Tag Archives: Separation of powers

Favorite Polybius Quotes

Polybius on the evolution and de-evolution of political systems:

Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series. [The Histories 6.4.7-13]

Polybius describes how democracies kill themselves:

And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch. [The Histories 6.9.7-9]

Polybius on checks and balances in government:

The constitution should remain for long in a state of equilibrium like a well-trimmed boat, kingship being guarded from arrogance by the fear of the commons, who were given a sufficient share in the government, and the commons on the other hand not venturing to treat the kings with contempt from fear of the elders, who being selected from the best citizens would be sure all of them to be always on the side of justice; so that that part of the state which was weakest owing to its subservience to traditional custom, acquired power and weight by the support and influence of the elders. [The Histories 6.10.6-10]

Polybius on how the Roman Republic created its “best of all existing constitutions” through trial and error:

The Romans while they have arrived at the same final result as regards their form of government, have not reached it by any process of reasoning, but by the discipline of many struggles and troubles, and always choosing the best by the light of the experience gained in disaster have thus reached…the best of all existing constitutions. [The Histories 6.10.13-14]

Polybius on the success of the Roman Republic’s system of checks and balances:

Such being the power that each part has of hampering the others or co-operating with them, their union is adequate to all emergencies, so that it is impossible to find a better political system than this… For when one part having grown out of proportion to the others aims at supremacy and tends to become too predominant, it is evident that…none of the three is absolute, but the purpose of the one can be counterworked and thwarted by the others, none of them will excessively outgrow the others or treat them with contempt. All in fact remains in statu quo, on the one hand, because any aggressive impulse is sure to be checked and from the outset each estate stands in dread of being interfered with by the others… [The Histories 6.18]

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Congrats GOP. Now what do we do?

Congratulations to the GOP. They accomplished a historic election victory. The largest change in government since 1948.

However, I continue to fear for this country. Not because of the politicians, but because of the people. Of the 40-50% of those eligible to vote who actually voted, how many voted for liberty and limited government? The GOP won about 54% of the total vote, so maybe 54%. Maybe more, maybe less. But considering the majority of people didn’t even bother to vote, you are looking at a very small portion of the population who understands and cares enough to vote in favor of liberty and limited government. The number is 30% of the population, at best. Probably closer to 25% or even lower.

That is a very disappointing figure. While we must be involved in the political system, that will only help us on the margin. If 25% of the population supports limited government, nominating attractive candidates may boost that to 26% or 27%. Enough to temporarily defeat the political opponent, but not enough to fundamentally change our country.

The only long-term solution is education. We need to further the ideas of liberty, limited government, and checks and balances.We need to read, we need to write, and we need to share. With Amazon.com and social media, we have the tools to spread the knowledge. All it takes it effort.

So, now that the election is over, we have three main jobs:

  1. Make sure that government officials from both parties work toward smaller government.
  2. Begin recruiting for the next election.
  3. Educate ourselves and the public as to the benefits of limited government and checks and balances as described by our Constitution and elaborated upon in the Federalist Papers.

As you know, I’ll be focusing on the third item. I’ve already written one book warning the people of the evils of big government and the democratic demand for free gifts from the government. Many of you already know that I am working on a second book, the topic of which has not yet been announced. I have many more books planned, each of which advances the cause of liberty.

But while I will concentrate on the education portion, I will not be ignoring the first two parts. I will remain active in the political arena to ensure our governments (federal, state, and local) limit their size and scope and to help choose future candidates for political office.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. It has taken 100 years for our government to go from a very minor portion of our society to the huge behemoth it is today. It may take 100 years to reverse what has been done and we may not be alive to see our success. But succeed we must for the fate of our country and the world depend on us.

Eleftheria i thanatos!

Americans think politicians are corrupt. That’s why the Founders gave us a constitutional republic.

In a recent poll, Americans said they blame politicians and not the system:

Optimism about the American system of government is at a 36-year low, yet most Americans blame the people in office — not the system itself — for all that’s going wrong, according to a new ABC News/Yahoo! News poll.

While I agree that politicians are corrupt, I don’t agree that this is the problem we are now facing. The real problem is the system of government we have. We have left our the republican roots of our Constitution and become too democratic.

If you study the history of free society and its descent, you will see one corrupt politician after another. You will discover the demagogues of ancient Greece, the tyrants of Rome, the totalitarians of the twentieth century, and the many corrupt politicians in our own history.

Our Founding Fathers knew that we too would have our fair share of corrupt politicians, just as all societies do. Not trusting government to corrupt, power-hungry men, the Founders established a constitutional republic for us in which “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” [Madison. Federalist #51.]

In ancient Rome, there were three power centers: the people, the aristocracy, and the monarchy. Rome balanced these three powers with the people, often called the mob, the Senate representing the aristocracy, and the magistrates acting similar to monarchs.

Our Founders created a similar balance between the three. The House of Representatives are the people. The Senate is the aristocracy as they were originally chosen by the states, not directly elected. And the President acts like a monarch, especially in war time when he is very similar to the temporary dictators of ancient Rome.

The Founders also established a balance of powers between the federal government and the states, designed to prevent either one from becoming too powerful:

This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will  both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them. [Hamilton speech to New York Ratifying Convention]

Few today would argue that the states act as a check on the power of the federal government. With the power of the military, federal court system, and printing press (enabling federal government to spend nearly unlimited amounts of money whereas states can’t print money to pay off debts), states are powerless to stop any federal tyranny.

Additionally, in 1913 the Seventeenth Amendment provided for direct election of Senators. Prior to that, Senators were elected by their state legislatures. Not only did this direct election reduce the power of the states even further, it also removed the Senate’s aristocratic nature and made it democratic, little different from the House of Representatives.

Thus, the balance of powers has been severely weakened as the states can no longer check the federal government and the Senate has become another tool of the power. In effect, we have become a federal democracy.

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. [Madison. Federalist #10.]

It should be no surprise then that we are now living in such turbulent times.