The Federalist #22: Majority vs. Minority Rule, B.S. vs. Passion

Let’s move on to Federalist #22, again by Alexander Hamilton. While I sometimes find Hamilton tedious, as I mentioned earlier, he can also display a ferocious command of logic, political acuity, historical example, and rhetoric. These passages serve as a demonstration of this. Here he discusses how the Constitution addresses majority vs. minority power of the states, as opposed the idea of equality amongst the states, which had been an operating principle of the Articles of Confederation. At that time, the approval of all nine states was required in order to approve a bill, treaty, or other legislation:

The right of equal suffrage among the States is another exceptionable part of the Confederation. Every idea of proportion and every rule of fair representation conspire to condemn a principle, which gives to Rhode Island an equal weight in the scale of power with Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or New York; and to Delaware an equal voice in the national deliberations with Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or North Carolina. Its operation contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail. Sophistry may reply, that sovereigns are equal, and that a majority of the votes of the States will be a majority of confederated America. But this kind of logical legerdemain will never counteract the plain suggestions of justice and common-sense. . .

Great rhetoric there, while also demonstrating the frequent insertion of breathy commas–a grammatical oddity throughout the Papers and a reflection, no doubt, of the stylistic conventions of the time.

It may be objected to this, that not seven but nine States, or two thirds of the whole number, must consent to the most important resolutions; and it may be thence inferred that nine States would always comprehend a majority of the Union. But this does not obviate the impropriety of an equal vote between States of the most unequal dimensions and populousness; nor is the inference accurate in point of fact; for we can enumerate nine States which contain less than a majority of the people; and it is constitutionally possible that these nine may give the vote. Besides, there are matters of considerable moment determinable by a bare majority; and there are others, concerning which doubts have been entertained, which, if interpreted in favor of the sufficiency of a vote of seven States, would extend its operation to interests of the first magnitude. In addition to this, it is to be observed that there is a probability of an increase in the number of States, and no provision for a proportional augmentation of the ratio of votes.

But this is not all: what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. . .

Again, great use of rhetoric and logic. He furthermore demonstrates political acuity in acknowledging that the republic would not be static, and was likely to expand. The principle of a majority rule is so commonplace in governance dynamics that we now seem to take it for granted. “Majority rules”: a flippant phrase we throw off while electing which movie to see. Yet at this time, the young states, newly independent, were protective of their rights and demanded equality. As Hamilton notes, though this seems like a just principle, in reality, it provides obstruction to even routine governance processes.

Now these next few passages get interesting, when you read it through the lens of our current perspective. All we see our government doing now is obstruct, delay, and filibuster:

This is one of those refinements which, in practice, has an effect the reverse of what is expected from it in theory. The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. . .

The mistake has proceeded from not attending with due care to the mischiefs that may be occasioned by obstructing the progress of government at certain critical seasons. When the concurrence of a large number is required by the Constitution to the doing of any national act, we are apt to rest satisfied that all is safe, because nothing improper will be likely TO BE DONE, but we forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary, and of keeping affairs in the same unfavorable posture in which they may happen to stand at particular periods. . .

What could better describe the overuse of filibuster we witness today, and the consistent impasse that arises now at what should be navigable issues of governance?

Evils of this description ought not to be regarded as imaginary. One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption. . .

No, Alexander, we most definitely now know them not to be imaginary. They have become our political reality. Does this suggest that we need to further reduce the minority party’s “negative upon the majority,” as Hamilton put it?

What’s interesting about that last line above is how we can spin the meaning of “foreign corruption.” Hamilton meant it in the literal sense, but today, we could read it in the sense of any entity operating outside of the government, such as corporations, lobbyist groups, and other special interests, which have an out-sized influence on the operations of our government.

In an article in The New Yorker, there’s a bit more on viewing this as a screed against the filibuster, as well as some interesting caution against viewing The Federalist Papers as “secular scripture.” To quote:

The Federalist Papers—so often quoted to rationalize governmental stasis and congressional gridlock—are almost always treated as secular scripture. They’re not. They’re newspaper op-ed pieces, written in haste to sell a particular set of compromises, some of which their authors had adamantly opposed and accepted only with the greatest reluctance.

This is interesting, and it may explain in part why I’ve found some of Hamilton’s contributions to the papers tedious: he really may be bullshitting when he sounds like he’s bullshitting. The passages above, however, reflect real passion, and this stood out as I read them.

The MLK Memorial and Me

In February, I went to a conference in D.C. My wife came down to join me afterwards. We don’t get out much, and I’ve barely seen much of my East Coast environs, barring last year’s visit to Philly. At the top of our list of things to see was the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. It was the newest memorial, and also slightly controversial.

As we approached the memorial, we read quotations from MLK’s speeches that are engraved along a wall that leads up to his statue. We then walked around the central monument, which depicts MLK with his arms crossed, embedded in a chunk of granite mountain that appears to have slid forward from its face (Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope). His hands are sinewy and strong, veins bulging, and his eyes gaze stoically across the water. There is a sense of calm and might, but also a deep sense of tragedy. The unfinished look of the overall work contributes to this sense.

We took our obligatory picture, and then my wife asked if I could take her picture in front of one of the quotations we had passed earlier along the wall.

“It reminds me of you,” she said, somewhat shyly. We walked back over and I took her picture in front of the quotation, which reads:

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their heads.”

She seemed to feel that the reason why I am a teacher and work hard each and every day related to something like the sentiment expressed in that quotation. I couldn’t quite see myself in it, however.

This post is my explanation of why.

A little further down the wall, I saw another quotation that did speak deeply to me and about what I am passionately committed to in my work:

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalty must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

I took a picture of this one as well. We then walked away from the MLK memorial towards the Roosevelt memorial, which is a long, meandering wall and pathway of red stone with various niches and spaces for reflection along the way. Quotations from F.D.R. are sprinkled next to reflective pools, waterfalls, and scattered stones. But it was a quote in a little niche from his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, that reached out most to me. And it links together in theme with that quotation from MLK:

“The structure of world peace can not be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation . . . It must be a peace that rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

This theme of common purpose, of a struggle for a global, overarching vision through cooperative effort, is what drives me and motivates me to do the work that I do. I was flattered by my wife’s belief that I do what I do because of a deep-seated passion for social justice, but there was a cognitive dissonance I didn’t feel comfortable with in that first quote. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but it seems to have to do with some underlying sense of martyrdom (“I have the audacity to believe. . .”), a stance of personal virtue, nobility, and provocation that I don’t fully identify with.

A passion for a moral mission, bordering at times on the messianic, is a trait of some that enter into teaching or social service as a profession. It is common for teachers to speak of teaching as a “calling,” as if they have been drawn into the vocation by a force beyond their ken. I am frequently talked to by others who are not teachers as if I have forsaken the realm of mere mortals and ascended into an alien sainthood, given the wary respect and sympathy attributed to a monk — that is, with an incredulous, I-would-never-do-that-myself-but-god-bless-you sort of attitude.

This has always rubbed me the wrong way. Teaching is a profession. It is a career. And yes, it is a tough one, and it is especially tough when teaching special education in a high needs school in an impoverished inner city area. But I moved into this tough career not simply because I wanted to make my world a better place (yes, I am an idealist), but because I wanted — purely selfishly — to develop myself as a leader and a person, to learn firsthand the ground level effects of political and policy decisions, and become a part of something much greater than myself.

I have no illusions that I am changing the world simply because I may impact a handful of childrens’ lives in the confines of one classroom. I realize this is sacrilegious to say. This is critically important work and the impact on one child’s life cannot be diminished. But I believe strongly that the larger system within which we work impacts our nation’s future ever more greatly. We can change the world by working together with others to alter aspects of that system we work and live within. Teachers, parents, children, policymakers, state legislatures, mayors, citizens, these are the people that collectively can change the world. I want to learn to look beyond my individual self and work towards a common, global purpose.

This is why the second quotation from MLK and Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotation spoke to me. I’d like to think that I as an individual can influence great change, but realistically speaking, I know that whatever impact I can have on my own is nothing in comparison to what we can achieve when we work together.

Every Day

Passion can be everyday. It’s not just some wind that happens to blow strongly through a moment’s corridor. It can be flurried, steady, or still, but it’s always there, always ready to swell, always breathing in some divine sense of breadth, beyond your control, beyond your command, but always there when you are ready to open yourself to it. Funny how that is, isn’t it? That the only thing that you can control is yourself, but only by relaxing, by allowing yourself to open, by giving yourself up to something greater than yourself. Through this giving, you gain passion. Passion isn’t wild, inarticulate, bestial sex. Passion can be worded, hinted at, breathed silently. Passion can be seen, captured in a picture, written into a sentence. It’s not just some aberrant storm, some happenstance accident of the world. Passion moves through you. It comes into you. It is a part of you, an extension of you, a diplomatic envoy of your innermost heart. It can be so deep that it couldn’t even be known, if it were not for the surface eruptions of bliss. It makes you move, it makes you touch, it makes you feel. Passion is everyday, passion is everymoment, everytouch, everykiss.

Run On Spiralling Tonic

Sunset over desert mountains

You go out into the world, far away, distant into the all. Then you come back, dressed in darkness. You come back to me to give to me a light that you had been keeping, that you had been molding hidden from the world, building upon itself like of clay, of hard-soft snow, collected, you give it to me, you bestow it unto me, you place it into my heart like a light into a light, two lights turning blue, the most quietly intense of flames, burning without flicker—and you give yourself back to me, and here in this place far away from everything, far away from yourself, close to me, you give yourself again to me—taking me far away from myself, close to you, far away from both of us, close to divinity, close to something unnamed, unplaced, imperfectly slidingly slipperingly slopingly beautiful. Here, in this place, we are affirmed, confirmed, firmed, fitted, whetted. We were meant to be apart to come together like this to break apart into something new, surprised, glistening in newness, shining in compound simplicity. We go there to know that it has been there, will always be there, for us to find again, for us to forget, to renew, to discover, to share, to shed, to find again. Again, and then again. To go away to return dressed in darkness, to unshroud the light, to build the light, to know the light. Back and forth. The light dancing the shadows of the tree in the wind against the blinded windows into this night. Up and down. The journey of the droplet to its source to tear itself into the earth to know of the ocean. Like this. Just like that.

Loving You is Loving the Universe

Loving you is more than loving you. It’s loving strangers on the street, women passing by, couples holding hands, ocean spray in the breeze. It’s loving the feeling of the sun pressing down on my skin, the way ivy climbs up a wall, the way a baby is constantly amazed by attention. It’s loving everyone who has come before, it’s loving myself, it’s loving my family, it’s loving everything in the world that has served to bring us together, that keeps us together, that witnesses this magic to be true. It’s loving the caress of breath out of my lungs, the sense of consciousness leaping across synapses, the vision that filters through my pupils to flip into sensory information, chemical conveyed thought cloud evolution. Like waiting for the rain to come sometimes we sit around, dry, desperate, fighting one another with hope. Then like necessary revolutions of the earth around the sun love breaks into our hearts, undeniable, flooding through to our fingertips, our lips trembling with life force. Loving you is loving nature, loving the cycles of nature, the pull of the earth, the tug of the moon, the kiss of the sun, the blood of the month, the night and the day and the rain and the drought and the leaf and the fall and the wave and the shore. Because through you I am glimpsing insight into all of the universe. You concentrate the power and beauty and might of existence like a lens directly into my consciousness. I love you—and that is enough.

Of Each Other

Every single day, you are there, ready to move our lives together forward. I feel like sometimes I force us to squabble, simply to reassure myself that we are still separate, distinct individuals. But by now we are more akin to meshes, blending somewhere between us to form a oneness that is also a trinity–I, you, us. Through you I see not only deeper into myself, but into all of existence. We form together a lens that focuses the light of divinity to a single point of vision. There is nothing beyond this. There is nothing that is not included in this. There is only this love, and all of the world is shaped by it. Like glass blown bubbled worlds, love breathes through our singular hollows to craft harmonies containing everything and nothing. Whole lives are decimated and rebirthed in this song.

I eat, sleep, and write through you, with you, beside you. To even claim that I could exist outside of you would be, by this point, a conceit. We are each other, as the moon on the surface of a stream is still only the sun.

Making Love

Love isn’t something that you find or discover, latent somewhere in some hidden offspring, but rather something that you must create, re-create, every single day, every single moment. There is a reason why there is the term “making love.” You must make love, you must forge it in the transmuted fires of your soul, mind, and body. It is not something that simply comes to you, that appears out of thin air like fairytale gnomes. It is the purest of human endeavors, a task both magical yet wholly rooted in mundanity.

Don’t sit around waiting for love to rise out of a hidden abyss in some stranger. Create it. Make it. Love is a gift beyond the giver. Love is the flow of divinity through the vessel of you. Love imbues anything and everything with new light. Love is the only reason life has to exist.