• Frank Keeney

A History of Government

In the long sweep of the development of civilization, the role of government has an interesting history. At the most basic level, it has been the battleground for two opposing forces: the love of power (the “Power Impulse”) and the desire for personal freedom (the “Freedom Force”). Here is a quick summary of this battle:

  • Prehistoric man gathered in tribes for mutual protection; these groups had homogeneity of mores that made communal living possible. Since security was the organizing force, it was natural that the leader of the security force would be the leader of the tribe. This pattern largely endured throughout history until the modern era.

  • The need for protection from marauding outsiders led to the coalescing of tribes into nation-states. The pattern of autocratic rule persisted, but the stirrings of the Freedom Force appeared.

  • A form of pure democracy was adopted by the small city-states of ancient Greece, in which the citizens participated directly in community decisions. The experiment ultimately failed.

  • Ancient Rome had a more challenging problem in the administration of a vast empire coupled with a desire to extend some liberty to its citizens. Rome’s solution was a republic in which citizens entrusted their proxies to a small group of Senators who made decisions affecting the empire. This republic lasted for about five hundred years until it collapsed and was replaced by an autocratic emperor.

  • The geographic isolation of the British Isles gave it some protection from rapacious neighbors and personal freedom slowly took root there, starting with the historic Magna Carta in 1215. The battle between the Power Impulse and the Freedom Force played out here for hundreds of years.

  • The rationale for a governmental structure favoring personal freedom appeared in the 18th century in the writings of a number of philosophers in England and Europe. Our founders were well versed in these writings. Although the Power Impulse remained firmly in control around the world, the stage was set for the introduction of the American Experiment.

  • When the American colonies gained their independence, our leaders created a Constitution that drew on the experience of Greece, Rome, England and Europe and the wisdom of the philosophical writings of the period. The result was our constitutional republic with checks and balances designed to protect personal freedom by controlling the Power Impulse of individuals within our society. Because it was a new and untried form of government on this scale, its outcome was far from certain and it became known as the “American Experiment”.

  • This experiment, which included a free enterprise economic system, was remarkably successful and improved our standard of living dramatically. Other nations took note, and the 20th century saw rapid growth in the number of countries adopting a governmental structure favoring personal freedom.

  • The Power Impulse was ever present, however, and ambitious leaders often subverted a nascent democracy, taking control of a country; they often maintained the appearance of a democracy while exerting tight control of power and suppressing personal liberty.

The lesson here is that to remain free, we must be vigilant and hold in check an endless stream of aspiring autocrats that would curtail our freedom.

Other Lessons Learned

One of the most important acts of our citizens is the granting of our proxy to persons selected in an election; they then represent us in the work of the federal government. For this to be successful, the elected official must have a symbiotic relationship with his/her constituents, sharing a common worldview. Consequently, the sanctity of the election process is critical for the survival and success of a republic.

The primary purpose of an election campaign is to give voters the opportunity to take the full measure of each candidate to determine which one has the worldview, integrity, and interpersonal skills to best represent them in Washington. The fragility of a republic and importance of the relationship between the elected official and their constituents make elections critically important. For this reason, the very survival of a democracy may hinge on maintaining free and lawful elections where the voters have the quiet enjoyment of the election campaign without outside interference.

The election creates a contract between the voters and the winning candidate, and no individual that is not a party to this contract should be allowed to interfere with the election process.

Today’s communication technology makes this need all the more obvious, as television ads and social media messages funded by outside sources blanket an election district, drowning out civil discourse and doing little to convey useful information to the voters. Some observers believe that this tsunami of money that moves freely around the country to influence election results is damaging the republic beyond repair, but the Act 2 Reform Blueprint has a remedy for this grave problem. It proposes a constitutional amendment to ensure that elections shall be protected from interference by outside parties.

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