The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has proved to be significant in its appeal – a majority of Americans support the movement, even though it has been less than articulate in delineating its positions. Why is that? I suspect it’s because most of us are thrilled to see any mass movement challenge the status quo, even if the best it can do is to say “We demand change to the status quo”, and “Wall Street is a problem”.
But despite the lack of clarity in its goals, like a wildfire the movement has spread across America and the globe, shifting in focus from “Occupy Wall Street” to “Occupy Whatever” (supply the name of your city or college/university, guilty or not, or whatever). What started out of well earned revulsion towards the financial sector almost overnight turned into a national and global expression of disgust with the status quo, all of which has now been encapsulated in the notion of “occupying”.
There is more to this movement than the national media, and maybe even the “occupiers” themselves, recognize or understand. What might be described as the “trademarks” of the movement have been the slogan “We are the 99 percent” (wishful thinking, economically speaking) and its insistence on collective decision making, exemplified by the (to my mind, cheesy and creepy) collective recitation of resolutions.
These “trademarks” are the key to understanding the widespread support for this movement. The slogan “We are the 99 percent” draws attention to the truly enormous inequality in the distribution of wealth in the United States, where the wealthiest one percent of the population possesses twenty to twenty-five percent of the collective wealth of the nation. The movement’s insistence on collective decision making and “direct democracy” reflects an instinctual understanding that neither of those things is happening – or can happen – in our current political reality. And therein, we must recognize, the problem lies.
America is not a democracy in any way that the ancient Greeks, who coined the term, would have recognized. To the Greeks, “democracy” meant what the roots of the word mean: rule (cratia) by the people (demos). The Athenians invented – and fought for – this notion of government by the people and for the people, and in their democracy the citizens as a whole were sovereign: the people were the government and the ultimate deciders of all issues pertinent to their state.
Political Scientists would say that America is a “representative democracy”, meaning that as a nation we elect a president, a vice-president, and members of the House and Senate who (in theory) represent the people as a whole, and also regionally (the House) and by state (the Senate). How did we get here?
Our founders were deeply versed in the languages, cultures, and history of the Greeks and Romans. They were convinced that the “radical” or “direct” democracy of the Athenians had been a relatively short-lived experiment which, ultimately, succumbed to its own weaknesses. The weaknesses our founders assumed to be inherent in a direct democracy, however, had become the “accepted wisdom” in the historical and philosophical literature of the Greco-Roman world, in which monarchy and oligarchy triumphed over democracy.
Our founders overlooked the fact that the Athenian democracy which ultimately made the (very) wrong decision to go to war with Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father) was also the same democracy that had been among the foremost in turning back the Persian empire’s attempt to conquer Greece a hundred and fifty years earlier. This same democracy also created an empire for itself and many of the things we consider to be the hallmarks of classical Greek culture, including the Parthenon. In Athenian democracy, the benefits accrued by the people as a whole were shared among both the rich and the poor, and the wealth of the rich was harnessed to the public good.
In all of this lies the intersection between ancient history and the “Occupy” movement. From the perspective of the ancient world, our government in America is not a “representative democracy” – a fanciful and euphemistic coinage no ancient would have (with a straight face) recognized – but an extreme oligarchy, a rule (arche) of the few (oligoi).
How few? Again, the ancient world is useful for comparison here. Sparta (of “The 300” fame) was the model for, and the protector of, oligarchy in ancient Greece. At its height, its population of around 9,000 full Spartan citizens was ruled by 35 individuals (two kings, twenty-eight elders, and five “overseers”). Sparta’s ruling class, therefore, amounted to less than half of one percent of its population; if we include all of the people Sparta controlled in addition to its citizens, then the ruling class amounted to about one tenth of one percent of the population).
In America we currently have a population of over three-hundred and twelve million people, ruled by five-hundred and thirty six elected individuals (four-hundred and thirty-four in the House, one-hundred in the Senate, and a vice-president and a president). That means that our “rulers” represent just a little over two ten-thousandths of one percent of our population. To put the situation in more understandable terms, America is well over two-thousand times more oligarchic than Sparta was.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, while as of yet incoherent, intuitively “gets it”. Both the movement’s slogan “We are the 99 percent” and its insistence on direct democracy are reactions against the oligarchic nature of our government. Wall Street and income inequality are, however, just the primary symptoms of the problem; the real problem is our oligarchic government (the one percent can fairly easily control the two ten-thousandths of a percent that makes the rules). This explains the rapid spread of the movement, and the morphing of the movement’s motive from “Occupy Wall Street” to “Occupy Whatever”. America is an oligarchy, and in oligarchies, as Plato noted in the Republic, there is not one state but two, one of the very wealthy, and one of everyone else (and for that reason, Plato argued, oligarchies are inherently weak). A better (and more realistic) slogan for the “Occupy” movement might be “We are the 99.9998 percent”.
Our founding fathers were brilliant men, but they were brilliant men of their time. When they professed that “all men are created equal”, they meant all white men of substance, not “men” in its Germanic sense of “people in general” – women and non-white men of any sort were, by assumption, excluded. We reverence our Constitution for good reason, but our reverence has long since turned into idolatry. The last several years have made it inescapably clear that we need to rethink how we govern ourselves. Plato suggested in his Symposium that one of the best outcomes of an education would be thinking about constitutions, and in his Republic that the ideal outcome of an education would be individuals prepared to rule for the common good. While I have suggested no alternative to our current constitution, I can think of no task more in tune with the mission of a liberating education.
Emil Kramer is Associate Professor and chairman of Classics at Augustana College (Illinois)
This description of Athenian direct democracy is a bit misleading. After all, at its height Athens was a city-state of about 200 to 250,000 people, but only around 10% of that population were actually citizens. About a third of the population was slaves, and about 20% were those of foreign ancestry, known as metics, who were not legally permitted to participate in the democratic assembly. Also women were also excluded from political participation.
Also, comparing the oligarchs of Sparta to the members of Congress is a case of apples and oranges, since the oligarchs of Sparta were not elected, and could not be recalled from their position in the assembly by those not in the assembly.
Mr. Kramer, you were doing great up until this:
“That means that our “rulers” represent just a little over two ten-thousandths of one percent of our population. To put the situation in more understandable terms, America is well over two-thousand times more oligarchic than Sparta was.”
And then go further be-gummed in the sticky goo of error by repeating this old chestnut:
When [the Founders] professed that “all men are created equal”, they meant all white men of substance, not “men” in its Germanic sense of “people in general” – women and non-white men of any sort were, by assumption, excluded.
To see why this second assertion is utterly false, go read the first chapter of Thomas West’s Vindicating the Founders.
As for the first error, oh my. We do elect our representatives, you may recall. Most of them every two years. There are no classes of persons outside felons and aliens, from whom we may not elect representatives. There is also the fact of the 50 state and 27,000 or so local government entities which we may also elect representatives to.
And our culture is so democratic that an Alcibiades, given his tony bloodlines, would face an uphill battle becoming a legislative leader in our time.
Federalist 62 says our representatives will sometimes have to oppose the immediate will of the people, so as to MORE ACCURATELY REPRESENT “the calm and deliberate sense” of the people. Is there NOTHING to that argument?
You should track down a fine book of essays called How Democratic is the Constitution? It contains an essay called Deliberative Democracy by Joseph Bessette which shows why there is actually a whole lot to that argument. And, it contains one of Wilson Carey McWilliams’s best essays, and it is he that the best parts of your essay above are in tune with.
But while powerfully attacking Publius in the name of what was best in ancient participatory democracy, McWilliams avoids the obvious errors you fall into.
“Our founders overlooked the fact that the Athenian democracy which ultimately made the (very) wrong decision to go to war with Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father) was also the same democracy that had been among the foremost in turning back the Persian empire’s attempt to conquer Greece a hundred and fifty years earlier. This same democracy also created an empire for itself and many of the things we consider to be the hallmarks of classical Greek culture, including the Parthenon. In Athenian democracy, the benefits accrued by the people as a whole were shared among both the rich and the poor, and the wealth of the rich was harnessed to the public good.”
Let us not overlook the fact that the Athenian democracy defeated by its more powerful neighbor (Macedon) in spite of its best efforts to maintain its independence, was a democracy in the same Athens which built its great cultural achievements on the backs of its weaker neighbors about a century earlier. The implication of the above paragraph is that Athenian democracy, because of its imperialism, is somehow praiseworthy. Certainly it is easier to build public structures of great beauty like the Parthenon when you have your coffers overflowing. Of course it is easy to share the wealth among both rich and poor when you are extracting that wealth from both the rich and the poor of formerly free and independent cities. But lest we praise democracy too much for these achievements we should remember first their causes and second their results. The growth of Athenian wealth came from its control over the Delian League (though the discovery of silver minds in Attica certainly helped). Control over the League allowed Athens to extract wealth by forcing members to use its courts, transform its economy partially into a ship manufacturing industry by extracting money from smaller members, and dominate trade through commanding the League financed fleet, the largest in the Aegean. The demos was happy to support these policies for such were to their benefit. Of course, for the same reason the demos was happy to use force against other Greek cities who, rightly reckoning the Persian threat had passed, tried to withdraw from the League. The demos was willing to make the League into an empire, because the money was good. Ultimately, the demos was willing to lead that empire into policies which precipitated a disastrous and fratricidal war. They would vote for massacres. They would commit massacres. And they would arm and finance hubristic expeditions, sending countrymen to bleed and die, all to make sure the tribute continued uninterrupted. But such tribute was, admittedly, used for the public good of Athens.
Of course, Athens lost the Peloponnesian War. It turns out most people do not want to be ruled by a tryannical democracy any more than a Persian monarchy. Persian gold given to Sparta certainly helped. Athenian willingness to vote in support of a man like Alcibiades, who would promise them the sky, was probably even more helpful. But at last Athens’ attempts to make the world safe for its own democracy only resulted in miserable ruin. These are the results Athenian democracy and I suspect that they were not missed by the anti-imperialist among the founding fathers.
To criticize Athenian democracy is not to overlook the Athenian Golden Age. If anything, criticism of Athenian democracy is best based on a clear eyed recognition of its gold obsessed age. I do not say this as one who hates democracy. If I favor democracy, however, it is not because I think it likely to lead to the policies which favor place, limits, or liberty. Democracy can often be the enemy of these things. I certainly wouldn’t favor democracy because of the Athenian empire. Democracy has one thing to recommend it. Two men are like two coins, to borrow from Chesterton; though one might be bright and the other dull, they count the same.
“IT is said that twenty-four millions ought to prevail over two hundred thousand. True; if the constitution of a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with the lamp-post for its second; to men who may reason calmly, it is ridiculous.”
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Please accept my responses in turn.
Matt, your remarks about Athens are correct, which is to say that it was an ancient state — as was the United States, by that definition, until the early 20th century. That being said, Plato (Republic Book 5) made the first argument for gender equality; that idea just took a few years to catch on. Your remarks about Sparta, however, are not accurate. While the kinship at Sparta was herediatary, the other 28 members of the Gerousia were elected (albeit for life, but 60 was the minimum age for election, so those 28 were pretty much de facto term-limited). The five Ephors (“Overseers”) were elected annually, and had the power to depose even the kings; one suspects they had similar powers over the other members of the Gerousia as well. Both you and Mr. Scott seem to think that that popluar election abrogates the reality of oligarchy. It does not. However the few come to power, they are the few (be they, as it may, pretty much any one of us, as Mr. Scott points out).
Mr. Scott, I suspect that you, like me (and Plato), would be most happy with aristocracy (“rule of the best”). I’m pretty sure that’s what our founders hoped for too. A rule of the best will, by definition, be a rule of the few. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that our founding fathers were the “best” of their era, and that they were in fact attempting to create a government that would have as its backstop the few who were “the “best”. Assuming that to be the case, as versed as they were in classical antiquity, they should have known better. It was pretty much the accepted wisdom in antiquity that a government of the the few “best” (aristocracy) would quickly degenerate into simply a government of the few (oligarchy), with all of its attendant evils — Plato himself made that point at the beginning of Book 8 of the Republic (with a little humor at the expense of the Pythagoreans).
It would be silly, to say the least, for you and I to take up the federalist debate, but to respond to the passage you cite from Federalist 62, thus is always the argument of the oligarch. I would ask you to consider seriously , Mr. Scott, given the many and various follies our government has enjoyed over the years, whether a direct democracy would have done worse. Much was sacrificed in those early years in order to achieve a union that included both slave- and free-states (see Federalist 62). Do we not owe it to the hundreds of thousands who gave their lives to solve that issue once and for all to reconsider the foundational premises of our constitution?
I’m pretty sure the 15th and 19th amendments to the Constitution assure that ye “old chestnut” is not “utterly false”.
Mr. Lukas, my point in recalling the Athenians’ creation of an empire was not to advocate generally for imperial policies, but to point out the the direct democracy of the Athenians was effective. Of the “old” powers of Greece (Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Athens), certainly Athens proved the most successful and long-lived — to this day (with some irony granted).
Mr. Signorelli, what a fine argumement Burke makes. You might appreciate this quote from the beginning of the the “Old Oligarch’s” (pseudo-Xenophon’s) treatise on Athenian democracy.
“The objection may be raised that it was a mistake to allow the universal right of speech and a seat in council. These should have been reserved for the cleverest, the flower of the community. But here, again, it will be found that they are acting with wise deliberation in granting to even the baser sort the right of speech, for supposing only the better people might speak, or sit in council, blessings would fall to the lot of those like themselves, but to the commonalty the reverse of blessings. Whereas now, any one who likes, any base fellow, may get up and discover something to the advantage of himself and his equals. It may be retorted: “And what sort of advantage either for himself or for the People can such a fellow be expected to hit upon?” The answer to which is, that in their judgment the ignorance and baseness of this fellow, together with his goodwill, are worth a great deal more to them than your superior person’s virtue and wisdom, coupled with animosity. What it comes to, therefore, is that a state founded upon such institutions will not be the best state; but, given a democracy, these are the right means to procure its preservation. The People, it must be borne in mind, does not demand that the city should be well governed and itself a slave. It desires to be free and to be master. As to bad legislation it does not concern itself about that. In fact, what you believe to be bad legislation is the very source of the People’s strength and freedom. But if you seek for good legislation, in the first place you will see the cleverest members of the community laying down the laws for the rest. And in the next place, the better class will curb and chastise the lower orders; the better class will deliberate in behalf of the state, and not suffer crack-brained fellows to sit in council, or to speak or vote in council. No doubt; but under the weight of such blessings the People will in a very short time be reduced to slavery. ”
And so it is.
I would think a more direct form of democracy would require a citizenry broadly capable of taking on those civic responsibilities. A brief overview of American popular culture today suggests that direct democracy in the US would be problematic at best. For a variety of reasons, Americans as a whole seem to be singularly incapable of serious reflection and self-examination. I’m sorry if that sounds elitist, but it’s true. I see little reason to believe things would have turned out much better under direct democracy. Not much worse, perhaps, but no better. War and materialism were quite popular prior to the economic crash, and I’m sure the voters would have gladly pushed for more of the same as long as we could maintain our comforts and entertainment. Maybe this is a result of decades of people not having to exercise much civic responsibility, but now that we’re in the shape we’re in, it will take a lot of time and effort to prepare citizens for more responsibility – not years, but generations.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
All of what you say is on the mark — I might argue with your “generations” prediction. Athens seemingly made the transition overnight and couldn’t, one would think, have had a much better ratio of enlightened to unenlightened citizens. A common misunderstanding regarding direct democracy is that somehow the “better” elements of the society are excluded. However that may have been, I certainly don’t see any simple or easy solutions here, and I also don’t (despite what it may appear from my comments) see direct democracy as a realistic solution.
I’d suggest the following as food for thought — the main point of my piece was, after all, that “we need to rethink how we govern ourselves”.
1. We need to eliminate the egregiously oligarchic institution of the electoral college. It is a testimony to the crisis-mindset we’ve been in since September 11, 2001, that the undemocratic outcome of the election of 200o didn’t finally achieve this.
2. We need to seriously reconsider the instituion of the Senate. The creation of this body was without doubt a necessity for the union forged in the aftermath of the Revolution, and it made sense in its time. No one, I’m sure, at the time could have envisioned our current reality, in which Wyoming, with a population of roughly 600,00, has the same representation as California, with a population of roughly thirty-seven and a half million people. Much of justice lies in fairness, and it is hardly fair that each resident of Wyoming counts for 62 residents of California.
3. The office of the president, the monarchical element of our constitution, needs to be weakened in ways that don’t affect the advantages gained from having a single “head” of our government/people. One obvious target would be appointments to the Supreme Court. Life-appointments put far too much power in the hands of a president elected for only four years. What the right term-limit is, I don’t know — maybe ten years?
4. Finally, Mr. Johnson, to speak to your concerns about preparing a citizen-body to participate more directly in its government, I’d suggest a mandatory three-year period (18-21) of military or other public service. Our reliance on what is in effect a “mercenary” army is destroying our last remnnants of both citizenship and democracy.
Nothing I’ve said here will come as a surprise to any thinking person. My intuition though is that we need to think “outside of the box” (the “box” being our current constitution) — we need some manner of reforms as radical as those of Cleisthenes to address the multitude of problems we face.
What are your ideas for reconsidering the Senate? The difference in population was extensively discussed during the Constitutional Convention. Without the Great Compromise, the prospects of agreeing and ratifying the Constitution would have been slim. From the small state’s perspective, each state having the same representation was protection from the larger states controlling the federal government. (Based on the state of government in California, do you really think it makes sense to increase California voters’ say in the federal government?)
In 1790, the population of Virginia was approximately 750,000. The population of Rhode Island (smallest of thirteen original states) was 68,000. (The population of Tennessee in 1790 (became a state in 1796) was 36,000.) While the drafters and ratifiers may not have considered a 1/62 ratio, they were aware of a 1/11 ratio.
One thing that the drafters of the Constitution did not do was limit the size of the House to its current 435 members. The original House had 1 representative for each 30,000 of population. Because Congress in 1929 limited the house to 435 members, the average population of a representative’s district is now 700,000.
Instead of “reconsidering” the Senate, considering the content of the article, perhaps “reconsidering” the 435 member limit on the House would be a better place to start.
Sorry, Emil, but I am as sure as I am sure of anything that you are wrong about:
1) How to apply what book VIII of the Republic teaches about regimes to ordinary practice. Cf. Plato’s own striving for a mixed-regime as reported in Plutarch’s Dion, his recommendation of it in the Laws, somewhere around 693, and if you want to accept the 7th Ltr, look up 326, 334, 336-37, 332. Book VIII gives you the archetypal regimes and soul types you’ll have to deal with in political life. But it is not straight realism (hence the humor at Pythagoras’ expense) nor prediction, and it certainly does not advice statesmen who have a chance of founding a mixed-regime or what Aristotle would call an aristocracy not to bother, because it will eventually change form many ages later. I agree with your pointing out that Athenian democracy worked better and was more resilient than superficial readings of Aristotle and Plato might lead you to believe–and I’d apply the same point to the actual practice of cities labelled “aristocracies” and “oligarchies” at that time.
2) How to read the Declaration. Again, you should read West’s first ten pages on this to see the light, but here you should at least admit that the 15th and 19th amendments have nothing to do WHAT THE DECLARATION MEANT. The Declaration declared principles, and said they were truths. It did not say, “interpret these principles, or how serious we are about them” by the form of government we set up, or, “whatever government we set up will fully embody these principles.” (Note also that it said nothing about a natural right to vote.) I cannot stress enough that you are just utterly wrong on the facts here–West’s (Claremont) angle has its shortcomings, but you badly need his facts to school you on the ABC here.
As for your faith in direct democracy, I’ll just say that ancient history and the Federalist do have a rather powerful case to make against it. I grant that that’s more contestable terrain, however.
Finally, I would advice you to kick the habit of using “oligarchy” in your political discussion. For example, take what you say on the Electoral College. Whatever might be said in favor of reforming or ditching it, it is frankly ridiculous to imply that it’s harming our politics in any pressingly significant way. (and ScaleofLife is right that the Senate disproportion is a much easier to make a democratic case against) But you cannot constrain yourself from claiming that the electoral college is a “egregiously oligarchic institution,” and that the fact that we didn’t rise up against it after 2000 is a sign of democratic “CRISIS.” Read what Larry Sabato says in his book on “revitalizing the Const.” about why what 2000 actually taught us is that retaining a (reformed) electoral college is necessary to isolate recounts in the case of a close race. Not that Larry implies that everything will go to h. in a handbasket if we don’t reform it in the way he suggests! But hey, apparently Larry and I, and the Founders too, didn’t notice the EGREGIOUSLY oligarchic character that by your words is gob-smackingly obvious.
Aristotle would not be impressed.
Nor, I daresay, would Aristotle’s best democracy-friendly interpreter, Wilson Carey McWilliams.
Dear “ScaleofLife” (aka, “Mr Johnson”, I believe).
The senate is a hard nut to crack. One is — at least I am — tempted simply to propose that it be put out on the rubbish heap of history as probably the single most unjust element of our current constitution. An instution born out the need to bring the smaller states — and the slave-states especially — into the union for their “protection”, now allows for said smaller states to tyranize the great majority of the population. It would be wrong to blame our founders for this. How could they have known that there would be so many huge geographical entities called “states” with such small populations? If they had been debating in the context of our current reality, I don’t think they would have arrived at a similar solution.
Supporters of said institution will say that it provides a bulkwork against one-party-rule, and so it does. But it also, as our current political situation demonstrates, allows a tyranny of the minority to paralyze our government. Some of that could be ameliorated by amending the rules of the senate, but the institution, as long as it exists, will represent a gross injustice in terms of democracy. While our politics might be more chaoitic without the senate, I think overall, and in the long run, we would be better off.
I wonder what we’re (now) worried about protecting the smaller states from. Lord knows “states’ rights” remain a source of tension, but why should smaller states collectively have so much power over the majority of our citizens? We force them (barely) to accept (barely reasonable) health-care reform (the horror!), and they insist insensibly on a “war” on drugs that has done more than even the “war” on terror to turn America into a police-state — and all in the name of “freedom”. Forgive me. I slipped into “rant” mode — not blaming all of that on our smaller states.
Thanks for your information regarding the satutory limit on the number of seats in the House (that was news to me, as is much that happened after about AD 500). That explains in large part the egregiousness of the oligarchy we find ourselves ruled by today (I’m using the “oligarchy patch” in an attempt to kick the habit, but so far haven’t found it particularly effective). Here’s the rub though: to be merely as oligarchic as Sparta (now I’m totally off the wagon), we would need a representative body of (at the minimum) 350,000 or so members (that number is based on a ratio of roughly 857:1, which assumes a probably wildly optimistic estimation of all the people — men, women, and children — who called themselves Lacedaemonians).
“Oligarchy patch!” Well we still disagree, but that’s crackin’ me up, Emil.
Madison hated the equal rep in the Senate compromise. I see no reason why we should defend it on its merits. The evidence for its advantaging of smaller states has been laid out at length in a book called Sizing up the Senate.
But it’s much harder than any nut to crack. Rather, it’s the ONE non-amendable part of the Constitution! See Article V. So, to put it on the rubbish heap you would need a revolution, nothing less.
Madison was from Virginia, the most populous state at the time, so it is not really surprising that he hated it. The funny thing about compromises is that you get some of what you want my giving up some other things you want and accepting some things you dislike/hate. Are you suggesting that there are no merits to the compromise? If there are, should they be defended? If all representation was decided by the population, then what would be the point of the states?
Likely part of the discontentment that some have of the Senate is the result of the powers of the federal government exceeding the powers enumerated in the Senate. (Based on his writings, it is highly likely that Madison would be opposed to the scope and scale of the current federal government.) Instead of looking to change the Constitution to fit the current monstrosity of a federal government, perhaps it would be more wise to trim the monstrosity so that it fits comfortably within the bounds of the Constitution.
correction…enumerated in the Constitution…
Glad to have made you laugh, Carl. On your suggestion I checked out Article V of the Constitution. Turns out we just need to ask nicely. Most of those overly-represented states are Midwestern, so I’m sure that as long as we’re polite about the whole thing, they’ll be fine with it. Heck, once they realize they’re over-represented, they’ll probably suggest some sort of solution themselves, with abundant apologies.
“We need to eliminate the egregiously oligarchic institution of the electoral college. ”
Uh, oh. There goes localism.
Here is an organization that advocates increasing the size of the US House: http://www.thirty-thousand.org/
With regards to the smaller states tyrannizing the majority, one would think that would give the populations of the larger states incentive to respect the concept of federalism.
Another interesting thing to consider is what has been the effect of the 16th and 17th Amendments. Though there were income taxes prior to the 16th Amendment, the current income tax was essentially born from the 16th Amendment. Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures appointed Senators, so the state governments actually had a “voice” in the federal government. Interestingly, both of these Amendments were ratified in 1913. This is the same year that the Federal Reserve was created. (Have you ever looked at the value of a dollar prior to the Federal Reserve? http://mykindred.com/cloud/TX/Documents/dollar/ – you can choose the year on the left.)
Not to change the subject, but …
“In America we currently have a population of over three-hundred and twelve million people, ruled by five-hundred and thirty six elected individuals (four-hundred and thirty-four in the House, one-hundred in the Senate, and a vice-president and a president).”
Ruled?! For one, these people are not supposed to be “rulers.” They are representatives, ostensibly leaders. But they are not meant, in the historical sense, to be rulers. That they fail in their constitutionally prescribed role does not negate the original intent.
More so, they are NOT the oligarchs in question. Those in Washington are merely the managers-for-hire for those who do, indeed, attempt to rule, albeit from a safe distance well behind the scenes. Or has the role of money in politics escaped Mr. Kramer’s attention?
That anyone in 2011, with so much historical record available and with good current research (and good old fashioned muckraking) also begging to be considered, could conclude that these half-wits in Washington (and my apologies to the small handful of really good and decent representatives out there) form our oligarchy is mind-boggling. Or deliberate misdirection, take your pick.
I suppose the best way to get the “last word” in a debate is to wait a year to reply. I appreciate all of the commentary here. Mr. Stout’s comment serves as a fitting conclusion. Mr. Stout vehemently desires to bury his head in the sand regarding our current constitution. Thinking critically, Mr. Stout, is painful — easier just to keep your head in the sand.
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