Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Pit and The Pendulum Theory of Government

In response to the notion that representative government is like a "pendulum," swinging naturally from extremism to conservatism; and that radicalism can be healthy if it leads a people to rediscover the nation's animating ideals:

With all due respect, I've never heard of this Pendulum theory in all the years I've studied politics. It seems to me like blind faith and discounts the steady erosion of rights and Constitutional order that this country was founded on. Our founders, and particularly the Anti-Federalists, certainly didn't believe in a Pendulum theory of government - maybe a Pit & The Pendulum theory of government.

The state, when unopposed, will inevitably devour a society and place it in servitude of the political class. Jefferson, for example, famously cheered the concept of a revolution every twenty years just to strike fear in the heart of the government.

The closest I have read of this Pendulum notion is Dick Stoken's The Great Game of Politics, which posits that in times of economic optimism or desire for prosperity Americans vote Republican and in times of economic fear they vote Democrat.

I am more inclined to side with those who founded the United States who warned repeatedly of how nearly impossible liberty is to regain once lost. Or those who lived in countries that turned totalitarian "out of the blue," like F.A. Hayek or Eugen Richter.

The problem with good-hearted people is that they assume that at their core, human beings are like them - good, compassionate, and kind. This is the Kantian fallacy of believing others think like you. It is simply not the case, as the ghosts of Treblinka, Buchenwald, Katyn Forest, the Killing Fields, Somalia, and on and on testify.

The U.S. is exceptional, but not because the people born here are inured to the evil that lurks in the heart of men. The U.S. is exceptional for its ideals, and for the political system that was founded in this nation, which nurtured the best in men.

The destructive social forces that are unleashed when political systems decay, through ideological deformity and good old-fashioned corruption, are quite similar from polity to polity, as Aristotle pointed out in his Politics. We are descending now into democracy as a transition to oligarchy. Both types of government are short-lived, as our founders knew, and they attempted to safeguard us from them. Both types of government tend to yield to tyranny.

When private property and individual rights are vitiated, voting cannot save the Republic. Elections become contests for mob patronage, and nothing more. The rule of law, once destroyed, fades in the social conscience and the institutional memory of the polity.

It is Pollyannish to believe that simple elections can change the obvious crash course of this country, in my humble opinion. Today's political and social climate compares unfavorably to the 1970s, the 1930s, and the 1910s. Our demise has been deliberately engineered and is occurring before out very eyes, and it is disappointing, but not wholly unsurprising, that people are unable or unwilling to recognize it for what it is.

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