James Madison’s Nightmare

I think this might be my favorite article on the topic I’ve read, ever. My excerpts:

Exacerbating all this political antagonism is the development that might distress Madison the most: media polarization, which has allowed geographically dispersed citizens to isolate themselves into virtual factions, communicating only with like-minded individuals and reinforcing shared beliefs. Far from being a conduit for considered opinions by an educated elite, social-media platforms spread misinformation and inflame partisan differences. Indeed, people on Facebook and Twitter are more likely to share inflammatory posts that appeal to emotion than intricate arguments based on reason. The passions, hyper-partisanship, and split-second decision making that Madison feared from large, concentrated groups meeting face-to-face have proved to be even more dangerous from exponentially larger, dispersed groups that meet online.

“The democratic character of the internet is itself posing a threat to democracy, and there’s no clear solution to the problem,” Persily told me. “Censorship, delay, demotion of information online, deterrence, and dilution of bad content—all pose classic free-speech problems, and everyone should be concerned at every step of the government regulatory parade.”

The best way of promoting a return to Madisonian principles, however, may be one Madison himself identified: constitutional education. In recent years, calls for more civic education have become something of a national refrain. But the Framers themselves believed that the fate of the republic depended on an educated citizenry.

These are dangerous times: The percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a liberal democracy is plummeting, everywhere from the United States to the Netherlands. Support for autocratic alternatives to democracy is especially high among young people. In 1788, Madison wrote that the best argument for adopting a Bill of Rights would be its influence on public opinion. As “the political truths” declared in the Bill of Rights “become incorporated with the national sentiment,” he concluded, they would “counteract the impulses of interest and passion.” Today, passion has gotten the better of us.

Read the whole thing: America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare

Side note: I’ve been enjoying Laws and Sausages, which is a great, if nascent attempt at fun constitutional education.

Weekly Roundup

My favorite links from this week:

Lastly, I reasd through Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (which the movie was based on) in something like 3 days. It was an easy, fun read, so much so that I’ve moved on to the next book, The Sicilian. Reading goals for this year are on-track (40 books).