Commentary Magazine


The Mob on the Hill

“In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason,” James Madison wrote in Federalist #55. “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

I was thinking of Madison’s words in the context of the Congressional reaction to the AIG bonuses. I understand the reason for being unhappy with what AIG did; I was too when I learned about them. But watching the “pitch fork populism” sweeping the land is slightly alarming. The rhetoric is ridiculously out of control. I only wish there was half as much rage aimed at terrorists who are trying to kill innocent Americans as there is for those receiving bonuses. It’s worth adding that for some Members of Congress, it appears as if terrorists deserve greater Constitutional rights than AIG employees.

What makes all this doubly galling is that Congress and the Obama Administration, which played key roles in ensuring the bonuses would be paid, are now stoking passions against the bonuses. So we can add hypocrisy to their recklessness.

Madison was, as usual, right. What we are seeing is a mob. Last time I checked, however, there was no Socrates to be found in our assembly. But it appears there are a few Meletus-like characters in our midst. All in all, it is a dispiriting and at times disgusting display by our political class. It always is when passion wrests the scepter from reason.