“The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. 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.”
My Dear Posterity,
A word about factions.
Since we departed, we’ve been pleased by a great many developments and advances throughout the land; few have brought us more joy to observe from afar than team sports. We, like you, love the competition, the comradery, and the community it develops. And while a century of Messer’s Hamilton and Adams arguing their operatic Yankees and Red Sox rivalry has been mostly obnoxious (as if Mr. Adams needed yet another thing to lament, or Mr. Hamilton another feather in his eternal quill of smug arrogance), we applaud you for these joyous leagues (Go ‘Skins!).
And yet, I cannot help but observe a striking similarity between the dynamic of sports allegiance and political allegiance. Allow me to elaborate:
In sports, “fans” (i.e. “fanatics”) essential cast their emotional lot and rooting interest for a specific team, traditionally the one closest to either their domicile or birth place. Come hell or high water, right or wrong, win or lose, fans live and breath and rejoice and die with their teams. The denizens of New York or Alabama or Pittsburg usually get to rejoice, while those poor souls in Cleveland or Buffalo or Minnesota languish in competitive purgatory, the butt of sports bar barstool jokes. Barry Bonds or Terrell Owens or Kobe Bryant may have been the most brusque, thrasonical, and abhorrent of people, but fans in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles were still obliged to champion them at every turn. Thus is sport: Your champion is your champion.
And yet, this is ok because it’s just sports – a fun distraction for the rigmarole of life’s ins and outs. But an interesting phenomenon seems to have bled from sports fandom and into our current political culture: The blind, didactic, root-for-your-team-at-all-cost aspect that seems so prevalent, and obviously revealed in the current Republican primary.
You see, originally, we never intended political parties to be a permanent manifestation in our free republic. While we know that warring factions would always be with us as an inalienable aspect of man’s fallen nature, we did not want their permanent coalescing around ongoing power structures whose only aim seemed to be their own perpetuation. While the Federalists informally sprung up to champion the constitution’s ratification, and then Anti-Federalists to ensure a permanent enunciation of liberties that became The Bill of Rights, subsequent factions that came to be parties seemingly promulgated themselves just for the sake of doing so; mere vessels of their originators’ own vanity and quest for power.
One party in particular seems to be the quintessential personification of this, and indeed, has deployed every licentious, under-handed tactic in Machiavelli’s book (that sound you heard was John Quincy yelling “Here, here!” as he rapped the floor with his cane). But they are not alone in their iniquity.
Even a cursory few moments of perusing the news reveals that today’s politics seems predicated not on the advancement of a great and eternal principle or cause, but of simply destroying “the other team” so that “your team can win.” When understood in this light, I struggle to see substantial difference between each side’s talking heads on a Sunday morning as a would, say, of the screaming heads in a Denver or New England on a Fall Sunday morning. Both are fanatically rooting for their team, while neither seems to be able to articulate much reason why other than “so that we can win and they won’t.” While this may be suitable on a basketball court, it should not be so in a national election.
Take, for instance, recent headlines of those in the party’s establishment who are assailing those “outsides” whose only crimes seem to be 1) Their steadfast commitment to the Constitution, and 2) Their equally steadfast refusal to tow the party line at the expense of the first. You see, for generations, you seem to have pined for a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and yet, while those adroit defenders of the faith are presently in your midst, you waiver, you waffle, your get lost in the confusion of whatever faction you think you’re supposed to fanatically root for, all while the Smiths whither from the torrent of political machines and their media allies. It is as I told you centuries ago: You are being inflamed into animosities in order to oppose and vex, but, I fear, not in the name of principle, but for the preservation of power.
You are better than this; or at least you’re supposed to be. If certain members of party establishment detest certain people, you must ask yourself why. Is it because they are loathsome, carnival-barking narcissists (such is one among them), or is it because in their immovable commitment to principle (such are a few excellent others), they threaten those party charlatans whose principles are far too easily compromised, bought, and surrendered, all in the name of their own power.
Such is the current climate: Good men of principle attacked because they put their principles before party, refusing to pander to the name on their jersey. They remember what they’re campaigning in the first place: Principles, not party power. More should remember this, and live it daily. Perhaps you would not be in the current mess you are in.
So do not become like mindless jersey-wearing fanatics. This is not sports, but weighty, eternal issues that determine the future freedom and prosperity for untold scores. You should not abide simply because the ones slinging the mud happen to have the correct party name on the chests of their metaphorical jerseys. Stand fast, and stand apart; Our sacred principles demand it.
Lastly, dear ones, do not fret over the existence of faction; for they are a part of your humanity as is your very skin. Until that Glorious Day of Christ’s Return, factions will be with you, especially in a free republic. After all, if you want a free country, then you will always exercise your freedom in a way that disagrees with a great many. The point is to not try to expunge this, but continue to conduct yourselves and your government in a way that harnesses factions in order to keep us free by balancing their mischief. Liberty is the aim, not the power of one faction over the other. If you keep that in mind, the rest shall take care of itself.
With warmest regards and the highest hopes,
“Publius” is a contributor to the ’76 Blog, and the pseudonym of a concerned patriot who previously taught American history, served in Afghanistan, and currently works in law enforcement in the Denver area. You can follow Publius on Twitter @Publiussays, on Facebook at facebook.com/Publiussays, or reach him at email@example.com. You can find all of Publius’ latest commentary at publiussays.wordpress.com.