Who were these "celebrated authors" James Madison was referring to in The Federalist Paper No. 14?
June 15, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Who were these "celebrated authors" James Madison was referring to in The Federalist Paper No. 14?

Hello. Doing a short research paper on democracies vs. republics. I've seen the following passage bandied about regarding the subject. This one's from James Madison in the Federalist paper #14:

"The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was also adverted to on a former occasion. It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.

To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of some celebrated authors, whose writings have had a great share in forming the modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the advantages, or palliate the evils of those forms, by placing in comparison the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as specimens of the latter the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only; and among others, the observation that it can never be established but among a small number of people, living within a small compass of territory."

I'm having trouble tracing down these "celebrated authors" that Madison alludes to in this passage. Google coughs up nothing. If someone can help, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.
posted by Myles to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
More than likely, he's talking about Montesquieu. But this could really have been just about any author writing about politics in Europe since the sixteenth century; Machiavelli makes similar observations (though he was not the subject of a monarchy). The inability of republics to survive and grow was a cliché of the time. I recommend J.G.A. Pocock's classic study The Machiavellian Moment if you want to understand this style of rhetoric--it's very dense and heavy, but worth it.
posted by nasreddin at 10:00 AM on June 15, 2009

Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was a big supporter of a powerful authoritarian monarchy, and described as too unstable to be big or too small to matter.
posted by Flood at 10:15 AM on June 15, 2009

According to the The Political Theory of the Federalist, he's referring to Thomas Hobbes.

Heh. Historiographical sneakiness in action. Note how he avoids actually coming out and saying "Madison is talking about Hobbes."
posted by nasreddin at 10:16 AM on June 15, 2009

Hobbes, Montesquieu, Hume, Locke, and Machiavelli are all people he read. Here's an article you can get on JStor about the political theory course Madison took in college:

Bibliography: The Education of a Founding Father. The Reading List for John Witherspoon's Course in ...
* Dennis F. Thompson
* Political Theory, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Nov., 1976), pp. 523-529
* Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
posted by mareli at 10:17 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

My first thought was Montesquieu, as well, but what nasreddin said.
posted by trip and a half at 10:20 AM on June 15, 2009

On the Machiavelli tip, see, for instance, here and here.
posted by nasreddin at 10:23 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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