Chomsky on Madison

Tom Lehman uswa12 at
Thu Mar 30 16:10:56 PST 2000

Here's a quote a friend sent to me that is attributed to Dr. Chomsky. I thought it was kind of interesting so I'll pass it along.

"...I started from the beginning, with Aristotle's POLITICS, which is the foundation for most subsequent political theory. Aristotle took it for granted that a democracy would be fully participatory - with the notable

exception of women and slaves - and would aim to promote the common good. But he argued that, in order to achieve its goal, the democracy would have to endure "lasting prosperity to the poor" and "moderate and sufficient property" for everyone. If there were extremes of poor and rich, or if you didn't have lasting prosperity for everyone, Aristotle thought, then you

couldn't talk seriously about having democracy.

Another point Aristotle made was that if you have a perfect democracy, yet have big differences of wealth - a small number of very rich people and a large number of very poor - then the poor will use their democratic muscle to take away the property of the rich. He regarded this as unjust and offered two possible solutions. One was to reduce poverty. The other was to reduce democracy.

A couple of thousand years later, when our Founding Fathers were writing

the Constitution, James Madison noticed the same problem, but whereas Aristotle's preferred solution had been to reduce poverty, Madison's was to reduce democracy. He said quite explicitly in the Constitutional Convention that, if we had a true democracy, then the poor majority would use its power to demand what nowadays we would call agrarian reform, and that couldn't be tolerated. The primary goal of government, in Madison's words, is "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." He also pointed out that, as time went on, this problem was going to get worse, because a growing part of the population would suffer serious inequities

and "secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of [life's] blessings." He therefore designed a system that would ensure democracy didn't function. As he put it, power would be in the hands of the "more capable of men," those who held "the wealth of the nation," and the rest would be factionalized and marginalized in various ways. ..."

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