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Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion, cont’d.

2. What Exactly Is a “Special” Interest? (10 minutes)

In“Federalist No. 10,”James Madison developed a theory of interest groups that he believed supported the cause of constitutional ratification. Responding to past political philosophers who contended that a democratic republic could only thrive on a small scale in societies with few competing interests, Madison advanced a new and radical conception of organized interests. According to Madison, the causes of faction are “sown in the nature of man.” Thus, to try to prevent factions from expressing themselves would be against human nature, and ultimately would undermine the basic liberty that we value as free people. Instead of removing the causes of factions, Madison pro- posed that we control their negative effects. One way to do this is to encourage the formation of many types of interests, so that by opposing each other they prevent one or more factions from violating the rights of all others, and ultimately the public interest. Madison wrote, “Extend the sphere [of interests], and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”

One frequently hears complaints about “special interests” that seek unfair influence in the democratic process to promote their particular agenda. Such complaints are not new, but instead can be found in all periods of American history. In many cases it is clear that one person’s special interest is another’s public interest. Try to develop a definition of a “special” versus “public” interest, and include real examples. What factors can we use to determine the difference between special and public interests?


Read the following Readings from Unit 15 to prepare for next week’s session.

  • Introduction—Global Politics: USA and the World

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: “The Present and Probable Future Condition of the Indian Tribes That Inhabit the Territory Possessed by the Union” and “Why Democratic Nations Naturally Desire Peace, and Democratic Armies, War”

  • The Monroe Doctrine

  • The Marshall Plan

  • Twain, “The War Prayer”

Read next week’s Topic Overview.

Critical Thinking Activity: Go to the course Web site and try the Critical Thinking Activity for Unit 14. This is a good activity to use with your students, too.


Unit 14

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Democracy in America

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