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  •  Republic vs. Democracy. (6+ / 0-)

    We got here because the Framers chose the wrong system of government. Hold on, I must amend my statement. I should have said that we got here because the Framers chose a system of government that was right for them and others of their class, and wrong for the rest of us. No, that is not quite right. I should have said that the Framers designed a system of government that was right for them and for others of their class, and wrong for the rest of us. They designed a Madisonian republic instead of a democracy—they designed a flawed government. They designed a system of government that excluded the majority of Americans. They designed the wrong system of government.  

    A democracy is a form of government that carries out the will of the people. A republic, our Madisonian republic, obeys the will of those who control our elected representatives. In Federalist 10, James Madison expressly repudiated democracies because, he said, they kept transformative power in the hands of the people. This was the main reason he rejected democracy in favor of a republic with his “scheme of representation.” He said that the ancient democracies always failed because they let the people make decisions. But he did not acknowledge that the ancient democracies did use representatives to manage their government—he either lied or he was ignorant about the ancient democracies.

    But during the debates about whether to ratify the Constitution someone challenged Madison’s sales pitch. This challenger rightly pointed out that in the ancient democracies, representatives were used. So, if those ancient democracies were vulnerable to factions, as Madison claimed, and if those democracies used representatives, wouldn’t Madison’s representative republic be vulnerable to factions as well? This was a challenge that had to be answered, so Madison responded. In Federalist 63 he made it clear that even though the ancient democracies and the Madisonian republic both relied on representatives, there was one critical difference. Here is what he wrote (emphasis in the original):

    From these facts, to which many others might be added, it is clear that the principle of representation was neither unknown to the ancients nor wholly overlooked in their political constitutions. The true distinction between these and the American governments lies in the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity, from any share in the latter, and not in the total exclusion of the representatives of the people from the administration of the former. The distinction, however, thus qualified, must be admitted to leave a most advantageous superiority in favor of the United States.
    This paragraph is difficult to follow, and I think that Madison deliberately made it confusing. Here is what he was really saying:
    Yes, representatives were used in the ancient democracies, and they are used in our American state governments, and they will be used in our new republic. But, the use of representatives did not cause the ancient democracies to fail, the use of representatives has not caused our American state governments to fail, and it will not cause our new republic to fail. The failure of the ancient democracies was caused by the people having too much transformative power. The people of the ancient democracies could decide among themselves what they wanted their democracy to do and then order their representatives to do it. In effect, the citizens of these ancient democracies retained and exercised all transformative power, and their representatives were delegated administrative power only. In effect, the people ruled. This resulted in all of the failures cataloged in Federalist 10. But, we do not have to worry about this in our new republic.

    Under our new Constitution, the American people cannot decide for themselves what they want the government to do and then order the government to do it. The people can only delegate their transformative power to a small group of elected representatives.  The American people can only decide which representatives they want to give their transformative power, and in turn, these few representatives will meet in person to decide what they want the government to do—only they will have—only they will exercise—the transformative power of the people. Under the new Constitution, the people will never be permitted to act in their collective capacity. In this way the governing elites will hold all transformative power and thereby be assured that they can keep the factious masses under control. America will be safe in the hands of the elites.

    So, in Federalist 63 Madison wanted to show that there was an important difference between the proposed new government and the ancient ones. And that difference was to exclude the people from acting in any way except through their chosen representatives. This “true distinction,” as he called it, emphatically confirms that the new constitutional system, with its scheme of representation, was intended to mute the voice of the people and steal from them their transformative power. And because our national government, by design, is controlled by the wealthy classes, then the transformative power of the people is given over to the invisible, but heavy, hand of tyranno-capitalism which makes all the important economic decisions. And this is the element of tyranno-capitalism that causes it to fail. Just as it is designed to do, it works for the good of a few individuals but not for the masses. In other words, our system of government is deliberately designed to keep the people from using their transformative power to decide whether jobs should be kept in America or sent overseas. Our system of government is deliberately designed to keep the people from using their transformative power to decide whether we should maintain our infrastructure or let it crumble, or to decide whether we should give our children good breakfasts and good educations or let them enter adulthood unprepared to fit into society—you get the idea.

    Historian Charles A. Beard published An Economic Interpretation of the American Constitution in 1913, and it still stands like a rock. In the last chapter, Beard summarizes the discussion held in the various states in reaction to the ratification. And, in closing, he draws the following overall conclusions:

    •    At the close of this long and arid survey—partaking of the nature of catalogue—it seems worthwhile to bring together the important conclusions for political science which the data presented appear to warrant.
    •    The movement for the Constitution of the United States was originated and carried through principally by four groups of personalty interests which had been adversely affected under the Articles of Confederation: money, public securities, manufactures, and trade and shipping.
    •    The first firm steps toward the formation of the Constitution were taken by a small and active group of men immediately interested through their personal possessions in the outcome of their labours.
    •    No popular vote was taken directly or indirectly on the proposition to call the Convention which drafted the Constitution.
    •    A large propertyless mass was, under the prevailing suffrage qualifications, excluded at the outset from participation (through representatives) in the work of framing the Constitution.
    •    The members of the Philadelphia Convention which drafted the Constitution were, with a few exceptions, immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.
    •    The Constitution was essentially an economic document based upon the concept that the fundamental private rights of property are anterior to [come before] government and morally beyond the reach of popular [democratic] majorities.
    •    The major portion of the members of the Convention is on record as recognizing the claim of property to a special and defensive position in the Constitution.
    •    In the ratification, of the Constitution, about three-fourths of the adult males failed to vote on the question, having abstained from the elections at which delegates to the state conventions were chosen, either on account of their indifference or their disfranchisement by property qualifications.
    •    The Constitution was ratified by a vote of probably not more than one-sixth of the adult males.  It is questionable whether a majority of the voters participating in the elections for the state conventions in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina, actually approved the ratification of the Constitution.
    •    The leaders who supported the Constitution in the ratifying conventions represented the same economic groups as the members of the Philadelphia Convention; and in a large number of instances they were also directly and personally interested in the outcome of their efforts.
    •    In the ratification, it became manifest that the line of cleavage for and against the Constitution was between substantial personalty interests on the one hand and the small farming and debtor interests on the other.
    •    The Constitution was not created by "the whole people" as the jurists have said; neither was it created by "the states" as Southern nullifiers long contended; but it was the work of a consolidated group whose interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their scope.
    I find nothing to disagree with. Charles Beard was right: the Constitution was designed to protect and improve the economic interests of the Framers and others of their class. Many historians agreed with Beard, and for a while, his views were ascendant. But myths, when they are widely held, and even though they are false, nevertheless are often stronger than truth, and with the help of time and a few historians the myth finally prevailed—Beard’s work is largely forgotten and economic oligarchy reigns supreme.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 04:54:39 AM PDT

    •  Do you really want pure democracy? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pat bunny, jbsoul

      Do you really want a pure democracy? When the Constitution was framed, the foremost example of democracy was Athens, in which the people voted to put Socrates to death. And the record of the competition between Athens and Sparta, including two wars, did nothing to improve the image of Athens.

      Would you really have wanted pure democracy in Alabama or Mississippi the 1963 or 1964? I think in the case of voting rights, our republican design worked rather well, enforcing the franchise for minority citizens on a bigoted majority who I have no doubt would have voted to approve capital punishment for any minority showing up within 100 yards of a voting place. It should have happened a decades earlier, but I don't see how a form of government that was more like pure democracy would have made that happen.

      More recently, what would you have done after 9-11, when George Bush had approval ratings above ninety percent? I think an exercise of pure democracy in that period would have been catastrophic. Would it have been worse than the vastly expanded police state we did get out of that period, and now live with? We will never know. My own belief is that the angry passions of that time would have given us something worse.

      And exactly how are democracies an infallible safeguard against the rise to power of an oligarchy? The history of Rome is notorious for the oligarchs' use of “bread and circuses” to control the people.

      Now, the "class interest" argument of Beard and others has, I think, more traction. I will not deny that "the system" has worked so far to elevate the rights of property above all else. But, honestly tell me, when John Adams wrote "The preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country." was he being deceptive? Was he just blowing smoke up everyone's butts?

      The problem with your belief is that it is a blanket condemnation, and makes no distinction (does not even try, from what I've read), between those who sincerely believed in the ideals that "all mean are created equal" and those who hated and targeted the entire idea of self-government.  The struggle between Hamilton and Burr is an excellent example of what I mean. Originally, corporate charters were issued for very specific activities, and with a general admonition that such activities were to be carried out in service of the public interest, or general welfare. Well, Aaron Burr and his allies wanted a bank, but Hamilton was preventing them from getting a charter. So, Burr and associates obtained a charter for a water company in Manhattan, then turned right around and began operating their new corporation just like a bank, as well as a water company. Hamilton and others were furious, but were unable to terminate the charter. And that's the origins of Citibank. Now, I think there is pretty clearly a good guy and a bad guy in this story, but far as I can tell, Beard's school just mindlessly condemns them all. Not very useful for understanding and identifying who might be a "domestic enemy." Leaves us powerless to defend the republic, I believe.

      And there is some very interesting historical context in which to understand the desire to limit the franchise to property holders. The paragons of republican virtue people like Jefferson believed, were the land-owning farmers of the Roman republic. Foremost was Cincinnati, who refused to be made dictator after leading the Legions to victory, but quietly went back to his farm. Working the soil, and reaping the bounty of nature, was the purest, most honest of occupations. Merchants and bankers were held in low repute, because their "profit" came not from anything they reaped from nature, it came from the "unnatural" source of selling something for more than you bought it for.

      And when Jefferson and others looked at what the industrial revolution was doing in England, they were horrified. Masses of farmers had been driven from their lands, and forced to seek work in the new factories and mills. And the conditions of those workers was abysmal. They were barely fed and clothed, let alone educated. Where the yeoman farmer was free, dependent on no man for his livelihood, and therefore able to exercise his reason and act upon his moral instincts without compromise, urban workers in industrializing England suffered miserable lives of economic dependence and desperation. There was not even any pretense of instilling in them anything that could be called virtuous.

      Moreover, the goods that these urban workers produced were not for mass consumption, but were expensive luxuries that only the wealthy could afford. Thus, even merchants selling the goods had to affect a fawning subservience to their customers. Jefferson wrote that this economic "Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition." Consequently, wage laborers made poor citizens; a republic filled with manufacturing employees would be quickly corrupted. So "let our workshops remain in Europe," Jefferson advised; only if America remained an agrarian nation of farmers might it "keep alive that sacred fire" of fierce independence and republican virtue.

      So, an important element in the Jeffersonian opposition to Hamilton's proposals for encouraging manufacturing and commerce was that the Jeffersonians wanted to prevent, or at least delay as long as possible, the time when the US ceased being an agrarian economy.

      The great failure of Jefferson, of course, is that he failed to try and figure out how republican virtue could be inculcated in other groups than just land-owning farmers.


      A conservative is a scab for the oligarchy.

      by NBBooks on Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 10:43:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "Pure" democracy, as Madison and apparently (0+ / 0-)

        you define it was a fantasy. Madison made it up. It never existed anywhere or at any time. The government of ancient Athens did not even come close to being a "pure" democracy as you and Madison define it. The Athenians were much too smart to govern that way.

        I don't know where you learned about Athenian Democracy, but you were taught the wrong things. But you are in  the majority in America, because our schools teach our children the wrong story about Athens, the Framers, and the our Madisonian republic.

        There are lots of good books available and there is a lot of useful material on the Internet, but most people don't bother reading something that requires a little thought and that will disagree with what they already believe.

        In any case you and I have discussed this issue before and there is really no point in going forward except to ask, "Do you really want the government we have today?"

        Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

        by hestal on Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 12:52:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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