Part 1: James Madison Fears “The People”
James Madison didn’t trust the people: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Thus he expressed his fear. While he may be regarded as the Founding Father who urged checks and balances, let us not forget that he worked to exclude the people from having a direct role in government.
The people, he said, would be swept away by passions. Our current passion mongering demagogue of a President seems to validate Madison’s fear that Enlightenment Reason would be sacrificed to the rule of the “deplorables”, as his voters have been described. “The people” will always be incapable of self-rule.
Anarchists would disagree. Our thesis centers on the success of anarchist principles at a certain time and place: Spain 1936-1939, during the Spanish Civil War. The people in Northern Spain stood up to the Fascists and the Bolsheviks and opted to live a libertarian communist lifestyle: collectivizing the land, the factories, the workshops, and social services. It worked. The people ruled. More of that in Part 2.
Before we dive into the collectives of the Spanish Revolution, a look at today’s headlines shows just how powerless the people are. Gleaned from this morning’s newspaper (January 11, 2020), we see the following: “Crisis Reveals Sick Culture Inside Boeing”; “It’s Up, but Puerto Rico’s Grid is Crippled, Broke, and Vulnerable.” In the case of Boeing, 346 people died in 2 crashes of poorly designed aircraft. Internal documents show that senior employees ridiculed and mocked FAA and airline pilots, regulators and clients, as “dogs watching TV’s”, “idiots”. It took a year to get rid of the CEO, who is still walking away with $60,000,000 in compensation. That’s $173,410 for each person killed in planes made by his company. An isolated case, or systemic disease? “Sully” Sullenberger, the famed pilot who had to land his plane in the Hudson River, said that taking necessary precautions in design and training “is hard to do in this world run by Wall Street.”
The people of Puerto Rico already pay some of the highest rates for electricity. Before Hurricane Maria, in July 2017, the power authority was already $9 billion in debt. But their power is out again after the recent earthquake, and again after another one this morning (January 11). According to the New York Times, the Puerto Rico power authority’s recent history has been checkered by questionable management: corruption, bizarre choices of contractors. An isolated case, or systemic rot?
Maybe it’s because the elites who sit at the top of our “meritocracy” live in a bubble. They need not concern themselves with the 95 million adult Americans who are out of the workforce, or the families of 346 victims of the Boeing crashes, or the people of Puerto Rico who live in darkness because of the willful negligence of the Power Authority managers (the workers are said to be working themselves to the bone trying to get the power back on). Are these the people Madison wants us to fear, or should we fear the “natural aristocrats”, who were meant to populate the Senate and provide cool reason?
Andrew Yang, in his book War on Normal People, neatly clarifies how we live in this bifurcated society: with one small segment isolated in their bubble, while the rest of us face job insecurity, inadequate health insurance, or food insecurity. In Chapter 9 of the book, he writes that “smart people in the US will do one of 6 things in 6 places-finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, or academia, in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC.” (p. 85) To me, this signals the formation of a distinct class, in that “money, status, training..and an elevated career trajectory all seem to lead in the same direction.”(p.88) There is an implicit social darwinism in all this. Graduates of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, et al. are all extravagantly recruited. They have jumped all the hoops. They are the winners. Their lives are set as long as they maintain allegiance to their “class.” The parameters of their beliefs and actions are set and understood.
My point is that those sitting on top of the apparatus of state capitalism may well be “smart”, but their allegiance is not necessarily to the well being of the people, or even the country. They are not the inflamed mob as feared by Madison. But should we, the 95%, trust them with designing airplanes, maintaining power grids(remember Enron, anyone?), with collecting all our private data for the purpose of extracting profit from us, or even steering us away from war or preserving the planet?
In part 2, I will present historical evidence that another way is possible. It happened in the middle of a civil war in Spain. Maybe it only happened because of a special set of circumstances. Maybe the times were simpler. In any case, we must be alert to the encroachments of totalitarian democracy, friendly fascism. It can be better than this, and we, the people, can choose another way. James Madison was wrong, our hope rests with the vast majority of the people.