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Friday, April 7, 2017

Madison and Deliberative Democracy

Rebecca Burgess writes at The Weekly Standard:
We are marvelously up-to-date but hardly well-informed. This is especially true when it comes to our particular constitutional form of government: knowing the branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial), by whom their powers are to be exercised, and, crucially, how they are to be exercised.
Madison, in company with other statesmen of his generation, thought it particularly important—vital, actually—that a self-governing people be conversant in this kind of political talk. He famously summed this up in an 1822 letter to W. T. Barry:
A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
Mere information about government (what now is often reduced to cries for "transparency!") was only the baseline of what Madison had in mind. His intellectual dance around the issue of a bill of rights displays better how Madison connected popular opinion, political knowledge, and self-government premised on the preservation of rights (the first purpose of government, according to the Declaration of Independence).