Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FACTION. This word has, unfortunately, formed a part of the political vocabulary in every period of history. Taken in its most rigorous sense it is merely a synonym of party, and reminds us of the groups of competitors who, in the games of the Roman circus, arrayed themselves in different colors and contended with one another for the prize in running, or in trials of strength. But the word also calls to mind the great parties which have agitated political society ever since its foundation.


—At Rome people adopted the color of the victor in the circus; in the combats of public life they soon adopt the passions of the hardiest combatant. And just as the games had their streamers, so also personal ambitions have their standards. It was thus that the first faction was formed under the leadership of Cæsar, which, overcoming its weakness in point of numbers by the boldness of its enterprises, soon became the powerful party which was one day to overrun and rule the empire.


—In the present condition of society can factions, properly so called, be formed? We would like to believe they could not; something extremely odious attaches to-day to the secret machinations which disturb the common peace, and place in power a minority of energetic men whose boldness surpasses their intelligence and knowledge. Public opinion may still perhaps excuse, in history, the bold attempts of the duke de Guise and of Cardinal de Retz; it can make allowance for circumstances in the conflicts of the past, when the leaders of the minority prepared the way for the formation of their parties by a hazardous coup de main. But they now highly disapprove of this substitution of force for reason, of violence for persuasion, even in extreme cases.


—Such, then, is a faction in its generally accepted sense; it is in politics what pirates are to seafaring men. It has been correctly enough defined grammatically as "an opposing league made up of conspirators"; while of parties, on the contrary, we may say that they are groups whose members seek, by the diffusion of their ideas and the success of their doctrines, a triumph which factions demand through their personal audacity or the terror of their victims. In a word, real statesmen are the leaders of parties; factions are made up only of conspirators. In our time this word ought to be expunged, and together with it the idea which it represents. No matter how imperfect our political education may be, and no matter how divided society may appear to be, enduring success, now as in the past, can be achieved only by men of thought. When by reason of the character and temperament of the people of any country authority seems more or less exposed to the attacks of impatient minorities, the victories obtained by factions are always ephemeral. The reaction will be as sudden as the triumph; and opinion, which has too often and too quickly honored these coups de main with the name of "revolution," will inflict upon their authors the penalty of general reprobation.


—A word about "sovereign factions." Power itself may possess the allurements and weaknesses of ambitious minorities. If it feel its strength diminishing, at endeavors with all its powers to affect what by a license of speech has been called a coup d'état—But factious revolutions of either kind should be tolerated, approved or allowed to bear fruit no longer, neither because of the prestige which power gives, nor because of the popularity which courage and talent enjoy.


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