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Tag Archives: republic

Searching For the Golden Mean of Government

Direct democracy is mob rule.  It is so unviable and volatile that no polity has ever had a completely direct democracy.  At best, popular referendums are used sparingly and mostly in local government.
The Ancient Athenian democracy was a disaster and it was even limited to an elite class of citizens.

The founders of the United States took note of history and used the Roman Republic as their model instead of Athens.  
Separation of powers and the use of representatives was far more stable because it could moderate the whims of the crowd and favor the power of one faction over another.

There are those who argue that having a King or Emperor is the best and most natural government.  Monarchy after all has been the most common and stable government for thousands of years.
Monarchists have a good argument that monarchs are effective executives able to make quick decisions when it matters most.  Because their entire lives and family are invested in the state  they have a built-in incentive to care about long-term problems whereas elected representatives just care to get re-elected.
In practice, of course, history has countless examples of incompetent monarchs.  A system that depends so heavily on one person can seesaw between being very well run to a complete nightmare.  

When power is more focused, major changes in policy can occur immediately. But those changes might prove to be disastrous and even bring about the collapse of the state.  
Republican government makes sudden changes in policy difficult to safeguard against any single person making fatal decisions.  It also avoids the ancient problem of being just 1 heartbeat away from wars of succession.  
However, problems that need to be boldly addressed tend to fester when there are safety rails everywhere.

So can we find some kind of balance between autocracy and the republic?
The USA in its current form has nearly universal suffrage and slips into the disaster of mob rule.  The early US republic had limited franchise.  Moderners obsess about suffrage being limited to evil white males but the important part was land ownership requirements.  This may not be exactly what we’d want now, but it gives us a useful principle.  

The idea behind this restriction was that voters had to have skin in the game and safeguard them against people with nothing to lose simply using the state to plunder everyone else.

There was a clear idea that some people were more invested in society as shareholders than others, an idea that’s totally alien to modern concepts of democracy where every warm body has a “right” to vote. 

We also ought to go all the way back to the principles of merit from Plato’s Republic.  Like any other job, those best qualified to rule should be the rulers.  In a republic that would mean we dismiss handwringing over “rights” and worry only about what results we get from bestowing the ballot.

We’d refine the electorate like consultants brought in to trim down a company.  Did we end up fighting wars for no reason?  Were there tax breaks for the rich while peasants starved?  Who voted for these things?  Does someone have the civic knowledge, basic literacy, and intelligence to competently wield the power of the vote? Do they have skin in the game and a reason to care about where society is 100 years from now or does it make no difference to them if they plunder the treasury now?

This is of course an imperfect process. Imagine if we had simply made the top 20% most educated people the only ones with the vote in the US.  Out-of-touch SWPL total rule would have been a disaster for everyone.  So clearly a formula for who gets ballots has to be worked out very carefully.

-Those with special knowledge on an issue get a more heavily weighted vote. (The challenge is this might end up benefiting parasitic insiders.  We’ve all seen where rule by “experts” has gotten us.)
-The whole society gets divided into castes based on capabilities and neurological temperament.  The best(with skin in the game) get to vote.

The basic idea is to use a republican or other system for collective decision-making to limit the potential for a single fool to destroy an empire or for one untimely heart attack to plunge the nation into a war of succession.
Yet there are also far fewer voters making decisions.  Enough so that nothing depends on just one person but so that major decisions and changes are possible.

The Roman Republic gradually fell apart as power had to be “temporarily” granted in crisis situations where political gridlock was simply not an option.  This inevitably led to generals who were more powerful than the state.  When a collective decision making system cannot adapt in real time, it is forced to gradually dismantle itself.

So the successful system of government has to walk a tightrope.
The trick is to benefit as much as possible from the acumen of great men while preventing and blunting the depredations of the worst.
And to benefit from the “wisdom of crowds” from the best crowds rather than an indiscriminate mob.
The use of computers and statistics would play a prominent role in figuring out what works best.

Look up strategies for any online game and we see the experiences of thousands of competent people who played countless hours compiled into build orders timed down to the second, or item builds categorized by victory percentage across an entire server.  It would take more than one person’s whole lifetime to figure all that out by themselves!

Surely these kinds of tools would help a republican oligarchy figure out who has the best judgment to run a health system and who is full of bullshit.

On Reviving Authoritarianism

In a crowded world, a more authoritarian system becomes necessary.  Liberty and loose rules are privileges of those who have plenty of space and resources.  It comes as little surprise that America prides itself as the world champion of freedoms for the average person.  It is of course the nation that had an entire continent to grow into.  However, America’s days as a frontier society are over.  Always before, the problems that arise from society’s natural injustices could be deferred.  There was always a safety valve.
Now for the first time in about 400 years, the North American settlers have to deal with the same problems everyone else on earth has to deal with, vast masses of poor and disenfranchised with nowhere to go.
For the last few decades, American society has been in petulant denial like a toddler used to getting candy on demand. The tantrum has been especially stubborn and intense because there was a final big binge of halloween candy after WW2 with all the world’s demand to satisfy and all the other great competing economies burnt to the ground.  Now the holiday is over and life is back to normal.

I have read writings by those who call themselves neo-reactionaries, some of whom believe we should return to monarchy. I find there are many merits in their arguments.  Historically, there have been powerful rulers in most places most of the time. Republics and democracies have been few and far between and the best of them have been far shorter lived than even mediocre kingdoms. Even those representative governments that have existed have been oligarchic with most people as slaves and the voting citizenry a limited elite.
On its founding, even the American republic was intended to have suffrage limited to owners of substantial land and property.
The form that the USA eventually assumed, a large representative republic with nearly universal adult suffrage was unprecedented in history. These extraordinary freedoms were made possible by control of a large, sparsely populated, resource rich area surrounded by weak neighbors separated from everyone else by vast oceans. Crowded European states have adopted the trappings of US democracy since they’ve had nukes and/or weak neighbors but they have always by necessity had far more rules and taxes. Americans can kick, scream, and gnash their teeth all they like, but the system will continue to drift towards tighter order and stricter rules. There will be a steady push towards a new authoritarianism as serious problems fester and it becomes painfully clear that a democracy that’s indecisive by design is incapable of dealing with them. The Roman Republic in its twilight was forced to bend the rules more and more to deal with crisis situations until the old precedents became meaningless. Perhaps the facade of a republic remains for awhile, as it did in Ancient Rome, but eventually there is no need to pretend anymore.

Neo-reactionary monarchists have many good points and they understand correctly where things are headed. However, going back to monarchs as they were is impossible.  Too many people have too much information. Justifying the King’s power by divine right worked when most people were illiterate and ignorant. Mass literacy seriously damaged the power of monarchy and a host of other new information technologies finished it off. Today too many people are able to see that Frank next door might be smarter and more competent than a monarch whose every tic and nose pick is known to all. There would be no way to sustain the illusion of divinity when people know too much. An example is Emperor Hirohito of Japan, a mostly ceremonial monarch who was built up as a divinity and kept out of the public eye. When he personally announced the Japanese surrender on radio millions were astonished that he sounded just like an ordinary man. Worse, the occupying Americans had no qualms about using him for photo-ops and one picture with a 6 foot tall MacArthur towering over him became especially famous. A divine ruler was possible before mass literacy, photos, and videos because it was possible to cultivate an awe-inspiring air of mystery about him. In the modern world, only North Korea is committed to the information blackout necessary to support their own king as a divine ruler just as if the ancient kingdom of Koguryo had never ended.

There will be a return to authoritarianism, but not with the same foundations as before. Legitimacy for a successful oligarchy, will have to be secured by some form of meritocracy.
The average person must be convinced that they couldn’t step up and do a better job.
Neo-reactionaries understand correctly that post-enlightened rulers can’t coast on hype. They will have to become worthy to rule and then stay worthy. Being on top will mean being the best.
Rather than Divine Right rulers of the future must be backed by Divine Justice or else lose the mandate of heaven.

See also: Only Young Societies Are Egalitarian

Political Democracy is Just One Type of Democracy

We’ve concluded that the state cannot be changed just by shuffling around governments, since the quality of rulership is decided by the nature of the population.
Russians, for instance have always had autocratic, brutal, corrupt governments no matter if it’s a monarchy, communist dictatorship, or a democracy.  The English on the other hand had strong councils of representatives whether there was a monarch, a theocratic dictator, constitutional monarch, or a democracy.  The French defaulted to an order of centralized semi-autocracy, never quite leaving behind the authoritarian ways of their old monarchy, whether under Robespierre, Napoleon, Napoleon III, or DeGaulle.  How important then is the label?

Since government merely reflects the nature of its people, it becomes clear if we want to change a state, first we have to produce a change in its people.
But it’s impossible to produce any rapid change in the nature of a population.  We should sooner try to cool down the ocean by throwing in ice cubes.  This is the hard truth that every victorious revolutionary, political reformer, or activist soon discovers.

The most obvious way we might control the expression of a population is not to change it, but to distort its expression.  To accomplish this, we decide who to enfranchise the most to bring about the best results a people is capable of supplying.  In the process of politics then, we make sure those most inimical to an effective state have no vote at all, those of middling character get one vote, and the best of the race, a single vote that outweighs many lesser votes.
This after all, is the proposition made by a classical republic.  In the Roman Republic, the groups of people voted in “tribes” not at all equal in representation.  Plebeians despite their greater number were outweighed by the clout of the patrician classes in a vote.
In the early American republic, only those who owned sufficient property, giving them a real stake in the system of governance, were allowed to cast votes concerning the government.
Only by the 1820s was America well along the path to its transformation into a popular democracy.
However, no truly pure democracy has ever existed.
In Ancient Athens only an elite class granted the title of ‘citizen’ had the vote.
In America, several methods of strategic distortion of the popular will persist to this day.  The bicameral system that distorts the clout of representatives numbered according to population by the addition of senators who are equal in number and power, even if they are sent to the capital from sparsely populated mountains, desert, or tundra.  And of course, the electoral college that simplifies the popular vote into a winner-takes-all system.  Not to mention a great many who are only appointed by elected officials, elected by proxy, such as the entire judicial branch.
Even the American popular democracy is imbued with an inherent distrust of the unalloyed popular will built into it by its founders and reinforced by three centuries of their successors.
So the question is not whether to distort the popular will, but how it should best be done.

But…I began this entry commenting that governments alone cannot achieve the greater purpose.

Our first step is to observe that government is just one sort of democracy decided by the people in aggregate.  We can think of several great democracies, of which government is by far the least significant.

Political democracy – Every vote elects a representative.

Economic democracy – Every purchase is a vote that elects a product.

Social democracy – Every value someone holds is a vote that elects a society.

Biological democracy – Every child conceived is a vote that elects a people.

I will hope to discuss each in turn.

Plato, Democracy, and Mob Rule

By the 4th century BC, civilizations had already existed for at least a couple thousand years.
By then, most of the basic patterns of civilization were ancient news.

Plato’s observations about governments over 2,000 years ago might seem disturbingly familiar to us now.

Humans may boast of mechanical technologies such as airplanes and atomic bombs, but social technology, the ways we organize haven’t changed since the very first farming villages:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle.  Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth.  In either case the end is revolution.   When revolution comes, it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims…when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease.

Then democracy comes…But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy.  Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy.  This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses.

As to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.  To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play.
Mob-rule is a rough sea for the  ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course.

The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery…that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.

Plato complains that whereas in simpler matters—like shoe-making—we think only a specially-trained person will serve our purpose, in politics we presume that every one who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill we call for a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence—we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one…when the whole state is ill should we not look for the service and guidance of the wisest and the best?   To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office, and of selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good—that is the problem of political philosophy.”

-Plato as quoted, paraphrased, and summarized by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy
Will Durant, 1953, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press
Excerpts from pages 20-21

How Trends In Education Forecast the Decline of the Roman Republic

“If we bear in mind the principles that governed the education of young men in Rome…
These derived chiefly from tradition, from the way in which the son of a country landowner gradually adapted himself to his father’s lifestyle accompanying him on journeys, observing everything he did, and then attempting to do it himself under his father’s supervision.  It amounted essentially to learning by observation and imitation…
This kind of education was continued in the city too, above all in politics, the chief sphere of activity for members of the nobility.

The nobility appreciated the importance of this largely practical patriarchal education.  This is clear from an edict issued by the censors in 92 BC, banning recently opened schools…

We have been informed that certain persons there have instituted a new kind of training for the young…the young who attend their schools are said to spend whole days in idleness.  Our ancestors determined what children should learn and what schools they should attend.  This new fashion, which is at variance with the uses and customs of our ancestors, neither pleases us nor appears to us right…

Whole days spent at school turned young noblemen into schoolboys, alienated from practical life and forced them into idleness.  Instead of being confronted as individuals with models to be emulated, they were thrown together with their own kind and with teachers.
The young gentlemen were offered little that could command their respect…
What probably told most heavily against the schools was that they estranged the young from their natural environment…

Preparation for adult life did not allow the growing boy much chance to enjoy a carefree childhood and youth.  Many demands were made on him, but this meant that at an early age he was taken seriously.”

Caesar: A Biography
Christian Meier, 1982
Excerpts taken from pages 58-60

My Commentary:
Observe how today’s education system infantilizes young adults, separates them from the adult world, and leaves them with other young people as their role models instead of mature people who’ve gone out into the world and accomplished.
The result is a petty royal court culture in schools ruled by a few top athletes and cheer leaders who’ve never done anything to earn their high stations.  What lesson does undeserved adulation for an aristocracy of useless socialites teach growing children about merit and hard work?
A republic that adopts such a system goes into decline as it slips into this indulgent debauchery, wasting its human capital before it’s even budded.

An American Mercenary Who Invaded Mexico With An Army of 45 Men

Back in the 1850s, a Tennessean named William Walker and his band of mercs launched an offensive on Baja California and successfully captured the Baja del Sur capital City, La Paz.
He proceeded to declare a Republic of the Sonora complete with territorial boundaries and its own flag.

Republic of Sonora Flag

Republic of Sonora map

More amazing still, he and his men managed to get out of there alive again after the Mexican government started sending armies into the region.

Walker was a real filibuster. Not one of our modern gerontocrats deadlocking sessions of congress. No he was a filibuster in the original sense of the word. A freebooter trying to conquer a sovereign state without permission from any state.
The age of manifest destiny in America fostered an entire generation of filibuster mercs who tried to take over countries and found their own colonies.

For Walker, his personal war with Mexico was just the beginning of his career.

Next, he showed up in Nicaragua with a private army of 60 men and tried to take over the country. He actually succeeded and declared the foundation of (another) new country complete with (another) new flag.

Walker's Nicaraguan Flag

As if taking on one country wasn’t enough, Walker soon found himself at war with Costa Rica as well.
He held on for awhile despite the odds and still managed to escape with the help of the US Navy.

Still not discouraged, Walker next tried to invade Honduras but this time he was caught by the British Navy, who had no intentions of allowing an American to mess around in a zone of influence so close to where they were already planning a canal.

The British simply turned Walker over to the Hondurans, who lost little time in putting him in front of a firing squad.

Walker had no military experience and little grasp of strategy, achieving many of his impressive victories with superior firepower. Both in Mexico and Nicaragua his campaigns were ended by disastrous incidents that led to his forces being cut off from their supply lines.
An impulsive fool, he actually seized steamships from Vanderbilt, the Robber Baron sponsor who was supplying him with food, arms, and transport.
Vanderbilt retaliated by giving gold and guns to Walker’s enemies instead to get revenge and to recover his steamships.
Predictably, Walker found himself suddenly stranded in a foreign country and would have gotten himself and his men killed then if the US Navy hadn’t picked them up.

Walker got his way as a crazily charismatic dreamer in spite of his ineptitude. Newspaper articles about his crazy exploits always got him new followers no matter how badly he screwed up…until his luck finally ran out.

William Walker picture

William Walker, a 5″2 120 pound dynamo of reckless ambition that got himself and lots of his followers killed while trying to found a private Latin American empire.

LINK

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