Thursday, October 09, 2008

Was Franklin Right? Is "The Republic" A Failure?

More and more, it seems Ben Franklin's out-right skepticism about the durability of the Constitutional Republic founded in Philadelphia in 1787, was justified: "A republic, if you can keep it," he told a bystander who asked him what had been wraught inside the (Convention) Hall. He was not sanguine about the prospects.

If the outlook seemed dim to Franklin 220 or so years ago, it seems to have grown less bright over the passage of time, until now, when it seems all the comforting rhetorics have been overthrown by pirates and scoundrels bent on personal aggrandizement with no thought or care for the consequences of their acts, and have done so, in plain sight, with connivance of the Congress and the frequent approval of an alternatively terrified and narcotized populace whip-sawed between bloody international conflicts, threats of random, violent attacks at home (one may never overestimate the shock the 9/11 attacks administered to the average american's sense of security), and domestic financial crises of scopes and scales they had never imagined possible.

But, as often is the case, it takes observers from the OUTSIDE of our 'system'--intelligent, articulate, observant, low-keyed, non-ideological, educated, cosmopolitan people--to enunciate the requisite doubt as to whether USer "democracy" can survive; and whether it should, given what it has become.

My pal Diane at cabdrollery reads widely, eclectically, and intelligently. Today she has up a post in which she extensively quotes and then endeavors to rebut those kids of allegations by Rami Khouri in the Middle East Times. Diane is rightly disturbed by Khouri's critique, which places the nomination of Sarah Palin in the context of the evils of deadly buffoonery to which our system seems inevitably to descend. Here's Khouri:
BEIRUT -- Watching the U.S. presidential election from the Arab region is a confusing vocation. At one level, American democracy is an impressive, vibrant, often stunning, phenomenon that permits any citizen – certified idiots and genuine geniuses alike – to seek and assume public office, and control the destiny of society.

It produces some of the most monumental errors and costly adventures in world history, in the military and economic fields, but it also contains the mechanisms for its own self-correction, reconfiguration, improvement and re-birth – as we witness these days in the economic arena.

At another level, America also provides a powerful argument against a totally open, unregulated democratic system, because it allows the volatile and sometimes infantile emotional psyche of a bare majority of citizens to determine the exercise of immense power.
Khouri then cites three instances of both the "volatile" exercise of power along with the paradoxes it engenders: the Iraq clusterfuck, the "GWOT" (Global War On Terror) and the latest fiasco, the implosion of the global credit markets.
The fascinating element for me (he continues) is not if a specific policy is judged to be good or bad; it is that reckless and destructive decisions have been repeatedly made by the most open and vibrant democracy in the world.

At the same time, American leaders continue to preach to the rest of us that democracy and freedom are our best hope for a better future. I agree in principle. In practice though, watching American democracy at work dampens many people's enthusiasm for that particular model. Rather, we need to temper the extravagant excesses of democratic systems that are so vulnerable to manipulation by special interests and lobbies, or that pander to mass hysteria.
The fact that someone like Palin, who lacks any national or international experience – perhaps even basic knowledge – can be a potential vice president is a sign of American democracy at its worst. In one swift, serendipitous moment, she was transformed from a moose hunter in Alaska to a global mullah hunter in a contest and a world about which she knows zilch – as she reconfirms every time she opens her mouth.

The fact that respected conservative analysts and commentators have already asked for her to be dropped from the ticket is about as damning a verdict as there can be of her qualifications. This is much more problematic, though, for what it tells us about McCain, and the entire American political system.

Clearly, something is wrong with a system that turns democratic electoral contestation into either a fantastic gambling orgy for impulsive and ambitious elderly men, or an exercise in mass psychotherapy for millions in the electorate who seek solace and emotional recovery by embracing the image of the bouncy cheerleader next door, regardless of what this could mean for the United States and the world.

The open and honest American system once again simultaneously shows us its best and worst. There is historic brilliance in designing a checks-and-balance governance system anchored in the consent of the governed, and open to every man and woman who aspires to public service, regardless of color, religion or gender. Alongside this, however, there is also bombastic buffoonery in the manner in which desperados and simpletons occasionally gravitate to control the system by offering the electorate a hybrid candidacy of cheerleading razzle-dazzle with macho emotionalism...
Diane, an eternal optimist, ends by doubting that "these monumental catastrophes (are) the inevitable result of "a totally open, unregulated democratic system"? Or, as I would prefer to think, are they actually the inevitable result of a decent system that has been corrupted by those who would appeal to the worst parts of the human psyche rather than the best?"

I can, I said understand the source of herr confusion. Because, unfortunately, the monumental catastrophes ARE the inevitable result of such a system. Such a system is what is required for the emergence and eventual domination over us of the "worst parts of the human psyche."

Though, on the whole, I think we give "humanity" a bad name when we conflate it with the bipedal monstrosities of venality, mendacity and cupidity which are the hallmarks of 'western culture' in its contemporary (and so far only) expression.

I like to say: Humanity is a cosmic experiment testing whether "life" can withstand "intelligence." Imho, the null hypothesis is in no danger...

1 comment:

Mr. Pelican said...

Calvin once said, " The surest sign that there is intelligent life in the universe is that it has not bothered to contact us". This was not John Calvin, BTW