James MadisonJames Madison, (1751-1836), Father of the Constitution for the USA, 4th US President

James Madison Quote

“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

James MadisonJames Madison
~ James Madison

Ratings and Comments

Mike, Norwalk

I like it. With out its opposite, pleasure is not distinguishable from pain, liberty from tyranny, etc. Without liberty's substantive realization, the depth of tyranny's oppression would be unknown.

  • Reply
Anon    3/4/10

A fine analysis Mike, but I wonder, will it work in the reverse in that with the absence of liberty with tyranny the rule, will liberty become known, by enough (the silent majority), to turn the 180 degrees needed to right the wrongs that've been done? That is the question especially in this day of technological tools of tyranny in use today.

Waffler, Smith

A great deep and profound quote. They who call those of oppoosite opinions tyrannts should take heed. Liberty is the freedom to have opinion and factions and so let us treasure our differences, discuss them and respect and give way, if even for just a little while, to those who have the majority opinion on their side. Due to this action of liberty and faction America as Eisenhower said always gets governed from the center, and fringe parties get incorporated into the mainstream. There will always be the unabsorbed radicals who never accept the reality of centered political life, and they shall be dealt with or otherwiesed ignored.

E Archer, NYC

It is not a difference of opinion that sets the lover of freedom against the statist collective, for the statist does not simply wish to express his opinion, he uses it as a justification for taking something from you for the 'greater good.' I have no problem with debating the merits of socialism -- I have a problem with its enforcement at the point of a gun, which is what the power of government is. Common law allows me to defend my labors and property with arms -- the socialist statutes are designed to render me powerless against their theft.

Mike, Norwalk

Archer, extremely well said

Elisabeth, Astoria, NY

The more I read the Founding Fathers, the higher I look up to Them. And... "...let us treasure our differences" also sounds nice. But "...give away" is only the right thing to do when based on reason and truth, never based on the majority. Like Ben says on two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to have for dinner...

Waffler, Smith

Elisabeth the fact is we do not know the "truth". We may keep our own opinion even if it is of the minority but since all are free the opinion with the most adherents must prevail until it is changed. I agree it is messy but freedom means truth must often suffer. How else do you explain Galilleo's having to sublimate his truth for years.

Ken, Allyn, WA

So, was it just that Galileo had to suffer house arrest and sanction because the majority believed something that was false? In fact I do know the truth. The truth is some people want to live at the expense of others. The truth is some people want to use the power of government to force people to buy something that should be left for them to choose to purchase or not. The truth is some people have been so addled with socialist elitism that they believe they know how to live others lives better than they do (the ignorant rubes!). The truth is they are tyrants and we all know what the tree of liberty needs to be watered with from time to time.

Ken, Allyn, WA

"If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy." --Thomas Jefferson

Mike, Norwalk

Ken, said well. The Anonymous (ed. note, Waffler) above your comment sounds as happy in a slave / tyrant relationship as does Waffler. For said Anonymous, any sublimation of truth by government is tyranny. That's just but one reason why the individual sovereign's original representative republic so limited their servants (see Article I Section 8 U.S. Constitution) They based their government on historically provable truths. The statist theocracy that now infests this land has with great vigor abused truth with tyranny, trying to sequester liberty from all factions.

Mike, Norwalk

oops ;-) I guess the Anonymous above your comment was Waffler after all. hmm ;-)

Waffler, Smith

The fact is Ken for milleniums "absolute truth" has been modified by relational truth or by what is politcally possible. Galileo's truth was not politcally possible to be advanced during his time. I can agree with some of your so called truths, there are numerous children who wish to live on inheritance rather than making something of themselves, I like to use government to buy and protect land that people would buy for themselves and destroy for all posterity, the robber barons and lone wolves know how to destroy and ruin things just as well as do governments. Now that is the TRUTH.

Mike, Norwalk

Waffler, you are a lying idiot. Concerning natural law, what is the difference between "absolute truth" and "relational truth" ? If one is true, the other is not ? - WHAT ???. Has the law of gravity been modified by man's mis-definitions? (answer, it has NOT ! ) I have on this blog given different legal dictionaries, the founders and others definitions of 'liberty' ad nauseam. How has liberty been modified by mis-definitions or increased application of tyranny? (answer, it has NOT ! ) You reference a communist manifesto plank as a moral / legal standard and someone that would live by a lawful gift as immoral and illegal; then, reference - you like living on stolen - ill gotten booty doled out from the biggest thugs and criminals on the block (now, those are robber barons and those that know how to destroy best seems to be your idols and suppliers) You also imply that, without tyranny, despotism and all other heinous actions by malefactors - justice could not, would not have a place to be applied. What a sick outlook !

Walter Clark, Fullerton CA

Thanks for the translation; it is very clear and very right. With its triple negative and antique wording, I couldn't understand Madison even after several readings. This is one those LibertyQuotes where the comments, all of them, are better than the original.
From what I gathered in the comments section this Madison quote has to do with how we get the legal monopoly on coercive force to be least oppressive and yet still be the unquestioned highest authority in the land. Eisenhower and Madison, I suspect, felt that a government would be wise to NOT force underground any extreme views on all the different ways government should use its force against its citizens. With complete freedom of speech we can find a compromise between a huge military, and a huge welfare state. Between control over schools and control of banking. Between subsidizing industries that employ the most voters or subsidizing the best art and music.
I think the big mistake the Soviet Union made was thinking that you can't grant your subjects freedom of speech and have an all encompassing state. Boy we sure proved them wrong.

jim k, Austin

Ken Allyn. well said.


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