Sunday, June 26, 2016

Understanding Philosophy in the Real World: Brexit




Introduction
My second semester of teaching philosophy 101 I had that student; the one that every teacher dreads. You know, the one that sits there all class with a scowl on her face and only opens her mouth to say "What's the point? Why are we even doing this?".  Next to math teachers, philosophy teachers probably have to deal with this the most. When handled incorrectly, this type of student can pollute the whole atmosphere of the class making the entire semester difficult. There are a variety of ways to handle such students. 


My response was to take her concerns seriously. If she couldn't see the value and importance of what I was teaching, at least a quarter of the students were probably thinking the same thing. [That figure comes from extensively polling my intuitions]. From that point forward I promised myself that I'd begin each lesson with a real world issue where the philosophical concept of the day played a pivotal role. If I couldn't show that the concept has real-world applicability and importance, I'd take it out of the syllabus. And that's what I've done ever since. (Bye-bye Gettier epicycles...)


From teaching this way I've learned that philosophy is all around us in every aspect of our lives--even more than even I had imagined. You can't see what you aren't looking for. But if you grow accustomed to looking, you'll be astounded with how embedded in philosophy our lives are.


With all that in mind I want to take the whole Brexit debacle as an opportunity to explore three closely related topics in political philosophy: (a) representative vs direct democracy, (b) idealization, and (c) voting rules. My aim is to show how philosophical decisions shape political events. 


(Here's an excellent companion article by political philosophers).

Representative vs Direct Democracy

Background
Pre-theoretically, most of us think of democracy as meaning something akin to self-rule. We, the people, are sovereign and so the rules that govern society (us) come from us, not from some external power. We (the governed) vote on the nature and content of the rules, policies, and institutions that we want to be governed by. In short, we self-legislate. 

Ok, so we self-legislate. How do we do that? Does each citizen need to vote every time a new law or policy is proposed?  Direct democracy is the idea that citizens vote directly on policy.  This may, at first blush, seem like a good idea. If I'm going to be governed by a law or bear the consequences of a policy, I want to have a say in it. In small organizations this kind of process makes sense. However, as an organization's size grows from team or village-size to that of a modern nation-state, direct democracy will be hugely impractical for a variety of reasons. 


First, in a large political community the amount of time each citizen would have to spend voting on a daily basis would significantly undermine their ability to go about their work day. And it's not just time spent voting. We might hope that citizens spend time familiarizing themselves with the relevant arguments and data associated with each issue. This again in hugely impractical given the breadth and depth of knowledge required to know everything about everything. If we want voters to be informed voters, not only would citizens need to set aside time each day to vote but they also have to set time aside to DO THEY'RE REESURCH!!!!11!!!. 


Besides, anyone who has spent more that 5 seconds in the comments section of the internet can tell you that what many people think is doing research is in fact a massive exercise in motivated reasoning. I find reading the comments section of most online articles to be the best possible argument against direct democracy. 





This leads us to the idea of representative gubbamint. Instead of each citizen giving up most of their day voting and doing research, they can pick someone who knows their interests and can represent them in gubbamint. This is what's meant by representative government: citizens select representatives from their respective communities that are familiar with their interests.  Enter the politician. 


Brexit and Representative Democracy

Here's the dealy-yo. It's very doubtful that any political arrangement will be perfect (excluding putting philosophers in charge of everything). There will always be trade-offs. With representative democracy we overcome many of the shortcomings of direct democracy (I'll discuss more of them in the next section). But we create new problems. 

First, since each citizen doesn't actually vote on policy, the representative has to interpret what his constituency would have voted for. There are many ways interpretation can go wrong. And this doesn't even include some subgroups' disproportionate influence or that the representative can be constrained by party politics (which of course, they always are to various degrees). 


Another major problem with interpretation is that people can be mistaken about what's in their own best interest. As a representative, do you vote according to what they actually say they want (even though it ultimately undermines their interests) or do you vote according to what a reasonable expert thinks would best advance their interests? I'll deal with this problem in detail in the idealization section below.

The next major problem takes a bit of background explanation. The whole point of democracy is self-rule. Ideally, the rules that govern us are represent our own will. Otherwise, to various degrees we are being coerced by what feels like (or is) an alien power. And nobody likes being told to follow rules they don't agree with.  


As a political community grows in size and complexity each sub-community has proportionately less influence over the rules by which they will be governed. This is just a fact about numbers. If your community represents only 3% of the population then your political weight in terms of shaping policy is quite small. 


Add to the numbers phenomena the fact that the diversity of values also increases as political communities expand. In a small political community there are more personal interactions and shared ways of living. It follows that fundamental values will tend to be relatively homogenous and so political disagreement over fundamental values is less likely. As political communities expand however, the likelihood of disagreement over fundamental values increases. Pair this fact with a sub-community's diminished political power to shape the laws and policies by which it is governed and you have a great recipe for political alienation. 


These concepts give us a helpful lens through which to understand the "take our country back" sentiment in Brexit (and "Make America Great Again" in US of A). The people who voted for Bexit don't feel as though they have any say in the laws and policies that govern them and that those laws are (perceived to be) inconsistent with their own values and beliefs. And, they are right. If democracy is conceived of as self-rule, their communities have very little influence over the policy according to which they are governed. Second, they don't recognize as their own the perceived values according to which they are governed (set by EU policy). 


This is not meant as a defense of Brexit supporters, only an explanation. That said, let me point out that the above reasons for resisting yet another level of gubbamint and for favoring local levels are probabilistic. There's no logical contradiction between a local government, tyranny, and despotism. 


Furthermore, there are reasons to think that the same people who voted for Brexit voted against their own interests. (Aside from the philosophical ones discussed below, here are some empirical ones from a libertarian blog which one would expect to be against centralization).


Let me explain:


Idealization

A naive view of people and politics suggests that people always know what's best for them. But this is obviously false. Such a view assumes perfect information and perfect reasoning. A mere moments reflection on one's own past or a perusal of the comments section of a vaccine article reveals that we can very often be mistaken about our own good. Thus, it looks like we have the makings of a dilemma: People make mistakes about their own good which implies that if we want to avoid bad policy experts ought to decide policy but at the same time democracy requires that citizens have a role in forming policy. We want to avoid coercing people--even if it's for their own good. 

Deriving solutions to this dilemma is the meat and potatoes of political philosophy. One of the more popular methods is to suggest some degree of cognitive idealization. Let me explain: we know that real people have false beliefs and make bad inferences. That's how they end up having false beliefs about what policy would actually best advance their interests. Proponents of idealization suggest that policy reflect what people would want if we (to varying degrees) idealized away their false beliefs and bad inferences. In other words, policy should be what people would want if they were rational and didn't have false beliefs. 


Let me illustrate. I've decided that you are in charge of me but you can only apply rules to me that I consent to. I walk into a donut shop and I see all the delicious donuts. I want to order 3 donuts. I believe that I want to order and eat 3 donuts. It turns out that eating 3 donuts would actually be inconsistent with what I truly value: the maintenance of my health and washboard abs. 


You know this but the overwhelming olfactory and visual stimulation has overwhelmed by brain. I have false beliefs about what's good for me. On a view of democracy where policy is set by people's actual desires and beliefs, you must buy me the donuts. It's what I actually want despite the fact that eating 3 donuts would be contrary to my core values (get it?) and interests. 


An idealization view, on the other hand, wouldn't give me the donuts. The idealization view idealizes away my false beliefs and bad inferences ("I'm going to feel so good if I eat those 3 donuts", "I'd be really happy if I ate all these donuts"). My belief that I want to eat 3 donuts is actually inconsistent with my more fundamental values (health and abs). Thus, if you prevented me from eating all three, it would not be contrary to democratic values. You wouldn't be coercing me because the policy you are imposing on me is actually consistent with my own values if I just thought about it a bit more. I am still self-legislating. You're just correcting for the vicissitudes of my passions. 


Within the literature there is dispute over just how much idealization we should do. If we idealize too much then the resulting policies won't be recognizable to the imperfect people they end up governing. Thus, although consistent with their interests, they will be perceived as coercion by an alien power. 


Others advocate some version of moderate idealization. Kevin Vallier suggests we idealize only in so far as actual people can recognize their own core values and beliefs in the resulting policy. The criticism of this view is that we still sometimes get people voting for bad policy if they have bad/false core beliefs or racist/zenophobic/homophobic values. 


Idealization and Brexit

Idealization gives us another lens through which to understand the Brexit vote. The vote was a referendum; i.e., direct democracy. In other words, there was no opportunity to correct (if need be) people's votes with idealization. If it turns out that it would actually be in most Brits' actual interest to stay in the EU, too bad. There's no way for a representative to correct for the error. 

The fact of the matter is that even most (all?) experts aren't clear on what the consequences of Brexit will be and so it's hardly likely that people in the general public made this judgment in an informed way.  Really, the vote was a "feel-off". Votes were more likely the result of raw emotion than any kind of informed deliberation over trade offs between values and likely consequences. 


If we take the reports in the media seriously,  there now seems to be growing buyers remorse among some of the no-vote contingent. The immediate adverse effect on the British economy (and people's pension funds) is making people seriously reconsider whether they voted on good information and whether their "no" vote was actually consistent with their core values, desires, and interests. 


Voting Rules

The quick about-face points to another issue in political philosophy: Voting rules. For many political issues, timing is everything. Poll people at two different points in time--even days apart--and you can get very different results. For example, if you'd polled Americans pre-9-11 about extending executive powers, the overwhelming majority would have said no. Just a few days after 9-11, many saw no problem with it. Now, it's being called into question again. 

This points to the idea that for major national-level decisions, you want some kind of voting rule in place that ensures the will of the people is stable and not the product of short-term current events. The Brexit referendum used a one-time majority rule vote. That doesn't do much to hedge against the vicissitudes of the unwashed masses. 


Consider also, about 70% of the country turned out to vote, just over half of which voted "no". That means about 35% of the population determined the fate of the remaining 65%. In the US constitutional reforms require 2/3 majority in both legislative houses (read: representative democracy/idealization). The higher bar ensures the changes reflect the publics' stable attitudes. The one-time majoritarian referendum does not. 


Conclusion

There are legitimate concerns with representative democracy in diverse large political communities. One's proportionate influence over policy diminishes and one must coexist within a greater diversity of values. When people lose the ability to shape the policy and institutions by which they are governed--even if it's in their own long-term interest--they push back. No one likes to be told how to live by a perceived-to-be alien power. It's not unreasonable to believe that as we add layers of government, institutions become less representative of local interests and values. Autonomy is undermined. Of course, these are probabilistic assumptions and the ultimate truth will vary across actual cases.

It's logically possible to believe both that all of the reasons for voting for Brexit are valid and still maintain that it is in the British public's own interest to stay (on balance). In fact, at least some observers suggest that there will be less rather than more overall autonomy with BrexitAt the end of the day, we'll have to see how it plays out. 


My own tentative view is that the world of nationalist isolated nation-states has had its chance. A casual look back at history tells us that what Europeans gain with the EU is so much greater than what they lose. I submit that Brexiters are confusing relative costs for absolute costs. They see the costs of the current state of affairs on their self-determination. And they are without a doubt right. But these cost are being considered as absolute costs. In fact, the costs must be weighted relative to the alternatives. And as I've already mentioned, we needn't look too far into history to see the costs of a nationalist Europe. 


Finally, we should ask what Brexiters are trying to achieve. What is their metric of success? How will they know if it was a good decision? None of this is really clear beyond a greater sense of self-determination even if on the whole they end up worse off. If so, we can make sense of the Brexit vote through the eyes of Dostoevsky's Underground Man:

I would not be at all surprised, for instance, if suddenly and without the slightest possible reason a gentleman of an ignoble or rather reactionary and sardonic countenance were to arise amid all that future reign of universal common sense and, gripping his sides firmly with his hands, were to say to us all, "Well, gentlemen, what about giving this common sense a mighty kick and letting it scatter in the dust before our feet simply to send all those logarithms to the devil so that we can again live according to our foolish will?"  
...Man has always and everywhere--whoever he may be--preferred to do as he chose, and not in the least as his reason or advantage dictated; and one may choose to do something even if it is against on's own advantage, and sometimes one positively should. One's own free and unfettered choice, one's own whims, however wild, one's own fancy, overwrought thou it sometimes may be to the point of madness [. . .]
All man wants is an absolutely free choice, however dear that freedom may cost him and wherever it may lead him to...  


















Saturday, June 18, 2016

Religious Beer Goggles and Why I am the First Eagle of The Apocalypse



The Hook: Only through the beer goggles of religion can one claim everyone deserves to die for all and any (perceived) moral infractions and not see the view as repugnant.

Introduction
My attitude towards religion has several times swung from extreme to extreme as drastically as possible for anyone maintaining atheism throughout. My position most aligned with Dawkins and Harris from about 2008-2012, then for a variety of reasons my view started to soften. In 2013, I saw Dawkins and Krause give a talk at UNLV. They were so hateful, condescending, and mean-spirited (as did appear most of the audience) toward the religious I had to leave part-way, feeling sick to my stomach that I'd aligned myself with such a deplorable group of people. I swore I'd never associate myself again with those people (or views).

Anyhow, since then I've been what some call a friendly atheist. I think, all things considered, religion is a good thing for those that choose to have it in their lives. Nevertheless, it's not for me.

Well, the Orlando shooting has got me reconsidering again. I'm not going full Dawkins or anything. I'm still in the friendly atheist camp but there are certain aspects where I think I have reason to be critical.

I have the outline of a critique of liberal tolerance for Islamic homophobia in my unfinished drafts but today I'm going to do what every Christian loves. I, a liberal, am going to persecute them for their views. If I'm lucky, I'll see parts of my post in God's Not Dead III. (In fact, what I'm going to argue can be generalized in any religion that way, in the interest of fairness, everyone gets to claim liberal persecution).

Specifically, I'm going to address an article that on exegetical grounds defends Christianity against the charge that it is homophobic and recommends death to gays.

Before getting to the main article let me just say one thing about (mainstream) liberal critiques of homophobia in Christianity and Islam. The Right is right. Mainstream liberals are all-too-happy to point the finger at parts/branches of Christianity that are, by any reasonable definition, homophobic yet turn a blind eye to the often more blatant homophobia and anti-gay hatred in Islam.

The Right is right to point out the inconsistency. A Christian baker doesn't sell a cake to a gay couple and twitter and Facebook explode. Gay people are stoned to death, shot, or thrown off buildings as a matter of practice in Muslim countries and nary a peep from liberal social media. The Koran's condemnation of gay sex is at least on par with that of the Torah (That's Old Skool Testament for you gentiles).

You might think (lamely) "Hey maaaaaaaaan, what's right for them is right for them and what's right for us is what's right for us" at which point I will recommend you be stoned to death. Besides, it's not just Islam "over there" that is predominantly homophobic, it's Islam anywhere. It's part of the religion (proscribed in both the Koran and the Hadeeth).

That said, Muslims aren't the most intolerant religious group (in the US) and of course attitudes vary across individuals and sects. However, for a Muslim (Christian or Jew) to reject the idea that homosexual acts are morally wrong they must also admit that there is a factual error in their holy text. They have to believe that their (divinely inspired?) text contains a false statement. Not many are willing to make this move. That's why we see olympic level mental gymnastics from liberal theists.

Anyhow, this post isn't about Islam. Besides, the honor of "Most Intolerant of Homosexuality" goes to White Evangelicals, Baptists in particular.  Shout out to the Jews and Buddhists who are by a landslide the most tolerant. Here's a break down of intolerance and religious affiliation.

For an overview of attitudes toward homosexuality around the world.

The Article
After the Orlando shootings, Georgia Congressman Rick Allen read some Biblical verses. The verses have been interpreted by many as suggesting homosexuality ought to be condemned by death. Molly Hemingway tries to argue that this isn't the correct interpretation and Jennifer Shutt, who wrote the original piece for roll call, doesn't know her biblical exegesis from a hole in the wall. I say "tries" because the position she ends up in is so laughingly preposterous it can only be taken seriously when read through the beer goggles of religion.

Ok, let's the look at the infamous Romans 1:27 and 1:28-32. (or as Trump would say '1 Romans'):
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet,”

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Shutt's interpretation of the passage is merely that the verses "discuss what types of penalties the Bible says should be applied to those who are not heterosexual.” 

Here's Hemingway's "scathing" reply:
If you’re going to do the exegesis, Right Reverend Shutt, I might recommend knowing that we don’t call verses “lines.” [Buuuuuuuurn!] Also, maybe notice that the listing of sins indicts literally every single human on the planet. So if you’re thinking that Christianity calls for the execution of gays, you have to think, on the basis of the same passage, it calls for the execution of everyone. And if you’re thinking that, and you know anything at all about Christianity, maybe ponder whether everything you’ve written is embarrassingly wrong.

Instead, Shutt specifically said, falsely, that this passage “discusses what types of penalties the Bible says should be applied to those who are not heterosexual.” Wrong. Wrong. And wrong, wrong, wrong. It doesn’t discuss types of penalties. It doesn’t say penalties should be applied at all. And the passage applies to everyone.

There’s no mention of whether Shutt’s cited translation is the one Allen used, but the “worthy of death” phrase (in my Bible, it’s “deserve to die”) is simply a restating of a basic teaching of Christianity. Let’s hop on over to Romans 6:23. (But read the whole chapter because it’s amazing.) 
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is the good news of Christianity! We’re all sinners who deserve death, but in Christ Jesus, we receive forgiveness and eternal life.

Ok, let's go through this without our beer googles on. In the first paragraph, Hemmingway offers a powerful defense against the charge that the Bible teaches us to condemn homosexuals to death, Hemingway cheerily points out that
Premise 1: The listing of every sin "indicts literally every single human on the planet." 
Conclusion: Therefore, it's not just "the gays" whose execution Christianity calls for, "it calls for the execution of everyone[!]".
Now, or course, the conclusion can't be right. It'd be hard to defend the view that Christianity calls for the death of everyone. Whew!

Next, however, we're confronted with the following "lines" from the Good Book.
[...] Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death [. . .].
or, as Hemingway points out, depending on your translation "worthy of death" could be "deserve to die".  And just in case you were unclear, deserving to die is good news(!)
"This is the good news of Christianity! We’re all sinners who deserve death, but in Christ Jesus, we receive forgiveness and eternal life.
So, let me get this straight. (At least) all the sins listed in the above "lines" make one deserve to die? Since we've removed our beer goggles, we should ask whether this is what we could expect from a reasonable ethical or legal theory.

Typically, in most human ethical and legal systems, when it comes to selecting punishments or moral blameworthiness we exercise the notion of proportionality.  A just punishment (or appraisal or blameworthiness) is one that is proportional to the severity of your crime. The view advanced here suggests that "being full of envy" or, heaven forbid "debate" are as equally worthy of deserving death as is someone who commits murder.
Judge: We've now entered the sentencing phase. We find Bob guilty of debate. For your crime you deserve to die. 
Imagine if our own justice system operated this way. God as judge is like a messed up Oprah: "You deserve to die! And you deserve to die! And you deserve to die! You all deserve to die!"

Such a view can only be taken seriously through the beer goggles of religion.

Now, to be fair, we needn't interpret this passage as God saying he will actually kill you for debating or disobeying your parents only that it makes you worthy of death.

Let's accept this beer goggle view of moral desert and see what else follows. Lately Christian apologists have been making an argument similar to Hemingway's.  Christians aren't especially against gays. "We don't rank sins" goes the clever refrain. "See! we don't hate gays, we treat all sin equally".

I think that's wonderful. So, on this view, they must also agree that if I own a bakery and a debater or disobedient child orders a cake, I can refuse service on those grounds. All sins are equal right? So, if it's OK for me to refuse service because of one type of sin, surely I must be able to refuse service for any other sin the offends my "deeply and sincerely" held belief.

Sometimes this comes across as genuine (albeit misguided) but usually it's a rhetorical ploy. Usually it just comes off like what this recent Pastor posted on the sign outside his church:
Homosexuals got shot down in Florida. It looks like God's wrath is about to start pouring down on the gays.

When asked for comment he used something like the above strategy. "We're not trying to kill them. I've had a lot of signs up here that homosexuals need to be saved but they didn't say anything about that one, the only thing I said here in this one is that God's wrath going to start being poured down on the gays."

Translation: I'm not going to actively kill them or promote that (see how full of love I am?) I'm just going to imply that they deserve to die. See! There's no hate for 'the gays' in my religion... If you find this repugnant yet find Hemingway's interpretation of scripture appealing, I'd like to know the difference between what the Pastor is saying and what scripture prescribes. 

Why I am the First Eagle of the Apocalypse
I am the First Eagle of the Apocalypse because I can see that "religious" "freedom" laws are incompatible with Christian apologetics towards gays.

Premise 1: Either sins are all equal or they are not.
Premise 2: If all sins are equal then (a) either people can refuse to serve anyone for trivial reasons or (b) we get rid of this religious "freedom" exemption.
Premise 3: If all sins are not equal (in a religions theology) and homosexuality is a grievous sin then the person making this claim cannot dodge the charge that their religion institutionalizes anti-gay practices, attitudes, and beliefs.
Conclusion: I am the First Eagle of the Apocalypse.















Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gun Violence, Gun Legislation, and Why I am Jesus

Introduction
I'm not even sure how to begin there's so much idiocy around this issue. Let me start by saying something often heard from the gun rights team. Mass shootings represent only a very small fraction of gun-related homicides (about 1% depending on the study you read). Even if we increase this number by a factor of 10 we're still only looking at 10% of gun-related homicides. From the point of view of policy then it makes sense to argue that preventing mass shootings shouldn't be the primary focus or starting point of gun policy. (Not to say it shouldn't at all be the focus of policy, only that there are perhaps better starting points, and lower hanging fruit).

Consider: Suppose policy aims to reduce mass shootings but not other forms of gun violence (primarily from hand guns). Even if that policy reduces mass shootings by 50%, of total gun homicides it's a hollow victory. If however policy reduces other homicides by just 10%, as an absolute number of lives saved, that policy is much more successful. (Assumption: gun violence policy ought to reduce total homicides and injury from guns).

Where do we begin then? How about reducing unintentional shootings, domestic abuse (with guns), and suicide (by guns)?

Wait! Wait! DON'T TUCKER GUNSSS!!!! FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS!!!!11!!!....DON'T TREAD ON MEEEEEEE!!! NO THURD TERM!!!!11!!!1 THE CONSTITUSHUN!!!1111111!!!

God damn it. I never said anyone's gonna take yur gunz. Sit down.

Here's the thing. The US is held hostage by radical gun culture. If you think for one second that any kind of restrictions on gun access (let alone a buy-back program) are going to pass both houses, you are as delusional as the guy in his homemade bunker waiting for Obama to put him in a FEMA camp to make him get gay-married under Shakira law.

My Solution
Gun violence is a public health problem. Let's treat it like we treat cigarettes. Have a public information campaign about the statistics of having a gun in your house. Lunatic gun culture fueled by gun producers and the NRA have succeeded in embedding the delusion that you and your loved ones are safer with a gun in the house than not. In fact, statistically you and they are not:

 For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182

Domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force
Linda E. Saltzman, et al., Weapon Involvement and Injury Outcomes in Family and Intimate Assaults, 267 JAMA, 3043-3047 (1992)

Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm

More than half of youth who committed suicide with a gun obtained the gun from their home, usually a parent’s gun.
U.S. children and teens made up 43 percent of all children and teens in top 26 high income countries but were 93 percent of all children and teens killed by guns. 
• In 2010, children and teen gun death rates in the U.S. were over four times higher than in Canada, the country with the next highest rate, nearly seven times higher than in Israel, and nearly 65 times higher than in the United Kingdom. 
• U.S. children and teens were 32 times more likely to die from a gun homicide and 10 times more likely to die from a gun suicide or a gun accident than all their peers in the other high-income countries combined. A child or teen dies or is injured from guns every 30 minutes. 
• 18,270 children and teens died or were injured from guns in 2010 
  o 1 child or teen died or was injured every 30 minutes. 
  o 50 children and teens died or were injured every day. 
  o 351 children and teens died or were injured every week. More children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newtown massacre. 
• 2,694 children and teens died from guns in 2010. 
  o 1 child or teen died every 3 hours and 15 minutes. 
  o 7 children and teens died every day, more than 20 every three days. 
  o 51 children and teens died every week. 
• The children and teens who died from guns in 2010 would fill 134 classrooms of 20 children. Guns are the second leading cause of death among children and teens ages 1-19 and the number one cause among Black children and teens. 
• Only motor vehicle accidents kill more children and teens every year. • White and Asian/Pacific Islander children and teens were nearly three times more likely, American Indian/Alaska Native children and teens more than two times as likely, and Hispanic children and teens one-and-a-half times more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a gun. 
• In contrast, Black children and teens were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than to be killed in a car accident.  
http://www.childrensdefense.org/library/data/state-data-repository/protect-children-not-guns-key-facts-2013.pdf

Whachugonna do? Cuz I'm gonna give Obama my gunz...
So, just like with smoking, let people kill themselves and those closest to them if they insist on being irresponsible. That said, we can enact a public information campaign (just as we did with smoking) that owning a gun is, statistically, not a good choice if your goal is to protect you and your loved ones. Policy can, like with cigarettes, insist on warning labels. For example,

True Fact:"If you buy this gun you and the people you live with are much more likely to be shot than saved by your gun".

There can also be public information campaigns on various media platforms presenting the risks relative to the benefits.

The gun industry (like the tobacco industry) has worked hard to create the illusion that their product is good for you. People genuinely believe that by owning a gun they will be better off because they will be able to protect themselves and their family. Within the context of the information they've been given, their choice isn't unreasonable. They are in part correct. However, what the narrative misses is that everything comes with benefits AND risks.

So far the narrative presented to people contemplating owning a gun has been, like any marketing campaign, LOOK AT THE BENEFITS!!!111!!! However, a public information campaign can situate that benefit in its proper context; i.e., relative to the additional risks one takes on.

Notice that my solution doesn't require getting Obama to go door to door to take people's guns. We're just giving people better information.

Yes, of course, the hard core gun lovers won't change their behavior. Their choices were never the product of deliberation to begin with. But for the reasonable person who buys the gun because of the distorted narrative, the one who thinks buying the gun genuinely will make their family safer, they will now have better information from which to make a decision.

Conclusion
I am Jesus because my proposed policy
(a) while modest, primarily addresses one of the largest source of gun death and injury rather than the smallest and so stands to have the greatest impact.
(b) doesn't propose the politically implausible policy of restricting access all guns no matter how deadly (cuz what if I need to protect myself from Obama).
(c) avoids coercion by placing trust in those well-meaning reasonable members of the public who have been mislead by gun propaganda.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rousseau vs Madison: How A Philosophical Decision Led to Trump


Note: My footnotes didn't transfer over when I cut and pasted this from my wordprocessor so if you're reading something wondering why I haven't supported it with a citation, that's why! Otherwise, all my claims are absolutely indisputable and representative of the TRUTH!!!111!!!!!11!!!!!!


Rousseauvian vs Madisonian Republicanism and Why Madison is Responsible for Trump

I. Introduction
People are frustrated. And when you’re frustrated you go right or you go left. The widening political gap, the appeal of political outsiders, and the sense of disenfranchisement isn’t just another disruption from which America will recover. The current political state of affairs can be traced back to a philosophical decision regarding the fundamental purpose of the institutions of government taken at this country’s origins. Both Rousseau and Madison were philosophically republican: They agreed that a government is only legitimate in so far as sovereignty resides in its people. 

They differed, however, in regards to the fundamental purpose according to which government ought to orient its institutions. For Rousseau, the institutions of government aim at identifying and manifesting in policy the public good represented by the will of the people. For Madison, government institutions ought to primarily function as instruments that prevent any one faction from wielding power over any other—particularly, majority factions over minority factions. I’ll argue that current American political divisiveness, feelings of disenfranchisement, and preferences for ‘outsider’ candidates are a product of having chosen the Madisonian side in the philosophical debate over the primary role of government.

This paper can be broadly divided into two parts: In the first part I lay out (a) the Rousseauvian and Madisonian visions of republicanism and (b) explain what drove Madison to his view. Second, I argue that the particular trade-offs Madison made lead to a politically divided population that feels disenfranchised by their own government and prefers candidates perceived as outsiders.

II. Rousseau and Classical Republicanism 
In order to understand Madison and the Federalist position we have to first understand the intellectual framework in which they were writing. Perhaps most clearly expressed by Madison in Federalist #39, the Federalists viewed themselves as being firmly within the republican tradition:

The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican? It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America […]. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible. 

And so, I will take some time to lay out the general features of modern republicanism— Rousseau’s brand specifically—to be later contrasted against Madison’s. This section is somewhat lengthy as it lays important groundwork for my main arguments in Section IV.

A. Sovereignty, Legitimacy, and the General Will
Broadly construed, republicanism is founded on the idea that sovereignty resides in the people. More specifically, political power and legitimacy—regardless of the form of government—inheres in the will of the people. For Rousseau, a government is legitimate to the degree that its institutions identify and express the will of the people in regards to the public good.

The public good is represented by what Rousseau called the ‘general will’. We can understand the general will as each individual citizen’s will in regards to the public good. Rousseau’s believed that if each (adequately informed) citizen deliberates independently on the public good, the general will will “always result from the large number of small differences” (SC. II. 1. 2). The idea is that people will more or less converge on what constitutes the public good for a political community. 

It’s important to contrast the general will with the popular will or the majority will. The popular will is the result of people voting according to their private interests (rather than the interests of the community). When people vote according to private interests, the general will (if there is one) is obscured. When individual private interests converge in a group, i.e., when factions form, the will of each faction becomes general in relation to its members and particular to the State (Ibid.). Thus, the will of a faction is no longer an expression of each individual’s conception of the public good, but the expression of one group’s private interests. From a Rousseauvian point of view, a policy or law enacted on such a will is illegitimate. Only laws or policies that express the general will are legitimate.

When factions are a majority or form alliances comprising a majority the will they express cannot be construed as the general will. It is merely the expression of a group’s private interest rather than the will of the community in regards to the public good (Ibid). That is, a policy representing the interests of a majority (rather than of the entire community) fails the test of legitimacy. It is important to emphasize also that the general will results from a large number of small differences over the public good, whereas differences in wills between factions (i.e., the popular will) can be large. Look no further than contemporary partisan politics to see just how far apart the wills of factions can be: e.g., gay marriage laws, climate change policy, gun rights.

B. Conditions for Stability and Forms of Government 
The legitimate role of government is and can only be to interpret and enact the general will. As Rousseau put it, “it is solely in terms of this common interest [toward the common good] that society ought to be governed” (SC II. 1.1). Given the constraints on the limits of government, society must meet certain background conditions in order that it have a general will to begin with. As we saw above, when people will according to private or group interests, there is no general will. It follows that republican governments must meet certain conditions to avoid factions since factions are destructive to the general will. When laws and policy don’t emanate from the general will, laws will be illegitimate rendering unstable the entire political community.

The first conditions for there being a general will (and hence legitimacy and stability) are size and homogeneity. When a political community covers a wide territory it will likely include people of diverse values, interests, religions, and conceptions of the good life. As these variable proliferate within a political community so does the probability of incommensurability of interests, and in turn the likelihood of factions: “[T]he more a social bond stretches the looser it grows, and in general a small state is proportionally stronger than a large one” (SC II. 9.1)  In short, a political community ought to be small and homogeneous to minimize the likelihood of factions and maximize the likelihood of convergence on ideas of the public good. The republican city-states of ancient Greece and Rome are examples of size and degree of homogeneity both Rousseau and Montesquieu had in mind as their models. 

A second set of conditions for avoiding factions (and hence illegitimacy and instability) is relative equality of wealth and power. Equality, Rousseau writes, 
must not be understood to mean that degrees of power and wealth should be absolutely the same, but that, as for power, that it stop short of all violence and never be exercised except by virtue of rank and laws, and that as for wealth, no citizen be so rich that he can buy an other, and none so poor that he is compelled to sell himself […]. (SC II.11.2)

Power differences can only be the result political position and law rather than socio-economic or other attributes. Importantly, suppressing factions (and hence stability) also requires some degree of equality in wealth. As inequalities in wealth widen so do interests between economic groups  along with conceptions of the public good. At some point, inequality of wealth opens a chasm between groups such that a general will ceases to exist. People become primarily politically concerned with promoting and shielding their individual interests instead of disinterestedly advocating those of the entire community.

Rousseau then makes a point that will be critical later in Section IV of my paper when I pit him against Madison: Because relative economic equality is necessary for the preservation of the State, it is consistent with the public good and thus legitimate for the institutions of government legislate to promote and maintain it: “It is precisely because the force of things always tends to destroy equality, that the force of legislation ought always to tend to maintain it” (Bk II. 11. 3). In short, legislation that preserves relative equality falls within the legitimate prevue of the State. 

Having laid down the conditions for a successful, stable, and legitimate republic I’ll briefly remark on Rousseau’s thoughts regarding forms of government. On his view republican governments can be monarchies, aristocracies, democracies as well as various subspecies and hybrid’s of each ‘pure’ form. 
I therefore call a republic any state ruled by laws, whatever the form of administration may be: for then alone does the public interest govern and does the commonwealth truly exist. Every legitimate government is republican. (Bk. II.6) 

So long as a form of government represents the will of the people, it is legitimate. Forms of government must take into account that population’s climate, size of country, national temperament, and geopolitical position (Bk II, 8&9).

Contemporary readers might raise their eyebrows at the idea of republican aristocracies or monarchies. However, within the context of Rousseau’s time, it makes perfect sense. Identifying, interpreting, and realizing the general will requires wisdom, technical knowledge, and a good education. At the time, the requisite skills and talents typically resided in the aristocracy and so we should not find him endorsing an aristocratic republic so surprising. This observation will also be important in Section IV.

Having laid out the classical commitments of republicanism and the intellectual framework within which Madison was a operating, I’ll turn to Madison’s vision of a democratic republic.

III. Madison and the American Dilemma
A. The Federalist Problem and Solution: An Overview
Madisonian republicanism is best understood within the context of the main problem he was trying to solve. Madison (along with the other Federalists) believed that the colonies needed a strong central government in order to solve a number of coordination problems between the states. Like Rousseau, he believed sovereignty lay with the people (see footnote 1). The problem, however, was reconciling this desire for a strong central government with the Rousseauvian argument that legitimate and stable democratic republics must be relatively small and homogenous to avoid factions and instability.  A government ruling over a vast territory populated with heterogeneous groups runs against everything Rousseauvian republicanism recommends.

James Conniff argues that this tension only emerges if we conceive of the proper role of government institutions within the Rousseauvian framework—i.e., to interpret and manifest the public good represented by the general will (p. 44, 56).  Rather than solve the Federalist dilemma on Rousseauvian terms, Madison reconceives of the primary role of government institutions as mitigating the harmful effects of factions. This shift in republican theory opens the door for a Federalist solution to the American dilemma: A large political community comprised of many diverse factions ensures that no group is large enough to suppress the rights of any other or harm the public good. Newly conceived problem, solved!

B. The Madisonian Solution: The Details
Recall that on the traditional republican view, republics—especially democracies—must meet several background conditions for stability and legitimacy, e.g., relative equality in wealth and power, and common way of life and values. Thus, stability requires homogeneity along several axises and maintaining the background conditions for homogeneity along those axises. A political community that doesn’t meet the background conditions gives rise to factions which in turn obscure or annihilate the general will. With no identifiable representation of a shared conception of the public good, government institutions cannot perform their primary legitimate function and ultimately lose their legitimacy. Thus, a stable democracy must be small, to avoid factions and their harmful effects. 
On Madison’s view, however, factions are a fact of human life: 
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government [. . .] have, in turn divided mankind into parties [. . .] and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind…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. (Federalist #10, p. 44; my italics). 

In short, no political community, no matter how small can avoid factions. 

The conjunction of the inevitability of factions and their harmfulness leads Madison to undertake a paradigm shift within republican theory: Since causes of factions can’t be removed (a) the primary focus of government (contra Rousseau) ought to be their regulation (b) by including them in the political process and expanding the size of the political community to neutralize their power:  

The regulation of these various and interfering interests, forms the principle task of modern legislation and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government (Federalist #10, p. 44).
Also
Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed, than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction (Federalist #10, p. 42).

Factions and self-interested behavior are part of the human condition and can’t be legislated away.  The primary task of government ought to be to neutralize their power so that no single faction or aggregation of factions can suppress the rights of another or harm the public good. Managing factions vis a vis one another also maintains political stability.

Let’s take a closer look at how he supports his view beginning with his definition of factions: Factions are
a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who 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 interest of the community. (Federalist #10, p. 43)
A faction is any group whose interests run counter to the rights of other citizens or the public good. Although any group that meets the above definition is potentially harmful, Madison is particularly concerned with majority factions:
If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle [. . .]. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest, both the public good and the rights of other citizens. (Ibid., p. 45)
In a democracy, where the majority rules, minority groups can easily have their rights violated by the institutions of government. Madison needs a way to prevent this outcome but at the same time acknowledge that factions are inevitable. 

Here is the critical move in Madison’s argument for Federalism. To minimize the likelihood of a faction forming a majority, a political community must be large and heterogeneous rather than small and homogenous. That is, by enlarging (numerically and geographically) the political community factions are “rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression” (Ibid). In other words, it’s much more difficult to form a majority faction in a large heterogeneous population.  

As population and heterogeneity and size increase, the likelihood of convergence of private interests decreases. Thus, since confederacy dilutes the effects of local factions, confederacy is the best means of hedging against ‘the tyranny of the majority’. Notice, however, that Madison’s move is only possible by reconceiving of the primary role of government institutions as mitigator and mediator of competing factions rather than as identifier and implementor of the general will.

Madison makes one more major move: In a representative democracy, expanding the territory and the ratio of constituents to representatives implies that the talent pool of possible representatives also expands. Thus, talented, wise, patriotic representatives will (more likely) be able to “best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations” (Ibid, p. 46). In other words, wise representatives will mitigate the short-sighted and impassioned desires of a majority (or minority) and pronounce the public voice in a way “more consonant to the public good, than if pronounced by the people themselves [. . .]” (Ibid.). 

The Rousseauvian critic will argue that if a constituency is too large, representatives will be ill-acquainted with local needs. If too small, representative is ill acquainted with national needs. But a large republic allows for a division of state and national level representatives thereby solving this trade-off. 

IV. Rousseauvian Vs. Madisonian Republican Institutions and Political Culture
With all the major machinery of the Rousseauvian and Madisonian views in place, I’ll make three interconnected arguments for my central claim that contemporary political divisiveness, the popularity of political ‘outsiders’ like Bernie Sanders and Trump, and a general feeling of political disenfranchisement can be traced back to Madison’s reconception of the primary role of government institutions. My three arguments are closely interrelated and thus rely on each other for support. For this reason, as I present the first, some premises won’t get full-blown support until the subsequent section, and the second and third arguments are presented together since they are deeply connected parts of a whole. I beg the reader’s patience on this matter. 

Argument 1: Political DNA
Conniff praises Madison for solving the American dilemma: “he provides an intellectually consistent answer to the key concern of republican theorists of his day” (p. 57). However, Madison’s solution comes only after denying that any solution is forthcoming within traditional republicanism. He sets aside the problem of identifying and manifesting the public good in a large and diverse political community. In short, public good as a secondary concern is built into the American political system. Why does this matter? Because in so far as political institutions do not represent to the people their conception of the public good, the policies that emanate will appear foreign. Predictably this results in a feeling of disenfranchisement and resentment toward the institutions of government. Paradoxically, we end up with a people in whom sovereignty resides yet feel as though policy rarely represents their will—and only contingently so when it does.

Let me elaborate. On the Madisonian model, the fundamental role of government is to mitigate the harmful effects of factions. Several implications follow. First, when people vote they will not vote according to their disinterested conception of the public good. They will vote according to their private interests. This comes straight from Madison’s sociology; i.e., that factions are inevitable. This means that policy outcomes are the result of either one faction winning out or of political compromise between two or more factions. Policy represents aggregations or compromises of various private rather than a general will. When people vote according to private interest, any consideration for or alignment with the public good is merely contingent. Thus, policy inputs to Madisonian institutions will be private interests only contingently aligned with whatever may be the public good. If political inputs only contingently consider the public good, we should not expect the outputs to be much different. Thus, when the final policy or law is made many citizens are unlikely to recognize their own will or a general will represented in it which in turn leads to feelings of disenfranchisement. 

One might respond that my claim is too strong: Certainly some groups will vote selfishly by why suppose most will? Although related, I have two responses. The first comes from basic game theory. The second is the sociological point that there is a reciprocal relationship between our institutions, practices, material conditions, and behavior and values.  I’ll begin with the first reply. We can conceive of the Madisonian system as setting up a generalized prisoners’ dilemma. If I know that others are likely to vote according to their private interests, I’d be a sucker not to do the same myself. And so, a strong incentive to vote according to one’s private interest is built into the structure of the political system—lest one be a sucker.

Here a Madisonian might respond that, a large republic selects representatives from the best and brightest, and their wisdom will “best discern the true interest of their country” and render the public voice “more consonant to the public good” (Federalist #10, p. 46). However, there are two reasons to believe this won’t typically occur. The first, Madison supplies himself. In making his argument for shifting the republican paradigm away from the general will, Madison argues (contra his assertion above regarding the capacities of able statesmen) that 

[i]t is vain to say, enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm: nor in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all, without taking into view indirect and remote consideration, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another, or the good of the whole. (Ibid, p. 45). 

In short, we are asking too much of mere mortals to find (i) a just outcome between conflicting interests that (ii) avoids undermining the rights of others, (iii) isn’t contrary to the public good, and (iv) also manifests the public good. 

Madisonian institutions primarily aim to achieve (i), (ii), (iii). If (iv) comes about, it’s a bonus but this isn’t the primary concern of government in forming policy. Avoiding harm to rights and to the public good isn’t the same thing as promoting or being commensurate or coextensive with the public good. For this reason, government will issue policy unrecognizable for many from either their own point of view and that of public good. Significant portions of the population will see policy as the outcome of competing private interests where ‘successful’ policy only avoids harm to the public good but needn’t promote it. Thus, policy will be unrecognizable and foreign from the point of view of the general will. 

A Madisonian system of government encourages voting according to faction and private interest thus making any policy alignment with the public good merely contingent and accidental. I suggested above that some might find this claim too strong. My second reply concerns the feedback relationship between policy, material conditions, practices, values, and behavior. It would go beyond the scope of this paper to definitively establish the claim, however, I think the nature of these interrelations have been sufficiently accepted to various degrees since at least Marx such that the the burden of proof should fall on whoever denies them. Taking the interrelationships for granted then, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that a political system whose primary explicit purpose is to mediate between factions rather than seek and represent the public good encourages just those types of practices for which it was designed.

Again, one could counter that, surely, over the course of American history institutions have issued policy consonant with the public good. And they would be quite right. However, whenever policies have represented the public good it has only been because contingent background conditions allowed it rather than it having been the explicit aim of government.  I’ll develop this argument in more detail in the next section but for now, I’ll make a few brief remarks. 

The Rousseauvian framework provides a rich set of conditions under which a general will can exist and factions are minimized and neutralized. Relative equality in wealth and power figure prominently. We might speculate that the periods of American history where policy most closely tracked the general will were also the periods where these Rousseauvian background conditions were met. The upshot being, background conditions likely diminished the quantity of and relative differences between factions such that the politics of factions and compromise could give way to concern for the public good. That said, once those background conditions evaporated, the quantity of and distance between factions reemerged. The result being that when public policy has tended to track public good, it has a done so as a contingent fact about background conditions rather than as a fact about the priorities written into the DNA of Madisonian political institutions.

Before moving on, let me summarize what I have said so far since it will bear on my second and third main arguments in the upcoming section. I’m offering an explanation for why Americans feel disenfranchised and have embraced candidates at political extremes. I argue that the conditions can be traced back to a philosophical decision taken by Madison at the country’s origin. The primary purpose of Madisonian governmental institutions is to manage the harmful effects of factions rather than identify and represent the general will. Madison writes this institutional priority into the government’s DNA. To the degree that government issues policy that does not represent the general will or represents a will other than one’s own, policy will appear alien to its subjects. Although they many not be able to intellectualize or verbalize it they will feel as though the government doesn’t represent them. The natural response to this alienation is frustration. And when you’re frustrated with government you turn left or you turn right, and you seek a representative from outside the very institutions that alienate you. 

Arguments 2&3: Concentrations of Power and the Inability to Prioritize Conditions for Stability 
In a representative democracy committed to republicanism, two commitments are potentially in tension: First, people need to see themselves as being ruled only by laws that they would self-legislate or endorse. Second, some person or some body needs to interpret which laws everyone would assent to. The potential tension arises when representatives are disproportionately selected from one subgroup and/or disproportionately represent the will of a subgroup. Not all citizens will have the requisite qualifications to govern, however, the hope is that someone who understands their point of view can and will represent them.  This points to a requirement that democratic government institutions concern themselves with ensuring and maintaining material and social conditions such that the skills and talents that qualify one to be a competent representative be well-distributed throughout different subgroups. In short, political stability requires relative equality of opportunity and, as Rousseau argued, its preconditions wealth and power. I’ll argue that Madisonian institutions can only achieve this end contingently, not as a matter of priority. Hence, Madisonian democracies run the risk of concentrations of power within the hands of a few. The natural effect is for citizens to feel disenfranchised since the policies often won’t represent their will or a general will but disproportionately that of a small faction.

When Rousseau was writing, it was perfectly natural to favor an aristocracy for a republic because education, literacy, numeracy, and other relevant skills tended to cluster in only that class. It would make no sense to have an illiterate and innumerate farmer administer the State. Recall also Rousseauvian relativism regarding forms of government: The correct form of government for a particular population will be one that takes into account the properties of their population, amongst other things. 

On the matter of the correct form of government, Madison notes both the character of the American people and the peril of representatives being selected from only one class. In regards to the character of the American people he notes that no other form of government besides republican democracy will do. To avoid the latter problem, Madison argues that
it is essential to such a [republican] government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it: otherwise handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their  government the honorable title of republic. (Federalist #39, p. 194)
Madison clearly recognizes the destabilizing effects to a democratic republic of representatives coming from only one (small) group. The challenge for a Madisonian is to show that government institutions not primarily concerned with the public good will ensure the necessary background conditions for diffusion of the requisite education to make citizens from diverse groups eligible and capable representative.  

Let’s take for granted Madison’s claim that a stable democratic republic requires that its representatives be “derived from the great body of society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or favored class of it.” This leaves him open to the observation that unless there are background conditions for class mobility there is a risk of policy disproportionately favoring one group’s interests—namely the group from which representatives are selected, which is the group in which we should expect to find the talents and resources for entering politics. 

This returns us to the fundamental philosophical issue regarding the primary purpose of government and what its institutions ought to do. Political stability is, by any reasonable account, a pubic good and by extension so are the various social, educational, and welfare considerations that maintain it. As such, these conditions can be addressed directly by and are a primary object of concern for Rousseauvian institutions. Their maintenance and preservation are built into the purpose of government. This is not true of a Madisonian government. 

It’s not that a Madisonian government can’t ever address the background conditions for stability, it’s that its not its primary purpose and so it can only do so contingently. (Although I’ve already made this point in the DNA argument, I want to approach here it within the context of background conditions for stability and concentrations of power in minority factions.) Various factors can confound establishing and maintaining background conditions for social mobility (hence, a subset of the conditions for stability). Once various groups are materially and socially excluded from the political process, the interests that inhabit the corridors of power narrow, and we can expect the public good to be crowded out in favor of those narrow interests. 

There’s good reason to believe a minority faction does hold disproportionate sway in politics. For example Gilens and Page tested this hypothesis. They used a data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues and found that 
economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” (p. 564). 
In fact, if the top 10% and the bottom 90% diverge on an issue, policy will favor the bottom 90% only about 4% of the time! (p. 570). Even if these numbers are off by an order of magnitude, it’s still very strong evidence that a minority faction’s will is overrepresented in policy. 

If Gilens and Page are right, how is it possible for a minority faction to consistently have their will trump that of the majority? Recall that policy making in the Madisonian system is primarily concerned with protection of (usually negative) rights and avoidance of harm to the public good. There’s no positive mandate regarding promoting the latter. A minority faction in power can adjust self-favoring policy that meets both conditions: no one’s negative rights are violated and the public good isn’t (overtly) directly harmed. 

The first constraint is easily accomplished since negative rights usually relate to property, and we might expect that the minority faction is most concerned with preserving this right. The second constraint requires elaboration. Both Rousseau and Madison recognized that where interests diverge drastically, there is no general will. And so, under conditions of significant inequality of wealth and power, a recognizable general will, if there is one at all, will be difficult to identify. Such conditions make it even easier for a powerful minority faction to pass self-favoring policy: since there’s no obvious shared conception of the public good to harm, it need not even enter the policy calculus as a constraint. 

Also, it’s much harder to defend the view that an omission causes harm and for this reason it’s easier to pass policy that fails to fund things like education (or other public welfare institutions). When pubic funding is removed one can reply: “hey, we aren’t taking away people’s right to education or even undermining education. They can pay for it out of their own pocket if they really want it. There are lots of private schools! Look at all the private schools they can choose from!”  

Having cleared the two hurdles policy must clear, it’s possible to defund the institutions that maintain and generate background conditions such that individuals from most groups are capable and able to participate politically—perhaps as a representatives. Also, as Madison noted, when others are excluded (via background conditions) from the corridors of power, a narrow set of interests will be overrepresented to the determent of the public good.

If what I’ve said so far is correct, we can expect a negative feedback loop in regards to the conditions of inequality, concern for and promotion of the public good, and accumulation of power in the hands of a minority faction. As I’ve argued, the negative feedback loop can be traced back to the Madison’s move to shift the primary function of government. Although making a full empirical case would take me beyond the scope of this paper, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the negative feedback situation I’ve just described is one America finds itself in today. That fact that government policy is perceived to heavily favors a minority faction to the exclusion of what many reasonably consider the public good (and their own private interests) explains the contemporary American political landscape. People feels disenfranchised and that their government doesn’t represent them or their conception of the public good. Hence, a growing rejection of “establishment” candidates and a preference for perceived political outsiders. 

V. Conclusion
In the first two sections of this paper I outlined the similarities and differences in Rousseauvian and Madisonian republicanism. For Rousseau the fundamental purpose of government is to identify and manifest the general will; i.e., the public’s shared conception of the public good. For a government to successfully do this a political community must be small and homogenous. From within Rousseau’s framework Madison cannot solve the American dilemma—i.e., how to justify a strong central government in a large pluralistic territory. His response is to modify republicanism: The primary purpose of government becomes mediating between factions and mitigating their harmful effects rather than manifesting the general will.

I’ve argued that contemporary American political culture and attitudes can be traced back to Madisonian’s decision to repurpose the fundamental purpose of the institutions of government.   Why do political candidates who are perceived or self-described as outsiders or anti-establishment generate so much support? Because the general population too often doesn’t recognize their own will or the public good in government policy. They don’t recognize their own will or the public good in policy because they’re right, it isn’t there! Government policy need only avoid suppressing rights and abstain from (overtly) harming the public good, but need not promote it. Also, one minority group’s interests are seen to be disproportionately represented in policy. 

Why is American politics hyper-partisan right now? Because of deteriorating background conditions which would have narrowed the gap between various interests and have made a general will more likely. Also, Madisonian institutions aren’t equipped to prioritize and maintain the Rousseauvian background conditions for stability and a common conception of the good.  And finally, why are so many working class Republicans voting for Trump? (What would a paper on contemporary American politics be without mentioning Trump?) Because they have come to realize that the ‘establishment’ representatives for whom they’ve often voted have not promoted or protected their interests, or realized recognizable their conception of the public good in policy. They’ve learned by now what happens if they continue to vote the same way. To quote Rousseau: 
One always wants one’s good, but one does not always see it: one can never corrupt the people, but one can often cause it to be mistaken, and only when it is, does it appear to want what is bad. (SC II. 3. 1).


























Bibliography and Works Cited

Conniff, J. (1975). On the Obsolescence of the General Will: Rousseau, Madison, and the Evolution of Republican Political Thought. Political Research Quarterly, 28(1), 32-58. doi:10.1177/106591297502800103

Galston, W. A. (2010). Realism in political theory. European Journal of Political Theory, 9(4), 385-411. doi:10.1177/1474885110374001

Gaus, G. F. (2011). The order of public reason: A theory of freedom and morality in a diverse and bounded world. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gilens, M., & Page, B. I. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspect. Polit. Perspectives on Politics, 12(03), 564-581. doi:10.1017/s1537592714001595

Hamilton, A., Jay, J., Madison, J., Carey, G. W., & McClellan, J. (2001). The Federalist. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Rousseau, J., & Gourevitch, V. (1997). The social contract and other later political writings. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.


Scott, T. John (2016). Every Legitimate Government is Republican: Rousseau’s Debt to and Departure from Montesquieu on Republicanism. Unpublished (forthcoming).