“Someone needs to address this column.”
It isn’t often I get suggestions on topics, especially from family members. Yet here I was getting a request from a relative to rebut a piece in The New York Times written by two Democratic Socialists from Jacobin magazine. Jacobin is an online and print magazine dedicated to the tenets of socialism and includes pieces criticizing the Norwegian government for not owning enough business, disparaging privately owned companies, and complaining about productivity. The finely hypocritical socialists also sell advertisements and the editor admitted to using “petty-bourgeois hustling” through business smarts in 2014. Its name appears to come from the movement during the French Revolution which dominated the nascent republic in the late 1700s and led to the Reign of Terror and Napoleon.
The NYT article by Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara accuses the Constitution of being undemocratic.
Consider a few facts: Donald Trump is in the White House, despite winning almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. The Senate, the country’s most powerful legislative chamber, grants the same representation to Wyoming’s 579,315 residents as it does to 39,536,653 Californians. Key voting rights are denied to citizens in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other United States territories. The American government is structured by an 18th-century text that is almost impossible to change.
These ills didn’t come about by accident; the subversion of democracy was the explicit intent of the Constitution’s framers. For James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention” incompatible with the rights of property owners. The byzantine Constitution he helped create serves as the foundation for a system of government that rules over people, rather than an evolving tool for popular self-government.
Day and Sunkara’s arguments need to be addressed in reverse, first starting with Federalist No 10. Madison was concerned about mob rule – much like we see on social media today – where people would band together to go after someone they were engaged in conflict. His words about “turbulence and contention” need to be viewed as a whole, and not just under the guise of property ownership. Madison sought to balance out the notion of a rule by faction with the idea of letting people live their own lives.
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
Madison knew what he was writing about in 1787 because the wounds of Oliver Cromwell’s failed democracy in England were nary 120 years old. The Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland fell apart due to the unchecked power of the Lord Protector aka Cromwell. The friction actually started while Cromwell was off on a campaign and the single bodied English Council of State fell into warring factions. Cromwell vacated the council when he returned and became a de facto dictator until his death in 1658. By 1660 the monarchy was back in place. A “pure democracy” with a unicameral legislature in England had failed and given way to a dictatorship.
There are other nations which have a single-bodied legislature which sort of determines state policy with China, Cuba, and Sweden as the most prominent.
The Jacobins might point to China as the best example of a “successful” unicameral government. Yet, China has liberalized more than the world realizes. Cato reported in 2016 the communists slowly re-introduced private ownership and freer markets after Mao’s death in 1976. The Jacobins have not suggested every sector of the economy be owned by the government, but it’s important to note China’s centralized government still exerts immense control over it. A Facebook subsidy was briefly up in China last year before mysteriously disappearing. The New York Times noted Google has had to invest billions into China to even get a toehold and LinkedIn is highly censored. Freedom House listed China near the bottom of its global freedom index and its freedom of the press index. Global Democracy Ranking also has China near the bottom. The corruption index lists it at the middle of the pack – but the lower middle. It’s not exactly a bastion of freedom and transparent government.
Cuba’s rankings are even worse. They’re listed at or near the very bottom of Freedom House and GDR didn’t even bother trying to rank them. Michael Moore and Sean Penn may love Cuba, but the country itself is extremely controlled by the government. It’s not a country the U.S. should be interested in imitating – even though I support the normalizing of relations because the embargo is hurting the people, not the government. Cuba actually ranks higher than China on the corruption index, but not by much.
It’s more than likely Day and Sunkara believe Sweden is the way to go when it comes to the unicameral legislature. The Nordic country still has a king – but the monarchy has no power and is mostly ceremonial. Its legislature sets the rules of government and also elects the Prime Minister. It enjoys an extremely high ranking in Freedom House, GDR, and the corruption index.
Seems like the right country to imitate, right? Not quite.
The Jacobins desire an easily modified Constitution. In Sweden, the constitution has to be approved by a supermajority, and its corruption ranking is actually rising. Swedish blogger – and friend – Erik Lidstrom wrote a detailed political history of the Swedish government which includes criticism of the public financing of elections and how it helps foment corruption.
Today, Sweden has about ten million inhabitants. The public financial aid handed out to the political parties by the central government amounts to about 466 million kronor ($54 million). This money is given to the political parties centrally, and is in practice at the disposal of the respective party leaders. The money from the counties amounted to 336 million kronor in 2007 ($39 million), and that of the municipalities to 450-500 million kronor ($52 to $58 million). The youth organisations of the parties receive a further close to $2 million. 84 percent of the expenses of the municipal party organisations are covered by this support. At the county level, they finance 87 percent of the expenses. Thus, all in all, each year our rulers effectively steal 1,250-1,300 million kronor ($145 – $151 million), from us, their subjects.
Other so-called “Nordic model” countries have rejected socialism outright and actually have freer economies than people realize. The Jacobins obviously do realize this, as they criticized Norway’s move towards fewer governmernt owned businesses. One can only wonder how they feel about the lower taxes in Scandinavia.
This is the problem with Day and Sunkara’s notion a single-bodied legislature would represent “the people” better. It can teeter on the brink of disaster and corruption with some countries, Sweden, rejecting it outright and other completely giving into the corruption and falling into a place where tyranny, not freedom, reigns supreme.
What about the Jacobins’ claim voting rights are denied to Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and other American territories? The answers are complicated – something Day and Sunkara fail to reveal. It’s true there are no House or Senate members from the territories – although DC and Puerto Rico have a commissioner or delegate in Congress. DC does enjoy three electoral college votes, while the territories have their votes tabulated in the popular vote. The territories are not required to pay federal income taxes.
The problem with the Jacobins’ argument about voting rights is it contradicts their argument on why Wyoming enjoys the same amount of senators as California. The territories would get two senators and at least one representative should they become states. Would the Jacobins accept this arrangement knowing the territories have a smaller population than California? It certainly seems like they wouldn’t.
There is a reason why Wyoming and California have the same amount of U.S. Senators: equal representation and avoiding the tyranny of the majority. The framers had this debate during the Constitutional Convention. The larger populated states in the South wanted representation based on population while the smaller states were worried about being shut out of the ability to have a say in the government.
It is a fear which makes sense – even in this day and age. It’s true the factions aka major political parties tend to make sure their elected representatives are aligned with their party platform. Divisions still remain as evidenced by the presidential primary fights of 2016 and the congressional primaries of this year. Swing votes in the Senate wouldn’t exist if each state didn’t enjoy equal representation. St. George Tucker explained further why equal representation is important in View of the Constitution of the United States.
In America the representation is in exact proportion to the inhabitants. Every part of the states is therefore equal represented, and consequently has an equal share of the government. Here the principle that the whole body of the people should have a share in the legislature, and every individual entitled to vote, possess an equal voice, is practically enforced…in England it is a mere illusion.
This is key, especially when it comes to fighting the tyranny of the majority. One would wonder how the Jacobins would feel if the U.S. legislature – bound only by the whims of California, Texas, and New York – decided to pass laws exempting their states from taxes or decided to put a heavier tax burden on the smaller states because the smaller states had better economies and the larger ones were sluggish? Equal representation prevents this tyranny from happening.
The tyranny of the majority is another reason why the Electoral College exists. Smaller populated states would be left out of the equation in presidential elections if we only relied on the big boys of Texas, California, and New York. There would be no swing states like Ohio or Virginia or Iowa because candidates would spend all their time in heavily populated areas. The Electoral College forces candidates to spend time in smaller states to make sure they are included in the governmental process.
It’s not the only reason why the Electoral College is important to the selection of the president. Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68 explained how the group can make sure no dishonorable individual – despite how low of character politicians may be – ends up in power and to prevent any sort of chicanery from happening in an election.
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
Those in the “Donald Trump is an agent of Russia” cabal fail to realize this – even if I believe he was probably the worst choice for the White House in 2016 with Hillary Clinton being .00000001 points ahead. It should be pointed out faithless electors do exist and did cast ballots in 2016.
The U.S has faced the tyranny of the majority before, with disastrous results. Loathsome laws like the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Prohibition, Obamacare, the New Deal, the Espionage Act, the income tax, and the Great Society all came into existence because of the tyranny of the majority. Other countries have been destroyed by the tyranny of the majority with the most prominent France during the French Revolution. The historical Jacobins were able to wrench control of the government away from more moderate factions to destroy their opponents.
It’s why America has a system of “checks and balances,” even if said system doesn’t always work. No system of government is perfect and the laws mentioned in the previous paragraph show how the American system can go awry. However, it’s much more palatable to a system which relies on only the majority to enact laws and policies. The current Jacobins wouldn’t be able to write their tripe if we lived in a system which routined censored the press or allowed the majority to use government to expel or destroy those in opposition.
The Jacobins want mob rule. We should avoid that at all costs.