October 03, 2009


A great paragraph from my book The Forgotten Man.  I think it applies to today just as easily, and I think it captures my frustration with why the system is not what I believe it should be:

But the critics had another reason to be loud -- their own frustration at the genius of Roosevelt's wager.  Roosevelt, they saw, had understood something that the Republicans had not.  The contest now was not Democrat versus Republican but rather this classical republic versus the classical democracy.  Government was less a representative republic than it had once been, more directly controlled by the people.  The change had started back in the 1910s with the constitutional amendment to permit the electorate to pick senators directly, rather than through their state legislatures.  Suffrage for women had accelerated it.  And the Depression had accelerated it again -- people who might not have had an interest in government before now found that hunger concentrated their minds.  Instead of asking what government was doing on behalf of the general welfare, voters were asking in a very democratic way what Roosevelt was doing for them.

Posted by: Sarah at 06:32 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 I've been pondering over that passage during the last week. I've never read the book, so I don't know its full context. In isolation, Shlaes seems to be saying that a government "more directly controlled by the people" is worse than one that is less directly controlled. But is letting the electorate picking senators necessarily a bad thing? Are state legislatures inherently better selectors of senators? (One could argue that they are, since they are probably better educated - or indoctrinated? - than many or even most voters and by experience if not training are more acquainted with the law.) Would state legislatures not have picked Ted Kennedy and Obama?

Suffrage for women had accelerated it.

Undoubtedly, because allowing women to vote instantly doubles the electorate. Would Shlaes advocate that women no longer be able to vote? That would halve the (excessive) power of the people.

Instead of asking what government was doing on behalf of the general welfare, voters were asking in a very democratic way what Roosevelt was doing for them.

And so they voted for him. Should direct elections of presidents be abolished in favor of a prime minister appointed by Congress?

Would a "classical republic" necessarily cause voters to ask what Shlaes seems to think is the right question: what is government doing on behalf of the general welfare? How much does the form of government influence the thinking of its citizens?

Tonight I watched this video on the difference between a democracy and a republic: rule by people vs. rule by law. But I wondered: which laws? Who makes them up? Laws are neither inherently good nor evil. Law-and-order people always assume that 'laws' are right (i.e., embody what they think is right.) But Article 58 was also a law.

"Who among us has not experienced its all-encompassing embrace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens which could not be punished by the heavy hand of Article 58."

- Solzhenitsyn

Just as 'democracy' was not a panacea for Iraq, the concept of a 'republic' is not a panacea for America. (Has anyone demanded a 'republic' instead of a 'democracy' for Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.?) Here's how a 'republic' could work:

- the people vote for state legislatures (mostly made up of lawyers)

- those legislatures vote for senators (more lawyers)

- the senators pick a prime minister (another lawyer)

This is not that different from what we already have - de facto rule by an oligarchy of lawyers. (That video contrasted an oligarchy with a republic. The dividing line is not so obvious to me.) This would be fine if the lawyers were like Guard Wife, but they are more like St. Ted and the One.

Any system of government can be 'gamed'.

Posted by: Amritas at October 12, 2009 02:45 AM (h9KHg)

2 It just occurred to me that if rule by law is ideal, then rulers have to be lawyers. Why give power to a Palin when it should be in the hands of an anointed caste that elects each other?

The power-hungry know this. Guess what they're studying:

54 percent of respondents [among LSAT takers] say they will "definitely" or "probably" run for political office ...

Has Obama's law degree proved more inspiring than Bush's MBA?

I wonder how many law student graduates want to run for office? How many think they can be the next Obama? The next Hillary or Bill?

A special few make the laws and all others must obey them. Take the LSAT. Go to law school. Pass the bar exam. And even then, there's no guarantee of success:

At Northwestern University Law School, at least three-quarters of students who graduated in May had their employment deferred, in some cases up to a year, says Bill Chamberlain, head of the school's career center.

But if you're lucky enough, power can be yours. And you can write more laws to make yourself more powerful. When the people cry, "Do something!" you can say truthfully that you are doing something, even if you don't admit you're just empowering yourself. The impressed masses will then reelect you. Term limits? Why would you ever draft or vote for such a thing?

The only reason you want the Twenty-Second Amendment is so that some incumbent won't stand in your way. It should only be repealed once the throne is yours.

Posted by: Amritas at October 12, 2009 09:02 PM (h9KHg)

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