Obedience to the state

Discussion in 'Faith, Devotion & Formation' started by bwallac2335, Oct 25, 2021.

  1. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Maybe we'd be better off if the President were chosen by a convocation of bishops. :laugh: But that isn't about to happen.
     
  2. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    The US is founded upon popular sovereignty and operates on the principles of the equality of all citizens and majority rule. That is all a modern democracy is. “Democracy” and “republic” are derived from cognates that are synonyms in Greek and Latin, and were used interchangeably by the Founders and Framers, and by American statesman throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Just read the speeches of Lincoln for ample examples of this. The “republic not a democracy” stance has no historical merit and is a bogus contrast, and, incidentally, makes the very point I’m urging, viz., that a significant portion of the American population, whether through ignorance or malice or both, does not believe in democracy.
     
  3. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    @Invictus no historical merit!? Let us ask the founding fathers:
    • Alexander Hamilton wrote, "Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments,” ... “If we incline too much to democracy we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.”
    • Thomas Jefferson lamented that “a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”
    • James Madison argued that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
    • John Adams concluded that democracy “never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
    Democracy is 2 wolves and a sheep voting over what's for dinner. America was founded on the rule of law and respect for individual liberty. Popular sovereignty has nothing to do with democracy, but rather with social contract theory and representative government.
     
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  4. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    None whatsoever. A few isolated and decontextualized quotations can’t change that. Context is key: “Democracy” not only may be used to refer to representative government but may also refer to the ancient Athenian system of “direct” assembly-democracy in both its enlightened and degenerate phases. The Founders and Framers were very learned in the classics and were all aware of these nuances, as were many of their readers. Although the Founders and Framers were fallible men of their time whose views we are not necessarily beholden to today, knowing which definition they were employing when they used this or that word is absolutely critical to properly interpreting their broader arguments in favor of the system they established. In any event, none of this stopped Jefferson and Madison from calling their party the “Democratic Republicans”, or Tocqueville or Jackson - who renamed his party simply the Democratic party - or Lincoln referring to the American system as “democracy”. The Roman res publica - from which we get the word “republic” - was a popular assembly-based system, similar in many respects to the Athenian demokratia. The terms were ordinarily used as synonyms in everyday discourse in the 18th and following centuries, as they both denoted popular rule rather than rule by a monarch or an aristocracy (the Constitution itself as we know begins with the words “We the people…” to designate the ultimate source of the new government). The notion that both insiders and outsiders with respect to early American government didn’t refer to it as “democracy” is demonstrably false. There is plenty of robust documentation of this already extant in letters, diaries, newspapers, etc., from the time, which is quite easy to find for whoever wants to know about it. It’s not necessary for me to reproduce all that here, and somehow I wonder if it would change anyone’s mind if I did. I’ve given enough examples to substantiate the point anyway. In any case, my central contention that many Americans today do not value democracy as an ideal is practically self-evident (especially in one particular political party), including in the indefensible and incoherent “republic not democracy” slogan under discussion. No one who believed in democracy as a political ideal would make such a statement. The US may not have started off as a full-fledged democracy in the modern sense, but that’s certainly the direction it immediately began heading following the ratification of the Constitution, with the franchise extensions in the antebellum era, and what it ultimately became in the postbellum era when the franchise was extended to former slaves, and later to women. The US is a democracy now, albeit a flawed one, whether that’s what the Founders and Framers envisioned or not. The question before us is whether it should remain one. I for one hope it does.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2021
  5. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    You might like to think about that, a bit more. There are plenty of Bishops whose political judgement I might care not to trust.
     
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  6. PDL

    PDL Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I would be grateful if you would explain the term I have put in bold in the above quote.

    That's a claim that really requires data to support it. Do you have data that supports it?

    I think the US system would need other changes to accomodate this. I believe at the moment it works well if the US federal legislature has a party with an absolute majority because it is there to hold the executive to account. Obviously, it will be held less to account if the executive and majorities in both houses of Congress are all the same party. However, whilst proprotional representation does sound like a fair and democratic system it can, and indeed does, often lead to problems with establishing governments where it is used, which I think is with parliamnetary systems. After elections it can, and often does, take months to form a government in places like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. In fact, I believe Belgium holds the record for how long it took them to form a government. It took from elections in June 2010 to December 2011 to form a government (the actual record previously held by Iraq was broken in March 2011).
     
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  7. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It's not "disenfranchisement" if one participates in a free and fair election and the candidate one supported loses. Nor does such a voter lack representation. Every district has a member of Congress, and that member represents the whole district and every citizen in it, irrespective of their party alignment. Citizens within that district will often disagree with what their member of Congress says and does, but that doesn't mean they aren't being represented. We elect trustees, not delegates.

    Your math also doesn't add up. Consider the following:
    • In 2020, there were just over 168 million registered voters in the United States (source here).
    • In 2021, the estimated total population of the 200 largest cities in the U.S. is just over 83 million (source here).
    If every single living person in these cities were registered to vote, actually voted, and all voted for the same party in the same election, it still would not be enough to achieve a 51% majority. And look at some of the cities on that list. How likely is it that Murfreesboro, TN and Metairie, LA are going to vote the same way as similarly sized Pomona, CA and Bridgeport, CT? The notion that any President elected by a national popular vote would only have to cater to "a handful of major cities" is sheer fantasy premised on fuzzy math.

    Furthermore, there is no cogent moral or philosophical reason why a rural vote should count for more than an urban one. That's the same thing as saying that a piece of land should be represented precisely because it's unoccupied. The Framers did not envision the popular election of the head of state at all, for the simple reason that they expected (and intended) Congress to be the superior branch, granting funds to and supervising the executive, with the latter acting as a fiduciary in ensuring that the various federal departments carried out their lawful duties. Their vision was one of a powerful legislature and a weak executive, because they believed this arrangement was the best way to prevent tyranny. As an aside, the fact that the executives in both presidential and parliamentary regimes became more powerful as the franchise was expanded in the latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, shows that there is probably a causal relationship between the size of the franchise, and the ability of the executive to dominate the legislature. (This link has also been thoroughly explored in the relevant literature.) This was an eventuality that the Framers could not have anticipated, yet it fundamentally altered the dynamics of the (actual) constitution beyond what the (written) Constitution would appear to have originally prescribed. The growth of the so-called "unitary executive" over the last several decades (under both parties) is an unavoidable consequence of this. This is why sound political thinking has to do more than simply regurgitate what we (would like to) think "the Founders believed". They didn't anticipate how the system they put in place would change over time, nor did they claim to be visionaries in that respect. They were statesmen, not prophets. Had they been able to see what the future of their system was to become, one suspects they probably would have made it much easier to amend the Constitution than they did.

    The pro-Constitution Federalists - especially Hamilton and Madison, did not want the States to be equally represented in the Senate (indeed, giving the smaller States disproportionate power in what they thought would be the most powerful branch was the last thing they wanted if you read the correspondence from the time), but rather for the Senate to have the representation proportional to the population that the House did. They knew that States were just collections of individuals divided from one another by arbitrary lines on a map; States aren't "things" that can be "represented" in their own right. As Hamilton put it:

    "As states are a collection of individual men which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or the artificial beings resulting from the composition. Nothing could be more preposterous or absurd than to sacrifice the former to the latter. It has been sd. that if the small States renounce their equality, they renounce at the same time their liberty. The truth is it is a contest for power, not for liberty. Will the men composing the small States by less free than those composing the larger" (cf. Farrand 1987, Records of the federal convention of 1787, vol. 1:466).

    In this they were nevertheless forced to compromise with the Anti-Federalists in order to ensure that the Constitution would be ratified in the smaller states. The (written) Constitution we ended up with is thus not the result of some grand design in which all the parts perfectly cohere with one another, but a patchwork of compromise that in many cases was a result of pure greed and ambition. And it was also clear to the more enlightened among the Framers even then that if the (actual) constitution ever evolved such that suffrage came into direct collision with property - i.e., people vs. land, urban vs. rural, etc. - Madison's opinion was that suffrage - i.e., people, not land - should prevail:

    "Under every view of the subject, it seems indispensable that the Mass of Citizens should not be without a voice...and if the only alternative be between an equal & universal right of suffrage for each branch of Govt. and a confinement of the entire right to part of the Citizens, it is better that those having the greater interest at stake namely that of property & persons both, should be deprived of half their share in the Govt.; than those having the lesser interest, that of personal rights only, should be deprived of the whole" (cf. Farrand 1987, Records of the federal convention of 1787, vol. 3:450-55, appendix A).
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2021
  8. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Exactly. This may be tolerable - barely - in a system in which the executive requires parliamentary confidence in order to stay in office. In a presidential system, however, such an arrangement can absolutely cripple a legislature's ability to hold an executive to account - since he can continue in office whether he has legislative support or not - as has happened over and over again in Latin America where this arrangement is prevalent. As the history of the U.S. has shown, it is difficult enough for the legislature to hold the executive to account when the (sole) opposition party is the majority. Split Congress up into 4 or 5 (or more) conflicting factions, and doing so would be well nigh impossible.
     
  9. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Well, they were Federalists, after all. Under the previous Articles, the States were almost completely independent and the federal government lacked power to an extreme. The Constitution was meant to strengthen the federal government, and the disagreement was over how much. I think the Anti-Federalists' concerns were well founded, considering the bloated, gargantuan monstrosity our federal government has become and how it has usurped states' rights. If States were more independent today (less dependent on federal handouts, less controlled by federal mandates, etc.) we would be better off. Therefore, arguing that Hamilton and Madison didn't want States to be equally represented in the Senate does not make a strong case, since their stance has been proven wrong by history in that regard; the Federalists weakened the States a bit too much relative to the federal gum-up... er, government. :)
     
  10. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Correct. :thumbsup:
     
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  11. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    No mainstream political scientist would dare suggest the United States would collapse with a proportionally elected legislature. How absurd.

    If you want to narrow the field of Presidential systems to those where the President also controls meaningful executive power not beholden to the parliament that's fine, but the countries I listed do have directly elected heads of state. The only presidential republics with proportional legislatures and presidents who rule the executive are not in Latin America - in my post I mentioned Portugal. Portugal's president isn't as powerful as the US, but few countries have presidential systems with executives as powerful as the US, there are no comparative countries. Their President has veto power and political powers independent of parliamentary oversight. They also elect their legislature proportionally.

    Regardless, we'll never find a fair comparative example because none exist. Feel free to link me a study or even a respected academic with a non-peer reviewed newspaper article/book that outlines why the US would experience regime collapse if congress was elected proportionally. If you can't then clearly it's not a mainstream opinion.

    I agree Presidential systems are unstable, I said as much myself. I agree the US is an exception and have been quite stable compared to other Presidential systems, I also said as much. The problem isn't electing proportional legislatures, if the person in the big chair wants to concentrate power and become a dictator having 4 parties instead of 2 isn't going to be the difference maker. Your congress is plenty divided enough already without proportional voting (and I think a good deal of your modern division is the product of radicalism - something that could be, although might not be, solved with a more proportional congress).

    What you need is a preferential system, where the middle voter is heard, and where the congress is actually beholden to the people's will. You're misunderstanding the cause of the problem. Apathy with the system is the product of your flawed democracy, not the cause of it. Americans do want majority rule. They do believe in the democratic process. Those things are demonstrable through both classical and modern history as being innate in the human condition. No matter what they say to a pollster, or what they think they think, an apathetic American disenfranchised and forgotten by the current system doesn't know what they actually want but if they were shown it then they would know. The pendulum swings towards and away from democracy every age, but it's clear where the popular desire has always been. Americans are not a different breed of person - they birthed a new democratic tradition not 250 years go, the Roman Republic lasted far longer than that with a lot less holding it together, and people only lost faith in it because the system was broken not because people hate having control over their own destiny.

    In some ways the US suffers from Plato's warning about too much democracy. In some matters Americans have too much of a say, they are asked to vote on too many things, it's impossible to remain excited and engaged and informed on so many different things. Perhaps in some respects you need a little less democracy. But your vote being accurately exercised is not one of those examples. In 2016 if you let Americans say "I want Walker to win. If Walker can't win then I want Rubio to win. If Rubio can't win then I want Cruz to win. If Cruz can't win then I want Trump to win". Then see if your politics ends up as divided as it does today, and see if your republic looks as close to collapse as you think it does.
     
  12. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I think two things that would help the democratic process in the USA would be:
    1. Compulsory voting -
    2. An national electoral commission for the conduct of all ballots, and all counting to be conducted by that commission, and not outsourced into private hands.
    Interesting one of the things that distorts both the US and the Australian system is the two party system whereby the opposing great forces take it as a battle for power, not a discerning of the will of the people. Politic seems to be becoming increasingly fractious, and governed by the news cycle of the unfree press.
     
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  13. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Again, not absurd in the slightest: “regime collapse” does not mean “country collapse”. You are attributing to me an argument I never made. “Regime collapse” (or perhaps better, “democratic collapse”) is what happens when a democratic regime is fundamentally altered in such a way that it inexorably results in some form of dictatorship. The Machtergreifung in Germany from 1933-1934 was total regime collapse: literally every single institution failed to prevent consolidation of power by the NSDAP. That does not mean the German state ceased to exist or function, but rather that the properly constitutional and democratic character of the state ceased to exist and was replaced with unaccountable one-party rule. As it happens, Weimar Germany was a (semi-) presidential regime with proportional representation.

    Every single Latin American country that adopted a US-style constitution but used proportional representation was forced to resort increasingly to rule by presidential decree in the face of legislative immobility, until the system could no longer be sustained, at which point their constitutional systems were replaced with (usually) military rule.

    I am not arguing against proportional representation here. I am simply pointing out what academic political scientists and historians - Linz, Valenzuela, Shugart, Shapiro, Dahl, and others - have known and written about for decades: the particular combination of presidentialism with PR is inherently unstable, and is the common factor in democratic failures in the New World.

    It’s already widely accepted that presidentialism has certain structural disadvantages in comparison to parliamentarism, and that those disadvantages can be demonstrated statistically. Replacing majoritarian with proportional legislatures in a presidential system will neither lessen the gridlock that is inherent in presidential regimes nor will it lead to greater executive accountability. The reason for this is that such a change increases the size of the president’s constituency relative to that of each of the parliamentary parties, which in turn bestows greater democratic legitimacy on the executive. In the US, a Democratic majority in Congress that is in opposition can still claim to represent the majority of voters; it is very rare in any propotional system for any one party to be able to make that claim. The virtue of majoritarian elections to both branches in US-style elections is that they at least keep the democratic legitimacy of those branches in greater balance than would be (and has been) possible under a Latin American-style system.

    An interesting case study here is that of the French Fifth Republic. The constitutional arrangements are very similar to those of Weimar Germany, yet the former has been remarkably stable in stark contrast to its post-1789 predecessors. The reasons for this are (1) that the timing of elections makes it extremely difficult - though not impossible - for the Presidency and the Parliament to be held by different parties, and more impotantly, (2) France’s use of the two-round system for elections to both branches means that both branches can always credibly claim to represent the majority of French voters. In Weimar only the President was elected by the two-round method.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2021