At a time when our Lordly Masters ... will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American Freedom, it seems highly necessary that something should be done - George Washington
When our national and state constitutions were being created, our founders adhered to certain political theories. Those theories were all aimed at one great object: conserve the individual citizen's political liberty. Our constitutions have so successfully achieved this overall goal of protecting individual political liberty that today many of us seem to believe our political liberty cannot be taken away from us. This is a very serious mistake.
To glimpse the seriousness of the mistake, it helps to review the separation of powers theory. For the opposite of democracy is tyranny. Tyranny results where political power is not divided among multiple governmental bodies and along multiple political layers. Democracy is the ultimate separation of political powers. Our founders held to the theory that dividing political power, giving some to each governmental body and to every citizen, was the best defense against tyranny. Yet our government over the last few decades, especially over the last half-decade, and most especially last week, has been successfully undermining our separation of powers. The most urgent question is why are we so quiet about this?
Separating powers in American governments begins both at the bottom of the power hierarchy and at the top. During our revolution, public deliberations were an inseperable part of the everyday life of the citizen. Our founders correctly viewed public deliberation - deliberation restrained only by moral propriety - as the top of our political hierarchy. Through deliberations the will of the majority of public-spirited citizens is both discovered and articulated. The whole body of our founding citizens agreed, among other things, that our elected officials were our public servants.
Separating power required establishing as fact within the three primary governmental institutions (Executive, Courts, Congress) and across the whole land (nation, states, counties) that the majority of citizens ruled and that our elected officials were in office to carry out the wishes of this majority. That worked extraordinarily well when the majority of citizens were daily concerned with the direction and policies of their governments. Through daily political deliberations citizens found a common sense of purpose, common goals, and commonly shared priorities.
Over the years, the nation became wealthy and strong. Citizens began to withdraw from public deliberations. They began to enjoy distractions afforded by their wealth.
The ordinary citizen's attention shifted from public deliberations to automobiles and radio. Now we have added computer games, sports, a bewildering array of television shows, and a great fountain of emerging techno-wizardry.
Meanwhile, our public servants have taken advantage of us. They have made themselves our masters. They are rapidly dismantling the nation's institutional integrity that emerges through the separation of political and governmental powers. Congress increasingly passes laws consolidating power in the executive.
Our political life is at a very critical juncture. We ordinary citizens can resist that consolidation of power in the executive. We can set our private distractions aside until we find our way back, through public deliberations, to putting public servants in their proper place. We can discuss with our neighbors and our loved ones the upcoming election.
Who, among the candidates, will help us remember they are our public servants? Who among them will fight to conserve our separation of powers? Who among them will speak out against corruption in their own party? Which of the ballot measures will conserve our democratic politics and our republican governments?
While some of us may feel doubt about speaking with our neighbors, it helps to remember all those soldiers, in all those wars over the years, fighting to protect our way of life also knew they were not quite up to the challenges they faced. But they faced them anyway. Who among us is getting shot at while attempting to regain political deliberations? As FDR put it, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
We need to show by example that these challenges can and will be met with the energy and time and patience and carefulness they require.
Can we do less for our children and their children? Can we do less to regain our individual political self-respect? Who is better equipped to resist the now-rampant electoral diseases, such as whispering campaigns, electoral scare tactics, and congressional dismantling of our constitutional governments, spending boondoggles, and other corruptions than that fiercely independent minded citizen who, like George Washington, can ask of his neighbors: "What is to be done right now to resist the inappropriate behavior of our Lordly Masters?"
The ultimate separation of powers finds political power in individual citizens who will stand up to the whisper campaigners, the electoral scare tacticians, and elected peddlers of inappropriate legislation.