In defense of the Senate

It is naïve to think the rule of a simple majority is not potentially dangerous. In a purely democratic system, there is nothing to stop a majority from doing whatever it wants, and if it wants to enrich itself at your expense, you are without recourse. There is no king to protect you, no House of Lords to temper the majority’s greed or avarice. Nothing. But what if a majority were broad, deep, and durable? What if it reflected the considered judgment of a large and diverse segment of the American population, rather than just over 50 percent of the people? Such a majority would represent the consensus view of the American people, a common sentiment that is shared by many. So long as the American people collectively possessed a measure of civic virtue, such a majority could safely govern. There would still be a chance, of course, that it could threaten the common interest or an individual’s natural rights, but the threat would no doubt be diminished.

All of the deviations from direct democracy in the American system — Sherman’s representation scheme, the separation of powers across branches, federalism, bicameralism, the unelected judiciary, even the Bill of Rights — require us to forge consensus as a prelude to government action. They force we the people to pause before we act, to consider the views of others, and to try to find common ground.

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