James Madison writes of both the necessity of government that arises from human nature and of the necessity to control government that arises from human nature:
It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices [separation and balancing of powers] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. – Federalist 51
- What exactly is being implied about human nature by the double assertion that government is necessary and yet must be controlled?
- If we allow our political thinking to be controlled by the fast-moving, ever-refreshing news cycle, what will become of Madison’s principle that government is “the greatest of all reflections on human nature”?