Friday, August 14, 2009

Liberty and Faction

Peter Wehner echoes my words on liberty and factionalism.

A free nation, then, will have factions—and factions, by their very nature, clash. Those clashes are not only very nearly inevitable, they are often useful. They allow passionate debate to occur while the public judges the merits of the arguments put forth.

It doesn’t mean that common ground is impossible to achieve; we saw widespread bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act, for example, during the Bush years, and for welfare reform during the Clinton years. Nor does it mean that factional disputes should be uncivil; civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. There ought to be rules of etiquette, even (and perhaps especially) in political discourse.

But insisting on civility is different from insisting on agreement.

He even quotes Federalist 10. But it'd be nice to refer to this part:

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

State sovereignty, which was protected by the Senate before the 17th Amendment, would ensure that factious leaders could not compel every state to adopt fiat money, socialism, or any other "wicked project". But states have to be free to try bad ideas because that's the best deterrent. When people aren't reminded from time to time that bad ideas have consequences, they tend to forget how bad a bad idea can be.

Allowing people who support bad ideas to put them into practice without forcing everyone to support them also helps to eliminate the fear that we will all have to suffer from someone's bad idea. That tends to result in debates that are passionate without becoming violent.

While there are other issues to be addressed, repealing the 17th Amendment would be the first step toward reestablishing a focus on individual liberty.

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