The faction difficulty. by Gerardo Muñoz

The central contribution of American republican political thought is arguably the way it found a solution to the problem of factions, a legendary difficulty that not only has not disappeared but rather intensified in our present. For the enlightened republicans of the eighteenth century, well versed in the classical tradition and the histories of Florentine medieval strife, factionalism was the cardinal difficulty of social order; how to best deal with conflicting loyalties and the perpetuation of violence for virtuous and at times times even springing from “idleness and courage of the youth”, as told by Carol Lansing’s scholarship [1]. The existence of differences and cleavages in the society ultimately meant the brewing of an ephemeral coalitions and private masters, which, in turn, often resulted in the thorough expulsion of the enemies from the polis. These unregulated clashes of authorities and private actors was called by the fourteenth century jurist Bartolus of Saxoferrato a seventh form of government mixture: a “monstrous government”. The problem of faction will emerge for the moderns as the condition that prompts the articulation of a governmental rationality capable of constructing the homogeneity of social living. In other words, the modern classical homogeneity of the civil society is the creation of the domestication of factions as social grouping units to be obtained and arranged as an indirect power from within to transform ‘barbarism’ to civilization. David Hume’s political writings – and in particular his “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (1752), which was highly influential to the Federalists, understood that the threat is of “factions” required a new framework: politics had to be reduced to a science [2]. What could politics as science entail? We are not yet in the administrative rationality and professional political vocation of Max Weber’s sociology. The scientific reduction meant a paradigmatic transformation of classical politics properly understood (virtuous, moral, and just) into an economic determination in which interests took the center stage over the combustion of the passions. The new science of politics implied a retooling of the problem of factions by decompressing the clustered interests of unaccounted and disloyal factional expansion under governmental action. For Hume the passage from passions to interests entailed a descaling of factionalism on one hand, while an expansion of a robust form of government over a large territory on the other.

However, if for Hume factions are still an impolitical unit of association that must be minimized, it is James Madison in “Federalist 10” who achieves the complete “scientific” aspiration of political construction over factions as inseparable from the Social ahead of the industrial modern economic division of labor. In fact, as Douglass Adair reminds us, this particular essay of the Federalist Papers only became important towards the end of the nineteenth century in the wake of industrialization and economic power groups; that is, at a moment when indirect economic powers began to exert their influence into the institutional and regulatory composition of the state [3]. One could say that it is only at the outset of the triumph of economic “Americanism” that the Madisonian framework on factions is situated in its proper tripartite structure: factions are conditioned by positive liberty and make up the totality of the economic interests that make up civil society. Indeed, for Madison factions as expressions of the nature of man, and their existence detail degrees of activities in civil society [4]. In a way there is no civil society without factions, and there are only factions because there is civic Liberty.

Madison even constructs a naturalist analogy: what unrestrained Liberty is to faction, air is to a propagating fire. The activity and energy of factionalism is exclusively understood as one of economic interests which, insofar as it is conditioned by positive, differentiated, and unregulated liberty that expresses the unequal distribution of property that characterizes the essence of the social. The new science of government in this framework becomes clear: the end of government is neither properly about political enmity in relation to the state nor about suppressing and limiting factions, but rather about the optimization of the effects of factions. Madison writes in the groundbreaking moment of “Federalist 10”: “The interference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed from that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects” [5]. The optimized logistics of factionalism displaces the modern hobbesian picture of the sovereign state to a minimalist and compensatory nature to attenuate public order against “local and particular state legislatures” [6]. The optimization of factions now appears as the dominant aspect of a fundamental cybernetics that seeks to isolate, fragment, and juxtapose the conflagration of factions without losing the barring of state energetic durability. The faction difficulty lays bare the arcanum at the center of the res publica politics: the administration and reproduction of civil conflict.

The consolidation of the cybernetic solution to the faction difficulty emerges as an upgraded version of state auctoritas whose aim is to establish a balance between public opinion as distrust over “dispute”: “communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary” [7]. If communication becomes a strict science of regulating the means of expression (itself a medium), political authority is superseded over a constant war over words and force of exchange. This means that rather than putting an end to the stasiological tension through a political mediation of the state, the problem of faction reveals that stasis becomes an instrument to manage effects, produce legislative, and translate interests in the struggle of social differences. It goes without saying that perhaps the modernist differentiation between state and civil society in light of the problem of faction loses its predominance, as an entirely new framework emerges: a monstrous socialization that takes the form of a productive stasiology given that if “men were angels no government would be necessary” [8]. The irony is that the auxiliary precautions of factions is a secularized form (or at least one could trace it to) of the ministry of the angels. This reality demands a new ethic of the passions against both the vigorous indirect struggle of factionalism (and its modern rendition in the party form) and the axiological arrangement of interests that made the foundation of the social community possible.




1. Carol Lansing. “Violence and Faction”, in The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune (Princeton U Press, 2014), 181.

2. David Hume. “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”, in Political Writings (Hackett Publishing, 1994), 240-252.

3. Douglass Adair. “The Tenth Federalist Revisited”, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1951, 48-67.

4. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay. “Federalist 10”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961). 79.

5. Ibid., 80.

6. Ibid., 83.

7. Ibid., 83.

8. “Federalist 51”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961), 322.

Two comments on Pedro Caminos’ essay on Vermeule normative framework. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a forthcoming dossier on “common good constitutionalism” at the journal of the Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires), edited by the good offices of Guillermo Jensen, there is a featuring essay, “El concepto de marco normative en la obra de Adrian Vermeule”, by Pedro A. Caminos that makes an original attempt to read Vermeule’s legal theory from strong jurisprudential position, and it does so by suggesting that the ‘marginalization’ of the judiciary and the transformation of the administrative state (the Chevron paradigm) implies a normative framework, analogous to Martin Loughlin’s superlegality or Fernando Atria’s common norms (I would be tempted to also add to this list Scott Shapiro’s conception of law as planning). Although I agree with the normative framework in both scope and design of the constitutional theory, there are two underlying elements that I would slightly challenge for further discussion. The first element concerns the notion of tyranny, and the second one to the allocation of “politics” in administrative framework

First, towards the end of the essay, Caminos cites Robert Alexy’s rendition of the Radbruch formula in which no positive law can be tyrannical (or unjust) or it ceases to be legitimate law from an external perspective. For Alexy the conditions of intelligibility must answer not only to internal rules of recognition as positivism would have it, but, more fundamentally, to the challenge of the participant perspective, which is external to the rule of recognition. The problem with the Alexian antipositivist stance in Vermeule’s normative framework is that it would seem to come to a halt if the institutional design is constructed as “second best” safeguards for administrative decision-making. Indeed, the second-best optimizing rule is the same thesis defended in The Exeuctive Unbound (2010), which suggested that ultimate concerns for tyranny (trypanophobia) could ultimately serve the master that it seeks to prevent. To some extent the administrative state – if read from the internal point of view of executive power – is best understood as the optimizing and taming of presidential power through the normative framework. Now, it is true that in “common good constitutionalism” the emphasis against tyranny is counterposed by an objective morality proper to the ragion di stato, which explains why the “second best” optimizing rule is silently replaced by the determinatio that defines the construction zone of the praetorian decision making. The nuances here are important: whereas second-best optimizing rule has no moral purposiveness; the determinatio is by nature a moral discriminatory principle (ius). Whereas the Bartolist jurisprudence aims to tame the privately infused tyrannical forces for good government; the unbounded executive does not fear tyranny as long as it controls the immanent force of administration [1].

Secondly, Caminos derives from the normative framework the construction of a common legal space in which disagreements could flourish. And Caminos sees this as consistent with Schmitt’s concept of the political as the distinction between friend and enemy. But so far as the notion of enmity in The Concept of the Political moves through different determinations, it is an open question as to which determination are allocated or relevant to the normative framework. However, if what defines the “reasonable arbitrariness” of administrative adjudication is predominantly informed by cost & benefit analysis, it would seem that it is value rather than the political distinction the distinctive feature of its logic. This makes sense given the jurisdictional supremacy of the administrative state, which subsumed the legislation into the normative framework. As Carl Schmitt predicted it in his Tyranny of Values, in this context function of the legislator becomes that of a tailor of suturing and producing new mediations for value stratification [2]. But could one conceive the concept of the political within the values of administrative rationality? At the end of his essay, Caminos himself seems to think otherwise, and suggests that normative framework allows for a new conception of political friendship. Of course, in the regime of value administration friendship is defined first and foremost by those are “valued” or “devalued”. Ultimately, this would be strange conception of “friendship”, since, as De Maistre showed, the friend is always outside the margin of utility, and thus constituted outside value [3]. Hence the difficulty for an alleged new politics of friendship: either the concrete friendship is diluted into a “fellow man” (blurring the specificity of friendship) or embracing as friends only those that share common values that can be imposed to non-friends, but who are not recognized as formal “enemies”. This second variant is most definitely the common good ideal type. In either case, friendship and politics become two poles in the procedural organization of values: a hellish reality notwithstanding appearing as a ‘friendly’ paradise of values.




1. Adrian Vermeule. Common Good Constitutionalism (Polity, 2022), 27-28.

2.Carl Schmitt. La tiranía de los valores (Hydra Editorial, 2012), 147.

3. Joseph De Maistre writes: “¿Qué es un amigo? Lo más inútil del mundo para la fortuna. Para empezar, nunca se tiene más de uno y siempre es el mismo; lo mismo valdría para un matrimonio. No hay nada que sea verdaderamente más útil que los conocidos, porque se pueden tener muchos y, cuantos más se tengan, más se multiplican las posibilidades en cuanto a su utilidad.”, in El mayor enemigo de Europa y otros textos escogidos (El Paseo, 2020), 212.