December 5th, 2012

From democracy to despotism

Here’s a quote to ponder:

As Montesquieu understood, polities established on extended territories tend to end up as despotisms. They do so for a set of simple reasons. In such a polity, the government is at a great distance from the vast majority of the people it governs. It is out of sight, and, as a consequence, it is largely out of mind. As such, it offers to those in charge a temptation that human beings cannot withstand. They have in their hands Gyges’ ring, and in time it will be used. To this one can add that large polities are subject to frequent emergencies and that this tends to concentrate power in the hands of the central administration.

Montesquieu suggests one antidote and hints at another. He expressly recommends federalism. Federal states can for the most part be governed in the manner of small polities. They leave ample space for citizen participation in decisions of local import. They are also able, because of their size, to defend themselves against large polities. Montesquieu’s prime contemporary example was the Netherlands.

The antidote that he hints at is the separation of powers. Where there are representative institutions, elected representatives can look after the interests of the people. If the legislature is divided between two bodies, they can be set as sentinels over one another. If there is a separate executive power, the man occupying that position can be expected to enforce the laws without prejudice, and this means that the legislators will be subject to the laws they pass (which is a sobering thought apt to encourage prudence on their part). They in turn exercise legislative oversight with regard to the conduct of his ministers in office. Finally, the judicial power (and he has juries first and foremost in mind) protects individual citizens against a tyrannical enforcement of the law on the part of the executive.

All in all the separation of powers — especially that between the legislature and the executive — encourages a healthy conflict within the central government by means of which the two powers guard against one another.

The way our government is structured is not arbitrary. But to so many—especially the younger generations, who are barely taught about what people like Montesquieu said, or assigned to read the Federalist Papers, even in the finest schools—they probably seem that way. If a person hasn’t received any grounding in these matters it makes sense to ask: why limit the federal government? Why have a republic at all? End gridlock! Down with the filibuster! Let’s make it easier to pass bills and issue executive orders so that the central government can solve problems and help us.

22 Responses to “From democracy to despotism”

  1. Tesh Says:

    “If there is a separate executive power, the man occupying that position can be expected to enforce the laws without prejudice,”

    That seems like a dangerous assumption, but maybe I’m misreading it.

  2. vanderleun Says:

    All on the road to getting it good and hard.

  3. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Exactly!

    And that is why today’s so called “”education” is as it is, and specifically designed to see to it that today’s “youts” know all about having two mommies or dads, the evils of warmongering U.S. Imperialism, dental dams and STDs, but hardly ever even hear about–except about some twisted version thereof–much less read, ponder, and explore fundamental documents like the”Federalist Papers.”

    Unionized educational malpractice; institutionalized ignorance and decadence taught and helped along, the slide downward assisted rather than resisted.

    To quote an Italian proverb, “The mother of fools is always pregnant,” and today’s “educators” or rather “propagandists” are doing their damnedest to make that pregnancy permanent.

  4. Ray Says:

    I’m beginning to think the antifederalist papers are more likely correct than the federalist papers. The antifederalists thought we would end up with a big dictatorial central government.

  5. Lizzy Says:

    Speaking of education, NRO’s Stanley Kurtz/Wash Post recently drew attention to how Obama is quietly implementing a core curriculum: http://tinyurl.com/bbmxho8
    Why on earth do we need universal programs like this?

    “Not only is Obama’s attempt to devise what is in effect a national K–12 school curriculum arguably unconstitutional and illegal, the fact that most Americans have no idea that the new “Common Core” (a.k.a. Obamacore) even exists may be the most troubling thing about it.

  6. Kurt Says:

    Neoneocon wrote: The way our government is structured is not arbitrary. But to so many—especially the younger generations, who are barely taught about what people like Montesquieu said, or assigned to read the Federalist Papers, even in the finest schools—they probably seem that way. If a person hasn’t received any grounding in these matters it makes sense to ask: why limit the federal government? Why have a republic at all?

    I’d add an even more instructive aside: even–and especially–in the “finest schools” when those kinds of works and documents are taught, they are most frequently taught by relativists and leftists who instruct their students to believe that the decisions are arbitrary at best, and at worst they are “power structures” put in place to perpetuate corrupt, self-serving and exploitative interests. (You can imagine how the rest of that would go.)

  7. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    Robert Heinlein suggested a long while ago an alternative setup for the two bodies, that always struck me as vastly more effective than the current system here or any other one I’ve heard of

    Simply put — two houses:

    One house passes laws with a 2/3rds majority.

    The other house repeals laws with only a 1/3rds minority.

    The general idea being that if you can get more than a third of the people to believe it shouldn’t be law, then it probably either isn’t settled yet or it shouldn’t be law at all. It also makes “legislative whimsy” more readily reversed, and helps resolve legislative arteriosclerosis — the tendency of laws to be passed but never, ever removed.

    Remember this notion, Come The Revolution.

  8. thomass Says:

    “Why have a republic at all? End gridlock! Down with the filibuster! Let’s make it easier to pass bills and issue executive orders so that the central government can solve problems and help us.”

    Cue They Thought They Were Free.

  9. thomass Says:

    Kurt Says:

    “I’d add an even more instructive aside: even–and especially–in the “finest schools” when those kinds of works and documents are taught, they are most frequently taught by relativists and leftists”

    Sometimes it doesn’t do them any good though. Who are you going to believe (even at 9 or 10)… the founders of your grade school teacher?

    I remember back then my teacher explaining the US was not a democracy with a certain level of disapproval. She also did not even explain the founders POV. I remember thinking at the time ‘check founders for what is wrong with democracy’… its all I took away from it… then again I bought my own national review subscription at 13…

  10. beverly Says:

    Folks, here’s a different — and far more sinister — take on the Benghazi doings:

    http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/51400

    [linked by a commenter at the Belmont Club]

    This “intelligence insider” makes sense of some of the things we’ve been baffled by, and zeroes in on a very frightening explanation of why Team Obama let our men get killed. Tip of the iceberg stuff.

  11. Artfldgr Says:

    Many feel this way for they grew up in a country for which the negative aspects of power were rarely used upon them or even seen. So they do not realize the actuality of that which they are enabling and wishing and have been taught is not so bad, the bad stories are lies to keep you in thrall.

    To them, real abuse of power is not real, its exceptional and rarely happens. most have not left their cities let alone traveled to other countries, let alone left the tourist enclaves and gone in country.

    for them, the worst things that happen are domestic violence, a violent robbery, a car accident…

    in their world, you try to pay off a cop, you get in trouble and go to jail, in other places, you don’t pay them off you go to jail.

    its not luck that the US has rarely experienced direct anything over the past 40 years. Osama and not much else. there is a reason for that, and its that such would snap us back for a while. so the policy around the world was not to do it.

    its very hard to have feelings and understanding about the blitz, or rockets in Israel, when you think your oppressed because someone stares at you too long when wearing a bikini and your working for laws against the “violent male gaze”..

    we live in a society where experience has no value, and so, no one will defer to experience over their imagination or the story from some other source. they will not verify so they squat on ignorance to claim a win.

    so if someone with experience says i recognize this, and its that. they end up arguing how it is agains someone who has not the experience, body of work nor the inclination to actually acquire some of it to have their ideas and participation have any actual meaning other than sounding good. the internal reason is we are all equal so something that makes us unequal is to be ignored and not used. so ingrained is this rule, the over 50 are almost unemployable in many fields like computers and engineering.

    they think revolution is fun…
    and that the result will be a better society than the one that everyone thought was best, not another copy of the worst…

    oh. should i also add that they think they all will be rewarded and on the side of plenty in the new regime. certainly if not plenty, then MORE than what they have now, not vastly less, or that this system wont make party distinctions when they use race instead, etc.

    that should do a whole lot to inform as to what they know of the real world.

  12. Don Carlos Says:

    I am not sure what the point of this thread is.
    Are we medieval monks keeping Enlightenment fires burning, ever so dimly, while the Darkness washes over the globe?

  13. Artfldgr Says:

    Leftist Terrorist Turned Neo-Nazi Says Was Stasi Informant Too

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/adventures-in-german-radicalism-leftist-terrorist-turned-neo-nazi-says-was-stasi-informant-too-a-777938.html

    State Representative Wants the Stasi Back

    A Left Party member of parliament in the state of Lower Saxony is in hot water after suggesting that the secret East German police — the feared Stasi — and the Berlin Wall weren’t such bad ideas after all.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/uproar-on-the-left-state-representative-wants-the-stasi-back-a-535606.html

    and one western country is making slum cities where they are going to put people to teach them how to behave (with minimum facilities)… sounds remarkably like something from the past.

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    East German officials sold citizens to be used as guinea pigs for drug trials

    The former Communist state made millions from the conspiracy – even though many of those tested died of side effects

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/east-german-officials-sold-citizens-1473167

  15. parker Says:

    “The antifederalists thought we would end up with a big dictatorial central government.”

    Bingo!

  16. parker Says:

    “Tip of the iceberg stuff.”

    There is far more beneath the surface. 4 dead and BHO had live video with in a few minutes. Forget about Rice, she is yesterday’s whore. The target is the messiah. What did he know, when did he know it, and and why did he do nothing? Those are the questions. Contact your congress critter now!

  17. parker Says:

    “The former Communist state made millions from the conspiracy – even though many of those tested died of side effects”

    Same as it ever was! artfldger, we (at least 90% of we) know these truths you spend 2,000+ words to reiterate. We get it. We are not zombie/idiots. I want to witness you providing new info. Look west young man. ;-)

  18. Don Carlos Says:

    parker:
    It may not be news to thee, but is to me.
    As a doc, I would very much like to know who the Western Pharmas were, and what drugs were tried for what illnesses. My take on this differs from Artfldgr, as follows:

    The FDA approval process for NDAs (that is New Drug Applications for those of you in Rio Linda) has been progressively more onerous and costly, now extremely so, for a long, long time. The East German ‘experiments’, aka drug trials, may (and I stress the ‘may’) not have been nearly as unethical as the article would have us conclude. The trialists (those administering the clinical trials, not the patients) are always compensated for their work, whether OstDeutsche or not… they don’t run on Empty either.

  19. Eric Says:

    Montesquieu doesn’t seem to have accounted for political parties that are unified top to bottom from national to local and side to side across branches.

  20. Steve Says:

    What happens when people see their taxes going up and the economy and the debt situation worsening? Will the lefties in NE and other blue states change their voting pattern or will they double down on stupid? If they start looking for a way to check the confiscatory policies of the left, they’ll rediscover federalism.

  21. ELC Says:

    @ Eric 5:07 am. Montesquieu doesn’t seem to have accounted for political parties that are unified top to bottom from national to local and side to side across branches.

    The founders didn’t either. That is the philosophical or strategic weakness of the federal constitution: it is rather well designed to preclude personal ambition from becoming tyrannical — but not so for ideology. I think the framers simply never considered ideological ambition at all. (Indeed, I’m not quite sure such a thing existed at the time.) It did not occur to them, it seems to me, that the Congress and the Presidency and the Supreme Court might be simultaneously, and for a long time, dominated by people who think the country would be better off with an all-powerful centralized government. At any rate, I haven’t seen anything that indicates they considered such a situation: Marx hadn’t even been born yet.

    @ Steve 8:02 am. Will the lefties in NE and other blue states change their voting pattern or will they double down on stupid? No, they won’t double down on stupid. They’ll triple down. As a local radio personality has it, “Liberals never think what they are doing is wrong, they only think they haven’t done enough of it yet.”

  22. thomass Says:

    Don Carlos Says:

    good point about the trial. Could be the worst part was not telling the people used. Something western doctors used to do also until the public caught on…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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