W.R. Marshall: Republicans just don’t understand Republicanism
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thomas Hobbes*
Or in the words of postmodern philosophers Elaine Benes and Jerry Seinfeld:
“Ugh, I hate people”
“Yeah, they’re the worst.”
That pretty much sums up Hobbes.
Like most Republicans, Hobbes did not believe in Republicanism. He was an absolutist; one guy in charge. (Although it has been argued that a single body like Cromwell’s Parliament qualified in an absolutist way as ‘one guy’.) What can’t be argued is Hobbes clearly thinks it is from here the Social Contract is formed–the rules by which we live together. There are other theories that say people aren’t the worst, in spite history constantly supporting Seinfeldism. In any event, we make this contract to better our lives. This is assuredly more complicated than the few words given here; there are highly developed concepts of negative and positive liberty, notions of justice, etc. But let’s be honest, the folks in Washington just ain’t that bright, so complexity isn’t really in the mix. (Republicans claimed Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan to be their intellectual standard bearers—that’s like the Lakers bragging their starting center is Frodo Baggins.)
As much as American Republicans shout about the kind of government ‘interference’ Hobbes thinks is necessary to keep the world functioning, in practice, they seem to accept it rather readily…although the recent Republican spit in the eye of people still suffering the aftermath of Sandy is pretty “nasty and brutish.”
Dick Cheney (still a Republican last time I looked—hopefully it will be the last time), like Hobbes, thought people should cede power to a single ruler. Cheney embraced and promoted unitary executive theory, advocating a Hobbesian view that people, and “the fruit thereof” being uncertain, need a ‘decider.’
Mitt Romney, recent runner up in The Man Who Would Be King competition, seemed to thrive in a world “where every man is Enemy to every man,” and revealed his own specific brutishness when he said he’d eliminate FEMA, preferring to let the private sector, like Bain or Halliburton one suspects, handle things. (There’s big money in tragedy.) Nevertheless, he pledged, were he to be anointed, on the first day of his reign to impose tariffs on China. Tariffs fall somewhere between Hobbes’ “use of commodities” and “Society.” In other words, a government imposes tariffs because Bain can’t…and generally won’t.
But that’s in the past, you say. Okay, let’s go back farther, to the idea of Republicanism itself, but we’ll use American Republicanism so we don’t have to learn to read Greek. The founders wanted a republic because of the justifiable fear the majority would overwhelm the rights of the minority in what Madison called the “violence of faction.” (Madison would point to the current House of Representatives as a perfect example of this non-republican “violence.”) The central pillar of a republic, and Republicanism, are the representatives who are elected to do the people’s will—all the peoples’ will. Furthermore, Republicans are supposed to come from the citizenry, pass laws for public benefit, and for the good of the republic, serve for a specific (read ‘short’) amount of time, then go the hell home, only returning to Washington to visit the Smithsonian–someone get Mitch McConnell on the phone.
What’s the point of all this? Is it that politicians in general, and Republicans specifically, are self-serving hypocrites indifferent to the real needs and desires of the republic? How about the transparent inconsistency of professional politicians who spend most of their time chasing re-election bucks? Nah, too easy.
What seems to be forgotten is governance, politics, is what Bismarck called “the art of the possible.” Republicans who cloak themselves in academic political ideology which they obviously don’t understand, which has no purchase in the real world, and which they consistently abandon when it suits their needs, makes things dramatically less possible.
And I don’t even know where to begin with Democrats…
*From Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan – which you can get free online, but drink lots of coffee before you read it.