Robert Dahl’s American Hybrid in agreement with the Madisonian Model in Federalist Essay
James Madison’s contribution in the drafting of the second American Constitution had become very important that his propositions remain to this day as the most distinctive and powerful characteristics of the American political system. Now known as the Madisonian Model, the erstwhile President of the United States proposed the adoption of constitutional republic by limiting the control of the majority; separating powers among the legislature; the executive and the judiciary; creating a system of checks and balances; and establishing a federal system of government.
In Federalist 10, Madison illustrates how factions or clashing interests engenders more instability, injustice and confusion in a democracy, and raises the danger of majority tyranny as the public good and rights of the minority may become subservient to the unified interest of the majority in a popular government. He then rejects pure democracy wherein the citizens administer their own government and no protection was given to the interest of the weaker party, and suggests that only a republic or a government in which a scheme of representation takes place can mitigate the effects of factions.On the other hand, while Robert Dahl also believes that it is through a representative government that the interests of the minorities can be heard in the policy-making process, he underestimates the notion of majority tyranny, but rather, emphasizes the “rule of the minorities” in the American political system. Even the outcomes of elections were not reflective of the will of majority because in the first place, most presidential elections winners won by plurality and not by majority, and second, because there are instances when the majority do not even cast their votes during elections.
Although Madison and Dahl both agreed on the intense interplay of different interests in a democracy, Dahl proposes that this dynamics cannot be described fully in terms of competition between the majorities and minorities, but rather by groups of various types which seek to advance their goals, albeit at the expense of others. In his second proposition in the American Hybrid he stresses that elections and political competitions, as methods of social control, do not make for government by majorities, but by minorities, whose preferences must be considered by political leaders in making policy choices.For Madison, such political leaders can be found in a republican system of government wherein leaders are chosen for their wisdom to discern what is for the public good over the interest of the few. However, in his third proposition, Dahl admits that underlying the democratic politics is the consensus on policy that usually exists among a predominant portion of politically active members of the society.
The politically active may or may not refer to a majority, but it sure refers to Madison’s factional interests that are entrenched in a system wherein legislators are also advocates of their own causes.Such are the interest of the landed, mercantile, manufacturing, etc. which had also been a criticism to the Madisonian Model’s tendency to preserve the status quo. Nonetheless, for Dahl, such consensus, whether emanating from the majority or the influential minorities, is very important to hold the democratic system intact in light of endless irritations of elections and party competitions. Dahl also notes that Madison and the other framers of the Constitution wrongly predicted that parties would evolve into organizing rather than convulsing factors in the American politics.
In his fourth proposition, by saying that majority tyranny is indeed a myth, Dahl brings up the real issue on the extent to which various minorities are able to frustrate ambitions of one another with the political apathy of the majority. Thus, what is important in a polyarchy is that the clash of interests should be encouraged because it would present more policy alternatives, keep the democracy going and prevent the predominance of one group of interests.Factions, contrary to Madison’s earlier conception, are considered healthy for democracy and not really causing instability and confusion. Deprivation of freedom of one group by another in a polyarchy is also more guarded by consensus or social norms, according to Dahl’s fifth proposition. Although both Dahl and Madison upholds the importance of constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers, and checks and balances to provide safeguards against abuse of certain interests, Dahl also cites non-constitutional determinants of government decisions that should be contained by social norms.As such, in his sixth proposition, Dahl forwards that since the political contest is unequal, constitutional rules should remain significant in helping determine which groups should be given advantage and handicaps in the struggle.
To this end, specialized bureaucracies, including the judiciary, are needed to enforce the rules, reinforce the system of checks and balances, and ensure that despite the gridlocks inherent in the American democratic system, decisions are made to keep the government running.Since then it has been the concern of the American constitutional development that the political system should evolve to ensure that legitimate groups are heard in the process of decision-making. This is for Dahl, the “normal” operations of American politics, his seventh proposition. Because the system of checks and balances are seen more limiting than capacitating for the government, Madison had also suggested granting the President with constitutionally regulated powers such as the prerogative to nominate a Supreme Court justice, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, among others.Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, empowered the legislature, but Dahl only described it as endowing the elite with control over legislative policy, resembling Madison’s concern on choosing the right size of the electorate of a representative – not too big to alienate the representative from the represented and not too small to make the representative too attached to the interests of its constituents.Still, in the final analysis, Madison’s and Dahl’s defenses of their own prescribed forms of government, republican and polyarchy, respectively, can be seen as towards securing the public good and private rights, and preserving the spirit of popular or democratic government.