The path to the James Madison Project
I owe James Madison a great personal debt. My appreciation of Mr. Madison it is not for his importance in being the “father” of the constitution, an imperfect document that has provided a framework for our challenged political system. Nor is it for his importance as the fourth president, when he was commander in chief during the war of 1812 and extended the US through the Louisiana Purchase. My debt to Mr. Madison is more important, it has helped me regain my quest to be an informed citizen, and to embrace Supreme Court justice Lois Brandeis’s assertion that the "The most important political office is that of the private citizen." Most importantly, my quest to become “an informed” citizen has been great “treatment” for the frustration I experience as a citizen with our current political environment and its detrimental impact on most Americans. Following the ACA legislation, and the battle around its passage and implementation, has provided me an opportunity to test and magnify my Madison inspired citizen evolution/transformation.
I clearly remember my initial response upon reading Federalist 10. In this paper, considered one of the most important in political history, James Madison seeks to convince the skeptics, why the constitution as constructed in Philadelphia should be ratified by the states. As a physician and a psychiatrist two aspect of Federalist 10 resonated with me.
The psychological insights: Mr. Madison’s political philosophy is informed by psychological understanding of human nature and served as a guide for the structure of the emerging republic, and
The use of the disease metaphor: that included a description of the symptoms of post revolutionary war Confederacy and the creation of an American republic as a treatment.
The process that led to the creation of the United States was informed by psychological factors.
Influenced by the moral philosophers of his time, James Madison, asserts that ,
“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
Anyone following the US political landscape cannot escape the truthfulness of these observations of human nature.
The use of the disease metaphor
James Madison, was not a physician however he was using medical to provide a diagnosis of the governments that had existed at the time and to provide a treatment plan to address the pathology. Madison noted that the “violence of factions” played a role in the “instability, injustice and confusion introduced into the public councils, have in truth been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished”. He further explained that “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, (Conceived of in the constitution) none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.”
Further exploration, amplified the importance of Madison’s work. Willingness to change his mind. Compromise.. etc.
When I was a medical student, nearly 25 years ago, one of the more interesting courses with physiology and anatomy. What I particularly liked about the course way the way it was taught. In order to integrate what we've learned we were tasked with creating animal that would function in a different environment taking into account the various physiological and physiologic, functional and biochemical aspects of human function in the particular environment. I always found that intriguing and have used that in other occasions as well. The human body in its complexity and multi organs trillions of cells and I'm accountable processes is remarkable and its function. I often wondered when observing other systems how they function in their particular environment. Recently I have been very interested and trying to understand the US political system based on that systems analysis. My interest has become more urgent as it is becoming more clear that the deep structural problems that are making life harder in the new economy — that are leading to stagnant social mobility, widening inequality and pervasive insecurity.