By Marco DiLeonardo
Marco DiLeonardo is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying International Relations.
Political issues riddle the United States: the government is ineffective and static. Leading theorist Francis Fukuyama believes in one critical issue of contemporary politics: the theory of “political decay.” To frame this argument, one must view it from the perspective of the framers of the Constitution. In an analysis of various Federalist Papers, I determine that Alexander Hamilton aligns with the argument made by Fukuyama. However, I personally believe in the viewpoint posed by James Madison: while the checks and balances impose restrictions on the legal system, they are necessary for political stability. Another modern interpretation of his argument is that the United States government must effectively regulate lobbying.
The first facet in Fukuyama’s argument about political decay is his assertion that American institutions cannot adapt to the contemporary environment.  Fukuyama believes that the second source of political decay is due to the formation of interest groups and the radicalization of political parties. Interest groups incessantly lobby Congress on both sides of the aisle attempting to manipulate the system. While legislators are expected to act in accordance with their constituents, they must stray away from compromise to maintain their parties’ support. Third, Fukuyama disputes the theory of “vetocracy,” or the rejection of intergovernmental checks and balances on the three separate institutions of government. In short, the political system does not have effective mechanisms to force collective decisions. Finally and most importantly, Fukuyama believes that political decay is largely due to the concept of the “virtual absence of the state.”
An analysis of American federalism evaluates Fukuyama’s claims about political decay and its sources. The culture of “vetocracy” affects the United States more positively than negatively. While the checks and balances are burdensome, they preserve individual rights. Furthermore, regionalism is vital in a country as diverse as the United States. Regionalism, or adapting policy to a specific culture in a state or locality, is vital due to the “melting pot culture” of the U.S. Finally, in our governmental structure, states act as “laboratories of democracy,” where local policies are adapted to the federal government.
While Fukuyama’s argument is partially valid, it is flawed. The checks and balances in the American system dilute rash decisions and passions of a central government in emergency. Moreover, the Tenth Amendment must be revised to specifically delegate explicit powers, like healthcare, to the federal government and other policies, like education, to the jurisdiction of individual states. Currently, interest groups are too powerful in contemporary politics and both parties must cooperate to reduce their subversive effects. Rather than increasing the executive branch, it is necessary to solve the “government by proxy” issue by increasing the number of full-time federal bureaucrats.
Confronted with the problem of political decay, Alexander Hamilton would agree with Fukuyama, as seen through Federalist Paper Nos. 1 and 70. Federalist Paper No. 1 holds a strong executive branch in the highest regard. While not ideal in his opinion, the Constitution would provide the federal government with the means to transform the “insufficiency of the present Confederacy to preserve that Union.” He emphasizes that a robust central government is of the utmost importance to maintain and strengthen, rather than destroy, the loose coalition of states. However, in the twenty first century, the centralized form of government of the eighteenth century is outdated. Hamilton would align with Fukuyama’s view that the American government must become more centralized.
Federalist Paper No. 70 focuses on the need for “energy in the executive.”  It is critical to the “preservation of the community, and not less essential to the steady preservation of the law.” Hamilton argues that the executive should be the leading force in a proper government. If not, it results in feeble execution, and subsequently, an ineffective government. In addition, Hamilton would agree with Fukuyama’s claims for a stronger presidency, for he originally intended the executive branch to be less contingent on Congress.
Nonetheless, James Madison’s argument is most noteworthy in the contemporary political environment. As previously stated, two significant factors troubling the Madisonian Republic are lobbying and the need to counteract self-interest through checks and balances. As articulated in Federalist Paper No. 10, preventing the overwhelming influence of factions is critical to the success of the Union. As seen with the Affordable Care Act, lobbying by for profit interest groups corrupted the bill and its implementation. Factions prevent the government from pursuing the public agenda and favoring partisan goals.
Thus, Madison argues for the checks and balances presented in Federalist Paper No. 51. While the institutional rigidity is an issue in current politics, I value the need to counteract self interest and ambition over the effectiveness of government. Furthermore, through a representative democracy, legislators are less likely to be manipulated by special interests. To alter the political system by creating a stronger executive, as Fukuyama insinuates, may lead to the violation of individual rights and the suppression of the other two branches of government. This is evidenced by China’s government. While it is very effective due to its strong central government, the widespread infractions of individual rights render this form of government the less viable of the two.
In conclusion, there are multiple approaches to the vital problem of political rigidity in American politics. While most political theorists conclude that it is in fact an issue, they disagree about the causes. The perspective of Alexander Hamilton is evident in the analysis of executive government. My view, which corresponds with that of James Madison, places the focus on the efforts to limit interest groups and the system of checks and balances rather than expanding executive power.
 Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, (New York: Farraux, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), 463.
 Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James, and John Jay,The Federalist Papers, (New York: Signet Classics, 2003), 30.
 Ibid, 422.
Photo Credit: USCapitol
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