When I was a geeky teen, my geeky teen friends and I used to have discussions about the most efficient, best form of government. We concluded it had to be a benevolent dictatorship. I don’t think anyone has yet proved this teenage revelation wrong.
But given the right assumptions, any system can work.
My college degree is in business administration (which is what people not good enough at math to pursue engineering, and not bold enough to choose an English major, do). However, my minor is in economics. Economics is all about assumptions–and assumptions are all about human nature, societies, and anthropology. It’s about what societies do as a group, how they cooperate, govern, and organize the flow of goods, services, and labor.
The fun part about economics is that you get to play god and conjure “isms” to construct worlds in which your models work perfectly. Then you find real world examples by which you prove your “ism” is true, after the fact. It’s fun and rewarding to birth an” ism.”
Take this example:
If Karl Marx’s theories on the proletariat, historical materialism, and “the economic law of motion of modern society” are true, then communism is inevitable. Given the right conditions where workers cooperate in determining the best use of labor (capital), materials, and economic output, a communist society, free from the greed, deception, and competition inherent in capitalism, and the scourge of accumulating property, will flourish.
Communism, and its half-brother, socialism, works, provided you set the right conditions.
The first century church was undoubtedly socialist. It had the benefit of an all-knowing deity enforcing the honesty and intentions of its participants. (Read Acts chapter 5.) The book of Revelation foretells a time when Christ rules the nations for a thousand years. The writer of Psalm 2 wrote: “You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
If God himself comes to rule us, government will be very efficient. The most benevolent of dictators–unless you happen to be like Ananias–but someone has to die to show that the benevolence is serious business.
Since history shows that humans are frail, egocentric beings, however, you typically end up with millions dying to prove that the benevolence works. Or in the case of the Soviet Union, a hundred million. Clearly, the Christian Holy Spirit is a more convincing and omnipotent God than Joseph Stalin.
In America, our founders were faced with a really confusing set of conditions. A pluralistic, fiercely independent group of colonies, some driven by the engine of slave labor, and some on the cusp of a serious industrial revolution, did not mix well to make a cohesive society.
But like two feuding neighbor ranchers temporarily forming an alliance to fight off the invading rustlers, the thirteen colonies managed to cobble together a United States of America, barely held together at the seams by a set of rather broad beliefs on the value of wisdom and human frailty.
If Alexander Hamilton had not financially welded the new states together by having the federal government assume their debt, generating federal revenue through tariffs, and establishing a national bank to issue currency and standardize economic exchange, I doubt we’d still have a union today–it might not have lasted until Lincoln’s day.
Our founders understood that federalism, republicanism, and representative democracy are only “isms” depending on a wide range of set conditions and assumptions.
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 51:
Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.
The greatest ruler in recorded history is probably King Solomon. He was the supreme leader and king of the undivided kingdom of Israel and Judah. He was likely the richest person in the known world. His wisdom was said to be unmatched in history, as were his appetites.
Under Solomon, Israel thrived and prospered. In 1 Kings 10, the Bible says:
When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. 2 Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.
6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hearyour wisdom! 9 Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”
Solomon’s appetites did not serve him well, and when he died, the kingdom split, never again to be joined together.
America, thousands of years later, is in a precarious, and similar, situation. Our nation has suffered a lack of wisdom, our leaders have devolved into caricatures and idols. Our people have succumbed to appetites that do not serve us well. And our kingdom, based on carefully constructed checks and balances, which still requires wisdom, charity, mercy, and morality to function, is bursting at the seams to splinter.
But take heed of Hamilton’s words (long but eloquent) in Federalist 14:
Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellowcitizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys; the kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their sacred rights, consecrate their Union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies. And if novelties are to be shunned, believe me, the most alarming of all novelties, the most wild of all projects, the most rash of all attempts, is that of rendering us in pieces, in order to preserve our liberties and promote our happiness. But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected, merely because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness.
America has always looked back to our inheritance, that posterity is indebted for the possession, and indeed the world should be grateful for the sustained example of our experiment. Only our own foolishness can cause it to fail.
By setting aside the “good” in good leaders, in favor of our own narrow interests, and repeatedly trying to outdo our cultural rivals within America by casting them as aliens and traitors, we are all endangering the Republic.
The Marxists who founded and control Black Lives Matters want to overthrow America from its roots. Though they feel they are a force for the “greater good,” they are no better than the communists who slaughtered millions in Russia, interned a million Uighurs in China, and turned Cuba into an island frozen in 1955. They do not honor the founders or legacy of Americans who struggled to form a union out of disparate, sinful states, and endeavor by the joining to improve all. They wish to birth their own “ism” through the “unhallowed language” of cancellation and shame.
Also, those who idolize President Trump because he speaks for the lost power of cultural white Christianity from an age now past the point of restoration, have misplaced their trust. It is the wisdom and benevolence of character of our leader that will highlight the greatness of America.
America has always been great when America has been good. And despite our record of foibles, sins, and injuries, we have, on the whole, been the biggest and most consistent force for good in the history of the world. This isn’t because of the past ascendency of white protestants. In many cases, it’s in spite of that very fact.
But I’d rather defend that America and seek to improve it, than to either seek to restore what is now gone, or to overthrow it with something far worse. Goodness in government, wisdom in power, mercy in justice, and moderation in all things is the key to American greatness. That’s the fruit of “Americanism,” the only “ism” worth preserving.
My biggest criticism of Donald Trump is not his policy, but his devotion to ill character, absolute loyalty (one way, to himself), and personal aggrandizement. He is the opposite of what George Washington would want as a chief executive. But as results go, he’s pretty conventional given our current crop of awful leaders.
The answer to good government is good people.
Our way forward is to cultivate good and reject poor character. We do not have the benefit of inventing new “ism” or overthrowing the ones we have. Unfortunately, this November, we have will very little choice in the matter.