Review: The Principles of Representative Government

6 Star Top 10%, America (Founders, Current Situation), Civil Society, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Culture, Research, Democracy, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), History, Justice (Failure, Reform), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Philosophy, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
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Bernard Manin

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Star Wake Up Call – The Democracy That Never Was….,September 3, 2012

It is a telling sign of the ignorance across the USA and elsewhere that there is no other review of this book, a book that was brought to my attention recently when I made it known that I was beginning to question the US Constitution's sanctity, having already concluded that the USA is as Matt Taibbi puts it so well in Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, a merger between criminal corrupt complicit government and criminal corrupt financial gangs whose crimes are either legalized or ignored (“control fraud”).

I find it very sad that I had to reach the age of 60 and have several years of unemployment on top of my life experience and multiple graduate degrees before I could ingest the reality that the USA is a democracy but that this does not mean popular self-rule, nor did the Founding Fathers every intend for it to be a direct democracy. The USA is a republic of, by, and for the wealthy, and I consider it quite timely and helpful that this book may be making a comeback in the consciousness of the avant guarde that always sets the stage for a revolution–and I do believe a revolution is coming in the USA.

The author makes it clear from page one that democracy as conceived by the Founding Fathers is an ALTERNATIVE to popular self rule, what one author calls Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. He writes in a very measured academic manner, but I cannot help equating democracy with a shell game — the Founding Fathers persuaded the public that the “consent of the governed” conveyed authority and legitimacy to what was in essence a government, of, by, and for the wealthy.

The book ends as it begins, outlining how “democracy” today comes in three flavors, parliamentarianism, party democracy, and audience democracy. On the latter two I cannot help but think of Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny and Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

Early on the author cites Rousseau's distinction between a free people makings its own laws, and a people electing representatives to make laws for it. Later in the book the author points out that once an elite is elected to make laws, they will never overturn laws that favor them. Witness the nine times a bill has been submitted to the US two-party Congress to put all accredited national parties on all state ballots and all debates (for federal elections). Nine times the two-party tyranny has refused to do the right thing and the public has not noticed.

QUOTE (8): Representative government gives no institutional role to the assembled people. That is what distinguishes it from the democracy of the ancient city-states.

He draws on and cites with admirmation the work of M. H. Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology and this is the start of a very lengthy and fascinating section on how important “lots” were, with the caveat that citizens first had to volunteer to be among the chosen, and then the lots would be dsrawn.

Early on he points out that the core principle for maintaining INTEGRITY is ROTATION — regular rotation of average citizens, with a constant deep distrust of “political professionalism.”

Where Athens was the role model for direct democracy, Rome is the role model for indirect democracy, with a mixed government, multiple classes of citizens and voters.

As someone who has read and reviewed many books on collective intelligence, wisdom of the crowds, etcetera, I am interested to learn that Rousseau specifically had no confidence in the average citizen, and also did not conceptualize the potential of the aggregate being wiser than any expert–David Weinberger makes this point nicely in his most recent book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.

The middle portion of the book reviews elections and the philosophy of elections across history and the author's conclusion is clear: elections are a means of creating an aristocracy, NOT of meeting the needs of the public for an efficient form of self-governance.

The author returns to the lot in a discussion of how important it is that the rulers and the ruled be “like” one another. A very fine discussion of US sources makes it clear that the Founding Fathers, including the anti-Federalists, were committed to creating a government process that was of, by, and for the wealthy, going no lower that the middle professionals in the right to vote.

The anti-Federalists made two signal contributions: first, in objecting to the small size of the House of Representatives, and insisting that districts had to be smaller to provide for a better ratio of elected and electors; and second, that any process that created distance between the elected and the electors, that resulted in electing individual who are not “like” their constituents, was flawed.

The author suggests that insufficient attention has been paid to the anti-Federalists, and this indicates to me there is at least one great PhD thesis topic waiting to be developed.

QUOTE (129): From the very beginning, it was clear that in America representative government would not be based on resemblance and proximity between representatives and represented.

As the book draws to a conclusion, the author examines the role of wealth in winning elections, and observes that when wealth confers an advantage toward selection or election, then wealth confers power in and of itself.

The conclusion includes a discussion of the First Amendment, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Occupy blew it in my view, they had a chance to flip the entire Congress by demanding the Electoral Reform Act of 2012 (disclosure: I was accepted by the Reform Party as a candidate, and ran briefly to explore the possibilities).

The author distinguishes at the end as at the beginning between parliamentarianism, party democracy (as in two-party tyranny), and audience democracy (as in sheeple).

I turned 60 this year. I never in my lifetime to this date thought I would ever question the sanctity and validity of the US Constitution, but this book puts me in that place. Of course I will continue to defend the Constitution against all enemies domestic and foreign (including bureaucrats who confuse loyalty to the chain of command with integrity in serving the public interest) but it is now clear to me that the US Constitution does NOT meet the needs of the public because we have created a political class that is so corrupt as to be an enemy of the public interest.

Among the ideas that I brought together from others for my brief presidential campaign were these: Electoral Reform Act of 2012; end to all income taxes, substituting the Automated Payment Transaction Tax on everything including stock and currency trades (explodes the pie, reduces to nothing the burden on the individual and small business); a coalition cabinet announced in advance; a balanced budget announced in advance; and a national jobs act that would assure every veteran and then every unemployed person of a 21st Century job with one year of paid training.

Other books that support this book include:
Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics (Manifesto Series)
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life

See also my two lists of book reviews easily found online:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas

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