and <unless wisely provided against>

gil12345

Senior Member
chinese
Hi there,

"The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa, or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge of the wants or feelings of the day laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government?"

James Madison on protecting the minority of the opulent. - Democratic Underground

For the last part of the sentence, I understand it as "If we fail to plan in advance against what will take place, we don't know what kind of government we will end up with."

The thing is in the original sentence, "what" is provided against "what"? Both ""whats," I assume, should be something mentioned or implied somewhere. But I don't know which they are. Does it refer to the situation when the landed interest is losing their predominance?

Thanks

Gil
 
  • bennymix

    Senior Member
    To provide against X, is to foresee it and take appropriate action (e.g. to prevent, to lessen harm, etc.).

    Madison is talking about how the 'landed interests' will, unchecked, dominate (overbalance) the others in relation to government, i.e. wealthy landowners--e.g. George Washington--will use the government to make themselves better off.

    [ADDED: Madison is worried about the landed interest being overcome by the masses; opposite to what I said above.]

    'What'** [What will become of your government] has its usual meaning as in "What will happen to your family, if you go to Africa for a year?" Notice that 'what' has no clear antecedent, it's a dummy pronoun, interrogative, as in "Who is he" "What is this?"

    **[There is only one 'what' in the text of the OP.]

    [to be deleted][[Madison wants some counterbalance against the landed interests; if we don't do that, What will happen? he asks. (Well, they'll control the government and use it to increase their wealth and influence. Say, as in France, before its revolution. The result is instability.)

    ADDED: In case I wasn't clear, with my French Revolution example: the wealthy folks, unchecked will misuse the government and cause it--in the worst case--to fall.
    ]]

    ADDED FURTHER: See Gil, below. Madison is worried more about the masses without land. It's these folks and there power that should be 'provided against' [again, in the outcome of the French revolution, much bloodshed after the 'common people' assert themselves.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Your gloss is quite good.
    The threat the writer anticipates is the the interests of the landholders will be "overbalanced". It is this danger that he thinks need to be stopped. "wisely provided against" is an elaborate way of saying "stopped".

    I don't understand your question about two "whats".
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I see that Benny and I do not quite agree on the writer's angle. You'll have to judge it in terms of where his bias lies in the broader text.
     

    gil12345

    Senior Member
    chinese
    To provide against X, is to foresee it and take appropriate action (e.g. to prevent, to lessen harm, etc.).

    Madison is talking about how the 'landed interests' will, unchecked, dominate (overbalance) the others in relation to government, i.e. wealthy landowners--e.g. George Washington--will use the government to make themselves better off.

    'What' [second instance, What will become of your government] has its usual meaning as in "What will happen to your family, if you go to Africa for a year?" Notice that 'what' has no clear antecedent, it's a dummy pronoun, interrogative, as in "Who is he" "What is this?"




    Madison wants some counterbalance against the landed interests; if we don't do that, What will happen? he asks. (Well, they'll control the government and use it to increase their wealth and influence. Say, as in France, before its revolution. The result is instability.)

    ADDED: In case I wasn't clear, with my French Revolution example: the wealthy folks, unchecked will misuse the government and cause it--in the worst case--to fall.
    Thanks. But I am afraid you misunderstood Madison's point. He wanted to protect the interest of the landed classes, which, he thought, were the cornerstone for the stable government.
     

    gil12345

    Senior Member
    chinese
    I don't understand your question about two "whats".
    I mean what should be planned against. It must be referring to the trend that the landed interests were losing influence in the future elections.
    Am I right?
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    Madison's drift is clearer later:

    In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be jsut, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other.
    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/const/yates.htm

    The Senate of the US is supposed to accomplish this. Apparently it succeeds. A majority are millionaires who can vote for tax breaks-- for millionaires.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Madison's drift is clearer later:

    In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be jsut, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. [same link as in the OP]

    The senate of the US is supposed to accomplish this. Apparently it succeeds. A majority are millionaires who can vote for tax breaks-- for millionaires.
    And we can all be "ragged trousered philanthropists" - with our interests not regarded at all and our resources exploited to benefit the "rolling and lolling classes".
    Madison's style is not consistent in the OP and I guess the way this extract starts with an unflattering image of the lazy rich person predisposed you to think he was against them. It came as a surprise to me to find that he wants to protect their interests. Unless that bit is meant to be satirical? I don't know enough about the source to judge.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    What he's saying is that the numbers of landowners are relatively small (or will be in the future) and the rest of the people could just vote to take all their property away, because the rest would be in the majority. He's saying the form of the new government needs to protect against arbitrary actions like that. That's why he's advocating for a Senate that would have the power and interest in reining in those sorts of arbitrary actions.
     
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