The truism “The Smaller the Government, the Greater the Representation” is going to be difficult to implement in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere as the world clamors for democracy. For, the model they look up to, the United States, has largely abandoned its Republican form of government to rule by special interests. And, one of the largest and most powerful special interests is bureaucracy itself, especially as more people seek government jobs.
The modern world, while it desires freedom, has largely forgotten the lessons of the past. It is useful to meditate a moment on these words from Immanuel Kant:
The democratic mode of government makes [representation] impossible, since everyone wishes to be master. Therefore, we can say: the smaller the personnel of the government (the smaller the number of rulers), the greater is their representation and the more nearly the constitution approaches to the possibility of republicanism; thus the constitution may be expected by gradual reform finally to raise itself to republicanism.—Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace
Is our desire to personally use the government to influence others? Or, is our desire to protect institutions of government that allow people to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness? The U.S. Constitution was set up as a Republican form of government. Our leaders and our military swear an oath to defend it. But in practice it has been largely ignored and circumvented by self interest. A Republic is not a contest of self-interests or a war of cultures played out on the battlefield of politics; a democracy is. Do we aspire to a Republican form of government or a democratic one?
Aristotle’s classification of governments is a good starting point for an analysis of political systems. He observed that there are basically three forms of government: rule by one, rule by an elite, rule by the many. Each of these forms had good and bad examples:[i]
|Form||Rule by One||Rule by Elite||Rule by Many|
While there are combinations and variations on these forms of governance in the complex societies of today, this classification basically covers the entire spectrum of possibilities. Rule by one, rule by a few, or rule by the many all have good and bad forms. In the good form, the government allows people to pursue their own happiness so long as they do not harm others, and in the bad form the government allows some people to pursue their own interest at the expense of others.
The problem with rule by one is not that a king cannot be good, but that such kings are rare and only rule a couple of decades at most before the society tends to fall apart. In fact, Aristotle only defined a King as a King if he acted good—”Kingly.” Any other rule by one is tyranny. Aristocracies, too, have occasionally arisen and ruled benevolently; the Roman Republic was an example. One might argue that Freemasonry supported this type of rule in the United States at the time of the American Revolution, as it was designed in part as a moral system to hold the ruling elite accountable for its use of power. Service to others was a sign of the exercise of such responsibility. Many of those who argue in favor of the rule by an elite, observe that most people behave more like sheep, and they want someone else to guide them. Certainly, our consumer society appears to reflect this belief.
Aristotle lived at a time where rule by the many, may have been 2,700 citizens of Athens. He called the good form of rule by many a “polity.” In a polity, there were still face-to-face relations and in the assembly in Athens every citizen could represent himself. However, a good polity had a Constitutional structure that designed the flow of power so that citizens could contribute constructively to society, but would be curbed from using the system for their own ends. In such a society, it was important for every citizen to act virtuously.
Protestantism restored this social consciousness in the West by teaching taught that every human being is responsible for his or her own life, and that each ultimately accountable to God. Such a person requires a “rule by the many,” and the founders created a Republic suited to such a people. We might remember Benjamin Franklin telling a citizen after the Constitutional Convention when she asked what they had given her, “A Republic Ma’am, if you can keep it.”
A Republic, as Kant said, is a limited government, one that constrains the power of government so that people can pursue their own life. A Republic views citizens as responsible adults who are to care for themselves under the protection of a government that allows them to do so. A democracy, on the other hand, has a large number of people, all seeking to control the society to better serve themselves. The basic litmus test is whether the legislation you are proposing will improve your personal position, or will make the system run smoother.
The United States today has a Constitution that is admired and to which lip-service is paid, but the actual form of government in practice is no longer Republican. It is somewhere between a “Democracy” and an”Oligarchy” on Aristotle’s diagram. It is not too late to turn this back, but a lot of selfish legislation has to be undone, along with the rules that allow checks and balances to be circumvented.
The Civil War turned a voluntary “Union of States” into a Federal State, violating the basis for “perpetual peace” outlined by Kant. The 16th and 17th Amendments circumvented state influence at the Federal level and effectively changed the flow of power from the bottom up (Republic) to the top down (oligarchy or democracy). Americans allowed this to happen, because they basically, like sheep, ignored politics and left it to people motivated to use power for their own pursuit of wealth or fame.
Many Americans want the Republic back, but the real question, is whether most Americans want to be citizens, sheep, or pigs at the trough. Whichever they are, they will, as the saying goes, get the government they deserve.
[i] Aristotle, Politics, Book IV, Chapter 1.