Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Freedom Comes From God, Not Men: Understanding That is Essential to Survival of the Republic

Photo credit: Wolkenengel565 via Shutterstock
Editor’s note: This is one in a series examining the Constitution and Federalist Papers in today’s America.
No text is more celebrated as a guide to the genius of our nation’s founders than The Federalist Papers, and no single essay from The Federalist is more celebrated than James Madison’s No. 10. In it, Madison offers the promise of the “well-constructed union” that tends “to break and control the violence of faction.”
During the decades of peace and prosperity following World War II, we Americans may have convinced ourselves that we had solved the problem of faction once and for all. But as we revisit Federalist No. 10 at a time when the violence of faction is no longer under control, our attention may be drawn to the sobering consequences of Madison’s belief that “the latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man.”
Some may have succumbed to the magical thinking that a value-free pluralism could neutralize those consequences. Our generation can now read Madison clearly: “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.” Humans will fight about everything and nothing, and our age sees this sorry truth confirmed on a daily basis.
Madison’s allusion to civil war was not empty rhetoric. In fact, the essays preceding Federalist No. 10 explored in great detail the danger of internecine conflicts to which free and self-governing peoples are prone. The earlier essays remind us that “men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious.” More, we are reminded of the history of ancient republics that were in “perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” In Madison’s telling, faction is a disease endemic to republican government. It cannot be cured. It cannot, like a cancer, be removed. Instead, it is a chronic condition that can only be managed.
Despite Madison’s warning to us about the dangers of faction that republican government presents us, he insisted that attempting to cure the dangers of faction by removing liberty would be “worse than the disease.” Yet nowhere in the Federalist essays do any of the authors explain why liberty is so valuable that it is worth hazarding the consequences of human nature. Madison begs this question but does not answer it.
One reason he may not have felt the need to answer this question is that it was regularly being answered in the pulpits of American churches. Congregationalist minister Jonathan Mayhew found scripture to be teaching that “wise, brave and virtuous men were always friends to liberty.” He preached that God had given the Israelites a king “because they had not sense and virtue enough to like a free commonwealth,” and he reminded his congregation that Jesus Christ had come to earth “to make us ‘free indeed.’”
Read the rest from Jason Ross HERE

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