Madison's Metronome: The Constitution and the Tempo of American Politics
Weiner, Gregory Scott
Scholarship on the political thought of James Madison has long been preoccupied with whether he believed in majority rule, but Madison himself would scarcely recognize the terms of that discussion. For Madison, there was no empirically plausible alternative to majority rule: One of the most consistent themes in his work is the assumption that persistent majorities are bound, sooner or later, to get their way. For a study of Madison's democratic theory, as for Madison himself, the relevant question is not whether majorities will prevail but rather what kind of majorities will prevail--and what Madison regarded as the decisive question: when they should prevail. This study thus hypothesizes that Madison's political thought maintains a consistent commitment to "temporal majoritarianism," an implicit doctrine according to which the majority is always entitled to rule, but the primary criteria for whether it should prevail at any given point of decision is the length of time it has cohered. This duration is generally proportional to the gravity of the decision in question, with more serious issues requiring more persistent majorities. On this interpretation, the Constitution is an essentially majoritarian instrument among whose primary purposes is to act as a metronome regulating the tempo of American politics. Madison assumed the natural pace of majoritarian politics was allegro; the Constitution's purpose was to slow it to a steady but deliberate andante.This dissertation traces the development of this doctrine throughout Madison's writings and explores its operation in several key areas of his thought, including the extended republic thesis of Federalist 10, the Bill of Rights and his theory of constitutional interpretation. In each of these cases, it endeavors to establish both the supremacy of majority rule and the centrality of time in Madison's thought. The concluding chapter discusses the contemporary implications of temporal majoritarianism, especially the importance of patience as the linchpin of the Madisonian order.
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