For all those condemning Citizens United vs. FEC as an end
to democracy in America, let's go over a few things. Firstly, America
is not a democracy. It is not, never was, nor ever was intended to be a
democracy. And for very good reason. Democracy--dēmocratía
("power/rule by the people")--is a horrible system of government. It is
maintained by violence, mob rule, and a pernicious envy--an envy that
arises when one of its citizens rises too far above the others, an envy
that drives that democracy to rip them down. The rights of the
individual are always supplanted by "the will of the people". Consider
the go-to historical example: Athens. It was not a mythical utopia of
philosophers and scientists based on the rule of reason; rather,
Athenian democracy was governed by terror, violence, and corruption. It
made tyranny its modus operandi. The lives and happiness of
its citizens were held hostage to the collected will of their
neighbours. It forced the allied cities of the Delian League into
political and economic submission and then massacred those cities that
wished to withdraw. And in a wild frenzy, abandoned reason and law and
summarily executed its ten leading generals--its only hope of victory
against Sparta. Finally, in 404 BC, after a mere century, Athenian
democracy imploded and eked out a meagre existence for the remainder of
the millennium. Its legacy? Consider Socrates' pupil and intellectual
heir. In Plato's Republic, his ideal state is ruled not by
popular assembly or elected council, but by a king--democracy's
antithesis. So ended the "great" experiment in democracy.
I write this not as a defence of dictatorship, oligarchy, or any
other such form of government, but merely to illustrate that democracy
is as capable of tyranny as they, perhaps capable of greater tyranny as
dictatorship is the tyranny of one over many and democracy the tyranny
of many over all.
Washington, Hamilton et al. knew this and feared it, and they
lived to see those fears once again fulfilled in the blood, violence,
and terror of the French Revolution. They were familiar with the
excesses of democracy, and though they sought democracy's virtues, they
created a political system specifically designed to shackle its vices.
They held Rome as a model, not Athens. They created a republic. A
republic, if I may borrow Cicero's definition, is a synthesis of three
forms of government--dictatorship/monarchy, oligarchy/aristocracy, and
democracy. They combined the virtues of each of these separate
political systems, while mitigating their weaknesses (i.e. "the whole is
greater than the sum of the parts"). Democracy, in particular, emerged
most strongly in the legislative branch, in Congress. Knowing this,
the founding fathers created that intricate system of checks and
balances to control it. Democratic forces were to be balanced with
those dictatorial and oligarchical, and Congress was to be checked by
both the Presidency and Supreme Court. Democracy was everywhere hedged
in and controlled. And rightly so. Washington, Hamilton et al. feared lest they create another Athens or presage the bloodbath of the French Revolution.
Enter 2010. Democracy will not repair our teetering political
system. In addition to being extremely dangerous, more democracy will
only exacerbate its problems. The misconception that America is a
democracy has blinded us to the imbalance in our republic, has led us to
believe that Congress has and ought to have the greater authority. And
so, we have just stood by and watched and sometimes even praised
Congress' steady accumulation of power. To what end? Special
interests, run-away spending, pork, bribery, double-dealing... The list
goes on. Yet these do not dominate the offices of the White House or
the Supreme Court, but rather the halls of the Capitol. And tyranny?
That is precisely what Citizens United vs. FEC addressed.
Where does Congress get the notion that it can tell publishing houses
what books they can publish, television studios what films they can
produce, and American citizens what books they can read? It is one of
those frightening "will of the people" justifications. And Athens and
France have revealed the frightening road down which those have led.
It is time we put an end to this misconception about democracy.
America is a republic. There is one office that can roll back
Congressional overreach and curb democratic excess. And that office is
the President's. It is time that he stepped up and embraced the
authority of that office. He ought not to emulate the example of
Athenian Democracy, but rather that of European enlightened absolutists,
of Maria Theresa, Leopold II, and Frederick the Great. It is time to
reform the process of government. Democracy will not achieve that, but
some executive authority just might.