Recovering a Free Republic
If we suspend disbelief completely enough, we might still see clearly enough to take stock and vote as citizens of a free republic. It is sometimes the case that it is the preservation of our past that gives hope to our future.
The facts arranged on the political field before us are ugly and demoralizing. They are not limited to the current presidential contest. We are no longer a free republic. We have long been a nation with all that that implies about our diminishing liberties and our increasingly diluted representation. We are not a nation of laws. We move from one political personality to another and treat each more as a celebrity than as a servant. Ignoring the separation of powers, the question of which laws are enforced is determined by the political agenda and aspirations of the nation’s executive. Despite having a written constitution, changes to our fundamental law are made by nine unaccountable and unelected political appointees with little or no reference to the document itself. Our representatives, who we have allowed to become career politicians, unashamedly pass laws they have not read in previously unimaginable numeracy while growing rich in public office. The politically ambitious brag that they are able to keep the people “unaware and compliant,” and our people have been taught to believe that what is unethical or immoral for an individual ought to be de rigueur for a government without the slightest suspicion of hypocrisy. Contrarily, Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.” We live in, if not quite a tyranny, a time in our nation’s history of endless and routine tyrannies.
Knowing that the way we live through and comport ourselves during these times will inform future generations, and that we, as either parents or teachers, have a unique responsibility to preserve and protect the most noble of our ideals, it bears reviewing what it is that we call upon the next generation of Americans to preserve and what to recover. With regards to civic participation, we should seek to ensure that we are called back to the fundamentals before we cast our own votes, whether those votes be for an executive magistrate, a representative, or the imposition of our preferences upon our neighbor’s lives though a popular referendum or initiative.
James Madison and other founders recognized that more would be demanded of citizens of a free republic than subjects of a monarchy. We might fairly add that citizens of a republic must possess qualities that would be alien to the subjects of any number of other regimes, whether communist, fascist, or socialist. One part of what is required of such a citizen is that he should endeavor to perfect self-governance in himself before supposing himself capable or competent of extending his will over his fellows. We ought to further distinguish ourselves as citizens by our insistence upon adequate representation and the acknowledgement that all legitimate power can be exercised only through the consent of the governed. To insist upon anything, we cannot be cowed, servile, or simple sheep herded to and fro by demagogues and sophists. All power and everyone who possesses it should be viewed with suspicion, distrust, and circumspection since citizens will know that power is corrosive, that it corrupts, and that such facts are sown in the nature of man.
In returning to these fundamentals, it is worthwhile to recollect what the founders and others more ancient than they believed were crucial to the existence of a free republic.
First, those who may vote or hold office should be comprised of a virtuous and informed citizenry. Without a virtuous and informed citizenry, a free republic is impossible.
Second, citizens should rule and be ruled in turn. A republic disdains the professional politician and champions the citizen legislator. Individuals should achieve success in their own lives before turning to public service, and once there, they should serve for a limited period before returning again to private life.
Third, there should exist the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men. The law, through a written constitution, should be knowable to all people for whom it shall serve as the fundamental law. All subsequent law, whether statute or common, must exist within the limits prescribed by this fundamental law. The laws, like the rules of a game, must be knowable prior to commencement.
Fourth, a republic values the notion of isonomy, or the equality of all before the law. In a republic, there is not one set of laws for the nobles and another for the commons, one set for the government and another for the people, one for the rich and another for the poor. All come before the law as equals and all are treated accordingly with justice being the sole consideration of the state.
Fifth, a republic is composed of smaller, sovereign units. These states are better able to represent their inhabitants, act as laboratories of democracy, and when necessary, challenge federal overreach should the national branches of government violate their prescribed limits or enumerated powers.
Sixth, a republic preserves the natural law by acknowledging that no majority can be right that repeals or usurps the unalienable rights of the people.
Seventh, a republic espouses the value of secular government while ensuring that that government does not become hostile or immune to the salutary influences of religion.
Eighth, a republic, with limited qualifications, acknowledges that the people ought to be free to pursue their happiness as they see fit and so endorses capitalism as opposed to dirigisme or statism.
If we wish for our children to enjoy a culture that tolerates and even depends upon their liberty, we must shake off our slumber and take to the polls as thoughtful citizens who consider all of the above lest our children and grandchildren be left no choice except to once again take up arms as patriots in restoration of their lost rights.