ratification of the Constitution (Wills, 1981). For many years, historians, jurists, and political scientists share a general consensus that The Federalist is the most important work of political philosophy and pragmatic government ever written in the United States (USDS, 2004). It has been compared to Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, and Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, and has been used by many nations as a base for their constitutions.

One of the main parts of the Federalist Papers is the establishment of a system of checks and balances, which is now the root of democracy (USDS, 2004). This idea of checks and balances is based on a profoundly realistic view of human nature. While the Founding Fathers, which include Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton believed that people at their best were capable of reason, self-discipline, and fairness, they also knew that mankind was susceptible to passion, intolerance, and greed. In a famous passage, after introducing the necessary measures required to preserve liberty, Madison wrote: "It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

In Number 10 of The Federalist Papers, Madison elaborated on this double challenge (USDS, 2004). His central concern was the need "to break and control the violence of faction," which is political parties, and which he regarded as the biggest danger to popular government: "I understand a number of citizens... 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."

These passions or interests that threaten the rights of others may be religious, political, or economic (USDS, 2004). Factions may divide along lines of the rich and the poor, creditors and debtors, or according to possessions. Madison wrote: "A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide themselves into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and view. The regulations of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation...."

The main challenge to democracy, according to the Founding Fathers, was to determine the best way for fair, rational, and free people to mediate the competing claims or the factions that derive from them (USDS, 2004). It would be impossible to outlaw passion or self-interest, so a good government must come up with a way to prevent any faction, whether minority or majority, from imposing its will against the general good. One defense against an overbearing faction, according to Madison, is the republican (or representative) form of government, which tends "to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens."

In addition, Madison believed that it was crucial to broaden the geographic and popular basis of the republic, which would naturally occur under the national government proposed by the new Constitution (USDS, 2004). According to Madison: "As each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.... The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states."

The Federalist Papers discusses the idea of checks and balances as a way of restricting governmental power and preventing its abuse (USDS, 2004). In this system, the popularly elected House of Representatives would be checked and balanced by a more conservative Senate chosen by state legislatures. This system counters the dangers of force.

The founding fathers knew that legislative bodies could be tyrannical and believed that it was necessary to enact a law superior to the legislature itself and put restraint on it from becoming absolutist (Masud, 2004). Madison in the many of the Federalist Papers stressed how important it was to guard the society against the oppression of the rulers and also to guard parts of society against the injustices of others.

Constitutional amendments are crucial to any nation (Masud, 2004). That is why amendment procedures are so hard to do. A Constitution is created to facilitate formation of a government that would serve and not rule the people because a time may come when the government does not represent the people and its interests and those of the people differ. In these cases, as Henry David Thoreau advocated in the 19th century, for the people to "publicly disobey the laws of an unjust government which in turn would encourage and bring other people to oppose the government. It is, therefore, of utmost necessity that the government of the day should not use its executive powers to serve only parochial interests by giving legal coverage to such acts on the strength of brute majority."

Therefore, the concept of popular sovereignty, which was created by efforts to dissociate from absolutist regimes and central to the present discourse, argues that popular sovereignty cannot be completely totally delegated and that a framework of unbroken accountability of the government must be maintained to protect society from the corruption of power (Masud, 2004). This strand of argument is also supported by Thoreau's reluctance to "resign his conscience to the legislator since every man has a conscience... I think we should be men first and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right."

In this light, the force theory is considered (Masud, 2004). The force theory maintains that a strong person or group of people could conquer a territory and forced everyone to submit to their will. "The idea is not to rebel against a lawfully elected government but to communicate one's dissent as forcefully as possible, to be essentially communitarian in the creation of a solidaristic whole so that the government is impelled to respond to, implement and embody the vision of this collective solidarity and to create conditions to nurture its growth."

In Federalist Paper 25, written by Alexander Hamilton, the author warns that good politicians "will be cautious about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be observed, because they know that every breach of the fundamental laws, though dictated by necessity, impairs that sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country, and forms a precedent for other breaches where the same plea of necessity does not exist at all, or is less urgent and palpable (Patrick and Keller, 1987)."

The three men addressed the objections of opponents, who feared a corrupt government that would override states' rights and take away individual liberties. They believed that strong nationalists and the proposed system would empower the federal government to act in the national interest. Conflicting economic and political interests would be dealt with through a representative Congress, whose legislation would be subject to presidential veto and judicial review. This system of checks and balances and the Constitution's clear delineation of the powers of the federal government -- few, limited, and defined, according to Madison -- would safeguard the states' rights, as well as individual rights.

According to Federalist Paper No. 49, written by Ham or Madison, the importance of checks and balances could not be overlooked (Patrick and Keller, 1987). "In a nation of philosophers, this consideration ought to be disregarded. A reverence for the laws would be sufficiently inculcated by the voice of an enlightened reason. But a nation of philosophers is as little to be expected as the philosophical race of kings wished for by Plato. And in every other nation, the most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage to have the prejudices of the community on its side."

According to Locke, each man has his own summum bonum, or his own pursuit of happiness (Kennington, 2004). Since no man can have the support of knowledge for his choice of the good, each man's life is shadowed by the knowledge of the groundlessness of his choice. Life is uncertainty as regards the end. Locke believed that each man should be entitled to his own wealth. And that the acquisitive desire of the entrepreneur would be the engine that would produce…

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