Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Do you see the “mixed constitution” (114) as a healthy precursor of our balance of powers, or a foreshadowing of political dissolution and mob rule? Does modern democratic man “live from day to day” without order or restraint? (115) Was Plato prescient about class struggle between rich and poor and the “dismal cycle” of decay and revolution “without end or purpose”? (116)
James Madison is considered by most historians to be the Father of the Constitution. Madison like other colonial leaders were students of Greek and Latin and were well-versed in the Classics. Madison did what Aristotle had done prior to writing about Politics. Before the convention in Philadelphia, he devoted several months to studying the governments of many countries and noted their strengths and weaknesses. This allowed him to guide the delegates in their discussions and compromises in crafting the constitution.
It is important to remember that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were almost all well-to-do, white, propertied males who were drafting a constitution that would be used to govern the United States and protect their interests. They represented the “elite” in the country and were treated with a greater measure of respect than some of our current leaders because the populace had seen their contribution in winning independence from England and knew that they had placed their property, fortunes, and lives on the line.
The original draft of the Constitution was very limited and included no protection for an individual’s rights. Thomas Jefferson in Paris, France during the convention exerted his influence to have certain rights included in the final document. Madison who was close to Jefferson included twelve amendments, the first ten of which are the Bill of Rights. They satisfied the concerns of those male citizens about a federal government that would exericse too much power, and insured that the Constitution would be ratified by the necessary nine states.
Clearly, dividing the government into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial borrowed from the Greek and Roman governments. While almost all Americans were reluctant to consider the president as a monarch, the (One), he was the titular head of state, they recognized the elite (Few) as the colonial aristocrats, and the (Many) as themselves. This system worked because neither branch had so much power that it overwhelmed the other two. While each carried out the functions and powers designated to them, they were not above trying to take more power if they could wrest it from the others and that continues to today.
Fortunately, the Constitution is an evolving document with a measure of permanence that allows for it to be modified if required, as it has been seventeen times since the original ten amendments were accepted. This feature has helped to minimize efforts by some to enforce their beliefs and values on others especially if they conflict with the rights of others even if those individuals are in the minority. This has generally thwarted mob rule since citizens hold the Constitution in high regard as the Supreme law of the land.
I do not know if Plato was prescient about class struggle between the rich and the poor because that actually had existed long before him, but he was correct in recognizing it in his society. Most cultures always have some type of class structure where a few individuals at the very top have greater resources or power and make decisions that affect the rest of society. There are some individuals occupying various phases of the middle and the great majority of individuals at the bottom of the pyramid who struggle to make ends meet. Every decade or two, there are economic and financial cycles that rebalance the equity and this prevents a wholesale overthrow of the government. The gap been the haves and have-nots has continued to grow in recent years in our country and it is possible that within the next twenty years we will see a shift to higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and this will ease the burden on those individuals in the lower economic groups, but then the cycle will undoubtedly repeat itself; it is not a “dismal cycle” of decay, just a typical economic adjustment. The solution is greater citizen involvement to insure fairness and equity. This will minimize the impetus to rebel because citizens will trust that their voices and concerns are being heard.