Ever wondered why James Madison & many of his Federalist cohorts were so adamant about founding a republic instead of a democracy? I know many of us are quick to correct our well-intentioned peers when they mistake the latter for the former, but few are aware of exactly why the word “democracy” isn’t printed anywhere in the Constitution.
In Federalist #10, James Madison stated,
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. (Emphasis mine)
To translate Madison, democracies have no check against the mob, against one faction controlling both public discourse and the government itself. This is, in part, why “checks and balances” are an integral part of our Republican form of government. The Constitution installs many of these safeguards to prevent, as Madison referenced, one man, a group of men, or a mob from holding too much power, and abusing it. The mob mentality is antithetical to our system of governance. There’s a reason why the United States was designed as a nation that respected the authority of the individual, rather than the collective.
There is no better example of why James Madison and others feared mob rule, and by extension, democracies, than our current political climate. Remember when former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stepped down after the heat he received for having the audacity to donate to California’s Prop 8, four years ago? Or when Condi Rice was so mercilessly attacked by Rutgers students (Read: Rutgers students riled up by Rutgers professors) for her role in the Iraq War, that she eventually pulled out of her scheduled Commencement address? In fact, there are about 17 trillion similar examples on college campuses nationwide. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.
And you know what? This kind of mob-like behavior works. It’s effective. And it’s accelerating in its practice. In both of the cases above, the target of the mob was “defeated” without a board directive or university ruling, respectively. Proponents of this tactic have come to realize that they can enact change, however small, without an official pen-stroke or legislative action. That’s dangerous. An effective mob can threaten the livelihoods and businesses of those with whom they disagree. A few days ago, gun control groups attacked Chipotle for allowing customers with permits to carry firearms in their restaurants. And, yesterday, Chipotle released a statement “asking” customers not to bring guns into their establishments. While the restaurant has every right to make the decisions they think are best for their organization, this act wasn’t spurred by a safety concern or well thought out business decision. It was a response to a mob; a mob which used the hashtag #BurritosNotBullets to attack the chain online. And that’s just one instance. Remember the Chick-Fil-A boycott? It backfired, of course, but it’s a perfect example. A left-leaning mob attacked the restaurant for its CEO’s beliefs on gay marriage, hoping to damage business. This had the opposite effect, but the tactic remains the same. How long until a Christian, Jewish or Muslim business actually goes out of business because a liberal mob decides they don’t agree with the organization’s stance on gay marriage, for example?
I tend to believe that social media perpetuates this type of behavior and thinking. It’s so easy to tweet a hashtag or read the title of an article on Twitter without doing any actual research into the subject in question. It’s easy to stoke the emotions of a virtual, disinterested audience. What results is a virtual mob. Perfect example: Remember the #HasJustineLandedYet debacle from a couple months ago? A PR exec was virtually mauled by Twitter users for tweeting, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding-I’m white.” Justine Sacco lost her job and was attacked, and stalked by people all over the globe for a single tweet. Was is a “mockable” tweet? Sure. While she probably deserved a bit of mockery, the response was blown way out of proportion.
Let me add here, that, while we’ve seen this behavior more prominently displayed among leftists and the so-called “tolerance brigade,” we on the right are not immune to this type of behavior. The second we assume we are immune is the second the mob mentality starts to sink in. James Madison and many of our Founders knew that, Federalist or Anti-Federalist, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, we’re all flawed humans and equally capable of making mistakes. While I believe that the conservative principles honoring individual rights and a reverence for the Constitution do tend to curb the tendency toward mob action (and groupthink as well), the temptation is still there. At the end of the day, regardless of what side we rest on the political spectrum, we’re all still human and all still susceptible to making the mistake of subordinating our individuality to the collective.
I’ll leave you with this. I see two possible remedies to the problem of the mob. First, know that mobs tend to operate according to the Alinsky Rule #1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” The mob has power if you give them power (Sure, pitchfork & torch wielding mobs have power, but that’s a different story). In short, call the mob’s bluff. If the mob’s target is unswayed by their attacks, it (the mob) will either fizzle out, or its members will turn on each other. The latter is far more entertaining to watch.
Furthermore, the antidote to an out-of-control mob mentality are strong individuals. We need strong commencement speakers, CEOs, and politicians to stand their ground while facing down a destructive mob. We also need to ensure that we, as individuals, are both confident in our beliefs and well educated on our princples. Those most in danger of being swayed by the mob are the disinterested and uneducated observers. Educate yourself and remain strong in your beliefs, and you’ll do your part in bringing the mob to its knees.
I’ll leave you with this, from Thomas Jefferson, who, as an aside, actually disagreed with James Madison on quite a bit:
“Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.”
Mob rule doesn’t just result in resignations and commencement speeches that will never be heard, it’s an attack on both our rights and our fundamental system of government.