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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Establishment Paradise (Part Two)

(This is the second segment in a three part series.  The first segment traced the evolution of elective office from a noble public service calling to more of an establishment paradise for the ruling class, with ease and plenty far removed from the day to day lives of ordinary citizens.  Boris Yeltsin spoke of the changes with the collapse of the former Soviet system.)

What tricks do Ambition (the Love of Power) and Avarice (the Love of Money) play on the life of one who aspires toward public service?  What type of men (and women) will these vices tend to attract?

Mr. Yeltsin understood what can happen when ordinary citizens lose faith in their government:

Without faith (in our leadership) even the best and most enlightened changes in our society will be impossible to accomplish.  And when people know about the blatant social inequality that persists, they see that their leader is doing nothing to correct the elite’s shameful appropriation of luxuries paid for from the public purse, then the last droplets of the faith will evaporate.

And when faith evaporates, change follows.  The only point of discussion is one of degree.

Let’s redirect our attention to early America, to the time during which the US Constitution was drafted in 1789.  From the earliest days of the republic, Ben Franklin had warned of the inherent danger of ambition and greed, when combined, having the human tendency to turn posts of honor into places of profit, or an establishment paradise.  Upon returning home after participation in the secret deliberations, Franklin was said to have had an inquisitive exchange with a Philadelphia woman:

“What have you made for us, Dr. Franklin?” the woman had wanted to know.

“A republic, madam, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Franklin understood that democracy was not forever assured in the US, and that active, informed citizenship would be required not only to keep but also to help it evolve.

In a speech at the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin discussed the merits of limiting the perks of our elected lawmakers within the laws of human nature:

Sir, there are two Passions which have a powerful influence in the Affairs of Men.  These are Ambition and Avarice; the Love of Power and the Love of Money.  Separately, each of these has great Force in prompting Men to Action; but when united in View of the same Object, they have in many Minds the most violent Effects.  Place before the Eyes of such Men a Post of Honour, that shall at the same time be a Place of Profit, and they will move Heaven and Earth to obtain it.  The vast Number of such Places it is that renders the British Government so tempestuous.  The Struggles for them are the true Source of all those Factions which are perpetually dividing the Nation, distracting its Councils, hurrying it sometimes into fruitless and mischievous Wars, and often compelling a Submission to dishonourable Terms of Peace.

He turned to the type of men which such personal incentives would attract:

And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable Preeminence, thro’ all the Bustle of Cabal, the Heat of Contention, the infinite mutual Abuse of Parties, tearing to Pieces the best of Characters?  It will not be the wise and moderate, the Lovers of Peace and good Order, the men fittest for the Trust.  It will be the Bold and the Violent, the men of strong Passions and indefatigable Activity in their selfish Pursuits.  These will thrust themselves into your Government, and be your Rulers.  And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected Happiness of their Situation; for their vanquish’d competitors, of the same Spirit, and from the same Motives, will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their Administration, thwart their Measures, and render them odious to the People.

Those personal gains would be smeared into the fabric of our bedrock institutions, where they would leave an impressionable and lasting stain.  And before long, augmentations would be sought, leading to a tipping point pitting the governing against the governed:

Besides these Evils, Sir, tho’ we may set out in the Beginning with Moderate Salaries, we shall find, that such will not be of long Continuance.  Reasons will never be wanting for propos’d Augmentations; and there will always be a Party for giving more to the Rulers, that the Rulers may be able in Return to give more to them.  Hence, as all History informs us, there has been in every State and Kingdom a constant kind of Warfare between the Governing and the Governed; the one striving to obtain more for its Support, and the other to pay less.  And this has alone occasion’d great Convulsions, actual civil Wars, ending either in dethroning the Princes or enslaving the People.  Generally, indeed, the Ruling Power carries its Point, and we see the Revenues of Princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more.  The more the People are discontented with the Oppression of Taxes, the greater Need the Prince has of Money to distribute among his Partisans, and pay the Troops that are to suppress all Resistance, and enable him to plunder at Pleasure.  There is scarce a King in a hundred, who would not, if he could, follow the Example of Pharaoh, --- get first all the People’s Money, then all their Lands, and then make them and their Children Servants for ever.  ...  But this Catastrophe, I think, may be long delay’d, if in our propos’d System we do not sow the Seeds of Contention, Faction, and Tumult, by making our Posts of Honour Places of Profit. …

(The third and final segment in our three part series turns to a discussion of property rights, a man-made proposition, shifting to Andrew Jackson, the President of the Common Man, before concluding in the present.)

-Michael D'Angelo

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