Saturday, November 12, 2011

Government By the People

There is a lot going on just now. Occupy Somewhere Movement, the GOP Presidential Primaries, state elections, and so forth. The People are in motion, and the government is reacting to issues domestic and international. The USA fiscal situation is in a mess with no clear way to move towards a resolution, and an imminent implosion of the treasury a possibility. The list of woes goes on and on.

What is the best form of government?

Greece spawned the idea of Radical Democracy where every citizen votes on every issue. To do so in any helpful way every citizen needs to be well informed on every issue, and spend a HUGE amount of time researching, discussing, thinking about, and then acting on each and every issue faced by his society. Socrates found this to be absurd, and also felt that the Every Citizen of Athens was intellectually incapable of carrying out his responsibility. He felt that people who represented special interest were unduly influential in the senate, and that the underlying issues and arguments for and against an issue were often lost to rhetoric, oratory, and sophism. In 2,500 years, have things changed all that much?

What is the best form of Government?

In American Representative Democracy we elect members of our community to represent us in the halls of legislature and empower them with the responsibility of doing the Every Citizen act of governing. We inform them our wishes and our feelings about issues, and they (presumably) tally these messages and come to some sort of conclusion about what is best for our society as a whole. They may have access to better information than we do, or they may be influenced by special interests as the Athenians of old were, and the laws they enact may or may not be in the best interests of all. But on the whole, we would like to believe that the System we have created serves the interests of all, and that we can participate at some level that is appropriate to our level of interest and still get the job of governing done. Is that a realistic assumption? If you half think about a topic, have you done it justice?

Here is another question: If you act in your self interests at the polls, and everyone else does the same, will the outcome be the best for the entire society if we have a majority rule outcome? Isn't this just an exercise in practical utilitarianism? What is the best form of government?

If you look at this question from the perspective of philosophy, and you couch your answer in terms of most desirable outcomes for all the governed, it can be a perplexing question. We want our top officials to be the Enlightened Philosophers that Socrates identified as being the best sort of rulers. We want them to always consider all angles, to apply the best information available and make the best possible decision that leads the country in the right direction. Is that happening? If not, how can we get the principles of philosophy to apply here?

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