Saturday, November 3, 2018

Government v. Republic, II

Government v. Republic, II
Peter Schultz

            On the advent of what are called our “mid-term elections,” a reference of course to the fact that presidents are elected or re-elected every four years, I was suddenly reminded of another of the differences between what I have been calling “a government” and “a republic.” As I noted earlier, government relies not so much on consent as on force to maintain its legitimacy, as manifested by the presence and prevalence of bureaucratic power in any government, as well as the presence of a significant “military” establishment, which includes not only the regular armed forces like the army and navy but also police forces. Persons or officials who wear uniforms, carry weapons, and are authorized to use them even at times to kill people are, for all practical purposes, “military.” No government would “work” without such forces, whereas life as it existed in Mayberry required neither a real police force nor a real government. [To my recollection, there was never reference made to the government of Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show. And were such reference made, it would be, no doubt, to make fun of such an organization.]

            There is, moreover, another difference between a government and a republic, viz., the presence and frequency of elections. Governments, which seek efficiency and effectiveness rather than “re-presentation” of the people and their will, and elections are at odds. Governments want to “run,” as is said all the time, and elections are disruptive in this regard. Government in the day-to-day sense pretty much stops whenever elections come around. In fact, I had a one time friend who worked for the CIA as an analyst who told me that even the world pretty much stopped every four years as other nations waited to see who would be president of the United States. Also, as many have noticed, one theme in most elections is how badly the incumbents have been governing, a theme that does nothing to fortify the legitimacy of the incumbent government and governors.

            This is why, for me, frequent elections are not only necessary but beneficial, despite or even because of their effects on the government. And this is why those who opposed the Constitution in 1787 and 1788, the Anti-Federalists, thought that the elections provided for were not frequent enough, to say nothing of the fact that only one organization in the new Constitution would be elected directly by the people, viz., the House of Representatives. Frequent elections force government officials to repair to the popular will, as it were, to seek to legitimate their rule. Moreover, such elections disrupt government, which from a “republican’s” point of view is always useful. The Anti-Federalists knew that there was little more repressive than what we call these days “good government.” They were proponents not of good government but of popular government and such an arrangement requires frequent elections, at a minimum. This is a perspective that has been forgotten for some time in this nation as it is almost universally taken for granted that we want and should have is “good government.” As I noted earlier, my prejudices lie with the republicans.

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