There is much debate in our modern times over what exactly the founders of the United States thought or felt about our political cornerstones (the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and others). Much has changed in the centuries since the beginning of our nation (which is why many debate that the Constitution should be a “living” document, and open to interpretation), but there are still many things which are eerily the same. Chief among them, is the almost eternal debate between those who desire a strong, overarching federal government, and those who prefer stronger states and individual rights, leaving the individual entities to make decisions separate from the federal government. Federalists and Anti-Federalists were the original two parties who had this debate, and the party/group names may have changed, but the struggle between the two sides persists, and is drastically evident throughout modern America.
The fear of the eventual divisiveness of political parties was something that was of concern to some among the founding fathers. Federalists and Anti-Federalists were the earliest examples of in our history of these parties, but they have evolved as time has gone on, culminating in the current iterations of Republicans and Democrats. In Federalist 10, Madison stresses the threat that factions could play to the function of a society/government, and from his descriptions of these factions, we can directly see a comparison to our modern day political parties. Madison describes factions as groups of individuals who are rallied around a certain ideal or goal, and work towards fulfilling that purpose; the issue with this, Madison claims, is that when one such faction holds a majority in a government, they are often prone to act, not necessarily on behalf of their constituents, but on behalf of their own self-interest and end goals. It is this self-interest that we see reflected more and more in our modern day politics. Sometimes self-interest shows itself in terms of personal benefit, and other times it appears in harsh partisanship. In an article from 2015 in the Washington Post, the peak of partisanship can be observed. As time has passed (particularly over the 20th century), we can see a drastic trend of partisanship voting, which leads to the parties moving further and further away from one another. There are no more moderates; the political parties are further apart than ever, and Madison’s notions of how dividing factions can be holds true.
While we have already taken a look at the actual metrics of how dividing political parties have become, just like how Madison warned, I would also like to point to a current day issue which reflects these partisan arguments, and is perhaps the most divisive: gun control. According to a 2010 Pew Research Study, the American public were very literally split down the middle on the issue; 50% said that it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% stressed the importance of protecting the rights of gun owners. “Republicans strongly favor gun rights over gun control by a 70%-to-26% margin, while Democrats are almost as equally supportive of gun control over gun ownership by a 67%-to-30% margin.” As clear from these statistics, the opinions of the majority of the two major political parties are completely inverted, if events over the past decade in particular are any indication, these numbers will not sway any time soon. The cycle that has been established regarding gun-related tragedies always ends with nothing changing in terms of legislation, just both sides yelling at each other, furthering the pre-established divide between the parties, and accomplishing nothing. Republicans view anything more than individual states dictating their own gun control laws, as an affront to the autonomy of the states; an idea/fear that we saw over 200 years ago amongst Anti-Federalists – that Again from Federalist 10: “A zeal for different opinions…have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to cooperate for their common good.” Madison’s insights on the propensity of man to choose sides and divide is clearly echoed in the arguments over modern-day gun control; parties have been so obsessed with “getting a win” over the other, that I fear modern politicians lose sight of the interest of their constituents when making some decisions.
A major critic of Federalist ideas and Madison’s writings, Brutus, might have some aversion to the politics of modern times, as he was very wary of the initial Federalist proposals for a republic government. The main concern from him (and Centinel as well) was one that, as mentioned earlier, we often see today, particularly from the Republican party: when the federal government executes legislation, based on the votes of representatives, how can the the rights of the individual or states truly be guaranteed. From Brutus, regarding the United States: “Is it practicable for a country, so large and so numerous as they will soon become, to elect a representation, that will speak their sentiments, without their becoming so numerous as to be incapable of transacting public business? It certainly is not.” While there was eventual compromise between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and our government does have a legislative branch, this sentiment that the country is too large and diverse for the federal government to have the majority of the power echoes today. On many issues (taxes, healthcare, gun control (as discussed earlier), etc.), many push for greater state autonomy as opposed to federal oversight.
Partisanship, which saw its infancy in the early years of our republic, is currently in it’s most drastic phase in our history. Federalists and Anti-Federalists may have begun the initial divide between two major political groups, on the basis of how the government should be run, but this disagreement has not only continued into modern times, but has become more deeply seeded and more complex in the national issues that are wrapped up in it. Gun control is a glaring example, but there are plenty of others as well; all of which serve as methods of one party to point out flaws in the other. Despite warnings from our founding fathers, Madison amongst them, political parties or, simply put, factions, have taken control of our political systems, and the intense partisanship that the subscribe to has done nothing but make the government/our representatives, I believe, less effective.
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