I don’t remember exactly when it was that I realized everything I’d been taught in Civics was a lie – or rather, a myth that had never (quite) truly existed, and definitely did not exist at all for the entirety of my own life. It was after college, that’s for sure.
The betrayal still stings, a bit. I was proud of a country that didn’t actually exist, except in unicorn-rainbow-land. When they taught me about the Constitution and the three branches of government, they failed to mention that the legislative branch is full of hereditary oligarchs who pay more attention to the moneyed class than the plebes who elect them; that the executive branch consists of legions of politicized bureaucrats who can ruin ordinary citizen’s lives on a whim and promulgate unaccountable reams of contradictory regulations with zero citizen oversight; that the justice system was composed of self-serving lawyers who granted themselves and their minions titles of nobility – immunity to the very laws they enforce upon the lowly peons.
There comes a point where the legitimacy of the government is no longer founded upon the consent of the governed (that would be “informed” consent, which means that the low-information voters don’t count) and rests entirely upon Might Makes Right. I think that’s where America is right now. The elites have not yet screwed up so badly that people are willing to forcibly rebel; and the putatively representative form of our government gives people hope that perhaps the entrenched interests could be dislodged without force of arms. (Maybe. Just getting them to broaden their interests a little bit would be beneficial.)
Patrick Richardson wrote a guest post over at Sarah Hoyt’s blog a couple days ago that’s worth reading – Remembering the Republic. The problem with the republic, of course, is that (as with all forms of government) it is the quality of the people involved in governance that matters. Our society decided instead, however, that quantity would automatically lead to quality, and extended the franchise too far. (And then decided that talking about people’s quality was judgmental and therefore should be taboo, to boot.)
The more people involved in government, the worse government will get. Invariably. Just think about it: any given population is going to have just a few very good leaders, some mid-level above-average folk, a lot of pretty average folk, some below-average dullards who need things explained to them in very small words and simple concepts, and the tail-end complete losers. Right now only the “complete loser” class is the only class that our “republic” even tries to bar from voting – felons can’t vote. But does having anyone below the median in “intelligence” (long time preferences plus civic knowledge) voting actually result in better leadership? Nope. What happens is the bad “leaders” realize that they can manipulate the shortsighted and the ignorant into voting their way, and then you get an elite class that becomes fantastically wealthy while producing absolutely nothing of benefit. You don’t need democracy for prosperity. Voting is not some kind of magical talisman that means your government is just and righteous!
‘Course, you can’t trust the so-called experts, either. So, then what? Well, as that second Samizdata quote says, the culture within which power is exercised is what matters. Are the leaders men of good character, and likewise the women and the families of the leadership? Are the citizens responsible adults whose main concern is to work hard for a living, support their families, and live amicably with their neighbors? A successful government requires both. As long as Americans are hedonistic blame-shifting children who want “society” to grant their every desire and protect them from every inconvenience, no form of government and no leadership however noble – not even George Washington reborn – will suffice to correct the flaws of government.