I have, as my title indicates, a perspective somewhat different from the one James Rogers offers today in his On the Square article, “Why Christians Should Oppose Factions.” My disagreement with Rogers may not be as large as the contrast between our titles, because I think that buried deep in his essay is a recognition that Madison’s political science depends for its success on the presence of many factions in American politics. Rogers notes, for instance, that for Madison,
representation allows for a larger, national jurisdiction that in turn reduces the effects of faction. Majority coalitions composed of minority factions are less stable than a single majority faction.
All true, but this “reduces the effects of faction” only by proliferating their number. This is why majorities cannot be formed “naturally,” as it were, by the reflexive impulse of a “single majority faction” based on easy agreement among its members, and must instead be created “artificially,” through the reflective deliberations of people who hold varying views and competing interests, and figure out how to accommodate one another by talking their way into the creation of a majority coalition.
It is also true, as Rogers points out, that our two big political parties are not themselves “factions” by Madison’s definition. They are instead the unstable, shifting, competitive efforts to build that majority coalition that can win elections and pass legislation. But does it follow that “political parties are not necessarily factious”? Of that I’m not so sure, either. Factions are the material of which our parties are made. The motives of each faction are typically fairly low and self-interested. If they learn how to rise a little higher in their glimpse of the common good, that’s a benefit of the partisan coalition-building itself.
But I guess the basic difference between Rogers’ reading of Federalist No. 10 and my own is that he puts such emphasis on Madison’s definition that a faction “pursues a goal or interest that is adverse to the rights of another group or is adverse to the general welfare,” and appears to read that as meaning that factions and their members are actively and knowingly hostile to the common good. (I welcome correction if it turns out I am over-reading Rogers!) I see Madison instead as viewing human nature as ineluctably drawn toward self-interested behavior, compounded by a very common propensity to confuse one’s self-interest with the public interest. We love what is our own, and we love the good, and we love love love it when the two are one and the same. Hence we are predisposed to think they are. (Politicians who pander to factions, of course, play to this propensity in people’s view of their own dearest interests. Witness President Obama last night reaching for the votes of teachers and parents by insisting that the common good is bound up with reducing class sizes in schools. Yes, if little Jimmy only has eleven classmates in third grade, Iran will give up its nuclear ambitions!)
There is much that is right and true in Rogers’ essay, and I think these are mostly differences of emphasis regarding Madison’s profoundly subtle political science. But I will note in closing that Rogers’ call for Christians to fight the spirit of faction is fairly anti-Madisonian. The author of Federalist No. 10 counted on religious diversity–perhaps a scandal among Christians–as one of the main supports of religious liberty. It was, in short, a good thing that there was a “multiplicity of sects,” such that no single sect was able to oppress the others. From a Christian point of view, the reuniting of the Body of Christ in sweet harmony is a great desideratum. This side of the Kingdom of God, however, it might be altogether a good thing that we have such a proliferation of religious views. Or so thought one of our deepest-thinking founders. Perhaps in this Madison showed himself not such a good Christian. But that is another conversation.