There is No Problem With America’s Political System, or the Republic

Summary:  I’m often asked for solutions to the most serious problem facing the Republic, the erosion of its foundation. There is a simple answer. The question makes a false assumption. Understanding this allows a clearer vision of America, and our available choices.

An incident from the Constitutional Convention:

Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy”

“A republic, if you can keep it” replied the Doctor.

— Entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1887. He signed the Constitution, served as our 3rd Secretary of War, and is namesake of Fort McHenry.

Scores of posts on the FM website document the death of the Second Republic (of the Constitution, following the First under the Articles of Confederation). Readers often respond to these with impassioned requests or demands for solutions to this problem.  They are mistaken. There is no problem.

Our Republic consists of machinery to govern America. Machinery which can worked by it’s people — or should they choose not to do so, by powerful factions. Both are choices. Neither choice is a “problem”.

Events since 9-11 make it obvious we have chosen to let our richest citizens  run America, taking the responsibility and effort of self-government off our shoulders. We have an inalienable right to do so, to withdraw as active participants in the governance of the nation.

Our plutocrats will probably govern well. Of course they will make decisions in their best interest, not ours. In exchange we’ll have the freedom to complain about the result, so long as we do so quietly. Our ever-growing internal security agencies will handle unruly dissenters.

It’s all about choice. We’ve chosen the blue pill, the easy path.

American’s reactions to this choice take one of several forms.

(a)  Denial

Since the outward forms remain, we can deny that anything important has changed. For a few generations this was the primary response of the Roman people to the rise of the Empire.

(b)  Acceptance

This could be through Stoicism, Epicureanism, or Hedonism (all popular Roman responses to Empire). Drugs, TV, and video games makes this easy. Or one can adopt Dr. Pangloss’ belief that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.

(c)  Religion

Religion is a refuge for peasants, especially one with an eschatological emphasis (ie, on the coming end times). Very popular during the Empire, this powered the rise of Christianity. Increasingly popular today are the green faiths, and their belief in the coming environmental apocalypse.

(d)  Deus ex machina

A characteristic American response is the search for easy solutions, often mechanical ones. Such as new laws, or a Constitutional Convention at which (somehow) right-thinking Americans can seize power.  This is the political equivalent to our increasing incidence of obesity.  We choose obesity and political passivity. It is not a problem that we prefer fat to exercise and self-restraint.

We would like a pill to make us thin. A pill to allow us to telepathically effortlessly run the government (perhaps a future version of the extremis virus?). And to gives us wealth and happiness. These desires do not change our actions.

(e)  Fantasy

We hope that a good leader will save us, or that true Americans will rise up and restore the Republic. 44% of Republicans believe “that an armed revolution in order to protect liberties might be necessary in the next few years”; some are stockpiling guns in preparation for the great day.


All of these are adaptations by individuals to our collective political choice, the abdication of our role as citizens in the Republic. There is no problem, just different ways to live with our actions.

It’s not too late to change our collective decision. But nobody has the ability or right to make us want to govern ourselves.

How should you respond to this milestone in history?  My recommendation: anger and resolution.  Contagious emotions. Should that spread, then we can consider next steps.

Let’s give them the last word to the voice of experience, of history.

Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

— Silence gives consent when he could have spoken.

This piece is cross-posted from Fabius Maximus with permission.

One Response to "There is No Problem With America’s Political System, or the Republic"

  1. odikhmantievich   May 21, 2013 at 9:01 am

    "Our Republic consists of machinery to govern America. Machinery which can worked by it’s people."

    An autocratic monied elite of some form or another has ruled during every period in American history. Increasingly, it has become apparent that our very economic system produces these kingpins, who the great masses have little opportunity to unseat without radically reformulating politics and economics. We should be working to build class consciousness and solidarity if we hope to remain on this planet for much longer (protip: climate change *is* real) rather than lauding our founding fathers' intentions.