The original constitution was an ingenious piece of work. It successfully pitted three very real, and very detrimental, political artifacts against each other, in such a way that the people’s rights would be preserved. It is a great testament to the original design of our government that even today, someone like Obama finds great frustration trying to “govern” the people of our country.
However, it is clear that our system is sick and broken. I think I know why, and I know what the remedy is.
First, history and theory. There are three great inclinations people have when they consider politics. This was true a thousand years ago and is still true today. These inclinations are:
- Democracy. Democracy is rule of the majority. It is a very bad idea. Think back to high school, and imagine you are the unpopular kid. The popular kids see something that you have and they want, and decide to have a vote on it. Guess what? You lose. In a democracy, there is no justice.
- Aristocracy. Aristocracy is the rule of the privileged. It may also be called Oligarchy, rule of the few, or Plutocracy, rule of the rich, but it comes down to a small group of elite people who control the government.
- Autocracy. Autocracy is rule by an individual. We might call this despotism, or monarchy (although monarchy quickly devolves into aristocracy), but the point is that a single person calls the shots, and everyone defers to him.
I’ve arranged them in a sort of reverse order. The natural order seems to be that a single individual steps forward and rallies people around him and his cause. He gains somewhat of an advantage, generally through military might, but he could be a religious or a political figure. The arrangement is that people defer to him for decisions, and he enjoys a sort of autocratic power. Over time, if he is successful at gaining more followers, he becomes overburdened with the job of making decisions, and he begins to assign authority to the people he trusts that are close to him. The autocracy moves to an aristocracy. Aristocrats can do a pretty good job of ruling and keeping people happy, but eventually, they too make mistakes or find that the job is larger then their ability, and they begin to share more and more power, until you have so many people in the aristocracy that you effectively have a democracy.
Now, occasionally, you have people who rise together to power and form an aristocracy of their own. Or occasionally, you have a movement that genuinely comes from the people.
Note that there is never anyone to defend the law and justice and righteousness. The law does not speak for itself, and has no self-interest. That is, the rule of law, the hallmark of the republic, is not a natural state of affairs. It is only when your autocratic, aristocratic, or democratic leaders defer to the law that you can have a true republic.
The Founding Fathers knew that they wanted the rule of law, not men. They knew that they wanted people to always defer to the law in every decision they made. They knew that they wanted the law to be a fairly static thing, with occasional changes as needed to adapt to the times, or correct misunderstandings that propagate as languages and customs change. Of course, any change to the law would have to be done under intense scrutiny and by common consent of every interested party.
Now, here is the genius of the Founding Fathers. They gave each of the undesirable yet natural forms of government a seat in the federal government. Those individuals who could amass vast amounts of political support would naturally gravitate to the presidency, and enjoy the powers of the executive branch. Those people who arose into a ruling class by riches or by political connections would find their easiest way to power would be through the senate. Originally, the senators were appointed by the state legislatures. The sentiment of the people would be represented as best as possible in the house, where the representatives would, of necessity, be answerable to the passions of the people in their districts with a biennial election.
The result of pitting these three natural governments against each other, in the way that emphasized their positive aspects, but negated their worst, gave rise to the system of government found in the constitution. Had we applied the constitution verbatim, we would enjoy the same effects they had back then.
Namely, the presidential office would be the only place charismatic and autocratic leaders would find desirable. It would be a competition of personalities to get into the president’s seat. The path to election lies through the electoral college, which originally was appointed by the state legislatures, not the people. There, the electoral college would crown a new king over America every four years; not a king in full power, but the closest thing we have to a king. This king, of course, could only do the things we wanted kings to do, such as fight our wars and lead the nation in times of crises, and none of the things we wished kings would not do.
The aristocrats among us, the rich and powerful, would find their most desirable seat in the senate. There, political corruption would be rampant. The senate would be full of the political aristocracy, making backroom deals between the democratic and autocratic elements of our government. The best parts of the aristocracy—their ability to make wise, long-term decisions, their ability to bring competing elements to the negotiation table, their ability to make every a little happy, would be preserved in their role, while the worst parts, their ability to squeeze the taxpayer dry, and afford every privilege to themselves and no other, would be limited.
The democratic elements of our society would find their most desirable seat in the house. There is no easier way to get into government than through the house, and no easier way to get elected to the house than to play on the people’s passions. There, the house would be a near anarchic revolution in continual motion, continually attempting to trample on the principles of a free society and on the rights of the privileged, but at the same time, give a very real and very powerful voice to the commoner.
Had we preserved that form of government, then our society would look dramatically different. Let me list the ways.
First, the House of Representatives:
- The only federal office you would vote for would be your representative. That means, if you like the direction the country is headed, you re-elect your representative. If you don’t, you elect someone else. This vote occurs, of course, every 2 years.
- There would be 1 representative for every 30,000 people. That works out to 10,292 people today.
- Obviously, you’d have the 10,000 house members quickly forming caucuses to get their causes to move forward. These would likely be very ephemeral, meaning, some representatives may belong to several caucuses, and caucuses that were popular two years ago would disappear.
- You would likely know your representative, personally, and would freely express to him your dissatisfaction with his job.
- The House of Representatives would be full of fiery, impatient young politicians, people who probably wouldn’t even think of making politics their life’s career. (What is the chance that you’d be one of the lucky 100 among the 10,000 to be appointed to the senate?)
- Trying to buy seats in the house would be all but impossible. You’d have to find thousands of people to run on your ticket, and you’d have to spend hundreds of millions to advertise for them effectively. Even then, what good is advertising when people already know the guy?
- Political movements would either make a broad, democratic appeal for their cause, or ignore the House altogether.
Next, let’s look at the senate:
- Senators would not be elected, but appointed, by the state governments, every 6 years.
- Senators would not even think of appealing to the common people for support. In fact, they would probably hold the house and the people in disdain.
- The senate would thus be full of career politicians, people who have made a career out of government, law, and politics.
- Trying to buy the senate would be relatively easy. All you have to do is grease the right palms, promise the right favors, and you could gain control of the senate for your issue. The implication of this is that all the corruption would be focused in the senate. People would know that everything the senate does is tainted with the corruption of aristocracy.
- The only way the senate could get popular support for what it does is to defer to the constitution. (I think this is a subtle but very important point!) Let me explain this a bit further. Say the senate came out and said, “We need to spend $500M on a new missile system.” Your first inclination is, “No way! You’re simply paying off your supporters and friends.” The senate would have to say, “We have a constitutional duty to protect the people. We need this $500M to defend the people.” For an understanding of what I mean, look at how European governments relate to their people, justifying everything they do without referring to popular support at all.
- However, the senators would be vastly more educated on the law than the House. They would understand that the law protects them from the passions of the people, but it also tempers the passions of the people.
Now, the president:
- You wouldn’t vote for president.
- Your opinion on who should be president wouldn’t matter.
- You won’t be involved in presidential politics.
- The electoral college would consist of 10,392 people, each meeting in the capitols of 50 states, all on the same day.
- Just as it is all but impossible for one political interest to buy the house, it would be equally impossible to buy the electoral college.
- The electoral college would come together, probably with an idea of 6 or 7 people they would like to see as president, and each would have to independently decide on who is best.
- Note that the electoral college may be composed of former representatives and senators, but not current ones.
- In the rare case that the electoral college cannot choose a president, the house would have to choose the president from among those who received votes.
- The president would be accountable only to God, not unlike the English kings.
- If the president did do something really awful, then the house would impeach (requiring 1/2 of 10,292 plus one) and the senate would try.
- Ask yourself: what would it take to get 5,148 representatives to vote for impeachment? A massive abuse of power that affects the common man.
Notice that this form of government is clearly anti-democratic. It is also anti-autocratic and anti-aristocratic. It recognizes that there are strengths to these forms of government, but also recognizes the weaknesses.
Now, let’s examine the way our government is today.
- The president, the senate, and the house is chosen by the vote of the people.
- No one knows their representative, since we have 1 representative representing around 700,000 people.
- The House of Representative is a house of aristocrats, because it is relatively easy to buy 435 elections, especially when no one knows the person they are voting for.
- The senate is also a house of aristocrats, but aristocrats who can claim the veil of democratic appeal.
- The president ends up being a party man, because he must gain popular support to win, and that is only available if he align himself with the parties that already control the house and senate.
- Really, we have a government of two competing aristocratic democracies. The true centers of power are the Republican and Democratic Parties. We know this is true because both the Occupy Movement and the TEA Party’s principle goals are to take over the parties. 3rd parties work within the framework of the first 2 parties.
Ask yourself, “Would I rather live in our system of two competing aristocratic democracies, or would I rather live in the system the Founding Fathers laid out?”
I would prefer the former, even though it means I don’t get to vote for president or my senator.
The parties would all but be eliminated. The political system of the house would be so different than the political systems for the senate and the president that they would bear little resemblance. Can you imagine the groups who control the corrupt aristocracy of the senate even trying to corroborate with the true democracy the house represents? I cannot imagine a political group who gains power over the senate capable of gaining popular support at the same time.
Even if they did, how would they maintain order when their representatives are constantly changing, and are loyal to their neighborhoods?
We don’t need term limits. We need the original constitution.