In recent years, elected officials have flocked to social-media platforms to run their campaigns, stake their place on issues, and have a direct dialogue with their constituents and voters. To some, this signifies a more open and communicative approach to government. But James Madison, the Founding Father and America’s fourth president, would be appalled at how these platforms have eroded democracy, claims Jeffrey Rosen, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that “passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason.” Rosen argues that platforms like Twitter and Facebook play directly into people’s passions, precluding the ability to think or debate reasonably about issues.
In a discussion with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Rosen outlined the core characteristics of a functioning Madisonian democracy and spoke about how social platforms are working to dismantle core components. One of these components is the importance of cooling mechanisms on popular sentiment. Madison believed that a direct democracy would inevitably result in toxic polarization and leave citizens susceptible to authoritarian rule.