Americans regularly make reference to “this great democracy” (we aren’t technically a democracy, by the way) or “the republic, for which it stands” (that’s more like it … kind of) or “the last great hope against Communism/Muslim theocracy/you-name-it-ism.” For some reason, we think that our form of government is eminently exportable simply because it is the most perfect form of government ever devised. Yes, it may be the best. But, like any governing apparatus, its efficacy depends entirely on the quality of the people using it and being governed by it. Consider the following:
- A virtuous people can make any form of government work.
- A wicked people can make any form of government break.
- A good form of government punishes wickedness.
- A bad form of government doesn’t punish wickedness.
It seems over-simplified, doesn’t it? Does that mean that a Communist form of government could work if the country using it were populated by virtuous people? Yes. It would. The problem with Communism is that, as a system, it assumes that the majority of people will do the right thing. Big mistake. The reason the American Republican model works is because it bets on people’s depravity. It assumes people are going to be selfish, power-grubbing little snots, and it plans accordingly by counter-balancing interests that strongly discourage corrupt behavior. Would these counter-balances be necessary if the people were all virtuous? No. But, as it turns out, a lot of people really are selfish, power-grubbing little snots.
That’s why, in human society as it is at least, capitalist republicanism will always work best. But even that system can only do so much to stem the tide of human corruption. It was barely adequate to deal with the corruption of the 18th century. It is pretty well over-run now. We should all remember John Adams’ pessimistic words:
We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
That’s why I think the reconstruction of this country will not happen through politics—conservative, Democrat, Christian, whatever. In his farewell address to Congress, Ron Paul had some wise words to tell us about political reform:
The ultimate solution is not in the hands of the government.
The solution falls on each and every individual, with guidance from family, friends and community.
The number one responsibility for each of us is to change ourselves with hope that others will follow. This is of greater importance than working on changing the government; that is secondary to promoting a virtuous society. If we can achieve this, then the government will change.
He’s right. If we want to see this country change, we need to get to work promoting a virtuous society. More on that next time.