The Electoral College For Europeans

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I
have received many sadly provincial queries from abroad, mainly
from Europe, on what in the world is the Electoral College. "It
is a joke, non?" writes Pierre, while Udo from ( I think )
Germany wonders at this strange artifact. A Basque correspondent
from Spain, in contrast, thinks this could be a lovely idea there.
Since I once wrote an award winning paper on the genesis of the
College in, uh, college, here is a PhD level introduction to this
custom, which may be one of the few things keeping the US from sliding
into good old fashioned ethnic tyranny – and, in its militarist and
regulatory death throes, destroying the world.

The
genesis of the US Constitution is not widely understood. It began
as a bachelor level thesis by Madison and articles by Monroe, who
surveyed every past Republic in history in the search for what went
wrong with them. It is fair to say that if you read the Constitution
with Polybius and Gibbon in hand, every phrase represents a solution
to some structural problem that Did The Ancients In. These and similar
theses were widely discussed and the outlines of what was to be
done were clear long before 1776. The American revolution was a
youth movement in important ways. In those days young people were
of legal age at 9 and gradually assumed responsibilities under the
eyes of family and clan; arguably one problem today is people are
not accustomed to making independent decisions during a very crucial
formative period. The ancients were widely read, and for those of
more auditory ways of learning dramatic public readings were a common
entertainment.

They
were not like either the youth or allegedly mature citizens of today.
a sure indication of the soft slavery of our times is that a 90
year old cannot due what was legal to his 9 year old forebear, innocuous
though it might be. Indeed, it has been said that one of the greatest
protections of Liberty left in the US is that there are so many
laws the government is often paralyzed and smart defense lawyers
find a way. That would have been seen not as political maturity
but stupidity by a 14 year old husband in 1770. A not untypical
21 year old had for many years been working, participating in public
discussion, defending his family with an infantry weapon, raising
a family since 12, and independently reading far and wide for guidance.
These were people who understood what real leadership was about
and it had nothing to do with decisions on every thing by a near
majority or a distant minority. They could make their decisions,
thanks, and had no intention of letting dissolute oldsters in London
suddenly tell them they could not. So teenagers wrote constitutional
proposals like young Libertarians today starting internet companies.
Letters of simple young teenage farmers seem to read like the essays
of widely-read men of maturity because that is what they were, compared
with the infantilized society of today. Jefferson himself was barely
30 when war broke out. And a constitutional survey that perfected
well known errors of the past was welcome, and the starting point
of the Constitutional discussions post-revolution.

Sure,
there are heavy additions from scrutiny of the Iroquois Confederacy
and the Republics of Venice and San Marino – their view was comprehensive – but
the Ancient World was the most instructive record. Beyond following
the structural principles of Aristotle and grounding the Common
Law in his admirer Cicero, that is a good part of the document,
but it is the result of a critical survey nonetheless. I believe
it is a common error of politically motivated scholars to say the
Constitution was influenced by Montesquieu or Locke or whomever,
let alone George Washington's real estate plans for the State of
Franklin, as if that is all there was to it. It is true that the
influence of the quasi-confederacy of the then vigorous and tolerant
Spanish Empire, which scholars now tell us tripled its income by
removing tariffs, is sadly neglected. The example of Vermont is
invisible in US textbooks, but it was critical, and many similar
factors. I am aware of all this. Such views are all true. And they
are all false. The Constitution is actually and primarily the result
of a totally new scientific effort, the first critical survey of
comparative political systems since Aristotle. It stands not on
its precursors but its results. It must be understood as such.

A
PHOTOGRAPHIC NEGATIVE

Nonetheless,
one may read as I suggest and it is quite instructive. The President
and the Vice-President are the two consuls of Rome and kings of
Sparta made systematic. The federative structure is a photographic
negative of Rome's tragic error of trying to run a putative confederation
from a federated capital. One thing that has always bothered me
is we have allowed the States to be too big: they were a manageable
at the beginning with an average 250,000 population; returning to
that ratio and allowing people of very different lifestyles to turn
some of them into cultural areas, with polygamists here, and Buddhists
there, and seculars over here, might increase, not diminish understanding
and preserve true multiculturalism as people worked out their destinies
like Amish living peaceably next to those who believe that buttons
are OK. That seems to have been the original idea, derived again
from Greece and the colony system. the Senate is not the senate
at all, but the Imperial council of "comes" or friends
of the First Citizen ("Princeps") or Emperor and from
which the words county and count are derived – but put under control
and public review.

The
tribunician power – the ability to veto and re-evaluate a government
action on a case-by-case basis – was connected to the jury system,
the circuit breaker to prevent roughshod abuses and keep the legislature
an advisory body. The idea of the legislature as not a compulsory
law-making but advisory law-discovering body is increasingly a standard
Libertarian concept. It is well- rooted in history but stunning
to people accustomed to our dictatorial legislatures who decree
details for everything.

These
meditations explain the sometimes odd sounding rhetoric of the Founding
Fathers : calling the Vice-President a prince (the princeps headed
the senate and Comes, thus neatly separating this dangerous power
from the president) or seemingly contradictory descriptions of our
Republic as a federated Empire. In fact, the government as a whole
was intended not so much as make decisions but dither around in
circles until things cooled down and people worked things out privately.
As Jefferson pointed out, the real Constitution is the Bill of Rights,
the remaining mechanisms if followed will allow juries to function
and protect it ( the rights bill). In the early years of the Old
Republic, most work was really done by grand juries, which would
meet, hear ideas and complaints, and develop consensus. The real
test of legislation was whether juries supported it.

It
is said that when a delegation of worried Jews went to George Washington
for re-assurance that the Revolution would not turn into some sort
of pogrom, he agreed with them that the Constitution and laws were,
not some compromise or any of the things we are told today, but
a work of engineering on a bedrock principle informed by vast historical
study, to be run by not the worst, but the balanced, actions of
the people. "It is," he said, "A machine for preserving
rights." The Electoral College is, as the political philosopher
Liz Paterson so aptly described, part of that machine. What sort
of mentality fixes an annoying noise in a car by removing nearby
parts without understanding a thing about engines? What sort of
mentality believes that for a given design, governing feedback mechanisms
are optional? These are not happy analogies with mechanics: these
are the realization that systems have principles of design, a cybernetic
logic ignored at peril. Camshafts and fuel flow regulators are not
put there because of gender, race, sex, or class predilections;
or someone motivated by greed wishes to limit somebody. An understanding
of a mechanism for a reality is at work.

The
Constitution, in a very significant sense, is not a mechanism for
making decisions but preventing them. Jefferson described it as
strictly a compact of foreign defense and guarantor of a republican
form of government to the States in the most minimal way. Its government
officials were there to inspire or solve problems, not command ignorantly
the ignorant.The Founding Fathers had heard all the arguments. They
wanted a democratic form, but did not want majority rule, not because
they were against majorities, but because they were against rule.
The man in a majority today was in a minority tomorrow. The British
parliament had become the inevitable result: a minority ruling in
the name of a minority. With Thomas Paine, they were well aware
that society seemed to get along quite well without government.

The
colonies, unlike most of the Empire, were considered integral to
Britain. its root fact is that in the revolution, what was technically
happening is that of the land with of the British population – the
colonies – was separating from the of the territory with of the
population. They did not want to create that degree of interference
for their descendants.

The
root fact today in the US is the similar imbalance of taxes East
and West of the Mississippi. This would have been viewed as utterly
predictable by the Founders given the tampering with the Constitution
and the rise of the three things they dreaded most: a permanent
central military, income and other taxes, and a perpetual debt of
an expanding government. We are taught these are random events,
phenomena to be studied by government social scientists with quarter-million
salaries, something the Founders did not foresee.but the Constitution
is not a random collection of laws by greed crazed slave owners.
it is indeed a very non-random machine, designed by those who set
in motion the cure for the ills of the day and in fact well foresaw
ours.

A
MASSIVE SURVEY FOR BETTER DESIGN

It
is a real additional error, then, to assume there is anything very
random in the Constitution, or to follow the fashion of today of
attributing their concerns and data to the times in which they lived
alone. Scholars err who try and make quick comparisons without understanding
the functions of those bodies as the real standard of comparison.

So
where is the Roman Senate in this scheme? It is the Electoral College.
The Senate was originally an advisory body that set the military
command, usually by candidates set before the people's assembly,
whether as consul or emergency commander or dictator. They were
selected by the tribal divisions according to their individual customs.
Their power was supposed to be in their prestige as individuals.
And that is the Electoral College as originally conceived. A Senate
to suppress factions and develop national leaders by prestige. That
is what happened in the early years.

Since
the President had very limited power to begin with, that looked
like a very sound arrangement, not a post, but an honor. thus when
people spoke then of the Presidency as an honor they meant something
very different from today – a respected person of vigorous political
instincts who could get things done by persuasion and arbitration,
which by the way was the original function of the Imperator – a special
general of diplomatic skill or sometimes a "consular"
or former consul who could win battles by diplomatic skill and calm
situation by sagacious action. they desired that the Electoral College,
according to the customs of the States, select a list of such persons,
who would then be awarded the honor by the House, then more close
to the people than today.

Thus
the from the slate of the wisest or at least weighty, the people
would select the most popular and thus politically viable. They
had input at the beginning and end of the process, not during, that
was the point. The Presidency was a Senatorial Honor set forth by
specific cultural standards that would preserve the States independency
and encourage people of talent from obscure communities to step
forth.

In
essence, most Americans at the time of the Revolution would no more
consider that the President should be elected by popular vote than
a Nobel Prize winner. If you understand nothing else, realize that.
It was an honor. Honorable prestige does not arise from a quick
beauty contest over whisky but sober and repeated public evaluation
of a career and temperament in a general atmosphere that such things
are priorities. The Nobel Prizes, true, select not the wisest but
at least a fairly wise scientist who has the added ability of working
with the establishment. In this they are both as institutions quite
comparable. That is additionally the honor-driven mindset you want,
after all, for a National leader, as close to a philosopher king
as practicable, and in turn held in check from crazy adventures
by the one power that cannot be bought socially – the most prestigious
men in the country, the Electoral College. The only alternative
to honor is this: not dis-honor, but vanity.

It
is indicative of this mindset that actively and openly seeking the
presidency was considered conclusive proof that one was unworthy
for the post. One was there not to accumulate power but derail it.
The president's worked with their Senates, and the rest of the time
were supposed to be symbols and exemplars of humble character and
unity of the Federation, at least ideally.

It
was the temper of the times that John Quincy Adams was almost impeached
when he made the terrible mistake, when praised at a public speech,
of instead of simply smiling non-committally, actually getting up,
and making a speech. Here is what he did: he got up, said "Thank
you," and sat down. This in his time was a scandal. And I would
suggest this: rightly so. It was utterly dishonorable to so solicit
praise in the highest of honors was the view, and for weeks people
debated where such unseemly loquaciousness might lead. One paper
warned that if this were overlooked, chattering Presidents with
vast retinues would soon be travelling the countryside making speeches
promising the impossible, and in fulfilling improper expectations
they thus created, expanding their power in many small steps. Such
views were, however, thought alarmist after the outcry. What esquire
or person of repute would do such things?

I
refer the reader to the latest issue of Esquire, with its interesting
cover of a fame-mad President Clinton, esquire.

WHAT
WENT WRONG

Unfortunately,
party politics came. Parties are not bad per se, but as minor parties
have discovered in the US, the major parties rewrote the books so
that they control much of the process, not the people, and this
system of privilege where the cunning rise on the backs of the uninformed
and the disadvantaged is drilled into the heads of the young in
government schools as being "democracy" or worse, actual
republican checks and balances.

But
in politics, if we look behind the rhetoric, the devil is in the
details. Minor parties are not only are considered legally to be
dangerous factions at the sufferance of major parties by Supreme
Court decision in States such as Florida, but the deeper question
is hidden from the public of why parties are officially recognized
at all? In many States, for example, write in votes simply are not
counted – thus for all we know someone else has the majority of the
popular vote – it just is not counted. Why not none of the above as
a standard candidate?

The
criticisms are naturally endless, my point is simply that the more
one studies the details, the more the distance between rhetoric
and reality is obvious. Nonetheless, the Electoral College is still
there – in rusty remnants, as a brake, which is why many politicians
would love to see it go. This would allow rule of the country by
the more easily controlled urban populations such as in the DC-Boston
megalopolis.

The
abolition of the Electoral College would be the abolition of our
true, federative Senate. It would return us to a Rome ruling the
world by looking into its navel. And that block to absolute power
is not all that alarms those who would sink the last sorry remnants
of the structural protections to the Bill of Rights into the memory
hole. While it exists, some crazy bunch just might whip up enough
of the people to try it in its original form, selecting honorable
men to preside over do-nothing legislatures while communities worked
out their problems, horrors.

It
is not concern for popular vote that concerns them. No. Not where
an estimated 5% of the vote is fraudulent – and laws are designed
to make it systematically so, so fraud is difficult to document
and root out. No, not where States have legions of the dead voting
for dead candidates in what looks like a theme for George Romero's
next gruesome film epic: Dawn of the Voting Dead.

HOW
IT WORKS TODAY

Try
as they might, here is the reality. The Electoral College weights
the vote to protect smaller States and dissident areas. It subtly
encourages dissidence, since in times of Groupthink crisis it is
, as the Founders so loved to say, the stone that was first rejected
by the builders that shall prove the cornerstone. This is a real
non-provincial sensitivity of the Founders that current multiculturalists
and confused bureaucracies trying to balance interests could learn
from. So Americans do not directly elect the President but the Electoral
College, who then select him. In times of serious disagreement the
College may simply send the most popular contenders for selection
to the House of Representatives, which is encharged with impeaching
Presidents and watching the money, and thus in charge of Presidential
quality control to begin with, and the branch most near to the people.
In the event of an attempt at dictatorship, the Electoral College
is arguably not actually required to even select a Presidential
candidate, thus paralyzing the Federal Government and immediately
returning government functions to the States and local militias
and juries..

While
due to constitutional changes the electorate has more influence,
or more precisely, political parties that claim to represent them
do, the system is designed to protect the President from public
pressure, the country from popular hysteria and the people from
majority dictatorship and oppression of minorities as occurred in
Europe previous to W.W.II. It does so by preventing the countryside
and small States – which are the majority of States – from being overwhelmed
by large States with large urban centers, or the capital as now
happens in many countries.

No
rule from Paris here. More: by preserving the small States a venue
of escape is provided to discontented populations being strangled
by runaway governments in larger States, also.

The
rest of the world is moving backwards seeking the same result, attempting
to back-engineer by legislation what was done as a structural principle.
Quite simply, there is a right way and a wrong way to do these things,
and the Electoral College is the right way, a tool that accomplishes
manifold jobs with economic elegance. . European countries attempt
the same result less elegantly with proportional reserves, tacit
social compacts and ethnic privileges, symbolic fights over what
language will be taught in the kindergartens or tariffs imposed
on currants, and safe elective or appointive seats for various ethnic
groups, parties and regional areas.These are subject to constant
re-adjustment, unfortunately; but the Electoral College, being grounded
in the land, set in the Constitution so only of the States can
abolish it, and protected by the State legislatures, is much less
so.

It
is very unlikely Gore actually even has the popular majority as
we are daily told . The corruption of the Democratic vote in urban
centers, with people voting 10 times and entire cemeteries coming
back from the dead is legendary. In Florida small parties are actively
fighting gross attempts to seize their votes and attribute them
to the majors, not reported or under-reported in the Press. Where
is loving concern for popular expression there? A limited President
sees minority totals as expressions of concern and harbingers of
the future that he listens to; one scrambling like a starveling
for each vote sees them, not as the voice of approaching problems,
but an annoyance set upon him by the inexplicable disciplines of
dead white great grandpas with an eye to preserving the family trust
fund against a few remarkably stupid generations.

Finally,
foreign observers – and Americans – should remember the US is still
a federation, not a nation, despite rhetoric to the contrary. This
Federation seeks and should seek to preserve the political and cultural
differences of its members.

So,
befuddled foreign readers, summarize what is happening this way
and you will never be confused about the US political dynamic, no
matter what the government paid and credentialed press pundits and
pseudo-intellectuals tell you::If the European micro-country San
Marino united with Germany or France, it is doubtful it would do
so without similar protections such as the Electoral College. Such
protections, in fact, would prove more attractive the more, not
the less, Germans there were of one opinion.

People
in one side of San Marino don't even agree with those on the other
side on many issues. But they can agree on one thing:

When
politicians among the Germans or the French complain that San Marino
does not follow the mode in Berlin or Paris and defies the majority,
it is not the charms of San Marino they love, or the valuable viewpoints
and contributions of that oldest of republics that they are trying
to preserve..

And
you must wonder, gentle readers of any country, at the motives of
the politicians who compelled you into their schools for 12 long
years, but somehow neglected to interest you in these things and
gull you with simplistic social solutions based on eliminating greed,
offensive speech to the majority or eccentric habits of some inconvenient
social minority – that yet so inspired the self-taught and home-tutored
teenagers Madison and Monroe, a science of a machine, much-neglected
since.

November
15, 2000

Michael
Gilson De Lemos, known as MG (articles at www.gilson.uni.cc),
is Coordinator of the Libertarian
International Organization
. He believes with Jefferson that,
along with Gibbon, Cicero and Tacitus should be read by all grade-schoolers.
In Latin.

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