Are Republics Overrated?

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In
my last
piece
, I wrote that one American value worth fighting for was
"democratic, decentralized, local government." This caused
some confusion among a few readers. Don't I know we live in a republic,
not a democracy?

Well,
yes I do. "Democratic" is an adjective, not a noun. We
live in a republic, yes, but a democratic one. Our legislators
are elected by the people. But "democratic" in the sense
I use it also means government close to and accountable to the people.
Laws and regulations would be made at the local level, not by federal
bureaucrats. Longstanding traditions would not be arbitrarily overturned
by unelected, life-tenured federal judges.

The
USA is and will remain a republic of some sort, and democratic to
some degree. It goes against our grain, our history and character,
to revert to monarchy. And there's certainly something to be said,
in theory, for republican forms of government. Particularly where
power is divided, branches check and balance each other, and there
are regularly-scheduled elections. This is the type of system Americans
think they have, and certainly the republican shell will remain
even as the USA slouches toward Empire.

On
the other hand, there is something quite dishonest about republicanism.
A State is not defined by the number of people it coerces, but by
its borders – by the land it controls. When one person in a dynastic
family claims ultimate ownership and authority over all the land,
that is a monarchy. When the people as a whole claim ultimate ownership
and authority over all the land, that is a democracy. A republic
is, what, exactly? A small group that temporarily claims control
of the land and the people on behalf of … whom? And for what?

Hans-Hermann
Hoppe's Democracy:
the God that Failed
does not target "pure," town
meeting-style democracy, but the democratic-republican government
of the large, modern nation-state. A democracy in a small town can
address real problems in the community, like sanitation, zoning,
and street traffic. And a King, as Hoppe wrote, would take a long-term
view of his domain, as his wealth is tied to the economic health
of his kingdom. But the elected politicians and professional bureaucrats
of a republic are not as personally affected by their decisions
as are kings or even citizens in a pure democracy. Neither the politicans
nor their children will be forced to pay the bills for the unnecessary
wars and wasteful entitlement programs they start.

Another
problem with the republic is its phony moral pretension. The politicians
of a republic rule by the "consent of the governed," whereas
a king does not. And political offices are generally open to all
of the citizenry, which is not true in a class-based monarchy. This
differences somehow prove that the republic is morally superior
and thus we give it carte blanche. But, as Lew
Rockwell said
, "Teachers used to tell school kids that
anyone can be president. This is like saying anyone can go to Hell.
It's not an inspiration; it's a threat."

Even
in the heavily republican, constitutional monarchies of Europe,
anyone cannot be King. Such is the distinctness of the American
character. Other nations of British heritage that still recognize
the Queen as their nominal head of state aren't quite as, well,
crazy as we Yanks. Even when they madly pursue socialism and political
correctness to worse degrees than we, the average citizen still
retains some balance and proportion in their outlook on life. None
of them can become a King or a Queen, while any one of us Americans
can become President.

Republics
lack restraint. The Republic of Rome became an Empire before it
had an Emperor. The rise of the British Empire coincided with the
rise of Parliament's power at the expense of the King. The rise
of the American Empire coincided with greater "democracy"
at the national level – an elected Senate, the expansion of suffrage
– while the powers of state and local governments closer to the
people have diminished. Monarchy is derided as "unfair,"
and town meeting-style direct democracy is supposedly tyrannical,
inefficient, or both. That leaves the modern democratic government
as supposedly the "best" and most legitimate form of government.
The form which must take over the world.

The
republic is dangerous, or at least potentially so, because it is
the form of the State that people will most likely let get away
with tyranny and murder. Many Americans who would take up arms if
a King or dictator taxed 36% of their income, claim in our Republic
that that rate is too low. A King who forces children to go to schools
which taught them how great monarchy is would face a revolution,
yet public school funding remains one of the great budgetary problems
in our republican states. A King who would force grandma to suffer
in agony rather than let her take marijuana would justly be called
a barbarian, yet few American politicians want to appear "soft"
on the War on Drugs.

The
real danger is the large, centralized State, regardless of its form
of government. Let's keep government as small and as close to the
people as possible.

March
19, 2005

James
Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
is a columnist for the Partial
Observer
and blogs at “Independent
Country
.” He currently resides in eastern Washington State.

James
Leroy Wilson Archives

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