Federalist No. 10: Are Factions the Problem in Creating Democratic Accountability in the Public Interest?

Published date01 December 2011
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2011.02459.x
Date01 December 2011
Jack H. Knott is the Erwin and Ione
Piper Dean Professor in the School of Policy,
Planning, and Development at the Univer-
sity of Southern California. His research
interests center on the impact of institutions
and decision making processes on public
policy, governmental and bureaucratic
reform, and public management. He is a
fellow of the National Academy of Public
Administration.
E-mail: jhknott@usc.edu
Are Factions the Problem? S29
Jack H. Knott
University of Southern California
Federalist No. 10 contains an optimistic view of the
national government’s ability to fulf‌i ll its obligations
in the midst of what was, at the time, a small but
challenged nation.  is essay
suggests that the founders did
not anticipate the pernicious
ef‌f ects of rent seeking, corruption,
and repression of minorities,
and they failed to anticipate the
calamities associated with slavery.
e essay asks about the role of
government as a party machine,
a business, a policy process, and
a contractor and examines a
variety of contemporary theories
for explaining government
performance.
Are political factions
the problem in public
administration? In Fed-
eralist No. 10, James Madison
addresses the issue of factions
in a democratic republic. His
argument consists of two parts: First, he argues that
the causes of faction cannot be removed. Factions are
rooted in the self-interests of individuals and groups.
When self-interest is combined with the limited and
faulty rationality of human beings, political factions
emerge that do not serve the broad public interest or
that cause harm to the rights of other groups (Carey
1995, 9–11; Epstein 2007, 64–66). Madison also
believed that the unequal distribution of property
is the main source of factions, which, in turn, is a
major determinant of the political power structure of
a state (Ostrom 2008, 81). Madison argues, however,
that the consequences of factions can be controlled.
In colonial America, he worried less about minority
factions than majority ones. He reasoned that while a
minority faction might frustrate and delay the actions
of the majority, it cannot prevent the majority from
working its political will. Consequently, his primary
concern focused on majority factions that repress the
rights of minorities or that pass legislation that would
not benef‌i t the broadly def‌i ned public interest.
Madison believed that the
United States would have two
interconnected advantages over
other countries in control-
ling the potentially repressive
acts of majority factions.  e
f‌i rst advantage is a republican
form of government, in which
the legislative body consists
of a small number of elected
representatives of the people.
e second advantage is that a
republican form of government
allows for a much larger size
country. Madison argues that
elected representatives are more
likely than the general popula-
tion to include people who have
an interest in the public good.
He also makes the case that
the number of elected of‌f‌i cials
in a large country will be a smaller proportion of the
population than in a small country, and hence each
representative will represent a larger number of people
and interests, giving each representative a broader
political perspective. But Madison thought that even
if the representatives did not have the public inter-
est in mind, the broad diversity of interests in a large
country would make it dif‌f‌i cult to aggregate interests
into a countrywide faction to repress minorities.
His analysis has two important limitations for answer-
ing the question of this article. First, he could not
address the question of the importance of factions
for public administration because, at the time of the
founding of the country, the federal government
played a minor role in the economy and society, with
few public servants and a small bureaucracy. Sec-
ond, while Madison’s analysis profoundly predicted
the potential success of a democratic republic in a
Federalist No. 10: Are Factions the Problem in Creating
Democratic Accountability in the Public Interest?
Madison believed that the
United States would have two
interconnected advantages over
other countries in controlling
the potentially repressive acts
of majority factions.  e f‌i rst
advantage is a republican
form of government, in which
the legislative body consists
of a small number of elected
representatives of the people.
e second advantage is that a
republican form of government
allows for a much larger size
country.

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