Madison and Mob Rule

A pretty good piece. You may not agree precisely with his description of the problem set, but his solutions include some ideas that we all believe in -- especially Federalism and constitutional education, i.e., civics.
To combat the power of factions, the Founders believed the people had to be educated about the structures of government in particular. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both,” Madison wrote in 1822, supporting the Kentucky legislature’s “Plan of Education embracing every class of Citizens.” In urging Congress to create a national university in 1796, George Washington said: “A primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government.”

The civics half of the educational equation is crucial. Recent studies have suggested that higher education can polarize citizens rather than ensuring the rule of reason: Highly educated liberals become more liberal, and highly educated conservatives more conservative. At the same time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has found that citizens, whether liberal or conservative, who are educated about constitutional checks on direct democracy, such as an independent judiciary, are more likely to express trust in the courts and less likely to call for judicial impeachment or for overturning unpopular Supreme Court decisions.
Well, at least 'overturning them via constant re-litigation.' Stability is helpful, but a bad decision needs to be addressed. Understanding the constitutional mechanisms allows us to do that in a way that is more likely to be accepted as legitimate.

Federalism, meanwhile, remains a core part of the solution. However, I've become convinced that we also need a way to create a distinction between urban and rural that has constitutional force. It seems that we have two modes of life here that are fundamentally incompatible, not only in their desires but in their needs. Ensuring that the cities can't impose their will on the countryside, and vice versa, might lower the temperature a lot.


Tom said...

City-states? They could dominate the House, but the Senate would balance things. Maybe.

Tom said...

To flesh this out, for example, the NYC metropolitan area could become its own city-state with full representation in Congress.

This would divide the current representatives, with the new NYC City-State keeping most of them(90% or so of the state population lives there). However, it would get 2 senators and the rest of NY State would also get 2, maintaining a balance between the two parts of the formerly united New York.

In places like California, you might have a city-state corridor made up of several cities. However, if LA wanted to be its own city-state, and San Francisco another city-state, etc., that would unbalance things. California always has to mess things up, I guess.

How would we decide which urban areas to split off this way? The dominant metropolitan areas are unlikely to vote to give up their control over the rural areas. Maybe we just let the rural areas vote to secede or not, and not give the metropolitan areas a say in the matter. I dunno.

Grim said...

I was thinking of a simpler solution, perhaps barring statewide legislation. Cities could then pass city ordinances, and counties could, but there’d be no mechanism for a dominant urban population to force its will on rural areas nor vice versa in stares with dominant rural populations. What to do at the Federal level looks to me like strict 10th A stuff.

Tom said...

So, get rid of states altogether? That doesn't seem simpler when I think of all the effects that would have on law enforcement, education, National Guard, healthcare, etc.

But, maybe that's the right direction. Maybe some limits on what statewide laws could be passed would be simpler than my idea.

Grim said...

No, the states remain; you’d have governors and state courts and such. You’d just stop passing state laws. You’d have Federal laws in those areas assigned to the Feds by the Constituition, and otherwise only local laws. It’s juat an idea, but it’s a starting place for addressing this tension. It removes the threat of being compelled by people who don’t share your most basic ideas about the right way to live.

Tom said...

So you'd keep the current state laws, but no new ones could be passed?

How would cities & counties address existing state laws they disagreed with? I guess the pre-existing state laws could form a base, and then the cities & counties could amend them with city/county legislation. Is that the idea?