A Hypothetical Case Study

Fenster writes:

An interesting hypothetical case study.

Direct democracy does not scale up well and tyranny is unacceptable so country X has been established as a republic.  As a republic, it relies on elites to run things, with the elites maintaining legitimacy by not straying too far from public sentiments and by giving the enough of the people what they want enough of the time.

But human nature being what it is, elites are tempted to use their privileged positions to enhance their self-interest.  And since there is no bright line test for the factors that maintain legitimacy no one knows where the boundary is, and there is constant movement away from the public good toward the private good of the favored.

In time, the country begins to resemble an oligarchy.  But it is only halfway there.  In fact, at a certain point you could say it is exactly halfway there: poised, if you will, on the knife’s edge.  While large swaths of the country feel they have not been taken care of, the genius of the system, at least to date, has been in taking care of enough—just enough.

But a knife’s edge is an unstable place and the movement in the elite’s direction continues.  Soon the elites have lost their ability to claim they have satisfied enough.  Perhaps now, in our hypothetical case, only 48% of the public feels well-served and perhaps 52% do not.

This is the critical inflection point at which the mettle of a proper republic is tested.

A republic by its nature is a compromise between democracy on the one side and a lack of it on the other.  Once elites allow a country to get to this point, the public now sees the stark choice, previously fudged, in a blindingly white light.  Do we attend to the demands of democracy, and follow the 52% Or do we continue with the default path of deference to the leaders, meaning we follow the 48%?

Shame on the elites for allowing the country to come to such a pass.  It’s not nice to have to make these choices.

Political leadership in a republic calls for some serious prestidigitation.  It is not a good idea to push things to the point at which the demands of democracy and oligarchy come into sharp relief.  Better to keep that trade-off muted.  In turn, as always, elites are expected to operate with high levels of prudence, wisdom and restraint.  When they do not, and risk destruction of the whole enterprise, it is time for new elites.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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5 Responses to A Hypothetical Case Study

  1. Will S. says:

    Reblogged this on Patriactionary and commented:
    Hear, hear!

    I think this applies not only for republics like America, but even for constitutional monarchies like Britain, Canada, New Zealand, etc.; for any kind of liberal democratic government system. I think throughout the western world, the scenario laid out by Fenster is where we find ourselves today. Now, some reactionaries have come to question democracy entirely, but the problem is, as we have seen, the elites need to be held in check themselves (after all, they’re fallable people just like the masses), so balancing power between them and the people is necessary. Having a system with free and fair elections, and referenda on particularly important matters, is surely the best way to accomplish this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JV says:

    A good system of checks and balances is necessary (we have that) as well as a strong regulatory system. The latter comes and goes with the passing political winds. Of course, regulators are also political elites with power to be abused.

    Liked by 1 person

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