Special Opinion to the Mirror by Paul Plante
A recent pair of threads in here, one on “militant democracy” in America, and the other involving alleged wrong-doing of one sort or another in Cape Charles government, which comes across in print as autocratic and non-transparent, which in turn impacts on participatory democracy in Cape Charles, or the lack thereof, if certain town officials had their way, anyway, have me thinking about our roots as American citizens, and whether we as a nation actually have any common roots, and if so, what might they be?
Up here where I am, the elementary school in 1976 had the children in the school put into words what they thought an American was, and these are a few of the descriptors in the words of some 1st graders, to wit:
An American is: is good; works hard; loves his country; goes to church; helps people.
Then we come to the 2d graders:
An American is: someone who cares!
And this is how one 3rd grader had it:
An American is someone who helps his nation.
An American is a person who stands by his flag.
An American is a person who goes to school, and says the Pledge of Allegiance.
An American is someone who obeys all the laws.
It doesn’t matter what color an American is.
Those American values being expressed by those school children in 1976 were the same values I learned in that same school back in 1951, which has me wondering how it is that we have gotten to where it is we are now, with our Republic dead and gone, and with it Republicanism, which in the days of my youth, was considered the fabric of what it meant to be an American.
In an excellent essay of the subject of Republicanism, written by William K. Bolt, the North Carolina History Project, we are informed as follows:
Republicanism is a term for beliefs that have defined the American political experiment.
Why do we never hear that anymore, hearing instead about “our democracy,” over and over again, when “our democracy” is an empty term that defines and describes nothing tangible or comprehensible, at all?
Getting back to Republicanism:
In particular, republicanism stems from a form a government where the people are sovereign.
Now, it is important to note that “democracy” can also be a form of government where the people are sovereign, which takes us to this very important distinction between the two, as follows:
In such a government (Republicanism), virtuous and autonomous citizens must exercise self-control for the common good.
And there was the death-knell of Republicanism in this country sounded.
That is why we have democracy instead – because in a democracy, you can do any damn thing you want, and nobody can stop you!
No self-control is required in a democracy, nor is it often found.
Which takes us back to another serious fault found by modern-day politicians with Republicanism, as follows:
Republican citizens should not seek office or use public office for economic gain.
Public officials must subordinate their personal ambitions for the good of the community.
Believe it or not, that is the belief system I was brought up in as an American citizen, and despite it now being way out of fashion, I still adhere to it.
And these beliefs as well:
A republican citizen also must be prepared to thwart corrupting influences that would lead the nation toward tyranny or despotism.
Thank God for the Cape Charles Mirror that we are able to fulfil that goal be speaking out in here on those corrupting influences that are leading the nation toward tyranny or despotism.
And I was taught this as a child, as well:
Republicanism is based on the assumption that liberty and power continually battle.
Therefore, citizens must protect a fragile liberty from destructive power.
Perhaps most importantly, all citizens (the definition of which has changed over the years) in a republic are equal.
At this stage of my life, I truly wonder if there is anyone besides me in America who remembers how it was that it was supposed to be in this country if we were all adherents to that same belief system known as Republicanism in America.
Hence this thread.
Paul Plante says
In this country, we have two seemingly competing political ideas, with one being Republicanism, which is all but dead today, versus democratization, which the book “Democratization: Theory and Experience” by Laurence Whitehead tells us is best understood as a long‐term, dynamic, and open‐ended process extending over generations.
Wikipedia tells us that the process of democratization is the transition to a more democratic political regime, and it also refers to substantive political changes moving in a democratic direction.
Democritization may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system.
The outcome may be consolidated as it was for example in the United Kingdom or democratization may face frequent reversals as it has faced for example in Venezuela.
Democratization itself is influenced by various factors, including economic development, history, and civil society.
The ideal result from democratization is to ensure that the people have the right to vote and have a voice in their political system
Contrast that with republicanism, which the above essay on the subject of Republicanism written by William K. Bolt for the North Carolina History Project, tells us is a complicated idea, which is perhaps why it died here in the United States of America, where democratization has produced a generation of citizens in this country who are incapable of critical thinking, as there is no need for it in their lives.
The North Carolina History Project essay tells us that the concept of republicanism in this country at its beginning placed Aristotle’s concept of man as a political animal and the Renaissance idea of civic virtue in the context of Christianity.
As a result of this complicated fusion, Americans then and now interpret republicanism and the founders’ intentions differently.
Historians seem to agree on this one thing: republicanism symbolized a commitment to civic virtue.
Reading that, one can readily see why republicanism is incompatible with our present factional democratic political system in this country, where our politicians at the federal level like Nancy Pelosi hold power not because of a commitment to civic virtue, but because of how much money she has raised for the Democrat party.
Getting back to the essay, the language of republicanism proliferated in America in the years preceding the American Revolution.
American colonists drew from a variety of sources in composing a republican language.
Some drew inspiration from the Puritans in New England.
Others found answers in the English common law tradition.
Many found evidence of a republican tradition in the republics of ancient Greece and Rome.
Some pointed to a tradition of civic humanism in Florence, Italy during the time of Niccolo Machiavelli.
But what really inspired the American colonists were the writings by British philosophers, such as Henry Bolingbroke, Thomas Gordon, John Locke, and John Trenchard, that appeared during the English Civil War, the Commonwealth period, and the early eighteenth century.
The so-called “founding fathers” were well aware of Greek and Roman history, as well as the writings of those various political authors, and at that time, before the Revolution and directly after, they were very much in need of a viable political philosophy with which to replace monarchy with republican government.
Today, the majority of us have no such need for a political philosophy as we go through the days of our lives, and so, the spirit of republicanism has departed.
Getting back to our early political history and republicanism as a political philosophy in this country, the North Carolina History Project continues as follows:
Colonists combined these disparate philosophies to compare their ideal republic with the actual monarchy of Great Britain.
Freedom had defined the republics of antiquity whereas Great Britain, a former flourishing republic, had decayed into a corrupt monarchy.
The pursuit of gain had created a class based society and a government based on excessive patronage.
In turn, British society became corrupt.
Because citizens placed personal gain ahead of self-sacrifice, the king assumed additional powers that ultimately deprived citizens of their liberties.
If America were to survive, it could not replicate the example of Great Britain.
But yet we have,
Such is the power of democratization in this country.
So can we survive as a nation?
Stay tuned and we will try to see.
Paul Plante says
Staying with this perceived clash between Republicanism in this country, symbolized as a commitment to civic virtue, considered a joke in the America of today, and Democritization, a leveling process which makes everyone equal to the least in society, according to the North Carolina History Project essay, the republic of the founding Fathers of America, the one we were supposed to inherit, was much different than the monarchies of the old world.
Just as is happening once again in our times today, at the time of this nation’s founding, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, among others, endeavored to reorder politics.
This would be accomplished in several ways.
One, an elective democracy of citizens would be judged by merit and not ancestral lineage.
Two, a weak executive would be less likely to influence and corrupt legislators.
Third, frequent elections would ensure that officials remained committed to the public good.
Fourth, the series of checks and balances in the constitution would prevent any political faction or sector of society from threatening the majority.
Such an experiment, the founders believed, would create an ideal society that the rest of the world would emulate.
As we today can clearly see, with the benefit of hindsight, they were way wide of the mark when it came to actually accomplishing any of those goals, and the experiment to create an “ideal society” has proven a failure.
We do not have an elective democracy of citizens judged by merit in this country.
It is all about money now.
Two, while a weak executive would have been less likely to influence and corrupt legislators, we have not had weak executives in quite some time now, and the corrupting is done by the two political parties which have taken control of our government away from us, so they can feed off of us the way the swarms of Officers sent hither by King George III to harass our people ate out their substance.
Third, while the founding fathers thought that frequent elections would ensure that officials remained committed to the public good, thanks to the Democrats and Republicans, the reality has been anything but.
And finally, as to the series of checks and balances in the constitution preventing any political faction or sector of society from threatening the majority, that has turned out to be a mere pipe dream, where according to Gallup’s analysis as of Jan 11, 2016, while 42 percent of Americans identify as independent, compared with 29 percent who say they are Democrats and 26 percent who say they are Republicans, it is the minority Democrats and Republicans who hold the power over the lives of the majority in this country.
So much for creating an ideal society that the rest of the world would emulate.
Stay tuned, more to come.
Paul Plante says
As the website of the North Carolina History Project tells us, during the political battles of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they were many, republican language became the weapon of choice.
Federalists and their Republican adversaries both presented themselves as the true defenders of the American Revolution and republican government, with the two parties at that time constantly reminding citizens that their opponents undermined republicanism, just as today, the Democrats in the United States are accusing the Republicans of undermining our precious democracy.
Back then, the Federalists charged that if their Jeffersonian political adversaries assumed power then they would install the worst aspects of the French Revolution into American society. while the Jeffersonian Republicans of that time maintained that the Federalist policies would lead the country towards corruption and a monarchy.
Later, during the Age of Jackson, Democrats and their political opponents, the Whigs, continued to cast themselves as defenders of republicanism.
Like their political predecessors, both warned that if the people supported their adversaries, then the republic would devolve into anarchy or military despotism.
Jacksonian Democrats feared that the “money power” of banks and protective tariffs threatened personal freedoms whereas Whigs charged that the democratic ethos of their opponents would lead to the reign of “King Mob.”
As the nation approached the precipice of disunion preceding the Civil War, Democrats and Republicans feared the impending demise of republicanism.
Northerners and Southerners claimed to fight the Civil War to defend their vision of an ordered republic.
Today, we no longer hear the word “Republic” applied to the United States of America; today, we have both Republicans and Democrats talking instead about our “democracy” as we wonder if the democratic ethos of both parties or faction will lead to the reign of “King Mob.”
Of interest to this discussion and to bring us up to date to the times we find ourselves in today, with factionalism running rampant in the land as the Democrats and Republicans vie for power like two stags with their antlers locked together, the North Carolina History Project tells us that historians use republicanism as an analytical tool to describe the political insurgency throughout American history.
For historians who believe in a republican synthesis, republicanism is an alternative tool to liberalism which stresses individual rights, progress, and capitalism.
In addition to using republicanism to define the ideology of the American Revolution, scholars have used republicanism to describe the political battles of the antebellum period, early women’s rights movements, labor protests, and agrarian unrest.
Paul Plante says
So, so much for the theory of Republicanism in this country.
What about reality?
For a glimpse of our own sorry past as a nation, depending on one’s point of view, of course, since for some it was quite splendid, and the death of Republicanism, let us drop back in time some 126 years to 1892, 116 years after the Declaration of Independence from British tyranny to see what the American people were thinking about and talking about back then concerning our Republic.
The source I am relying on here is the Populist Party Platform of 1892 from July 4, 1892:
Assembled upon the 116th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the People’s Party of America in their first national convention, invoking upon their action the blessing of Almighty God, put forth in the name and on behalf of the people of this country, the following preamble and declaration of principles:
The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin.
Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench.
The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery.
The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.
If I were to erase the date of 1892, and replace it with 2018, would anyone know the difference?
More to the point of the exercise, would they even care?
Or would it be, “well, that’s the way things are, so we just have to live with it and make the best of it that we can?”
Getting back to 1892:
The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection; imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions.
The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn despise the Republic and endanger liberty.
They despise the Republic.
And today, they still do, which is why we do not have a Republic anymore, just the memory, very faint.
And here we come to the similarities between 1892 and 2018:
From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.
Time is a loop, people; what went around in 1892 came back around roughly a hundred years later during the reign of Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill, who was warming a chair in the Oval Office and fiddling around with Monica Lewinsky while Hillary, a hero of the Plutocracy, ran the country.
Back to 1892:
The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders; a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.
Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry.
A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world.
All these years later, as history demonstrates, that “vast conspiracy” now owns a good chunk of the world, and us with it.
So much for the spirit of Republicanism and “civic virtue” in the United States of America.
And back we go to 1892, which well could be 2018 all over again, to wit:
If not met and overthrown at once, it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.
We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people.
We charge that the controlling influence dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them.
Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform.
They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, every issue but one.
They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of.
They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.
Which thought takes us to 3 September 2016, and an article in the New York Times Amy Chozick and Jonathan Martin, to wit:
At a private fund-raiser Tuesday night at a waterfront Hamptons estate, Hillary Clinton danced alongside Jimmy Buffett, Jon Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney, and joined in a singalong finale to “Hey Jude.”
“I stand between you and the apocalypse,” a confident Mrs. Clinton declared to laughs, exhibiting a flash of self-awareness and humor to a crowd that included Calvin Klein and Harvey Weinstein and for whom the prospect of a Donald J. Trump presidency is dire.
In the last two weeks of August, Mrs. Clinton raked in roughly $50 million at 22 fund-raising events, averaging around $150,000 an hour, according to a New York Times tally.
And while Mrs. Clinton has faced criticism for her failure to hold a news conference for months, she has fielded hundreds of questions from the ultrarich in places like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley.
“It’s the old adage, you go to where the money is,” said Jay S. Jacobs, a prominent New York Democrat.
Mrs. Clinton raised about $143 million in August, the campaign’s best month yet.
Mrs. Clinton’s aides have gone to great lengths to project an image of her as down-to-earth and attuned to the challenges of what she likes to call “the struggling and the striving.”
If she feels most at ease around millionaires, within the gilded bubble, it is in part because they are some of her most intimate friends.
The campaign’s finance team is led by Dennis Cheng, previously the chief fund-raiser for the Clinton Foundation, and it employs a couple dozen staff members.
Mr. Cheng, who attends the events with Mrs. Clinton, offers donors a number of contribution options that provide them and their families varying levels of access to Mrs. Clinton.
A family photo with Mrs. Clinton cost $10,000, according to attendees.
God bless America, ain’t it, people?
Paul Plante says
What we are seeing above here is Republicanism in 1892 being re-branded as “populism,” precisely because the so-called “Republican” party had totally bastardized the term and rendered it odious.
A few years later, it would be re-branded again as “Progressivism.”
To see if the 1892 Populist Party was really talking about “Republicanism,” let’s go back to the party platform, as follows:
Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of “the plain people,” with which class it originated.
We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution, to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
We declare that this Republic can only endure as a free government while built upon the love of the whole people for each other and for the nation; that it cannot be pinned together by bayonets; that the civil war is over and that every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of free men.
This an expression of Republicanism, plain and simple, although as the 1892 Populist party platform makes clear, it is Republicanism, past tense.
They wanted to restore Republicanism, and it never happened, perhaps because Republicanism is totally unsuited to the majority of people in this country, or they are unsuited for it, which takes us back to 1892, as follows:
Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedent in the history of the world; our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months be exchanged for billions of dollars’ worth of commodities consumed in their production; the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class.
We pledge ourselves that, if given power, we will labor to correct these evils by wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform.
We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the ease of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice and poverty, shall eventually cease in the land.
While our sympathies as a party of reform are naturally upon the side of every proposition which will tend to make men intelligent, virtuous and temperate, we nevertheless regard these questions, important as they are, as secondary to the great issues now pressing for solution, and upon which not only our individual prosperity, but the very existence of free institutions depend; and we ask all men to first help us to determine whether we are to have a republic to administer, before we differ as to the conditions upon which it is to be administered, believing that the forces of reform this day organized will never cease to move forward, until every wrong is remedied, and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country.
Sadly, what they found out in 1892 is that we were not to have a Republic to administer.
We had a plutocracy, instead.
Just as we do today!
The Republic is dead, long live the Republic!
Paul Plante says
Dropping back in time some 104 years before 1892 and the Populist Party to 1788, when this nation was just beginning as a nation, we find these thoughts on what those people back then thought, mistakenly as time was to prove, was going to be an “enduring Republic” in the political essay “A Freeman II” by A Freeman in the Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia on January 30, 1788, as follows:
To the MINORITY of the CONVENTION of Pennsylvania
Gentlemen, The principal object of my last paper was to point out a variety of instances, in which the agency and power of the state governments are absolutely necessary to the existence of civil society, and to the execution of the federal constitution itself.
I therein shewed that certain important matters, which must be done from time to time, cannot be attempted or performed by the general government.
Here, then, we find, not only that the state powers will not be annihilated, but that they are so requisite to our system, that they cannot be dispensed with.
Two hundred-thirty (230) years later, as we look around, if we bother to, and stay abreast of relations between the state governments and “general” government, or federal government as it is called today, we see a blatant attempt by the federal government subsume unto itself, as political scientist William H. Riker has pointed out in his writings, the powers of the state governments, which are no longer considered by the general government to be requisite to our “system,” precisely because our system today is so much different than that proposed to the states back then for ratification.
Dropping back to 1788, and the Republic we were supposed to have, A Freeman continues as follows:
Having seen what Congress cannot do, let us now proceed to examine what the state governments must or may do.
First, each state can appoint every officer of its own militia, and can train the same, by which it will be sure of a powerful military support attached to, and even part of itself, wherein no citizen of any other state can be a private centinel, much less have influence or command.
How that thought will stir the blood of the anti-gun people in America today!
And then we come to this, which again will have people in America today screeching and howling in outrage, to wit:
2dly. Every regulation relating to religion, or the property of religious bodies, must be made by the state governments, since no powers affecting those points are contained in the constitution.
And then there is this:
3dly. The state legislatures and constitutions must determine the qualifications of the electors for both branches of the federal government; and here let us remember to adhere firmly within our respective commonwealths to genuine republican principles.
Wisdom, on this point which lies entirely in our hands, will pervade the whole system, and will be a never failing antidote to aristocracy, oligarchy and monarchy.
Genuine republican principles in a Republic mean that form of government in which the administration of affairs is open to all the citizens.
That is what was supposed to be the “never failing antidote to aristocracy, oligarchy and monarchy” in this country, and already by 1800, more or less, with the rise of Hamiltonian economic theory in America, and it “papermen,” as Virginia’s Tommy Jefferson called them, that theory of how it was going to be was falling off the tracks..
And how about this:
4thly. Regulating the law of descents, and forbidding the entail of landed estates, are exclusively in the power of the state legislatures.
A perfect equality, at least among the males, and possibly among the females, should be established, not only in the strict line of descent, but in the most remote collateral branches.
If a man omits to make a will, the public should distribute his property equally among those who have equal pretensions, and who are able to render equal services to the community.
By these means, poverty and extreme riches would be avoided, and a republican spirit would be given to our laws, not only without a violation of private rights, but consistently with the principles of justice and sound policy.
This power with that mentioned under the last head, if exercised with wisdom and virtue, will preserve the freedom of the states beyond any other means.
Today, the gulf in this country between the rich and poor is wider than ever.
And here we pass over a couple of less relevant points to to this thought:
7thly. The states can alter and amend their several constitutions, provided they do not make them aristocratical, oligarchic or monarchical – for the federal constitution restrains them from any alterations that are not really republican.
That is, the sovereignty of the people is never to be infringed or destroyed.
So A Freeman thought in 1788, and were he or she to come back today and look around, I wonder if they would recognize where they were.
As to the quaint thought that the states can alter and amend their several constitutions, provided they do not make them aristocratical, oligarchic or monarchical, for the federal constitution restrains them from any alterations that are not really republican, today, the politicians at the federal level and state level simply ignore the constitutions, state or federal, knowing full well that there is no way either can be enforced by the people.
So regardless of some empty words written on sheets of paper called constitutions, the fact is that today, we do not have Republican government in this country – to the contrary, we are way over on the other side of aristocratical, oligarchic or monarchical government, and have been since before the 1892 Populist party platform above here.
Thus, the sovereignty of the people that was never to be infringed or destroyed in fact has been.
Long live the Republic, the Republic is long since dead!