Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Founders and Republican Government

The Founders and Republican Government
Peter Schultz

            The questions are straightforward: Did the founders – the Federalists – intend to create a “government”or a “republic?” And what is the difference?

            The Federalists wanted to establish “a government” rather than “a republic.” How do I know? Because among other items, their new arrangement of power was without term limits. Absent such limits, it was almost guaranteed that a permanent governing class would arise. That is, politics would be “professionalized” as we might say today. A permanent, professional governing class would characterize the new order in the United States.

            A republic, on the other hand, does not, cannot have a permanent, professional governing class. In a republic, terms limits are absolutely essential in order to ensure that the government not displace or refine – as the Federalists put it – the popular will. For example, in a republic an institution like the Supreme Court, with its permanent and life-long justices wielding significant power would be impossible. The same might be said about a senate that was not apportioned according to population, and where senators had long terms and no term limits.

            The point is this: As the Anti-Federalists were wont to point out, human beings have a choice: They can create governments, that is, arrangements of power that essentially displace the popular will, or they can create republics where the popular will controls the government. Or, to use another distinction: Political arrangements can rest on FORCE or they can rest on CONSENT. Governments rest on the force of law, the force of bureaucracy, or of a military. Republics rest on consent, especially on the consent of the people, even or especially in the day-to-day affairs of the nation. “Popular government” is something of an oxymoron because all governments rest on force, not consent. It is safer, as Machiavelli put it, to be feared than loved because fear is not based on consent.

             Hence, we need less government today, but not in the sense meant by our faux conservatives. They want smaller government but still want, even crave permanent government; that is, they want a small government that rests on force, not consent. They are not populists, not in the least. They are elitists who wish to embed, permanently, their idea of “the elite” in the government, thereby displacing the popular will. The real issue is not “more” or “less” government. The real issue is permanent government or a republic. A republic gets my vote.

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