Do we really want self-rule?
In the absence of the willingness to self-govern, or to have a conversation about how to be more effective at the little self-governing we actually do, is it fair to look at failing American states and cities as anomalous? Is it reasonable to suppose that they are, at bottom, that much different than Haiti, or Zimbabwe, Argentina or Venezuela? If Democracy is just used as an excuse to use an ignorant, disengaged populace as a path to power, isn’t the inevitable default to a kleptocracy? Were America’s founders wrong, in the end, in misjudging the willingness of enough people to engage in governance to make the American experiment work? If we abandon our responsibility to be informed and engaged enough to monitor and direct those we elect to public office, is a prosperous life under free-market capitalism sustainable?
In other words, is the Chicago model of token democracy the default, the natural mode of a society too preoccupied individually to care that they are electing people whose sole incentive is to loot the government and divert the public purse to themselves and their necessary allies (e.g., unions)? Are Ayn Rand’s looters (of the treasury and the productive sector) not necessarily a spiral towards collapse, but a form of stagnation that is sustainable as long as you have enough employers who won’t go John Galt and either drop out or limit their own productivity?
After all, Chicago can hollow out its public services with patronage, extravagant contracts, exuberant pensions and sell-offs of public assets. In return, the citizens of that fair city get fifty years of one-party rule and a minimum of actual public service: Poor schools, transport, education and safety – but not poor enough to create demand for change.
Just wondering, because it appears that while American constitutional principles are scalable to any population size, the 1787 system designed for their implementation is not. It’s too easy, in a massive population, for the weak and corrupt to hide from citizen scrutiny. It’s too easy for the corrupt to manipulate parts of a large system to defraud the taxpayer and transfer decision making power from the taxpayer to the government. It’s then a small step in what is nominally a democracy for the elected to slip the bonds of “the consent of the governed” and with the most reasonable of explanations at each step, to require the governed to silently assent to any proposal or demand whatever.
If done gradually, and it usually is, the befuddled and the discontented adjust to the new paradigm. If this is done well – by the “enlightened” leaders – the new paradigm will look enough like the old paradigm to allow each citizen to feel free and independent. Instead of the old tyrannical, authoritarian paradigm wherein citizens are told lies that they either swallow or ignore (think cynical Russians in the former USSR), it will be more common to have the Edward Bernaysian propaganda model wherein the government creates a psychological environment that allows you to think your newfound loss of freedom is your own idea. (Currently, we get both: The big lie, repeated by leftist propagandists until it morphs into accepted truth, and the more modern propaganda model that forms your opinion by altering your environment.)
But I digress. The question before us is whether kleptocracy – a systematic looting by elected officials and their minions – and arbitrary rule of the masses (us) by the elites is the natural default position for governance of our species, and the arrangement most comfortable and convenient to all. Especially following the informal collapse, overthrow or degradation of democracy. If so, it – and not a quest for individual freedom and responsibility – will become (or remain) the model for planet Earth. Maybe urging people to engage in active self-governance in order to see their lives improve is a fools errand – every bit as quixotic as the socialist yearning for a workers’ utopia. In the end, the ugly truth may very well be that we are too lazy, self-involved, shallow and opportunistic to desire more than the ability to satisfy basic needs. We barely want to govern ourselves, let alone a society.
Some might think it odd that we live in an age of unlimited communication; unlimited access to information (except state secrets and hidden agendas), yet can’t derive enough information from our reading to conclude that deferring all societal decision to a handful of folks at the head of a humongous government structure is suicidal, both to our founding principles and our personal well-being. It is peculiarly shallow to think that “letting someone else take care of that stuff” is without consequence.
What has become increasingly clear is that casting an occasional vote is no longer an adequate discharge of our responsibility to self-govern. Nothing less than full-bore engagement is required in order to cope with the size of our society and its increasing complexity. Smaller units of (self-organized?) engagement, with routine participation by all, appears to be essential.
So, the answer to “Who Refuses to Govern America?” is: We do.