James Madison and the Legitimacy of Majority Factions

GREG WEINER
AMERICAN POLITICAL THOUGHT 2.2 (2013):198-216

Abstract: Scholarship on the political thought of James Madison has long been divided between adherents of the “liberal” and “republican” views, with a fusion between them recently emerging as the dominant understandings. Yet one element of Madison’s thought cannot be neatly elided: the question of which value prevails when balancing mechanisms fails and a choice between majority rule and minority rights is unavoidable. This essay argues that Madison sided emphatically with majority rule, even when the majority in question was factious. His criticism of majorities is never tantamount to questioning their entitlement to rule: on the contrary, the analysis of Federalist 10, his clearest indictment of majority factions, is completely compatible with their democratic legitimacy. This vindication of majority factions when, however rarely, they formed is most evident in Madison’s defense of the legitimacy of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, despite what he believed to be its factious nature.