The Crisis of the New Order

Peggy Noonan recently suggested that “elites are often the last to see their system is under siege. ‘It couldn’t be, I’ve done so well.’” There is much to this idea, especially in a nation like America where many are, in fact, doing very well, and are often socially isolated from others who are not doing so well. Near zero interest rates have flooded the stock market with money, and that, among other things, has been good for the wealthy. Outside of that, however, things are tougher, and not only economically. Because Americans are increasingly isolated socially and economically, our governing class often has trouble seeing this reality.

Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen. Unfortunately the modern American state, by making our government less democratic has made it less responsive to the people.  At the same time, it has made our governing class less aware of the needs, hopes, and fears of the average citizen.

One important source of the problem is the modern American state. It is often said that we Americans have a “presidential system,” and that is contrasted with a “parliamentary system.” It might, however, make more sense to hold that we Americans have, or had, a “senatorial system.” In other words, what has set the U.S. Constitution apart from other constitutions across the globe has been the presence of an upper house, in addition to an independent, unitary executive. Having a second house in the legislature was controversial in the founding era. In England, the upper house was the House of Lords.

But the United States had no aristocrats. What, then, was the upper house for? It was to moderate the views of the House. In Federalist 63, Madison put it this way: “how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? “ Unfortunately, that role is now played, or at least attempted, by our administrators. Being in the permanent bureaucracy, their main contact is with other elites, lobbyists, and activists, and not the common man in the street. It was supposed to be otherwise.

In the introduction to his Defence of the Constitutions Adams noted that “It is become a kind of fashion among writers, to admit, as a maxim, that if you could be always sure of a wise, active, and virtuous prince, monarchy would be the best of governments.”  Yet, he argued, even “the best and wisest prince,” perhaps especially the best and wisest prince, would not wish to rule alone.   His government would have:

A senate consisting of all that is most noble, wealthy, and able in the nation, with a right to counsel the crown at all times, is a check to ministers, and a security against abuses, such as a body of nobles who never meet, and have no such right, can never supply. Another assembly, composed of representatives chosen by the people in all parts, gives free access to the whole nation, and communicates all its wants, knowledge, projects, and wishes to government; it excites emulation among all classes, removes complaints, redresses grievances, affords opportunities of exertion to genius, though in obscurity, and gives full scope to all the faculties of man; it opens a passage for every speculation to the legislature, to administration, and to the public; it gives a universal energy to the human character, in every part of the state, such as never can be obtained in a monarchy.

Pace Adams, even a benevolent dictator, perhaps especially a truly benevolent dictator, would wish to have a Senate and House to ensure that he knew what the people’s thoughts and needs were, in addition to having wisdom readily at hand to respond to those thoughts and needs, and to guide them. That argument should give fans of the Chinese model pause.

In a well-ordered government, the aristocracy (“elite” would be our preferred term) employs its wisdom in service of the people, not in service of itself. How does the system do this? Two ways. In part, it makes the democratic element direct and explicit in one house. The lower house, being the most democratic, is designed to ensure that the people’s wants and needs are directly on the agenda. Hence a well-designed lower house “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them,” Adams wrote in “Thoughts on Government,” his popular 1776 pamphlet. The upper house would have to be aware of and take the people’s wishes into account if they wished to get any bill through. Beyond that, as Adams notes, even a king, at least one who genuinely wanted to do right by his people, would realize that he needed the other two houses to inform, refine, and moderate public opinion.

The second way that the elites would be nudged (to use a 21st century term for the “checks and balances of republican government”), was via their ambitions. To further their ambitions, the elites in the Senate would have to get a majority of the lower house on board, which would, in turn, force them to do something of genuine service to the republic. In Federalist 51, Madison famously wrote, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man, must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” Madison was discussing the checks among the branches of the legislature. Writing roughly a year before Madison, Adams applied that logic to the different houses of the legislature (plus the executive with a veto) as well. “Orders of men, watching and balancing each other, are the only security; power must be opposed to power, and interest to interest.”

In the 20th century, Progressives and their successors in the New Deal took direct aim at that model. By creating an administrative bureaucracy, staffed with credentialed, elite experts, with appointments for life, and to whom the authority to write and interpret most of our legal code was delegated, the legislature was diminished in importance. Moreover, the Senate’s crucial functions that Adams articulated of refining opinion and offering service to the House were undermined and overshadowed by a permanent rulemaking body. Hence the concerns of the average voter grew to be divorced from the concerns of the people who actually write our legal code. In our time, this division is reaching a crisis point, as the current election season seems to demonstrate.

The increase of authority concentrated in Washington, D.C. further exacerbates this problem. The more that is done in Washington, especially through the ministrations of the regulatory state, the less easy it is for the laws to accommodate the diverse ways of life that exist across our extended republic. In this case, once again, the ability actually to make the laws under which we citizens live is taken from the people we elect in our states, cities, and towns, and given to an unelected elite in Washington, and, with them, their enforcers across the Union. Hence this government serves the “new class,” and not the American people as a whole.

To see just how far removed our laws are from the legislative process consider some examples. The FCC’s recent “net neutrality” ruling relies upon the 1996 Communications Act for its claim of authority. Yet that act, when it passed, was not designed to regulate the Internet, as the Supreme Court recognized as recently as 2005. Fast forward a few years, the bureaucrats really want to regulate the Internet, and yet Congress will not explicitly give them that authority. Hence they simply claim that they, in fact, do have that authority under the 1996 Act. We see the same process at work in the EPA’s claim to be able to regulate greenhouse gasses, and in other like cases across the government. So much for the democratic process, and so much for keeping our governing class and we the people connected.

Finally, note that Adams speaks of how this system “excites emulation among all classes” and “gives a universal energy to the human character, in every part of the state, such as never can be obtained in a monarchy.” By giving the common man a real say in our system of government, it draws them in. Just as, Adams thought, working with the representatives of the common men in the House would force ambitious senators to serve the public, so too did Adams think that having the ability to influence their “betters” would invest the common citizen in the system, and fire his ambition to serve at his own level, moderating his own views in the service of the general good. In other words, Adams thought such a structure of government was the best way to ensure that the new republic would be a functioning middle-class democracy.

By removing so much government from the regular democratic process, the modern administrative state rejects that process, and the result is twofold: out-of-touch elites, and immoderate common voters. Adding powers to Washington is not the path most likely to solve these problems.

Richard Samuelson

Richard Samuelson is Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino.

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  1. gabe says

    Nice account of the decline of a Republic.

    What is missing, or perhaps, not sufficiently emphasized, is an account of the other, and perhaps more valuable role intended for the Senate. i.e., to act as “States Diplomats.” These elite representatives were to be charged with protecting the interests of their State AND to moderate such populist influences / ambitions as may from time to time arise. One may reasonable argue that the Senate was the final buttress against a centraliz(ing) Federal Government. Senators were expected to protect the interests of their State as a “State” and not necessarily as a collection of citizens comprising that State.

    With the passage of the 17th Amendment, one more barrier to a “centralized” overbearing Federal Government was cast aside with the consequent effect of eliminating the intended (and generally successful) *moderating* or tempering influence of the State(s) via their Senatorial Representation. Now they, too, would, at first, be subject to all the whims and fancies of a popular electorate; ultimately, even the force of the local electorate would give way to a national influence attributable, perhaps, to the influence of “Party.”

    Can anyone argue that absent the 17th Amendment, that the Senate would act in almost complete obeisance to the dictates of a Federal Administrative State, that it would eschew responsibility for its States welfare in exchange for a *grant* from the Federal teat, that it would willingly, no, enthusiastically and continually make such accommodations that the power and sovereignty of the States would be reduced, dismissed and eventually cast off into historical insignificance – as some arcane vestige of a long forgotten time?

    This, in fact, has been the result of the “happy effects” of the Progressive’s passage of the 17th Amendment.

    The envisaged “State Diplomat” has now been reduced to a State MERCHANT, angling for any juice from the swelled teat of the pregnant Federal Government!!!!

  2. R Richard Schweitzer says

    “Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen. Unfortunately the modern American state, by making our government less democratic has made it less responsive to the people. At the same time, it has made our governing class less aware of the needs, hopes, and fears of the average citizen.” RS

    While there is much to niggle about in Professor Samuelson’s presentation let us spend our niggle prudently:

    “Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen.” RS

    If “our system” refers to the constitutionally delineated form of government (a Republican form), it was “designed” (structured) with limiting principles upon the exercise of powers that impact *individual* liberty. To assert that the structure was “supposed to be designed to ensure” any particular condition of relationships other than the impacts of the exercises of power is no more than the expression of judgments (which vary) of results.

    “Unfortunately the modern American state, by making our government less democratic has made it less responsive to the people.” RS

    Presumably (from subsequent references), this asserts that the Federal Administrative State [FAS] impairs the processes (democratic) which can make a government “responsive” to the people – even though the affairs and operations of that government are directed by a particular class (the “Ruling Class” or “Political Class”) drawn from an elite with the imprimatur of the populace. Of course, that reification of the State or any government may be “shorthand,” but it obscures the real sources of the objectionable condition, which sources are the reasons for the creation and operating the effects of the FAS. “It’s the people, intellectual ! ”

    ” At the same time, it has made our governing class less aware of the needs, hopes, and fears of the average citizen.” RS

    Ah! The obscuring qualities of the indefinite article; but here Professor Samuelson is on the track of a major disclosure. It is not the Federal Administrative State (“It”) that has made “our governing class” less connected with the actual tenor of those impacted by the operations of the FAS; it is that the creation and operation of the FAS has resulted in the creation of an entirely separate and distinct “governing class,” (the Ruling Class”?) drawn from an elite of the (credentialed) managerial class. Those are separations and distinctions
    from the vestigial **Political Class** of the constitutionally delineated government, who are more closely in contact with, and dependent upon, the general population; but have delegated much of the powers delegated to them to what is now the real “governing class;” thereby forfeiting much of the effectiveness of those contacts and their benefits to that populace. This now separate and distinct “Political” Class is drawn from, or selected by, a more fluid and circulating elite that appears to show sign of segmentation.

    There can be arguments about how this has come to be; and, should it be. But, it seems obvious we now have two governments and that the one “of” the people with its Ruling Class is not “by” the people.

  3. Scott Amorian says

    Richard, I always enjoy your posts. You are one of my favorite bloggers in this forum. Your analysis is dead-on, once again.

    I must half disagree with the closing statement, that giving more powers to Washington is not the solution. I would differ in that I believe that giving more of the correct powers is the solution. In the designs referenced by Adams and Madison the senate is where the power of conscience was supposed to lie. The Constitution was originally meant to be what Richard Reinsch referred to brilliantly (in a recent podcast) as a “republic of conscience.” But that power was not architected correctly and immediately when the Constitution was put into operation, government began its drift into the duality of populism (a tyranny of the majority) vs dictatorship (a tyranny of a minority). The populists won with the election of Jefferson, and the ideal of government, limited by a chamber of conscience, was quickly lost.

    I think the solution is to bring conscience into government as the Framers originally intended. But to do that government must be reorganized to support a conscientious senate, one empowered to act as the primary limiters to bad government, without fear of public (populist) retribution. I do not see how that can be done without giving the senate the secret ballot. The problem is that conservatives would fear such a change, progressives would seek to take full advantage of it, and the sensible people will not tolerate rapid and extreme changes in the system we depend on.

    What were some of the ideas and concerns the Framers had on the topic with respect to office holders, I wonder. Why was the senate not given the secret ballot originally? What is stopping the senate from exercising it now?

    • R Richard Schweitzer says

      @ Scott:

      As indicated, there is much to niggle about in Samuelson’s presentation.

      “By removing so much government from the regular democratic process, the modern administrative state rejects that process, and the result is twofold: out-of-touch elites, and immoderate common voters. Adding powers to Washington is not the path most likely to solve these problems.” RS

      You, Scott, also speak of solutions:

      “I must half disagree with the closing statement, that giving more powers to Washington is not the solution. I would differ in that I believe that giving more of the correct powers is the solution.” SA

      Depending on whether we are agreed on the nature or source of **the** problem (which may not be Samuelson’s selection), we may be in agreement that the “giving” of **correcting** powers can be a solution to the problems created by the conditions in which the powers delegated to the Federal Administrative State face no offsetting powers to enforce limiting principles. (See, Madison)

      That takes us to consider to whom such correcting powers should be “given.”

      Many suggest the return of those powers (and expressly their exercise) to the legislators who delegated them away in the first instance (delegations unaccompanied by any limiting principles). Many of the realists understand that a change in the composition of legislative motivations would be necessary for such a return of powers to be effective.

      “I think the solution is to bring conscience into government as the Framers originally intended.” SA

      Looking at that latter project for a “solution” must give us pause.

      Let us look instead at those processes designated as democracy (power of the people) for other channels to establish powers to offset the powers of the The Federal Administrative State. What channels are available to put powers (Kratia) in the hands of individuals (Demos) whose conditions and liberty are impacted by the exercises of power by the administrators of the Federal Administrative State?

      Charles Murray has suggested something similar to “Civil Disobedience,” which would essentially and disrupt the functions of the Federal Administrative State and create problems and conflicts for and amongst the administrators. I have suggested the establishment of the “New Court” providing specific standing and remedies available to individuals adversely impacted by the operations of the Federal Administrative State.

      If we should see signs of the return of “conscience,” or any other angelic attributes, to those delegated with legislative authority, it will probably come about as a result of public recognition of, and repulsion from, the additional form of government that has been created by the constitutionally delineated legislature and the powers delegated without limiting principles to an unelected, unaccountable, often incompetent “governing class.” But that is a matter of time, during which there will be continuing social erosion. However, it will probably lead to the careful deconstruction of the Federal Administrative State and return to a single form of government in which the “ruling” and “political” class will be one and the same as predicted by Gaetano Mosca.

  4. z9z99 says

    The original post by Professor Samuelson and the three thoughtful replies above suggest, to me anyway, that what is perceived as missing in our system of government is something akin to the censors of the Roman republic. What is missing is a sanctus magistratus, serving a limited term who policed the ethics of public officials and the regimen morum, and who were entrusted with the duties requiring honesty and integrity, i.e. taking the census and administering the state finances. The suggestion in Professor Samuelson’s post and Scott’s response seems to be that the Senate was originally conceived as guardian of a similar trust, but political erosion has frustrated that principle. Gabe and R Richard’s post identify the roles played by the 17th amendment and the rise of the federal administrative state, respectively, in bringing about the infirmity.

    There is enough truth to go around here. The overseer role has been delegated to a permanent bureaucracy whose tenures allow the indulgence of self interest and political vanity. The appointed sycophants in the executive branch cannot seem to muster a modicum of spine to hold anyone accountable for the plethora of scandals in the IRS, the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Mrs. Clinton’s buffoonish IT Department, etc. The public welfare is merely a prop in political theater.

    The underlying problem though seems to be a lack of civic skepticism; the healthy, cold-eyed kind that would not allow “deference” to an administrative agency’s conception of its own authority, that will not allow miscreant agencies to investigate themselves only to find themselves hunky-dory. It would not allow prosecutorial misconduct to legitimize itself as prosecutorial discretion. The real problem is that we as Americans have become tolerant of the notion of political corruption, incompetence and malfeasance as a reasonable price to pay for politicians who promise us emotional satisfaction, as long as they can have everything else. We accept the delusion that the supposed guardians of public integrity, the Inspectors General, the Congressional Budget Office, the free press (ha ha ha ha ha!!!) are staffed by Serpico, Cincinnatus, Jefferson Smith, Katniss Everdine and other incorruptible heroes looking out for us.

    The problem isn’t our system. It is the venal, mediocrity in our political class that otherwise good, ordinary people have come to put up with.

    • gabe says

      Z:

      Great post!

      I had forgotten about the censors, an institution that lasted for some 400 years. It is an interesting way to look at the design / intent / mechanism of the US Senate. Unlike the Senate, however, the censors served only for a limited time (gee, da ya think term limits, maybe?), 18 months or so. I suppose this was not considered sufficient time to become thoroughly corrupt – it did seem to be effective. But we allow our version to sit and “censor” for upwards of 30 years. Can any man withstand temptation for 30 years?

      Shakespeare addressing a fault in Roman governance may have said it best : “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

      As you say, we are willing to endure venality, mediocrity and corruption BECAUSE we have also become so. I would argue that it is because the role of censor as envisioned by Madison, i.e., a culturally inculcated moral and political virtue has been abandoned as have the *institutions / associations (in R. Richards terms). Thus, both the mechanism, the Senate, and the institutions for effective *censorship* are absent. We, the People, have to a great extent welcomed and encouraged this outcome.

      It is therefore no surprise that we now seem willing to elevate to the highest office anyone of several Plebeians in the form of Trump, Sanders or the Fat Lady in a Pantsuit. Ahhh! What censors they will make!

      • z9z99 says

        Gabe,

        Good points. Here is a question for the panel: How significant is it that the founding “aristocracy” who were supposed to be caretakers of our civic integrity, whether in the Senate or otherwise, derived their wealth from agriculture and their status as landowners, whereas today’s “elite” derive their wealth from technology, banking, and crony capitalism? (And yes, I know Benjamin Franklin was a publisher who profited from his appointment as Postmaster.)

        • gabe says

          Z:

          Let me qualify your statement above. Many of the “founding aristocracy” derived their wealth from the land. This would include the “Virginians” first and foremost. Yet some of the northern aristocracy derived their wealth from mercantile activities. Hamilton was no Farmer.

          Yet, there is, perhaps, a large ‘boulder of salt” in the assertion. some have referred to the effect of such wealth acquisition as the “agrarian sentiment” Jefferson, clearly was one of those and perhaps that fact is reflected in his (and others) perspective on government and liberty. (Too long to go into detail; I think Kevin Hardwick could help us here). There is, or very well may be a certain *grounding* that is consequent to, well, living off the land, of having a sense of “place” that is not as likely to develop from more mercantile or modern day pursuits which probably make it significantly less likely that one would value “place” OVER the somewhat broader geographical areas inherent in trade. As a corollary, it is also perhaps more likely that one would tend to appreciate, indeed foster, a different conception of the role of government (and consequently liberty) than one who, engaged in worldwide affairs, would develop. This is purely speculative on my part. But I think it follows that the more grounded elite would also envision governmental / cultural mechanisms, associations and institutions that would be markedly different than those envisioned by the modern businessman.

          Yet, it is hard to determine if the cause of the problem, as observed today, is the result of a gradual change in the motivations of the elite, or if the changes are the result of a perpetually (perhaps, wantonly pregnant) Federal Administrative State. The more areas that “deserve” FAS attention, the more likely that the modern elite will note the desirability (both economically and institutionally) of their ministrations. Crony capitalism is clearly the child of this “pregnancy;” yet, it can also be said that crony capitalism is its father! The separation from the land, from any grounding in the limiting principles is, again both cause and effect.

          Referring back to my early catechism classes, One should avoid the “near occasions of sin. The FAS is the “occasion of sin” writ large. So we now have an institutional structure that promotes corruption, self and institutional aggrandizement, and the dissolution of any residual virtue found or expected to be found not only in the aristocracy but also in the citizenry. In short, we now have a cultural-political more that not only changes motivations but has arrogated to itself the right / duty to impose an entirely different set of motivations (and as R. Richard says, obligations) upon the people.

          Pretty sucky, if you ask me!!!!

    • Scott Amorian says

      The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 included a “Council of Censors” which was charged with overseeing the government and with calling constitutional conventions if needed. It had some of its origins in the Roman censors. It didn’t work out.

      There is an online text that discusses the Council of Censors is available online here

      https://archive.org/details/coucilcensors00meadrich

      It includes a searchable plaintext version.

      This texts included other instances of attempting a Constitutional Council of Censors. It discusses why the concept failed.

      • gabe says

        Scott:

        thanks for the info. Interestingly enough, there were also talks at Philadelphia of having an “advisory council” that would / could rule on validity of laws prior to implementation. It, too, was rejected.

        BTW: I am not advocating a council of Censors – where we are today, it would not make much difference.
        I would prefer that we allow tradition (old school, but it ain’t gonna happen) provide the censoring. As R. Richard says “we don’t need another mechanism” nor more power to the gummint!

        take care
        gabe

      • z9z99 says

        Scott,

        Interesting find. Thanks.

        It seems from a brief skimming of the reference that the councils of censors failed because they were seen not so much as checks on corrupt government, as on the the people’s ability to amend their state constitutions. Perhaps the reason that the institution survived in Rome for 400 years is that Roman institutions were widely observant of, and based on tradition, but the new American states were finding their way in uncharted territory. Maybe a polity without a long history of either corruption, ossified bureaucracies or self rule has little need for censors. It could be that censors are more useful to mature states, with established institutions and traditions. I therefore nominate Professor Degirolami to be censor for a two year, non-renewable term.

      • Scott Amorian says

        After reading the text (it’s an essay, not a book) the primary cause of the failure in Pennsylvania was that the censors were dominated by, you guessed it, populist partisan politics–government of the political amateurs, for the amateurs, by the amateurs, That made it difficult for them do anything constructive. They abandoned the scheme fairly quickly

        The censors of Vermont had similar problems, but they lasted much longer, until the late 1800’s. They proposed lots of interesting amendments, but only a few of those were actually passed. They eventually realized that they were not contributing much in the way of governance. The Vermont public was a lot like Gabe–generally resistant to making an effort to fix what’s broken with their form of government. The censors may have been proposing too much too fast. I find it interesting that the censors tended to be progressive (back before “progressive” became synonymous with “leftist”), while the conventions tended to be conservative. The essay didn’t really discuss the general oversight of government by the Vermont censors.

        That suggests that a convention for the US Constitution if held today to fix problems in the architecture of government would have a similar issue with strong conservatism among its ranks.

        While it’s all very interesting, I’m not sure what it would take for a state government to address the issue of its senate becoming the instrument of conscience in government.

        Our modern knowledge of voting methods can bring in a better class of senator, and allow those senators to exercise the secret ballot effectively. Our modern technology would permit us to exercise those voting methods. A simple +1, -1 ballot would be most proper for choosing senators and we can do that today. That wouldn’t work in 1787. The manual counting would have been overly complex. Modern technology would also simplify the act of controlling secret balloting by senators.

        And I’m not so sure that any state constitution actually forbids a secret ballot in the senate or forbids better voting methods.

        • gabe says

          Scott:

          The ONLY state I have never been to is Vermont!

          Also:
          1) Technology, in itself, will fix nothing. It may be as readily abused as a simple “show of hands” for voting.
          2) Secret ballots go against the very core of “accountability” to the electorate. Consider that one of the major obstacles to the “taming” of the Fed Admin State is that so much of what is *crafted* therein is obscured from public view – do you or I know who has implemented the latest regulations – or why they have done so.
          3) it would seem that the likelihood of corruption is increased by a secret ballot. While it may seem that allowing a Senator to vote in secret would conceivably relieve the pressure that a Senator may feel from a big donor, it is just as likely, if not more likely, that the Senator would be able to vote in favor of the donor since no citizen will know how he voted. Imaging the possibilities for further corruption – they are considerable.

          I suppose this means that I am “generally resistant to making an effort to fix what’s broken with [our] form of government.”

          I prefer to first do a diagnosis, deliberate and then re-examine policy prescriptions. Regrettably, experience teaches that it is far too easy for our leaders AND citizens to succumb to the “occasions of sin.” Yet, I am always prepared to accept a half of a loaf of decent bread rather than an entire loaf of spoiled bread.

          take care
          gabe

          • z9z99 says

            What we seem to have here is three separate hypotheses, and there possible combinations:

            1,) We don’t have the right people;
            2.) We don’t have the right institutions; and
            3.) We don’t have the right rules.

            Given the ebb and flow of events, it is inevitable that all three will be true at the same time, at least for a while. It is like three sine waves of different frequencies occasionally having simultaneous peaks. It is also possible that having the wrong rules leads to having the wrong people and vice versa. Whatever the situation, it is unlikely that we are ever just one good idea, or one good man or woman away from societal and political perfection. The maladies in our body politic, from civil asset forfeiture, to denigration of speech in favor of childish feelings, to an unwieldy and abusive administrative system must be confronted and remedied one at a time; often against the stern opposition of the elite, the rent seeking and the flat out corrupt.

          • Scott Amorian says

            1) “Technology, in itself, will fix nothing. It may be as readily abused as a simple “show of hands” for voting.”

            Technology changes everything, including the form that government takes and the way it acts. That is one of the main lessons of the Meader essay.

            When the new state of Vermont needed a new constitution it literally copied the Pennsylvania constitution verbatim with only a few minor changes. So here you have two different states with the same constitution. The constitution included an executive council and a counsel of censors, and a monocameral congress. The Council of Censors worked well for a very wild and wooly rural state, but didn’t work at all for the more sophisticated Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania constitution lasted from 1776 until 1790, a period of 14 years. The Vermont council of censors lasted from 1778 until 1870, a period of 82 years. The censors acted as specialists representing the public conscience. The people of the newly formed rural state of Vermont did not have an established state culture, and they lacked efficient communication. There were few newspapers and the like.

            That is the similarity between Vermont and the Romans. The public did not have efficient communication, so they needed someone to stay informed on their behalf and act to limit government on their behalf.

            The invention of the printing press, a technological advancement, helped drive liberal government by allowing ideas to be communicated efficiently. With the printing press, specialists were not needed as much to act as go-betweens between people and God, or people and government. The printing press could be readily abused, and often it was, but overall it led to social improvements.

            Modern technology accelerates communication and reduces the lack of political knowledge of the populace. For government to foist bad law onto the people it has to act very quickly before the conscientious public finds out what they are up to and stops the government. That is why Obamacare was shoved through so fast. That is why Obama complains that he needs to make things happen faster. Progressives know they need to enact law faster today than in the past because the public is finding out what they are up to faster thanks to faster communication technology. Faster, more thorough, and more efficient communication is stopping bad law from happening because a population better informed by the “new media” is preventing bad law. Technology, in itself, is fixing that.

            For a secret ballot to work in the senate it will have to be policed, just as any kind of secret ballot needs policing. A specialist is required to do the policing, one who is accountable to the people, one who is not appointed by the people being policed. In other words, the office needs to be an elected office.

            Modern knowledge about voting techniques is also useful. We know for example that the simple +1 vote, the “pluralist” voting method we use, will usually result in a two party political system. We also know that a simple +1, -1 voting system will help prevent a two party system and will bring in more moderate candidates. Voting technology can improve the quality of elected officeholders. I anticipate that the +1, -1 system will start being used in some areas for larger elections and that it will prove to be quite effective. I would look to Canada and France to be the first to try this on a large scale.

          • Scott Amorian says

            “2) Secret ballots go against the very core of “accountability” to the electorate. Consider that one of the major obstacles to the “taming” of the Fed Admin State is that so much of what is *crafted* therein is obscured from public view – do you or I know who has implemented the latest regulations – or why they have done so.

            “3) it would seem that the likelihood of corruption is increased by a secret ballot. While it may seem that allowing a Senator to vote in secret would conceivably relieve the pressure that a Senator may feel from a big donor, it is just as likely, if not more likely, that the Senator would be able to vote in favor of the donor since no citizen will know how he voted. Imaging the possibilities for further corruption – they are considerable.”

            To the contrary, Gabe my conservative friend, secret ballots are at the very core of conscientious election and liberal government.

            The accountability you are looking for is accountability for doing what the general public wants. If an elected representative does not do as the electorate wishes, the electorate replaces them. That is populism. That is the foundation of our government and it is a primary cause of its dysfunction. That is the “democracy” warned about in Federalist 10.

            Popular government holds the representative accountable for action. Conscientious government holds the representative accountable for character.

            The trial jury is one great example of conscientious government. The jurists do not generally publicize how each jurist voted. This secures the vote of conscience. Without this our jury system would not work. If the public knew how each jurist voted, the jurists would vote based on how they thought their friends, family and neighbors would think of them, and how the friends, family and neighbors of the accused would think of them. Justice would not be well served.

            Likewise when we go to the polls we vote in secret.

            In both cases a certain amount of trust is required of the voters. Liberty depends on the secret ballot of conscience.

            The senate lacks a secret ballot, so it votes according to public opinion, not on the rightness or wrongness of the issue. So bad law is made. And bad appointees end up wearing black robes and executive suits.

            If a big donor gave money to a senator for the purpose of corruption, how would the donor know that the senator voted the way they wanted if the ballot was secret? Without a way to verify the senator’s vote, the donor would have no way of knowing if the money went to its purpose. You imagine this as a potential opening for corruption. I see it as a preventative against corruption. The secret ballot would prevent corruption, not enable it. The political problem is that the balloter can be falsely accused of corruption and has no way of disproving the accusation. A system using the secret ballot must address that problem.

            Samuelson is very correct, that our form of government is senatorial, since the senate is the natural limiter in limited government. Correctly functioning American government requires that properly selected senators be chosen, and that they be entrusted with the power to exercise conscience, and that they be monitored by a specialist for improprieties. Prudence requires that the senators be protected from false accusations from manipulative populist politicians, and that requires a specialist also. Modern technology allows us to do all of that.

  5. gabe says

    Scott;

    What it all comes down to in simple terms is, as Richard is wont to say, “motivations”
    Or as Madison said, “if men were angels…..” I know, having been named after an Archangel, that we are not angels; rather, we, all of us, are prone to error and folly AND base motives. Whatever system one wishes to impose or overlay upon current malfunctioning government, clever men / women will soon find a way to “work the system.” look only to your own workplace for more banal examples of the corrupting influence of base motivations. YET, we are to believe that these same ALL TOO HUMAN motivations will not affect our new “censors” – indeed we wish to further shield them from discovery by allowing them to hide behind a *secret ballot.* Oh what fun, we could have, boyos!!!!

    As for a secret jury ballot – there is a time and place for everything “unto heaven.” Secrecy is important in jury trials PRECISELY because we do not want the State knowing who voted how!!! – obviously for fear of state reprisal / influence.

    Not so when it comes to matters that affect the entire nation and for which the “occasion(s) of sin” are far more likely to be a factor in the decision making. A jury vote affects ONE man – again, not so for the Senate.

    You question my hesitancy to “fix” the nation. I am far too humble for such an impious adventure. however, I am not averse to questioning, and typically not without significant historical justification, any and all schemes that purport to “fix” all of our problems. As Z has said, it ain;t happening with the coming of one brave, virtuous man / women OR political scheme.

    All of our technology will amount to nothing more than the latest “techno-fad” once we frail and (improperly) motivated humans get our hands on it. It is the political equivalent of entropy – all systems eventually break down into chaos – no matter how many terabytes of memory / data are available for the task, as they pale in comparison to the sheer cunning of the human mind.

    I simply am not prepared to welcome or advance any more grand scheme(s) designed to insure human happiness and good government, justice, etc etc. – that, after all, is the errant step- child of the Enlightenment and Rationalism (aka Progressivism).

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