I had run across something in a novel a few years back talking about the three good and three bad forms of government. I’d been trying for some time to remember who exactly had discussed it in depth. For some reason Plato had stuck in my mind, and I wasn’t able to track it down — and couldn’t find the blasted book it was in, either.
Well I finally tracked the quote down, and it turns out it was Aristotle. I haven’t read either of those writers extensively, because, well you want to talk about boring Dead White Guys, those would top my list. But the bit about the forms of government stuck in my mind.
According to Aristotle, there are basically three forms of government which at least have the potential to be good forms of government — Monarchy, Aristocracy and Republic.
In Aristotle’s view, each of those three forms worked well so long as the people in charge remembered they had a duty to those whom they rule. That the reason they had the power they have is in order to administer their nation for the best interests of the people of the nation and the future thereof.
Aristotle also felt there were three evil forms of government — into which all of the three good forms would inevitably slide.
Monarchies tend to become Tyrannies where the Monarch rules only for himself, Aristocracies tend to become Oligarchies in which the Aristocrats work only to benefit themselves and the people of their class, and — a Democracy in which we have the tyranny of the masses.
What?, You say, Democracy is an evil form of government? Don’t we have a Democracy in the United States? Well, no actually, we’re not supposed to. We’re supposed to have a Republic. There’s a reason for that. The founders were all classically educated men. They’d read Plato and Plutarch and, aye, Aristotle. They were aware that direct democracy simply does not work. The people “vote themselves largesse from the public coffers,” and eventually everything collapses.
They created a representative republic precisely so that there would be a check on the passions of the masses, just as they created the three branches of government to be a check on each other.
In essence they took all three “good” forms of government and folded them into the United States of America. The president is, in essence, an elected monarch. Such have not been unknown in history, the pre-Norman English (Saxon really) monarchy was one example. Congress and the Supreme Court amount to an elective and appointed aristocracy. Because they are elected for fixed terms, the U.S. is putatively, a republic.
We’re also watching all three “evil” forms of government emerge within our own country today. In California, for instance, the public initiative system allows the direct passage of laws without reference to the elected legislature — and there have been some truly silly laws passed because of it. The current holder of the White House is using executive orders, and his own influence to jam through legislation and regulation without regard to constitutionality or legality — how is this not Tyranny? Congress, both houses, and the courts have become nothing but self perpetuating oligarchies in which we find it is not unusual at all to have members of the same family serving in seats that are almost handed down. Witness the Carnahan “dynasty” in Missouri. That’s on the Democrat side. The Blunt family on the Republican side has sent many members to Congress and the governor’s mansion as well. Congress makes laws which in general seem to benefit only those of the political class.
So in America today we see not only the three “good” forms of government at work, but also all three “evil” forms.
What it comes down to, is that those who rule, have forgotten their duty. They now work only for themselves and not in the best interests of those whom they rule.
The solution? I’m not sure. If history is any indication the whole mess will come down in blood, there will be a dictatorship, and a series of revolutions until something resembling a nation comes out on top once again. I hope this isn’t the route we follow. If we can get back to Constitutional principals we might have a chance. The problem is, for those in power, it’s not in their best interest to do so.
All IMHO, of course.
(Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Columbus Advocate and the Baxter Springs News. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)