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Constitutional politics James Madison

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    Hi.

    I was reading a textbook that said this:

    A form of government in which laws expressed the wishes of the electoral majority would ensure that any irrational or oppressive schemes favoured by minority factions would not be given legal effect. But, Madison, suggested this "majoritarian" system of law-making offered no protection to society when oppressive or irrational ideas were favoured by a majority of the population. That an idea enjoyed majority support did not necessarily make it conducive to the "public good": majorities might be misinformed about important issues relevant to the political choices that they make, or be temporarily persuaded to abandon their better judgement by the seductive rhetoric of charismatic leaders, or simply be prepared to sacrifice their country's long term welfare to gain a short term, sectional advantage.

    Please perhaps I wonder if anyone here can help give (British or American or French) examples for items I have bolded? Thanks. Sorry for my english.

    I did not quite understand public good and misinformed can mean many things, right?

    Also, what is precursor to representative government?

    Thanks very much in advance
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    By "public good", the writer is referring, in my opinion, to the best interests of the people. By "misinformed" the writer is referring to when people are not correctly educated about the relevant issues of a political topic, or not fully informed about all the issues it concerns. That may be because information on the topic is limited, or the information made available by the government is biased in some way, or the general public do not have the necessary expertise to fully understand the complexity of the relevant issues.

    Examples of "irrational or oppressive schemes favoured by minority factions would not be given legal effect":

    By this, the author is simply saying that a majoritarian government would represent the views and interests of the majority. As a direct result, oppressive views/ideas/interests of the minority would not materialise into the political system.

    An example of an oppressive scheme could be the BNP immigration policy. If the BNP were elected (a minority faction) there policy on immigration would oppress many ethnic minorities. It would be an openly racist/xenophobic system. This is also an irrational scheme, because it judges people based on race.

    Another example of an irrational scheme comes from the Monster Raving Loony party. This is a small, minority party which promotes some very irrational policies. Take for example, there policy on MP expenses: " M.P’s Expenses: We propose that instead of a second home allowance M.P’s will have a caravan which will be parked outside the Houses of Parliament. This will make it easier as flipping a caravan is easier than flipping homes". Again, majoritarian systems stop such eccentric schemes being established.

    Examples of "That an idea enjoyed majority support did not necessarily make it conducive to the "public good":

    By this, the author is simply saying that the ideas promoted by the majority may not necessarily promote the best interests of the majority.

    An example of this is the majority opinion on capital punishment (punishment by death). The majority do want to bring back capital punishment in the UK. However, it would not necessarily favour majority interests. This is for many reasons. It would reverse democracy which is essential for a fair and just political system, and it probably would not be an effective mode of crime reduction.

    An example of " prepared to sacrifice their country's long term welfare to gain a short term, sectional advantage"

    The majority of people want to reduce tax. In the short term, this makes the general population more wealthy. However, long term it reduces the available resources for public services and causes the decline of NHS, education, policing, environmental policies, transport schemes and other welfare systems.

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Updated: March 5, 2012
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