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Woe to the Nation Whose Destiny is Shaped by Those with an Insatiable Lust for Wealth and Power: Part I

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American democracy was founded on the notion that the decision about a society's collective destiny should be made not by some mighty few but by the people collectively. One man, one vote. Or, to quote Jefferson, "the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their back, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God."

That idea arose as an important principle to counteract the social evolutionary tendency, noted in my book, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution , which is that humankind gets divided by the struggle for power--into two groups, the "history-makers" and those who are compelled to live in a world shaped by others.

But the problem is worse than that, worse than the mere issue of inequality of power. It would be bad enough if ANY random few were given disproportionate say over the common fate. But the choice of who gets to speak can be worse than random.

But because it is the struggle for power that determines who gets to "speak" while others are forced to "listen," and because success in the struggle to amass power is correlated with certain characteristics, which in some cases can be among humanities least attractive, it is a recurrent tragedy of civilization that it is especially THESE people who determined far more than others how civilized societies develop.

The Founders of the American republic took a huge step to try to solve that problem, giving us a system to try to assure that OUR collective decisions are made "with the consent of the governed."

The weakness in the democratic set up our Founders gave us is that differences in power outside the ballot box can lead to the few being able to manipulate the consent of the many. That consent is worth no more than the quality of the knowledge and the soundness of the judgment of the multitudes that make up the governed.
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Our economic system, of course, generates some huge inequalities of economic power. We Americans take that as just, overall, to the extent that it is determined by genuine and fair economic competition. It's not, for the most part, an issue so long as that inequality does not bleed out into the political system.

That bleeding of inequality can happen in two ways: first, if the government can be purchased by the few; and second if that purchase is not repudiated and overturned by the governed because their consent has been purchased through deception and manipulation.

Thus can the few subvert the intentions of the Founders, and mount the saddle to ride the mass of mankind.

Which would be bad enough, but it this empowering of the few is still more destructive because of the particular nature of those who emerge from the struggle for power in a position to take the reins.

[To be continued....]


Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)

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My reading of Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander... by Michael Reichert on Monday, Oct 18, 2010 at 3:34:17 PM
We can look at the Founders --individually, or as ... by Andrew Schmookler on Monday, Oct 18, 2010 at 5:12:42 PM
Let me start by saying I am not and never have bee... by Paul Cohen on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 8:22:17 AM
Incidentally I currently work on the final chapter... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:05:45 AM
You certainly make an interesting point about the ... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 12:21:44 PM