The Fight for Liberty
The American Revolution was fought for many reasons. Among these were the desires to settle individual grievances against the King's government for the quartering of soldiers, taxation without representation, and the brutality of law enforcement, as well as to throw off restrictions on trade and thereby open up new economic opportunities. Clearly, one of the highest priorities of the colonists was to toss off the shackles of King George III, so as to achieve Liberty through self-government. Indeed, the notion that "Liberty" is self-governing is so prominent among our country's founding principles that it can be considered as the original "American Dream."
Self-governing requires the dispersal, rather than the concentration, of political power. The more that power is concentrated in the hands of a few, the less self-governing there is for the many. In other words, the concentration of power bears an inverse relationship to the Liberty of the people. Those who hold concentrated power must, to maintain their position, put their own interests above the public interest.
If Liberty is an essential element to the public interest, then concentrated power is essentially against the public interest. Thus, concentrated power necessarily results in the political denigration of the general public. The few take it upon themselves to decide what is in the best interests of the many. Conditions like this foster political alienation and political unhappiness, or frustration, among those who desire to be self-governing but lack the needed political power.
Political scientists have known, at least since the days of Roberto Michels, that the primary aim of political parties is to concentrate power in themselves. Members of political parties seek to place their leadership in the seats of government, sometimes for their own material gain, but chiefly so that the members can vicariously enjoy the pleasures of being among the dominant powers. Contrary to today's conventional wisdom, political parties are necessarily undemocratic institutions, precisely because they must put their own interest -" in taking and keeping power -" before the public interest. The dispersal of power among the people is necessary for the full realization of Liberty through self-government.
Curing the Mischiefs of Faction.
Some readers may be surprised to learn that among the most important objectives of the Framers, or authors, of the US Constitution was to fashion a government that could not be taken over by political parties. Generally, our nation's Founding Generation abhorred political parties. They regularly referred to parties as "factions."
They knew from their own experience that political parties put the party's self-interests, such as winning elections and obtaining privileged legislation, before the best interests of the people as a whole. Wary of such organizations, they sought to establish a system of government that would always strive to act in the best interests of the whole country.
Besides their concern for the public interest, they understood that party loyalty discourages independent thinking. John Marshall, who some say is the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote that party politics are "despicable in the extreme... Nothing, I believe, more debases or pollutes the human mind than faction." (See Beveridge's The Life of John Marshall, page 410.)
His cousin, Thomas Jefferson , echoed the same sentiment: "[I have] never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."
Hamilton was also contemptuous of parties, in part, because they could corrode an individual's sense of civic morality. He wrote that a "spirit of faction" can drive individuals to do together that "for which they would blush in a private capacity."
(Federalist Papers, no. 15)
Sounding eerily like a 21st Century observer, Madison commented, "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points " 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 cooperate for their common good." (Fed 10)
Expressing views widely held among the Framers, Madison wrote that because the Constitution separates governmental powers, balances those powers, and provides the different departments with checks against encroachment by the others, as well as giving the people a part in the political process, it is "the proper antidote for the diseases of faction." It was to this end that, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."
(Fed 14, 51)
One of the most fervent beliefs of the Founders was expressed by Madison when he wrote that "no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of " the public good." (Fed 45) A party dominated government cannot do that.