This essay is adapted from “Crisis of the Two Constitutions: The Rise, Decline, and Recovery of American Greatness,” by Charles R. Kesler (Encounter, 488 pages, $34.99)

The Federalist Papers and ‘The Violence of Faction’

It has been said that the oldest word in American politics is “new.” Even the United States Constitution, by far the oldest written constitution in the world, was once new, and had to be defended against charges that it was an unnecessary and unrepublican innovation. The Federalist was keenly aware of the novelty of the Constitution’s enterprise—the attempt to establish “good government from reflection and choice”—but boldly turned it to account. 

“Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world,” Publius admonished. For why should “the experiment of an extended republic” be rejected “merely because it may comprise what is new?” If the “leaders of the Revolution” had blindly followed precedent and tradition, the American experiment might have failed ingloriously—and the American people might already be suffering under one of those forms of government “which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind.” But “happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course.”  

Yet not a perfect course. New things are noble because they are difficult; so one should not be surprised that mistakes were made in the American people’s first efforts at self-government, both in the state constitutions and “in the structure of the Union.” To correct these was the object of the proposed Constitution, whose superiority to the state constitutions and to the Articles of Confederation was based not only on its framers’ good fortune but on their superior knowledge of political science. For as Publius declared, “the science of politics . . . like most other sciences, has received great improvement,” even as measured against the high standard of the political science of the classics. “The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients,” he claimed. 

It is as a product of this new science of politics, of the modern as opposed to the ancient understanding of man, that The Federalist is principally known today. Broadly speaking, we owe this view of Publius and of the Constitution to the political scientist Martin Diamond—and to a lesser extent, to the historian Douglass Adair—who in a series of remarkable essays spelled out the thesis of The Federalist’s thoroughgoing modernity. Publius himself named five ingredients of the improved science of politics in Federalist 9: “the regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election”; and, finally, “the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT within which such systems are to revolve.” But it was Diamond’s achievement to expound the central importance of the last principle to the republicanism of The Federalist.  

Interpreting the Federalist 

Without neglecting the importance of the separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, the independent judiciary, and the principle of representation, Diamond nonetheless insisted that the Constitution’s success in curing the ills of republican government depended “utterly upon the last item in Publius’s science”—upon his “most novel and important theoretical teaching”—the extended sphere. 

The doctrine of Federalist 10 was therefore at the heart of the American regime. Seen in all its ramifications, it marked a decisive break between the theory and practice of classical, and the theory and practice of modern politics. For while The Federalist rejects “the chains of despotism, i.e., the Hobbesian solution to the problem of self-preservation,” Diamond wrote, “it nevertheless seems to accept the Hobbesian statement of the problem.” The novel solution to that problem contained in Federalist 10 does not issue in a liberalism and republicanism that are “the means by which men may ascend to a nobler life; rather they are simply instrumentalities which solve Hobbesian problems in a more moderate manner.” To put it differently, Diamond showed that Publius’ republicanism becomes merely a means to his liberalism, to the doctrine of individual rights and freedom bounded only by the dictates of (comfortable) self-preservation. 

To protect men’s rights, it is necessary to design a republicanism that avoids the characteristic malady of republican government—majority faction. To do this, according to The Federalist, it is necessary to ensure that the government, with its elaborate structure of separated powers, a bicameral legislature, and so forth, can endure any siege that a factious majority might mount. 

But even the daunting parapets of the Constitution can be overrun by a majority that is sufficiently persistent. Therefore, the majority must be weakened before it can close the siege ring around the government. Publius proposed to accomplish this by dividing the majority—which in all hitherto existing societies had been, as Diamond noted, “the great mass of the little propertied and the unpropertied,” i.e., “the many”—into many different and competing interests that would serve to check one another. 

To encompass this “saving multiplicity of factions,” republican government must be extended over a large territory; and the territory must be rich and variegated enough to support a vigorous commercial society. The “first object of government” must therefore be the protection of the diverse faculties of men from which arise “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property.”  The requirements of commercial society exact a moral and political price, however, by encouraging “the aggressive private pursuit by all of immediate personal interests.” This emancipation of acquisitiveness risks “magnifying and multiplying in American life the selfish, the interested, the narrow, the vulgar, and the crassly economic”; but this “is precisely the substratum,” Diamond emphasized, “on which our political system was intended to rest and where it rests still.”  

The resulting society is “solid but low,” that is, it offers an elementary “decency if not . . . nobility.” Accordingly, The Federalist’s republicanism abstracts “from politics the broad ethical function of character formation” that had been the chief concern of the ancient science of politics. “Other political theories,” Diamond declared, “had ranked highly, as objects of government, the nurturing of a particular religion, education, military courage, civic-spiritedness, moderation, individual excellence in the virtues, etc. On all of these The Federalist is either silent, or has in mind only pallid versions of the originals, or even seems to speak with contempt.” 

Insofar as Publius shuns the traditional goal of character formation, he also abandons the traditional emphasis on the teaching of political opinions—on the education of citizens’ habits and tastes—as a part of the shaping of character. While “from the classic perspective, the political task is to refine and improve a regime’s opinion of what is advantageous and just,” Diamond explained, “Madison instead turns away almost in horror from the human ‘zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government.’” 

It is not that higher concerns will not manifest themselves in America. The cultivation of virtue and opinion instead will be left to society, which by and large will be a realm of bourgeois virtue and even of a species of republican virtue. But these virtues, however high they may soar, will not lose touch with their base, which is self-interest, albeit enlightened self-interest or self-interest rightly understood, as Alexis de Tocqueville later explained. 

In America, virtue will always be colored by its origins, by the horizon established in the founding and perpetuated by the Constitution: the horizon set by the attempt to supply “by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” For even when “better motives” can be found, when statesmen of virtue and wisdom are at the helm, their virtue will not be regarded as indispensable—and so their nobility will never command the awe and deference that it deserves. Publius’ system “has no necessary place and makes no provision for men of the founding kind,” Diamond concluded. 

This interpretation of The Federalist—and of America—over the course of the past few decades, has come to prevail in most sectors of the academy, Left and Right, and has molded several generations of students who have gone on to employ it, as citizens and as scholars, in the making and criticism of American public policy. But then the influence of Diamond’s work is not in question. As an interpretation of The Federalist, it must be regarded as a stunning breakthrough—the starting point of all future inquiries—as revolutionary in its own way as the famous constitutional iconoclasm of Charles Beard. In fact, the scholarly lines through which Diamond broke had been marked out by Beard in 1913 in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. As Douglass Adair has shown, Beard was the first to realize that Federalist 10 is the key to The Federalist as a whole, the first to thrust Federalist 10 into the spotlight as an authoritative guide to the character of American politics. 

But Beard fastened upon the 10th Federalist not because of its argument for an extensive Union but because it appeared to be “a masterly statement of the theory of economic determinism in politics.” Indeed, Beard lauded The Federalist as “the finest study in the economic interpretation of politics which exists in any language.” In recapitulating Publius’ argument in number 10, Beard did not overlook the case for the extended sphere, but he regarded its true importance to be as a part of the larger argument on the role of economics in politics. The genius of Publius lay in his acknowledgment that “the chief business of government, from which, perforce, its essential nature must be derived, consists in the control and adjustment of conflicting economic interests.”  Beard insisted in the original text and in his Introduction to the 1935 edition that he regarded this “theory of economic determinism” only as a hypothesis—though as the most powerful and successful one hitherto devised. That it was devised by him, however, he never claimed, always insisting that he was following in the footsteps of Madison, James Harrington. Aristotle, and, to be sure, Karl Marx. 

It was this connection between the theory of economic determinism and the history of political philosophy that Adair took up. While not rejecting Beard’s focus on the role of economic interests, Adair understood the clash of these interests to be not a continuation of the class struggle between the rich and the poor, the few and the many, but an alternative to that struggle: the conflict of interest groups cut across class lines, thereby allowing prudent statesmen to craft a moderate politics based on an equilibrium of interests. 

But such an equilibrium was possible, Adair maintained, only in an extensive republic that embraced a multiplicity of factions and an intricate, layered system of representation. Publius’ patronage of interest groups was therefore in the service of something more fundamental—his argument for the extended sphere, in particular, and the ability of political theory to guide political life, in general. Whereas Beard thought that abstract political ideas had little influence compared to economic factors—even the abstract idea of economic determinism was, after all, only a hypothesis—Adair sought to restore the independence and something of the dignity of political theory, even if it was only from the historical point of view. 

Republican government in a vast country—an idea that Adair traced back from Publius to David Hume—would produce the stable middle class regime that had been the desideratum for thinkers on government since Aristotle. Thus Adair, too, saw Publius’ argument as part of a tradition stemming from Aristotle; but he identified the extended sphere as Publius’ special contribution to that tradition, and implicitly rejected Marx, an advocate of class war and economic determinism, as being altogether outside it. 

Diamond pursued this same connection between The Federalist and the tradition of political thought, but brought to his efforts a much wider and deeper acquaintance with the history of political philosophy. Like Adair, he rejected Beard’s economic determinism but retained Federalist 10 as the centerpiece of his interpretation of the book. But now the doctrine of the extended sphere was not only not an anticipation of Marx, but emphatically a refutation of him. 

Diamond viewed Federalist 10 as the modern answer to the threat of class struggle and violent revolution: the politics of regulating the “various and interfering interests” of an extensive commercial society would defuse the war between the rich and the poor, and avoid the ideological fanaticism that in the past had led to religious tyranny, and in the 20th century to totalitarianism. At the same time, Diamond argued that ancient political philosophy was in the decisive respect superior to the modern political philosophy on which Publius drew, for the ancients had been able (at least in theory, and Diamond acknowledged that their practice fell short of their theory) to aspire to political nobility without abandoning the solid ground of decent, constitutional politics. 

But in the modern world, Diamond insisted, men had to choose either the non-ideological, low-but-solid politics of interest groups, or the ideological fanaticism and tyranny of the Nazis and Communists. In this context, his interpretation of The Federalist made perfect sense not only as a gloss on the Constitution but as a guide to the fundamental tendencies of contemporary American politics: The Federalist (especially numbers 10 and 51) helped to explain how Franklin D. Roosevelt had steered the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of right-wing reaction and incipient socialism, preserving the rights of property and of minorities along the way. For the genius of FDR’s approach, in Diamond’s view, was precisely his bravura use of interest-group politics to assemble a vast middle- and lower-class coalition in defense of American democracy. His incremental, pragmatic, nonideological approach was a perfect demonstration of the effective use of the political system described by Publius. And the soundness of Publius’ “sober expectations” was driven home to Diamond again in the 1960s as he watched the New Left attempt to transform the system bequeathed by the New Deal and invented by The Federalist.

Yet despite its influence, its helpful insights, and its intellectual and political provenance, Diamond’s view of the American Founding—and of Publius in particular—is somewhat one-dimensional. His rejection of ideological politics is sound as far as it goes, but it does not properly distinguish between political ideology and political philosophy; it seems to imagine that all efforts to form citizens or to inform public opinion on the basis of abstract truths are (at least since the 17th century) pernicious; it does not acknowledge (to speak of the present case) that interest-group politics cannot be defended apart from the ends that it is intended to serve and that therefore legitimize it, which ends must exist in public opinion, the special care of the greatest statesmen. The articulation of these ends is a task of political philosophy, whether undertaken by public or private men, by politicians or by academics. 

In short, if modern American politics is not to be cut off completely from the wellsprings of the Western tradition and from the first principles of our own founding, the rejection of ideology must be accompanied by the reassertion of the authority of political philosophy; and the politics of interest groups must be justified by and incorporated into the larger politics of public opinion. 

What Diamond neglected was the prudent political science of the Founding, the political science that left room for and indeed regarded as indispensable the virtue of prudence, in the old-fashioned sense of the term: the virtue of the man who is adept at deciding what is the best thing to be done under the circumstances, who can determine what is the best way to get from here to there (and who therefore must know where he is going, the goal for which to strive), who can instruct public opinion without either scorning its backwardness or inflaming its passions. This is prudence in the traditional sense, the virtue that crowns the political art and is an indispensable part of political science. It is not a virtue that is especially needful in a regime of interest-group politics, where sobriety, calculating realism, and skill in maneuver usually suffice. But in a republican regime in which (as Lincoln explained) public opinion is everything, it is the one virtue most needful.

To put it differently, from the standpoint of the “new science of politics”—of the political philosophy of Machiavelli and Hobbes and, so Diamond asserted, The Federalist—prudence properly speaking is dethroned; and alongside that, republicanism is made into the valet of liberalism, the obedient and almost invisible servant of interest-group pluralism. 

Yet The Federalist says nothing of this “new science of politics.” That term belongs to Tocqueville—and it is even a question how new is the science that he calls for to understand “a world altogether new.”  The Federalist speaks only of an improved science of politics that will supply the “means” by which the “excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.” As readers of cereal boxes know, “new” and “improved” are not the same, and hence cereal companies like to use both terms to communicate the sheer magnificence of their work. Publius, on the other hand, claims only to have added new elements to an already existing science, to have improved but not remade it. His improvements relate only to “means” and not to ends—the ends of republicanism, whose “excellencies” he wishes to retain and whose imperfections he wishes to lessen or avoid. One should not forget that the authors of The Federalist are not embarrassed to write under the pen name of an ancient Roman statesman, one of the founders of the Roman republic. 

Let us then have a fresh look at what has been regarded as the centerpiece of the new political science in America, the argument of Federalist 10. 

Fotosearch/Getty Images

The Plan of The Federalist 

The Federalist is divided into two main parts, corresponding to the two volumes in which the collected papers were first published. The first 36 papers are a discussion of the Union, or more precisely, as Publius lists the topics in Federalist 1, of “the utility of the UNION to your political prosperity,” “the insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve that Union,” and “the necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the attainment of this object.”  

Following the discussion of the Union, Publius turns to the particular “merits of this Constitution.” It is this part of the book (Nos. 37-85) that discloses “the conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government.” We may say provisionally, then, that Publius discusses the matter of the new nation in the first part of The Federalist, and the form of the new nation in the second. 

It is not until the second volume of The Federalist that one hears much about what the framers have chosen in the new Constitution, not to mention why they have chosen it. The first volume concerns rather the inextirpable power of “accident and force” in America’s affairs. Its argument ranges over the many necessities, domestic and foreign, that require Union. The qualities of “good government,” and the relation between the ends of good government and the form of republican government, are topics that are not examined systematically in Federalist 1–36. Instead, Publius turns first to the lowest and most solid basis for all government, the force of necessity. 

“Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government,” he declares in Federalist 2, and in the ensuing papers proves that in America necessity requires a government of the whole Union, not separate confederacies of states. The reason for this is not so much Providence or even deference to the judgment of the “wise and experienced men” of the Convention, but safety. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be first.” 

The case for the Constitution seems to rest almost entirely on the case for the Union, and the latter depends upon the “natural course of things” or the “natural and necessary progress of human affairs,” arising from man’s consideration of his natural weakness and his need to make himself secure at all costs. This Hobbesian-style reasoning ignores the differences among forms of governments and reduces politics to the questions of self-preservation and sovereignty, which are really two sides of the same question. “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct,” Publius advises. “Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates.”

The concluding paragraph of the first volume (i.e., of Federalist 36) promises that what is to follow will be different in character: Publius declares that “a further and more critical investigation of the system will serve to recommend it still more to every sincere and disinterested advocate for good government.” This “more critical and thorough survey of the work of the convention,” as he calls it in Federalist 37, occupies the rest of the book, and is addressed to “the candid and judicious part of the community,” those who “add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it.” 

With the shift in subject matter comes a shift in rhetorical mode: rather than teaching men to understand their passions so that they may satisfy their fundamental passion for self-preservation—rather than using necessity as an effective substitute for moderation—Publius chooses to speak in moderate tones to moderate men. For the “sincere and disinterested advocate for good government” will not be satisfied with proofs of the necessity of the plan. 

Morality, and especially the supreme political morality of framing and ratifying a constitution, involves choice; and what “the candid and judicious part of the community” wants to know is whether the new Constitution is worthy of choice. Whereas in the first part Publius strives to show the American people that they have no choice (in any rational sense) but to preserve the Union by adopting the Constitution, in the second part he attempts the very different task of persuading moderate men not only of the “expediency” but of the “propriety” of choosing the Constitution. And so he exclaims, in the transition to the second part, “Happy will it be for ourselves, and most honorable for human nature, if we have wisdom and virtue enough to set so glorious an example to mankind!” 

The Union may be necessary for our “political prosperity,” but as depicted in the first volume of The Federalist, i.e., when prescinded from the principles informing the Constitution, the Union is not “most honorable for human nature.” It becomes honorable only in the light of the Constitution. By initially teaching his readers the limits that necessity places on human choice, Publius prepares them to choose wisely when “the merits of this Constitution” are finally presented in their own terms. For the fact that choice is not completely free means that men must respect its conditions and anticipate its consequences if they are to choose well. Publius shows his readers that the truly necessary choice is to choose well.

The Improved Science of Politics 

If the two parts of The Federalist are thus united by a common intention, we should expect that the first part’s argument from necessity would have to provide some account of or room for human freedom. The danger to freedom is obvious, as Publius explains in Federalist 8: “The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights.” 

But Publius does not draw the Hobbesian conclusion of absolute monarchy from the continual perils of this state of war. Instead, in Federalist 9 and 10, he presents a defense of the Union that rises above necessity, that prepares the way for the argument in the second part of the book: free or republican government is possible based on the advantages of a “firm” (No. 9) and “well constructed” (No. 10) Union. 

The Union is made “firm” by being a confederate or federal republic, combining the “internal advantages” of a small republic with the “external force” of a monarchical government. Publius’ authority for this argument is “that great man” Montesquieu, from whom he quotes extensively to prove that the proposed government of the United States would fulfill Montesquieu’s recommendations, and that the much-discussed distinction between a confederated and a consolidated government is therefore “more subtle than accurate.” 

But Montesquieu is introduced only in response to the circumstance that “the opponents of the PLAN proposed here, with great assiduity, cited and circulated” his observations: he is not presented as an independent authority for the Constitution on his own terms, despite the fact that in the preceding paragraph, Publius had remarked the “great improvement” that the science of politics, like most other sciences, had achieved when compared to the ancients. 

“It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy,” Publius remarks, “without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” It is from such accounts that the “advocates of despotism” have drawn arguments not only against the republican form of government but against “the very principles of civil liberty.” 

“If it had been found impracticable to have devised models of a more perfect structure,” Publius concludes, “the enlightened friends to liberty would have been obliged to abandon the cause of that species of government as indefensible.” 

The improved science of politics is introduced in Federalist 9, in short, as a means of persuading “the enlightened friends to liberty” to become republicans. The lovers of “civil liberty” must be taught to cherish political liberty or self-government, and to accomplish this, Publius appeals to their “enlightened” fondness for devising “models” and their confidence in “improvement,” in “wholly new discoveries” or discoveries that “have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times.”  

It is because the opponents of the Constitution have “cited and circulated” Montesquieu’s views on confederacies that Publius considers it important to answer them in kind; but what is at stake is the allegiance of the “enlightened friends to liberty,” who as such are inclined to regard that “enlightened civilian,” Montesquieu, as an authority. On the merits of the question, it would apparently have been possible to pronounce without recourse to him. Publius admits that “the utility of a Confederacy, as well to suppress faction and to guard the internal tranquillity of States as to increase their external force and security, is in reality not a new idea”; and Montesquieu himself cites ancient Lycia as a worthy example. 

By his carefully hedged employment of the improved science of politics, which, after all, he invokes with some fanfare in the same number, Publius suggests the limitations of that science. However important it is for political science to devise “models of a more perfect structure” for the better securing of liberty—however useful are such devices as the separation of powers, legislative checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and so forth, for the sake of civil liberty—they must finally be understood to serve the purposes of republicanism. “They are means, and powerful means”—but only means—“by which the excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.” 

It is precisely the continued importance of republicanism that connects the political wisdom of The Federalist with that of the ancients, that connects the American Publius with the Roman Publius. Although our Publius endorses Montesquieu’s description of a confederate republic as “a kind of constitution that has all the internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of a monarchical government,” Publius never specifies in Federalist 9 what those “internal advantages” are. To do so, following Montesquieu, would require him to distinguish between republicanism (whose principle is, according to Montesquieu, virtue) and honor. But as we learn only later, Publius’ case for the Constitution depends crucially upon connecting honor and republicanism, upon vindicating “the honorable title of republic.” This is the deeper reason why the new science of politics, the science of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Montesquieu, quietly elides into the old science improved by prudence, experience, and new instrumentalities suited to modern conditions. 

The most famous of these new means or instrumentalities is the “extended sphere” or “the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT” of republican governments. Publius introduces this topic in Federalist 9 and explicates it in Federalist 10. In the course of introducing it, he changes his description of the valuable improvements in the science of politics. From being virtually new principles or indeed “wholly new discoveries,” they become a “catalogue of circumstances that tend to the amelioration of popular systems of civil government.” As a consequence of their status as means, they become “circumstances” that are interesting only insofar as they are the conditions of something better or good in itself, only insofar as they “tend” to a certain end. 

To this “catalogue” Publius, now speaking in his own name, ventures “to add one more” circumstance, “however novel it may appear to some.”  As “circumstances” these means or instrumentalities seemed to be almost beyond human choice, to be “givens” in the sense of the ineluctable conclusions of science. But as parts of a “catalogue” Publius reminds us that they are in fact subject to human choice, which he underscores by emphatically adding an item to the catalogue. The founders of “popular systems of civil government” must choose from this “catalogue” when trying to improve their regimes, but their choosing must adapt itself to the character and circumstances of particular peoples; they cannot simply apply or implement “models of a more perfect structure.” 

So we are prepared when, after the long excursus on Montesquieu’s view of confederations, Publius takes up the discussion of “the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT” in Federalist 10 in his own name and without any reference to Montesquieu or any other philosophical authority. 

Getty Images

The Problem of Faction 

“Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union,” Publius announces at the beginning of Federalist 10, “none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” Whereas a “firm” Union will act “as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection,” apparently by its ability to “repress” such outbreaks, a “well-constructed” Union will tend to “break and control the violence of faction.” That is to say, it will not put an end to faction but will control it by breaking its violence or perhaps breaking it of its violent habits; if the violence of faction can be controlled it will not be necessary to “repress” faction because it will not threaten to become an “insurrection.” This is an advantage of Union, and so is properly discussed in the first part of The Federalist; but it is not a tendency of the Union simply, but only of a “well-constructed” Union, and so suggests the need to transcend the first part’s terms of discussion. A well-constructed Union is a firm Union but also something more. Its parts are not only put together well, but are well interpreted and regulated by the Constitution and by Publius. The “well-constructed” Union, like a well-constructed or well-construed Constitution, is the product of wise interpretation. 

Montesquieu cannot be the basis of the argument for the extended sphere because, as Publius shows in Federalist 9, on Montesquieu’s authority the larger American states were already too large to be proper republics. With some reduction in the extent of these states, his argument did not, mutatis mutandis, rule out a confederated republic for the United States; but it did place the opponents of the Constitution—the defenders of the existing states—in an embarrassing position. From this standpoint, Federalist 10’s argument is as necessary to rescue them from their predicament as it is to defend the new Constitution. In short, by severing his opponents’ political interest from their philosophical authority, Publius prepares and gradually encourages them to connect their interest to his authority, and to elevate their gaze to “the greatness or happiness of the people of America,” rather than by “the multiplication of petty offices” to seek to extend their influence in “the narrow circles of personal intrigue. 

The problem of faction provides the leverage needed to pry the respectable part of the opposition away from their present convictions, because the “dangerous vice” of factionalism disturbs both “the friend of popular governments” who is “alarmed for their character and fate,” and “our most considerate and virtuous citizens,” who share with the former an anxiety over the state governments’ instability and injustice but add to it a concern for the common good. Both those who love the form of popular government and those who love the end of all good government (the common good) will have reason to study Federalist 10, which goes as far toward reconciling the form of republican government and the end of good government as is possible in this essay. That the state governments cannot realize these hopes is implied in the fact that they have failed to cure the “mortal diseases” of popular governments; the implication is that they are dangerously close to expiring, despite the fact that their improvements on ancient and modern models, Publius says, “cannot certainly be too much admired.” 

Of course, their failings could be excused if the extended sphere were necessary to solve the problem of faction. It is only in the discussion of the separation of powers in the second part of The Federalist that we discover that the state constitutions were inherently flawed—and, literally, “cannot certainly be too much admired.” 

Publius must show his fellow republicans that justice, stability, and liberty can be at home in a large territory; and he must persuade his countrymen who are less concerned with popular government than with the common good that the good of the whole will be sought after and secured in the new regime. All of these considerations are provisionally united in the definition and remedy for faction proposed in Federalist 10. 

“By a faction,” Publius writes, “I understand 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 interests of the community.” 

As if to emphasize his distance from Montesquieu and from previous republican theory, Publius states his definition in the first person (“I understand”) and makes clear that unlike the older Latin use of the term (factio), a faction can consist not only of a few but of the majority. This will, in fact, turn out to be the danger above all to be feared. A certain parallelism might be inferred from his disjunctions: perhaps majority factions (which are mentioned first) are more often united and actuated by some passion that is “adverse to the rights of other citizens,” whereas minority factions are usually the creatures of an interest directed against “the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The inference does not of course preclude the existence of factions that cut across the categories; but the definition does make clear that factions must be “united and actuated,” i.e., that to exist they must enjoy both “the impulse” and “the opportunity” provided by a common passion or interest. By the singular implication of this carefully wrought definition, a majority or minority united and actuated by a common opinion does not qualify as a faction. Nor does Federalist 10 ever propose a multiplicity of opinions as a solution to the problem of faction. 

It is true that Publius will soon establish the reciprocal relation between opinions and passions, thereby implying that a multiplicity of passions would breed a multiplicity of opinions, and vice versa. But he never explicitly connects this implication with his definition of faction, or with his later solution to the problem. 

Removing the Causes of Faction 

“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction,” Publius explains, “the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.” Before, the “well-constructed” Union was said to have the tendency to break and control “the violence of faction.” Now it seems possible to accomplish something else: not only to break and control faction’s violence, but to cure its mischiefs as well. 

Perhaps the violence of faction is not its worst feature, though it may well be its most alarming. If the mischiefs of faction (understood in a comprehensive sense) can be cured, then the Union’s restraint on faction’s violence may be unnecessary or at least of only secondary importance, because the conditions that lead to the outbreak of violence will have ameliorated. In any case, Publius says that there are two methods of curing these mischiefs. He does not say (although he implies) that either the one or the other must be chosen; that is, he does not explicitly exclude the possibility that both may prove useful.

“There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction,” Publius continues, “the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.” Publius rejects the first method as a cure worse than the disease: to destroy liberty in order to abolish faction would be like wishing the annihilation of air in order to eliminate fire. The analogy is complicated by Publius’ specification that liberty “is essential to political life” just as air “is essential to animal life.” But liberty can be abolished, air cannot; men can only “wish the annihilation of air.” 

“Political life” is in this crude sense weaker than “animal life,” but only because political life is distinctively human, i.e., it involves the capacity for reflection and choice. Man can choose to abolish liberty; neither he nor the other animals can choose to annihilate air. Men who would choose to abolish liberty do not understand the distinctiveness of human life: they do not appreciate what they have in common with all mankind but not with the other animals. Publius’ rejection of this first method of removing the causes of faction teaches those men—the few—who would be tempted to deny the human claim to liberty based on the equal rights of man (perhaps acting in the name of the common good), that they are but men, and cannot afford to dispense with the rights to which their humanity entitles them. 

Even as the first method was denounced as “unwise”—an apt rejoinder to those who think themselves wise—so the second is dismissed as “impracticable.” To give every citizen “the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” is impracticable because no government is so powerful as to be able to blot out the natural inequalities among men, which inequalities take two forms. In the first place, there is the connection between men’s opinions and their passions. “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to, exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.”

Despite the “reciprocal influence” of opinion and passion, Publius does not state that men’s passions will be objects to which their opinions will be drawn, only that their opinions will furnish the objects of their passions. That is, he maintains a certain independence and even dignity for opinion: men are divided in their opinions not so much on account of the influence of passion but due to the fallibility of reason. One cause of the fallibility of human reason may well be the obscurantism of the passions; but Publius emphasizes that fallible men typically make mistakes in their reasoning or cannot quite grasp the truth, not that they are biased or unjust. This refusal to reduce opinions or reason to the effect of prerational or subrational causes is characteristic of Federalist 10’s argument, and lays the groundwork for the politics of public opinion—of republicanism—that The Federalist is constructing. 

The second reason why giving to every citizen “the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” is “impracticable” reveals more fully the character of the argument. It is especially the democrats—the many—or at least their most vociferous partisans, who think that the inequalities among men can be erased. So even as Publius’ argument to the few emphasized that abolishing liberty is “unwise,” so this argument, directed particularly to the many, emphasizes that radical egalitarianism is “impracticable.” He addresses each in terms that are dear to their own passions or interests (to the few: don’t show your unwisdom; to the many: don’t show that despite your number you are weak) but in so doing corrects the partial opinion of justice held by each. Without appealing directly to their opinions regarding who should rule, Publius teaches them that neither claim to rule is sufficient. 

What is true in the claims of the few and the many will be preserved and enhanced not in the regimes of aristocracy or direct democracy but in Publius’ own federal republic, in the regime of the Constitution. But refuting the claim of the many takes longer, partly because in a regime based on the consent of the governed the majority deserves a full hearing; but also because in a republic the majority is the most powerful, hence the most dangerous, political group. 

The proposed uniformity of opinion and passion is quickly disposed of, but Publius essentially devotes the rest of Federalist 10 to considering the proposed uniformity of interests. Democrats may easily be persuaded that the liberty to hold opinions should be protected, inasmuch as it is an aspect of their own claim to equal freedom. Interest is another matter; it smacks of wealth, the principle of the (oligarchical) few. But interest is not the same as wealth: it is a kind of combination of wealth and freedom, of the desire or right to get wealthy with the freedom or right of every man to choose his own path or to be judge in his own cause. Publius’ discussion of interests is thus part of his effort to combine the few and the many: the discussion of interests is part of his education of public opinion or to public opinion, i.e., to the creation of an American public formed by the Constitution and its principles. 

“The diversity in the faculties of men,” Publius maintains, “from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.” Publius had said in Federalist 3 that “safety” was the first object of a people’s attention; later he will define the object of government as the higher and more comprehensive one of “the safety and happiness of society,” “the common good of the society,” and “the happiness of the people.”

The protection of “the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate” lies in between protecting the safety and securing the happiness of society, between the alpha and the omega of political life. It corresponds to the place of Federalist 10 in the overall argument of The Federalist. To understand any part of that argument one must see it in relation to the structure of the book as a whole. This consideration would save many commentators on The Federalist from the mistake of identifying the “first object” with the final object of government, as well as the corollary mistake of identifying the purposes of the Union—for example, as stated in Federalist 23, “the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks, the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States, the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries”—with the purposes of government or of the Constitution.

“From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.” If the acquisitive faculties are protected, then society will necessarily be divided into “different interests and parties.” The relation between interest and opinion, which Publius had not mentioned in his discussion of passion and opinion, now comes to the fore. With the division of society into interests one gets “parties” or politics, and only then the invocation of “nature”: “the latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.” 

Politics arises from the differences in men’s opinions and interests, not from the conflict of their passions per se. From the diversity in men’s faculties and the consequent diversity of property—or, considering men as themselves a kind of property arising from their faculties, from the diversity in the degrees and kinds of men—arise certain “sentiments and views” that produce the division of society into interests and parties. Again, Publius places opinions first: it is opinions that give rise to interests and to politics, opinions themselves arise from (fallible) reflection on unequal human conditions, broadly speaking. The “latent causes of faction” are thus sown in the liberty of man’s reason, in his self-love, and in his diverse faculties, including particularly his faculty for holding opinions concerning what is rightly his or what is his due. For it is not so much man’s “faculties of acquiring property” but “the diversity in the faculties of men” from which the “rights” of property originate that stimulates faction and political conflict. 

But not all politics is factious. The latent causes of faction become activated “according to the different circumstances of civil society.” “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice” is mentioned as the first of these “different circumstances.” This use of the term “circumstances” perhaps recalls Federalist 9’s “catalogue of circumstances that tend to the amelioration of popular systems of civil government.” Perhaps the “circumstances” of political science can ameliorate the “circumstances of civil society.” It is certainly true that until zealous opinions concerning religion and government are separated and moderated, it is unlikely that “the regulation of . . . various and interfering interests” will be the “principal task of modern legislation”: so mild a preoccupation presupposes that the prior and divisive question of who should rule has been decided and consented to. 

Publius’ task is to answer that question in, and through, his exposition of the Constitution. His task is complicated by the fact that the Constitution is a means to an end, to the ends of government proclaimed in the Revolution, which means particularly in the Declaration of Independence; and complicated further by the fact that a constitutional form of government is essential to the realization of those ends, and so is itself a kind of end. In other words, Publius must persuade his readers not only that the people should rule but that the people’s rule can—indeed must—be constitutional. If republican government is to be “rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind,” Publius must show that the rule of the people will take place only through the rule of law, rather than through force, sheer will, or the tyrannical passions of the greatest number. Concretely, this means that the people must not only rule through the law, but be ruled by the law: they must come to love the law, and in particular the fundamental law, the Constitution, more than they love their own sovereign authority. Or, more precisely, they must come to identify their rule with the majestic authority of the Constitution. 

So Publius cannot remedy the factions caused by “a zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government” by attempting to multiply these contending opinions. While he does endorse a “multiplicity of interests” and “multiplicity of sects” to provide security for “civil rights” and “religious rights,” he never advocates a multiplicity of opinions to protect political rights. There must be a uniformity of opinion underlying the multiplicity of interests and sects otherwise the result would not be pluralism but civil war or anarchy, not America but Lebanon. 

Pluralism, then, is not enough; before men can be divided by interests and sects they must be united by citizenship. Far from “turn[ing] away almost in horror from the human ‘zeal for different opinions,’” Publius himself inculcates an opinion; far from eschewing zealous politics, Publius concludes Federalist 10 by declaring, “And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of federalists. 

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images

Virtue and Interests 

To be sure, that zeal is restricted to a republicanism embodying the “spirit” and “character” of federalists, and presumably of the chief federalist, Publius. It is only when that zeal has replaced the factious zeal “for different opinions” that the pluralistic polities of interest groups becomes possible. For “the most common and durable source of factions,” Publius explains, “has been the various and unequal distribution of property.” The unequal distribution comprises “those who hold and those who are without property,” as well as creditors and debtors; the various distribution includes the landed, manufacturing, mercantile, moneyed, and other lesser interests that “grow up of necessity in civilized nations.” Civilized nations are those that protect the diverse faculties of men; they are to that extent commercial nations. 

To the extent that the Constitution secures more than the diverse faculties that give rise to property—insofar as it secures the people’s “safety and happiness”—it exists for the sake of more than a merely commercial nation. One should not forget that in the thematic discussion of commerce in Federalist 6, Publius depicts it as a source of dissension and war: “Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power and glory?” Against those “projectors in politics” who maintain that “the genius of republics . . . is pacific” and that “the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men”—against Montesquieu, Kant, and Hume, among others—Publius asks, “Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by men as well as the latter?” 

To answer these questions, Publius appeals to experience, and cites examples ancient and modern. In Federalist 7, he affirms the “unbridled spirit” of commercial enterprise in America, and in Federalist 11 attests that the “adventurous spirit, which characterizes the commercial character of America,” has already “excited uneasy sensations in several of the maritime powers of Europe.” Plainly commerce does not promise “perpetual peace” between the United States and the rest of the world; why should it be the handmaid of civil harmony within the United States? The multiplicity of interests becomes conducive to peaceful, nonfactious government within the United States only when commerce itself has been tamed or shaped by Publius’ constitutionalism, by the opinions taught in The Federalist

After the discussion of the extended republic in Federalist 10, the importance of the Union to commerce is said to be “one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion,” inasmuch as “the prosperity of commerce is now perceived and acknowledged by all enlightened statesmen to be the most useful as well as the most productive source of national wealth.” From this new point of view, even the “often-agitated question between agriculture and commerce” has “received a decision which has silenced the rivalship that once subsisted between them” and proved “that their interests are intimately blended and interwoven.”

But the harmony of interest that underlies the multiplicity of interests that “grow up of necessity in civilized nations” is not itself a necessity: it must be taught and it must be learned. Federalist 10 suggests a common opinion about the value of commerce or of commercial prosperity that justifies it not as an end in itself but as a means to the public good, and therefore allows the peaceful division of society into competing economic interests. This opinion is “perceived and acknowledged by all enlightened statesmen” and has “commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject,” but it must be taught to and enforced upon men whose “general assent” is not sufficient to moderate their own particular interest. 

“The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation,” Publius continues, “and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government.” But the whole purpose of Publius’ inquiry in Federalist 10 is to find a way to remedy “the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administration.” If a factious spirit is necessarily involved in the ordinary operations of government, how can there be any cure for the “unsteadiness and injustice” of our politics? 

One must pay careful attention to Publius’ words. “The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation”—Publius says nothing about those 71 aspects of government that are not particularly modern (even as he has said nothing concerning “wise” as opposed to “enlightened” statesmen), nor does he bring up modern execution or judgment. The discussion in Federalist 10 seems to take place entirely on the level of the legislative power, as if the legislature were the whole government. Publius has alluded to but not yet investigated the separation of powers. The solution to the problem of faction proposed in Federalist 10 is therefore a partial solution. If the legislature were to be tainted by the spirit of party and faction, then the importance of the executive and judiciary in preventing “unsteadiness and injustice” would be all the greater. What is more, Federalist 10’s discussion proceeds without discriminating the legislature into two houses; the importance of the Senate would, ceteris paribus, also be enhanced by this analysis. 

A closer consideration reveals, however, that the problem of faction in the legislature is the epitome of politics in general. “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause,” Publius writes, “because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation but so many judicial determinations . . . ?” 

Republican politics, after all, consists in self-government, and self-government implies that men can take responsibility for judging themselves as parties to their own causes. Indeed, men are their own causes, particularly in the state of nature, where the fact that each is the sole judge of himself leads to anarchy. The problem of judging one’s own cause seems merely to have been transferred from the state of nature to civil society, from individuals to parties and factions of men. For as Publius comments in Federalist 51, “In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger . . . .”  

With this thought we reach the heart of the problem: so long as factions exist in society, and in particular so long as a majority faction threatens, the state of nature has not been overcome. It is not just that rights are insecure, but that men still act as if their passions (or their reason acting, so to speak, on the orders of their passions) and not the law were the measure of right. These men are not yet citizens; they lack the virtues that make them worthy of citizenship. 

The studied ambiguity in Publius’ language evinces the problem. He speaks in Federalist 51 of “the stronger faction” oppressing “the weaker,” as if there were no nonfactious groups in society at all. Yet justice “ought to hold the balance between them,” and justice is “the end of government” and of “civil society.” Surely justice cannot be obtained by replacing the anarchy of the state of nature with the regulated anarchy (such paradoxical terms are necessary) of a civil society that does nothing for, or to, its members other than encouraging their appetites with a view to what has been called the “saving multiplicity of factions”—so many that no one faction (a majority faction) can consistently rule. The difficulty with this thesis, however, is that Publius never speaks of a “multiplicity of factions”; he speaks of a “multiplicity of interests.” 

Now, it is true that a majority or minority united and actuated by an unjust interest is a faction. But not all interests are unjust. Publius plays on the ambiguities of the term “interest” by using it sometimes as almost a synonym for faction, sometimes as meaning a legitimate claim under the rules of justice. The problem, in brief, is to lift unjust interests up to justice, or at least to see to it that factious interests are not simply checked but so checked as to allow nonfactious interests to predominate, thus encouraging the former to become more reasonable if only in order to be more successful.

Although self-government inevitably requires parties to judge their own causes, this is not fatal to good government if the parties are virtuous, and part of Publius’ effort is to inculcate a certain kind of virtue in American citizens. 

In keeping with the respect for law and especially for the Constitution that he teaches them, Publius will elevate the status of the judiciary in the new government by confirming or inventing its power to review laws for their constitutionality. By separating the partisan or factious politics of the legislature from the judging of the Supreme Court, he reminds citizens of their obligation to be more than partisans of factions, and helps to insulate the government against the people’s weaker moments. In the same manner, while deprecating the “vain” notion that “enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests and render them all subservient to the public good,” for the sensible reason that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” he admonishes the people not to count on the intervention of others to save them—thus encouraging them to be mindful of their own responsibility. “Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest” of the parties. 

Publius himself is the great tutor in the importance of “indirect and remote considerations.” In the second part of The Federalist, readers learn the wisdom of having a senate, an energetic executive, and an independent judiciary precisely to emphasize these considerations to the people. The quick dismissal of statesmanship as an answer to the problem of faction is not Publius’ final word on the subject, but it is an ironic depreciation of his own function that accords with the rhetorical needs of the whole work and his own pseudonymous character. The Roman Publius Valerius was renowned for renouncing his own power and emphasizing “the majesty of the democracy”—all the while increasing his own authority over the democrats, and providing bona fides for future republican magistrates. 

Controlling the Effects of Faction 

After canvassing the possible methods of eliminating the causes of faction, Publius turns to the second half of his argument. “The inference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” If the faction is a minority, the republican principle of majority rule provides a remedy. If the faction is a majority, the problem is acute; the very “form of popular government . . . enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” The republican form—reduced to the principle of majority rule—is incapable of securing private rights and the public good. Accordingly, from the limiting assumption that the “first object of government” is the protection of men’s diverse faculties (some spirited and political, others acquisitive and economic), the ends of government in Federalist 10 appear to be discrete and almost unattainable, “the public good and private rights.” But when the end of government is seen as the “safety and happiness of society” (as later in The Federalist), then private rights and the public good may become two aspects of a single common good. 

Having been brought to the “inference” (not a demonstrated conclusion) that the causes of majority faction cannot be removed, Publius takes up the possibility of controlling its effects. Two means present themselves: “Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect their schemes of oppression.” Either the “impulse” or the “opportunity” must be prevented. 

But for all its familiarity, Publius’ reasoning is genuinely puzzling: if “giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” is a way of curing the causes of faction, would not preventing “the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority” amount to the same thing? Does not preventing the “impulse” mean dealing with the causes rather than the effects of faction? And is not preventing the “opportunity” merely another way of treating the causes of faction by abolishing or restricting the liberty that is faction’s precondition? 

Publius is careful again not to say that the existence of the same opinion in a majority is to be prevented, nor that a majority’s opportunity to act on the basis of that opinion ought to be prevented. Publius is teaching the majority (not necessarily “every citizen”) a common opinion that will check majority faction, and that is necessary even for the extended sphere to control factions based on interest. The majority should not attempt to rule in its own name; for the sake of the success and honor of republican government, the many must yield to the law—to the Constitution. This opinion will be cultivated in the course of the second volume of The Federalist until it becomes clear that the people must not only acquiesce in but revere or venerate the Constitution. 

In practice, therefore, the people must also respect the offices established under it; they must try to select the best men for the job, or, in the case of those officers selected indirectly (the president, senators, and Supreme Court justices), the people must recognize the special virtues or functions of the offices that justify the indirect selection. Thus the people’s own impulses are recruited to the regime’s assistance, and the majority is persuaded of the justice and advantage of representative rather than direct government. 

Publius deals with causes while seeming to deal only with effects : he teaches informally, and shapes the character of American citizens indirectly. This is appropriate to his own status as a literary rather than (like the Roman Publius) an actual statesman, and as an unelected or unauthorized interpreter of the fundamental law, which (unlike Roman law) does not claim to be divine. Insofar as Publius removes the causes of faction, the “efficacy” of the cure for the mischiefs of faction comes not from the Union but from the Constitution and its interpreter, Publius himself. 

Publius’ respectful indirection thus leads to the topic of representation, and to his famous distinction between republican and democratic government. “From this view of the subject” he declares, “it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.” “From this view of the subject,” but perhaps not from a more capacious or constitutional view. In contrast to a “pure democracy,” a republic is a popular government “in which a scheme of representation takes place.” But this definition proves somewhat elusive. Publius had called the democracies of Greece and Italy “petty republics” in Federalist 9, and in Federalist 63 he repeats the error, calling Sparta, Rome, and Carthage republics, and noting that “the difference most relied on between the American and other republics consists in the principle of representation.” He admits in that essay, however, that “the position concerning the ignorance of the ancient governments on the subject of representation is by no means precisely true in the latitude commonly given to it,” i.e., in the latitude he had given to it. Even in “the most pure democracies of Greece,” there was representation, and “similar instances might be traced in most, if not all, the popular governments of antiquity.” Publius concludes, then, that “the true distinction between these and the American governments lies in the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity from any share in the latter, and not in the total exclusion of representatives of the people from the administration of the former.” (Emphasis in the original.) 

He reveals the “true distinction” only much later in the book, after his account of the principle of separated powers. In Federalist 10 he obscures this distinction, preferring to “heighten the advantages” of the Union or of republicanism based upon the Union by setting up the straw man of “pure democracy.” (He makes no mention of monarchy, the regime to which in the preceding number he had attributed the advantages of an extended territory; and he abandons the Montesquieuan account of the “confederate republic” as a means of “reconciling the advantages of monarchy with those of republicanism.”) Once “pure democracy” is discredited as the standard for popular governments, Publius can defend the American republic as “wholly popular” despite the fact or rather because of the fact that it is exclusively representative. In Federalist 10, speaking especially to the “friend of popular governments,” he confines himself to the distinction between the republican form and “pure democracy”—and it is the former alone that can admit of a cure for “the mischiefs of faction,” because it alone derives an “efficacy” from the Union. 

MPI/Getty Images

Representation and the Extended Sphere 

The cure depends upon the two “great points of difference” between the two forms of popular government: in a republic the government is delegated to “a small number of citizens elected by the rest,” and (therefore) a republic may extend to a “greater number of citizens and greater sphere of country.” At first glance the differences seem to be entirely numerical, in keeping with the democratic or popular character of the distinction under discussion, and with the fact that in Federalist 10, representation turns out to be a derivative advantage. Representation will “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may 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.” 

When the “public voice” is passed through the “medium” of the representatives, it “may well happen” that it is “more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.” We thus see that representation, working through the forms of the Constitution, turns interests into “views” that can be shaped to the “public good.” Interests cease to be factious insofar as they become based on opinions of what is due to one within the limits of a common or ruling opinion of justice. When interests adopt “public views” they have been constitutionalized; and as part of the “public good” they can be both represented and regulated. 

Thus the “public voice” is a rational expression or set of expressions that can be harmonized; it is not a tumult. It appears then that representation is especially for the sake of the public good (rather than for the rights of individuals) and is a kind of substitute for or rehabilitation of the “enlightened statesmen” dismissed earlier. It offers the few, who have already been shown the insufficiency of their claim to rule, a place and a calling under the Constitution, without injuring the equal rights of other men. It therefore plays a role in preventing minority faction. But representation also helps to prevent majority faction, insofar as it prevents the “opportunity” by excluding the people from playing any collective role in the administration of the government, and prevents the “impulse” by allowing the people to look to, and to heed, their representatives’ wisdom, patriotism, and love of justice.

The aristocratic tones of the latter are too much for “the friend of popular government” to bear, however, and so Publius quickly retreats from representation to the extended sphere as the cure for the mischiefs of faction. “On the other hand,” he observes, “the effect may be inverted.” Rather than men of wisdom, patriotism, and justice, the people may find themselves saddled with “men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs.” 

We note that faction appears, from the standpoint of representation, as a problem of character or of the soul: “men of factious tempers” have usurped men of wisdom. To ensure that the effect is not inverted, Publius seeks the greatest probability of electing “proper guardians of the public weal”; his question is “whether small or extensive republics are more favorable” to this outcome. And the question is “clearly decided in favor of the latter,” he holds, “by two obvious considerations.” Republics are now the only defensible kind of popular government. “Pure” democracy, which now appears not as pure but as debased, as popular government without a constitution, is returned to where Aristotle in his Politics had left it, a bad form of government; and the republic, or constitutional democracy, becomes the standard of good popular government. 

The debate between “pure democracy” and the republican form is thus transformed into one between small and large republics, and the latter debate is settled on the same basis as the former. In both cases, the question of representation, which is linked to the structure of government, is absorbed into the question of size, which turns upon the Union. Whereas initially it had appeared that representation would prevent the “impulse” to majority faction and the extended sphere would prevent the “opportunity,” it is now up to the sphere to prevent both. 

The two “obvious considerations” that decide in favor of the large republic are, however, far from obvious. In the first place, Publius argues that in a large republic the probability of making a “fit choice” for office will be greater because the people will choose, other things being equal, from a greater pool of “fit characters.” But even if Publius’ conditions are granted, his conclusion assumes that the people will take advantage of the wider choice, that they will choose well, for surely there is also a greater pool of unfit characters in the competition. 

In the second place, Publius argues that with larger electoral districts, it will be more difficult “for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.” But in larger districts new arts of advertising, image making, and public relations may spring up to replace the “vicious arts” of old. Nonetheless, Publius makes explicit his assumption that when the suffrage of the people is “more free,” they are more likely to pick men of “the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.” By collapsing the issue of representation into the question of size, Publius shows his readers the democratic bent of the argument for the extended sphere, and underlines the emphasis on the legislature that pervades Federalist 10. He gives no hint of what he will later discourse on at length, the tendency of the offices established by the Constitution, particularly the presidency and the Senate, to attract men “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” 

The other great difference between a democracy and a republic, then, is “the greater number of citizens and extent of territory” that the latter may encompass; “and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter.” Publius’ reasoning is brisk and impressive: 

The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.

This second solution to the problem of majority faction is Publius’ way of revisiting and rehabilitating the second method of removing the causes of faction. Even as representation is, in one view, a way of restricting the people’s liberty, so preventing the majority from having the same interest is a way of giving everyone a “common motive” to conceive of himself as a minority, as one whose rights are endangered. Through such an opinion, it is, as Publius remarks in Federalist 11 in a different connection, possible to “take away the motive to such combinations by inducing an impracticability of success.” 

As presented by Publius, the extended sphere is an automatic governor that restrains our politics by nonpartisan or mechanical or indeed virtually quantitative means. That it raises no partisan claim—more precisely, that it checks democratic claims by democratic means, encouraging various interests to flourish freely—and that its operation seems automatic, only serves to commend it more highly to “the friend of popular government.” Its seemingly ineluctable working becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, militating against both the ardor and the injustice of a potential majority faction.

Still, thinking of oneself always as a threatened minority is as little suitable for decent republican politics as a faction’s constant self-aggrandizement. It is, of course, necessary to ensure in a republic that majorities are moderate and just—are constitutional, in the profoundest sense of the term. But to the extent that majority rule is the republican principle, majorities must rule: the political life of the regime must be lived. 

“In the extended republic of the United States,” Publius declares in Federalist 51, “. . . a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good.” On the basis of the prevailing interpretation of Federalist 10, however, it is hard to see how any majority, especially a just one, could be formed athwart the various and interfering factions. 

When it is seen that Publius is contending not for a multiplicity of factions but of interests, and these informed by a common opinion, the way from Federalist 10 to republican politics (and to the rest of The Federalist) opens up. To indicate that the citizens of America are not to be regarded simply as members of factions or as legislative claimants, Publius speaks to his readers as fellow founders: “Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of interests and parties,” he tells them; “you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens . . . .” (Emphasis added.) The “friend of popular governments” can join with “our most considerate and virtuous citizens” in the act of founding a republican government that is purged so far as possible of the danger of majority faction. But that partnership in founding becomes a common citizenship in the course of The Federalist’s argument as a whole.

This common citizenship is based on common principles, on the principles of the Revolution especially as they are embodied in the Constitution. The veneration of the Constitution and its principles is the form that this citizenship takes in common opinion. For in the last analysis, the security of the people’s rights depends “altogether . . . on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.” But that public opinion is itself partially a product of the “general spirit” of the Constitution that Publius urges them to respect. 

Republican government cannot rest on opinion alone, but it cannot be either safe or happy without having its ruling public opinion anchored in the Constitution and keen on its perpetuation. Publius writes to “fortify” this opinion by inculcating certain truths about republican constitutionalism that many previous republicans and many of the opponents of the Constitution had either denied or overlooked. 

This purpose is not fulfilled in Federalist 10 or in the first volume of The Federalist, but these papers prepare the way for the actual discussion of the Constitution in the second volume. The qualifications that the latter imposes on Federalist 10 have been indicated, but they deserve to be restated plainly: Federalist 10 overstates the case for the extended sphere, though for good rhetorical purposes. In expounding the Senate in Federalist 63, Publius confesses what he had refused to say in Federalist 10, that “the same extended situation which will exempt the people of America from some of the dangers incident to lesser republics will expose them to the inconveniency of remaining for a longer time under the influence of those misrepresentations which the combined industry of interested men may succeed in distributing among them.” The extended sphere does not provide a fully effective “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.” Although a large republic is necessary to alleviate faction, it is not only not sufficient to the purpose, but can actually make the problem worse. 

The root of the problem is that Publius has not yet explained what are “the true principles of republican government”; hence the republican diseases have been inadequately diagnosed and the “republican remedy” too easily prescribed. Publius reiterates the importance of a large republic in Federalist 63, but he subordinates it to the proper kind of representation—in this case, to a properly constructed Senate; and insofar as he describes the mischiefs of faction now as “misrepresentations,” he implies that their proper cure is good representation. “It adds no small weight to all these considerations,” he writes, “to recollect that history informs us of no long-lived republic which had not a senate,” and he proceeds to reconsider the examples of Sparta, Rome, and Carthage. Those “petty republics,” whose “transient and fleeting brilliancy” had so engaged Publius’ attention in Federalist 9, turn out (54 papers later) to include “long-lived” republics whose examples, though in some respects “repugnant to the genius of America,” had managed nonetheless to “blend stability with liberty.” 

Whereas in Federalist 10 representation had been for the sake of the extended sphere, in Federalist 63 Publius reveals that the sphere is also, at least partly, for the sake of the right kind of representation—the kind that accustoms “the genius of America” to expect that republican government shall be good government, in which the reason of the public prevails over majority and minority factions alike. Candidly, he states that the size of the Union not only allows the exclusion of the people from the direct administration of the government (most visible in the most perduring parts of it: the senate, presidency, and supreme court), but allows this exclusion to have its full salutary effect. 

In The Federalist’s great exercise in civic education, then, the extended sphere plays a subordinate but still important role. It ministers to what Abraham Lincoln would call our political religion.

Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Charles Kesler

Charles Kesler is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute, Editor of the Claremont Review of Books, host of The American Mind video series, and the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. Dr. Kesler also teaches in the Claremont Institute’s Publius Fellows Program and Lincoln Fellows Program. He received his B.A. in Social Studies and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. From 1989 to 2008, Dr. Kesler was director of CMC’s Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World. From September 2000 to March 2001, he served as vice chairman of the Advisory Committee to the U.S. Congress's James Madison Commemoration Commission.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images