Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The Will of the People, Revisited

In our earlier discussion entitled "The Great Litmus Test," Joe brought in some quotes from the Federalist No. 10 (Madison) (link here to the archives--the entry was on Sunday, September 14, 2003) to demonstrate support for his suggestion that the legislature should serve as a buffer to the public. I have just stumbled across another excerpt from the same text that perhaps goes a step further in advancing Joe's cause--Hamilton's the Federalist No. 71. This portion is particularly timely with regard to the $87 billion that Congress ran straight through Congress without too much challenge. I found this in Alexis de Toqueville's Democracy on America, Vol. I Part I Chapter 8:

There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation. But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted.

The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.

It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as they do, beset as they continually are by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate, by the artifices of men who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and of those who seek to possess rather than to deserve it.

When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests to withstand the temporary delusion in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men who had the courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.

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