If you haven't already noticed, perhaps it's time you realized that our putatively republican form of federal government is little more than a legal fiction. In particular, the passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913 (when 36 states out of the then 48 ratified it) ensured two things: (1) the centralization of political power in the national party apparatus and (2) the slow extinguishment of state sovereignty in favor of unchallengeable federal authority. This key event in 1913 finalized the move begun by the Republican Party under the capable leadership of President Lincoln in denying the natural right of secession implied by the Declaration of Independence (and based on clear arguments from Natural Law). By the time President Johnson shepherded his Great Society programs through a docile Congress in 1964 and 65, the federal bureaucracy had become an unchallenged and unchallengeable hegemon in everyday affairs.
If you didn't notice the effects of this centralization of power in the 2012 election season, in the failure of the Republican Congress to use its power of the purse
It seems to me there are a lot of things that have to change to make the U.S.A. viable as a democratic republic. Electing a particular person as President, no matter who it is, isn't going to ensure, by any stretch of the imagination, its survival. It strikes me as enormously naive to believe otherwise.
At the very least, unless there has to be a major reform of government, society and the economy. Nothing less will suffice to withstand the calls for despotic rule that will inevitably result from a collapse of either the rule of law or the economy or both. The despotism already present in government is already generating enormous resentment in a desperate populace. Combine this with the anxieties over a shaky entitlement system and the fragility of the economy and you have an explosive mixture.
At a minimum, then, the following reforms are desperately needed.
- Constitutional Rule: A return to serious Constitutional rule, not based on the creative interpretations of the so-called Constitutional "realists" but on the clear, historical, ratified intent.
- Judeo-Christian Values: A return to the Judeo-Christian values that undergird fundamental human rights, such as life, liberty, property, self-defense, free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and assembly, adult suffrage, family sovereignty, access to public resources (air, water, roads, etc.) and so forth. Judeo-Christian tradition is an indispensable support. When rights are granted (rather than merely recognized) by government, government fiat can remove them or mutate them.
- A return to a culture of mutual respect, patient dialog and consensus building. "Social experiments" should be permitted as long as they don't trample on the rights of others. How else will people learn the folly of their ideas? Our current culture of "political correctness" and demonization is the antithesis of this.
- A return to a culture of personal responsibility.
- Recognition, oversight and mediation of special areas of what has been called sphere sovereignty in our complex society.
- Sphere Sovereignty, the Market Economy: A return to a minimalist regulation of commerce, ensuring the prevention of things like fraud, the destruction of common resources (e.g., air and water), collusion (price-fixing), monopolies and government favoritism, but preventing the kind of abuses that lead to price controls, currency or credit manipulation, so-called bailouts, crippling bureaucratic regulations and even the nationalization of whole areas of the economy.
- Sphere Sovereignty, the Family: A return to family sovereignty over child rearing, including education, health care, etc. as well as autonomous family economics.
- Sphere Sovereignty, the Community: A return to community life and values, enabling local solutions to problems rather than resorting to the highest levels of government to solve problems. Most of the abuses of our current system involve federal micro-management of things that are best managed locally.
- Sphere Sovereignty, special spheres: This already operates, to a large extent, among professional societies, consumer groups, trade unions, and numerous other areas where special interest groups have some combination of natural and formal authority in particular areas. Society as a whole could benefit from a publicly available map of these societies, the specialties their interrelationships and the challenges of government oversight and mediation.
A return to Constitutional Government
There is a critical need to repair the basic sovereignty of the individual states. This will require repealing the 17th Amendment and clarifying the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court, so that it doesn't invent rights that contravene the authority of the states as that authority was understood when the 10th Amendment was ratified.
There is a critical need to reassert the plain intent of the Commerce Clause "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;" so that, among other things, Congress doesn't overstep its authority to regulate commerce within individual states.
A lot of the abuses of the so-called realists stems from a broad interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause: "The Congress shall have Power ... To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." The original intent of the ratifiers did not include, for example, the creation of a central bank. (Alexander Hamilton used this clause to justify creation of the First Bank of the United States. We can thank him -- and the feckless opposition of the time -- for the existence of the Federal Reserve System and most of the subsequent distortions of the marketplace.
Constitutional rule implies clear lines of authority exercised by the three branches of the federal government. It also implies that the federal system avoids (indeed is prevented from) taking over laws, regulations and authorities inherently invested in individual states and the people. It also implies each branch taking its own authority seriously and guarding it jealously from encroachments by the other branches.
A viable return to Constitutional rule will also need to rethink the limits of democratic populism. When the people directly elect their U.S. Senators, as the 17th Amendment to the Constitution mandates, two things happen: (1) the sovereignty of the individual states is eroded, because Senators become more beholden to national parties and special interests than they are to their own states, and (2) the electoral process becomes more vulnerable to a variety of fraudulent schemes. Even the popular election of Congressional Representatives becomes problematic with district sizes that effectively isolate the representatives from their individual constituents. Combine that with the enormously complex regulations and procedures for legislation, and you get a system that resorts increasingly to centralized management, making what actually goes on in the Congress (House and Senate) increasingly opaque to individual voters. Something like the multi-level structure of government envisioned in Exodus 18:21 could work, with individual citizens directly electing local representatives, these representatives directly electing the next level up, etc. Transparency, integrity and accountability become much easier to manage when you are personally acquainted with the people you vote for. By this line of reasoning, the President would be directly elected by the Congress, a substantial improvement over the current electoral system for the same reasons already mentioned.
For such a system to work, political parties, with ambitious plans in the social, economic or international political arenas, will need to cultivate a culture of consensus rule. The sorts of radical experiments the country has suffered in the last hundred years will inevitably destroy it no matter what governmental framework is adopted.
There is a natural sphere of autonomy (or sphere sovereignty) in natural social units. These units include family, community and market economy. To the extent practicable, each of these spheres ought to be self-regulated, with government oversight and regulation limited to the prevention of abuses and, when natural interests are at stake, mediation.
This is an area where the Judeo-Christian tradition plays a particularly important role. While post-modern secular concepts of family are rather thin, in the sense that few, if any, defining constraints distinguish "family" from any arbitrary social grouping, the Judeo-Christian tradition has identified the natural role of a husband and wife in initiating and building a family through their unity with each other and the addition (through procreation or adoption) and rearing of children. Families suffer serious damage when relationships founder on divisive issues, personality conflicts, viability hazards, death, crippling illnesses (especially prolonged coma, major unresolved depression, major strokes or other brain damage, major senility), prolonged incarceration and the like. Some of these sources of division can lead to separation or, in our society, divorce. Families grow in strength and viability through success in meeting major challenges as well as through traditions of intimate communication (e.g., the family dinner, sporting or cultural events involving a family member, or a vacation – especially camping or touring), communal prayer, counseling, etc.
In the Judeo-Christian concept, a family is designed to be the seedbed of children. Parents have a natural authority and responsibility over their children (whether begotten or adopted). Those responsibilities and the associated authority encompass areas such as education, faith formation, character building, health maintenance and protection from harm. In a complex society such as ours, parents have natural allies in the fulfillment of many of these responsibilities and can delegate authority over their children to carry them out. We call the natural areas of parental authority sphere sovereignty in the family domain.
All sphere sovereignty has limits. When a major disease threatens a society, that society can levy demands on individual families, such as vaccination, quarantine or other preventative health measures to reduce or eliminate the risks of infection. When parents fail in their responsibility to socialize their children, leaving them, instead, to join gangs or roam the streets in search of public mischief or nuisance, a society has a natural interest in preventing these problems and has a right to hold the parents responsible for the antisocial behavior their children have adopted. Parents may, in extreme cases, forfeit their natural authority, making their children wards of the town, city, state or other governmental entity.
In general, however, the proper role of government is to help ensure that families retain as much of their authority and responsibility as they are capable of sustaining in the absence of threats.
It is well known that the relationship between government and the natural family unit has suffered many distortions and complications in recent decades. As a result, families have suffered major threats to their cohesion and their natural viability. A major task of restoring the health of American society is the reform of that relationship. A major key to that reform is the relinquishment of areas of government authority and assistance that are actually, indeed increasingly, counterproductive in that relationship.
The family unit generalizes to the extended family, involving multiple generations and family ties of increasing distance, until you arrive at the level of a clan or a tribe. Clans and tribes have formed natural communities of interest in times past, and their aggregation in geographic localities helped to support that. Today, extended families retain ties through motorized transportation and electronic and other means of communication, so that geographic locality is no longer considered essential to the maintenance of healthy interrelationships.
The natural genetic factors that have assisted that form of structure have generalized into community formation, operation and maintenance. Indeed, a family, a clan or a tribe is a natural community, but a community can form and thrive without the advantage of blood ties as long as there is a natural set of mutual interests that can benefit from organized collaboration. The most basic substrate for a community is geographic locality. Communities of interest can also arise and be assisted by modern transportation and communications technologies and infrastructures.
These communities of interest, particularly those of a geographic locality such as a neighborhood or a village, function best with the exercise of collaborative organization and authority, authority ceded to the community by its members for mutual, synergistic benefit. Such communities function best when they are not required to cede authority to higher levels of organization in those areas that they are quite capable of managing on their own. They also function best when they do not generally, or for questionable reasons, infringe upon the natural authority of families (for family governance) and individuals (for personal responsibility).
In recent decades, governments have increasingly turned these natural relationships upside down. The results have included the impairment of natural family cohesion, strength and independence, increasing levels of antisocial behavior and lower productive functioning at all levels. As a result, basic societal threads are unraveling and social structures are beginning to collapse. Major reforms are necessary to reverse these trends. Unfortunately, such reforms are increasingly unattainable as competing interests do battle over remaining resources and seek to impose increasingly radical social experiments as a way forward toward increasingly illusory Utopian visions.
Free Market Capitalism
No one who recognizes the power of the federal government to intervene in the economy will fail to recognize that we do not live in a free market economy. At best, we have a mixture of socialism, corporatism and capitalism. Combine that with a government that has spent money like there was no tomorrow and you have a Rube Goldberg system that is always rickety and increasingly in danger of complete collapse. Government intervention to prevent collapse inevitably results in an increase in moral hazard, the distortions in the incentive system that yield distortions in investments and increasingly unstable systemic inefficiencies. It remains to be seen whether a simpler, more transparent and fairer system can be reconstituted from the inevitable ashes of the current one.
It's doubtful that the current system is reformable in any fundamental sense. Great economic power begets great political power, and those who wield it inevitably succumb to the corruptions noted by John Dalberg-Acton. Economic ambition leads to political ambition, and vice versa. Those who benefit from it can be comfortable (in a purely economic sense of having and enjoying wealth), but the resulting system is resistant to growth and adaptation. Moreover, political and economic power, today, is increasingly managed at a supra-national level, making the whole idea of representative democracy and an economy capable of sustaining itself in isolation increasingly academic. What systems engineers have identified as "common mode failure" is increasingly probable at a global level.