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Reflections on Self-government

By Roy Jackson Long Beach Island Dem Club

Two hundred and eighteen years after Patrick Henry refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787 because he "smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward Monarchy," his fears look prophetic. Could he have been right when on June 5, 1788 he said, "your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this government, although horridly defective?"

The other founders were less impressed with the dangers of centralized federal power than with the need to erect what Alexander Hamilton called "a barrier against "domestic faction and insurrection." Their goal was in line with John Locke's idea that "The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property." The Constitution they made enabled the nation to become an imperial superpower with wealth beyond the dreams of past empires.

But when wealth keeps growing while quality of life for all but the wealthiest declines, when needs for better health care, child care, parenting, and pollution control are neglected, when funding for education and environmental protection is cut, when thousands of hard-working people exist without health insurance and decent housing, and civil rights are compromised, the time has come (to quote Thomas Jefferson) for "laws and institutions to keep up with the development of the human mind".

Failing that, personal stress, depression, and social alienation will surely darken civic life for everyone, destroying mutual trust between neighbors and faith in self-government. Growing pathological behavior and criminality in the population will be reflected in corrupt behavior in the business world and in unprincipled and reckless behavior in government, freed from normal voter constraints, the rule of law, and the separation of powers by uninhibited partisan factions. Those symptoms intensify when joined with the costs of war.

Given the contingent nature of American politics, that scenario may no longer be hypothetical. If so, it is time to ensure that Patrick Henry's fears are not realized; that the Senate is never controlled by a party that is inclined to sacrifice "your dearest rights" under any pretext, no matter how patriotically packaged, nor by any party that threatens to "continue forever unchangeably", not by the rule of a monarch, but by resort to manipulation of media, elections, court appointments, and financial support.

The health of our democratic system of self-government must be maintained at all costs, so that never will we have to test Alexander Hamilton's " barrier against "domestic faction and insurrection."

Mollymaguire

by mollymaguire on March 30 at 9:50 PM EST


this looks like a great separate diary

On the left, you'll see a menu item that says 'post diary'.  Choose that, and put this content in the diary entry.  Then it will appear as a separate diary entry.

Sorry for the confusion.

by Matt Stoller on March 31 at 12:47 PM EST
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