James Madison 1816 by Public Domain White house collection
By Richard Girard
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
Lord Acton, Letter, 3 April 1887, to Bishop Mandell Creighton (published in The Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, 1904). William Pitt the Elder had previously said something to the same effect, in a speech to the House of Lords, 9 Jan. 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."
'But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power."
James Baldwin , A Dialogue (1973; with Nikki Giovanni), from a conversation in London, November 4, 1971.
Human beings as a group cannot by themselves be trusted with any type of power. Neither reputation, dignity, or standing is a guarantee against its abuse. Desire for political power (authority), economic power (wealth), or social power (fame), have the inherent potential to corrupt a saint, and to do far worse if the individual is a sociopath, as Martha Stout claims one out of twenty-five of us are in her book, The Sociopath Next Door (2005).
However, trying to prevent those who desire power in one form or another from acquiring it by creating a mini- archical system of government (to use Murray N. Rothbard's term for it) as many libertarians have suggested, including the Objectivists and the late Robert Nozick, is equally undesirable, as well as impracticable. Those who suffer from the disease of the desire for power will always try and find a means to satisfy their affliction. The best and most reasonable course of action--while maintaining any degree of human independence and freewill--is to follow the suggestion of James Madison in The Federalist Papers: establish a system of checks and balances within the socio-political economic system that is a government, in order to prevent such individuals from causing too much damage.
As I have written elsewhere, a society and its government are inextricably connected. They in fact reflect one another's strengths and weaknesses. The politics, economics, and social (this includes cultural) values of a society cannot in the long term be separated from one another. Any attempt to deal with the problems in one area at the expense of the other two will soon create a distortion that will disrupt the whole of society, like a weightlifter who concentrates solely on developing one set of muscles at the expense of all others.
We are left with the conundrum of our current era that a greater degree of size, and thusly power, is required by the government than in the past, simply to provide the minimal degree of safety and service which is necessary for a modern society. We can no longer depend on a 5,000-man Army, and a 30-ship Navy, to protect our shores as well as our legitimate interests around the World. Nor can multi-national corporations be forced to obey the laws concerning customs, tariffs , and illegal trading with ten employees at every port. And systems of nationwide transportation and communication require methods of oversight and policing to prevent fraud, abuse, and extortion. The list goes on.
No, we have to accept as a fact the need for an increase in the size of our government, and in turn increase the checks and balances we use to maintain control over its functions. Our nation's population has grown three-and-one-half times since the Congress last increased the number of its permanent Representatives in 1907. Then their were five members of Congress for every one million Americans. There are now 1.4 members for every one million Americans. With the vastly increased complexity of society, and its obvious affect on both our government and our lives, those 1.4 cannot be representing the one million nearly as well as the five did 105 years ago.
As any cook who has put too much sugar or salt in a recipe knows, you can't fix the problem by cutting your recipe in two. There are only two ways to fix the problem: throw it out and start over, or dilute it by adding more of the other ingredients.
Throwing out the recipe (revolution) is an extreme solution, and there is no guarantee whether that the new recipe will fix the problem, or make it worse. The problem of our House of Representatives can best be solved by diluting our current recipe, and increasing its membership.
Currently, members of the House are on two or three different committees, which often meet as a full committee or a subcommittee at the same time. This means the Representative must often choose which of two meetings he will attend, rather than concentrating on a single area of legislation that concerns them most.
If the membership of the House of Representatives were increased from 435 to say 1035, it would allow the House to limit committee membership to one per member, while maintaining current membership levels. Staffing levels for individual Representatives could be reduced, while maintaining and improving service to constituents. Overturning Citizens United v. FEC (using Article III, Section 2, if necessary) , together with campaign finance reform, limiting both the campaign season length and the amount of money that can be spent, would reduce the amount of time that Representatives spend raising money. It would also permit them to spend time engaging in their Constitutionally mandated duties, including serving their constituents.
One of these Constitutionally mandated duties is oversight of the other two branches of government. This includes the Executive Branch's extensive system of Agencies, Bureaus, and Departments. Increasing the number of Representatives, while reducing the number of committees they serve on to one, allows them to be more proactive concerning their oversight of a specific area of our government.