Friday, November 18, 2011

Now those skies are threatening

Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation - James Madison

Let's start with a sort of technical definition: The US is not a democracy. It's a republic.

In a democracy, the people rule directly. In a republic, the people choose some to represent a greater number and those so chosen rule. Where those representatives are chosen by popular election, those republics are sometimes called representative democracies. To be even more technical, because it also has some facets of a direct democracy (i.e., initiative, referendum, recall), the US could be properly described as a democratic republic.

All that is largely irrelevant except to say that despite the turn of the past couple of decades and the associated assault on privacy which I have decried more than once here (Here are some recent examples that touch on the topic.) , the US remains a relatively politically free society.

But we are now facing two major threats to our continued survival as such. These threats are organized, coordinated, conscious; they are purposeful and focused. These are not foreign threats, they do not involve terrorism. They are purely domestic.

The thing is, just about every society has some form, some degree, of an economic and/or social elite - some portion of its population who have more power, more influence, than others, whose power and influence are out of proportion to their actual numbers. In the case of the US, our elites are big business and the rich, particularly (and increasingly) the super-rich, those now popularly identified as the 1%, those who, according to Joseph Stieglitz, control 40% of the nation's wealth.

That of necessity means that just about every society that wants to be and remain a politically free society must have countervailing force, an institutionalized counterforce, to the natural self-aggrandizement of its elites, that is, the tendency of power to become increasingly concentrated, turning what in structure appears to be (in our case) a representative democracy into what is actually an oligarchy, a government by and for the few, an oppressive government in which those countervailing forces either no longer exist or no longer function, existing only as a sort of morality play, a pretense of representation.

The ultimate force, of course, is the people as a whole: the people’s ability to resist and where necessary revolt, a notion enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
It is in order to avoid getting to that point, to the necessity of outright rebellion, that societies have established those formalized structure to counter the power of the elites, to provide, if you will, power to the people. Two of those formalized structures in our own society are now under attack. are now under threat of being rendered impotent, a mere pretense of power. It is those threats that are the subjects of the following two posts. Read on.

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