Welcome to Modern Democracy

This blog is about the U.S. political system and the law, politics, and ideas surrounding its reform.  Modern Democracy will follow and discuss developments regarding the usual suspects (such as gerrymandering, campaign finance, and lobbying reform), but it will also search out, propose, and analyze more novel and fundamental changes for our democracy.

Americans of all political stripes seem to agree on one thing: the system is broken.  The political process seems incapable of meeting the demands of the 21st century and handling the most basic of governmental functions.  We are not faced with a need for new leaders or new policies; rather, we are faced with the more foundational need to rebuild a fair, free, and effective system of representation.  This blog will follow the litigation, legislation, and changes to the Constitution necessary to make that vision a reality.

The need to perpetually redesign and renew our social compact is, after all, central to the American story.  After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a series of papers to persuade the American public that the Articles of Confederation should be abandoned and that the new Constitution should be ratified.  Hamilton’s “General Introduction” to the series – Federalist No. 1 – is just as timely today as it was then:

To the People of the [United States]:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on [changes to the] Constitution [and laws of] the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind. This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good.

But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan[s] offered to our deliberations [will] affect[] too many particular interests, innovate[] upon too many local institutions, not to involve in [their] discussion a variety of objects foreign to [their] merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.  Among the most formidable of the obstacles which [these proposals] will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will . . . hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country . . . .

[A]s in all former cases of great national discussion[,] [a] torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

In the course of the preceding observations, I have had an eye, my fellow-citizens, to putting you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth. You will, no doubt, at the same time, have collected from the general scope of them, that they proceed from a source not unfriendly to [reforming our] Constitution [and laws]. Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion it is your interest to [reform our system of government]. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness. I affect not reserves which I do not feel. I will not amuse you with an appearance of deliberation when I have decided. I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded. The consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity. I shall not, however, multiply professions on this head. My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast. My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.

I propose, in a series of [posts], to discuss [a number of] interesting particulars[.]

Welcome to Modern Democracy.