March 27, 2018


The Tribalism Bugaboo (Jay Cost, Mar. 26th, 2018, National Review)

Our system of government was in fact explicitly designed to handle the biggest problem of "tribalism," which the Founders might have called the tyranny of the majority. And it accomplishes that task very well. In the United States, the persistence of tribalism is at worst an annoyance, rather than a calamitous threat to basic rights and public security. [...]

Like many political thinkers, Madison reckoned that "factionalism" (his word for tribalism) was part and parcel of human nature. The solution was not a small polity -- because that could empower a single faction to run roughshod over everybody else. Instead, he recommended an extended republic that took in a variety of factions or tribes, each positioned in such a way as to check the self-interested designs of the others. Madison's idea was that having factions share power with one another would result in the type of laws that were good for the whole country. [...]

The Madisonian system is far from perfect. Madison himself acknowledged that it would only reduce the tendency toward factionalism, and history has demonstrated that there are gaps within its protective shield. For instance, distributive politics is a problem: This is where legislators create logrolls that join diverse pieces of legislation into a single bill. It allows disparate factions to join forces with one another to secure passage of a bundle of laws that otherwise could not succeed on their own. Also, a lot depends on who gets counted as a citizen -- minorities who cannot vote do not get to defend their interests. [...]

In the history of the United States, we have never really had tribalism devolve into majoritarian faction. We have had minorities, usually wealthy ones, acquire outsize political power. We have had logrolls in which factions bundled their interests to maximize their gains at the expense of the common good. And of course, we have struggled to expand the definition of citizenship so that it incorpoartes all segments of society, ensuring that racial and ethnic minorities receive the full protection of the state. But we have never really had a single tribe or faction take control of the entire process. That is a very good thing. And I prefer a government that sometimes impedes wise reforms as the cost for preventing the wicked designs of majoritarian tribes.

The tragedy of the Right is that it embraces the tribalism of the Left--both oppose conservatism/liberalism.

Posted by at March 27, 2018 2:19 PM