You speak of democracy as if it were an unalloyed good. Re-read Franklin. The founders did not create a democracy and in fact feared them as they feared monarchy and aristocracy. They created a balanced republican government that we have moved toward a democracy increasingly rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. Hasn’t been working out well? Might want to change direction. That’s what the tea-partiers want.
The founders also created a government of limited powers. But government has been happy to increase its power by assuming responsibility for addressing problems it is incapable of solving. It is rapidly approaching the condition of the church in the late middle ages.
The key is moving back to localized decision making.
An outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was a shift of power from state and local government to the federal government. As you say, it is that much farther away from the people and that much more frustrating.
Likewise, as you say, many states now have a population comparable to the whole country when the nation was formed.
Except for true interstate commerce, national defense, and foreign relations, the federal government should be disbanded and the functions returned to states and intra-state organizations.
Great post, Walter. I’d only quibble with your casting the Tea Party movement as somewhat less than dangerous. It’s a populist movement, and like all populist movements through history, it is no friend to democracy. It was very bad for the Republic when Howard Dean and John Edwards whipped up populist sentiments on the Left, and it’s very bad for the Republic that it’s happening now on the Right. People swept up in populist fervor aren’t bad people (necessarily), but the net effect of their actions is a completely negative one.
Much like in your Blue America post, I wholeheartedly agree with the thrust of your argument—a new compact must be forged. I just think the prospects for the new compact coming about may be even dimmer than you allow.
I really enjoyed this post, and I can’t think of much to quibble with, if anything. I think these commenters are off.
First, Mrs. Davis, we have a democratic republic. Or a constitutional republic. Or a federal republic. Semantics are useless here. I think we can agree we do not have a direct democracy. Perhaps this is good. There will be no mob rule. But I, for one, enjoy electing my senator, and many of the other democratic reforms enacted since the days of the Founding Fathers. For instance, in many states, I can now vote if am not: literate, rich, landowning, white, or male! No one is perfect, and our originators weren’t either.
Second, Mr. Chris, there is a problem in disbanding the federal government to that extent: many more people would be angry than happy. Many of those “Blue America” programs which keep us very contented would be destroyed, and our federal government was forged from that starting point which you wish to revert to, for reasons. Many of them military, some economic. Disbanding the federal government is unrealistic, and dangerous.
And… well, I feel like you might be attacking the Civil Rights Movement for no reason. I think the shift from state to federal control probably started earlier… maybe about the Civil War, or perhaps even earlier than that. Surely, you can’t lay all the blame at the feet of the Civil Rights Movement.
Mr. Marusic, populism is not necessarily bad for democracy. As a political movement, the Populist movement of the 1800s may have revitalized democracy in America. I think that populist movement was very friendly to democracy, it saw the vote as the expression of a person’s will, and the government as the expression of the people’s power. We need that kind of thinking in America these days.
Perhaps it is my youth, but I do not believe a new compact cannot be forged, or its prospects are dim. I think the old people appear to be all out of ideas, and it’s time for fresh blood to enter the system. And Mr. Mead, I think it’s wise to offer solutions.
Perhaps then, Congress might be impressed to return the size of the U.S. Congress to proportional representation (where every Congressman represents roughly the same amount of people). This policy was stopped in 1920 when Congress didn’t want to give New England a lot of power. This might bring people closer to those they elect.
As for the government, it is not so hard to modernize. It could easily happen.
Mr. Mead raises good points, but like anyone who ever hopes to be on TV, he basically ignores the fact that corporations are
a) preventing constructive changes to the system by buying congress, etc
b) degrading the discourse and whipping up irrationality through cable news, etc
So basically, he dances around the fact that corporate control of the government and of the public discourse are the root of the challenges our democracy faces.
Unfortunately, that control is so pervasive and pernicious, it’s looking like the country is going to have to crash. Who knows what will happen afterwards.
Personally, I like participatory democracy. I even think states are too big, I’d rather devolve power to the counties. A system where the federal government sets standards and provides funding to counties, who get to figure out how to meet those standards for themselves. Federalism for the new millennium.
Pingback: The Mead List: Democracy Edition - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest()