Philadelphia gave us an oligarch devised Constitution. Benjamin Franklin told an inquirer that the framers had given us, “a republic, if you can keep it.” May we never have had it.
The idea of the res publica: “the public thing”, creates two categories of things we all have to suffer: public good categories, and a monolithic institution of violence and politics (i.e.: winner takes all approach to disputes and the consequent social discord). Libertarians know that the public goods category might not be much of a real thing. I propose that the category might be an invention which only exists to empower the government. And the government exists, perhaps, to enrich some at the expense of others (oligarchs and/or interest groups).
Why does every form of cancer and every underserved river crossing get to have special attention from Congress? Why is the go to answer for any social problem just to lobby Congress to ban it, or fund it? What the republic really is, is a football that gives the rich and powerful a way of advancing their interests. It’s a football that they and the tribes compete to possess.
How many of our national security secrets are auctioned out to Israel, China, or Saudi Arabia by politicians? Wouldn’t the good generals be furious to know that? But then again, it’s the good work of the generals that’s up for sale. If not for their committed professionalism, what good would the institutions of the republic be to potential clients?
Conspiracy theorists speculate that some organized group controls America and intends to use its wealth and power for criminal purposes. I contend that just maybe this is in fact what’s going on, but that the people involved don’t realize it.
When we develop American power, we’re not sure of the reasons all of the time. And American power ends up being used by the highest bidder – even partially by other nations which might be official adversaries.
Why do we even have a “public thing”? Early American politican theorists speculated that the states were just expressions of the societies that created them. The institution of a state government was “the people”, and acted in alignement with their will. That’s right, it sounds a lot like Rousseau’s hokum “general will”.
What if the expression of popular society was just civil society itself? Why do we need this extra “public thing”? Are public goods real? Or are they created to facilitate a purpose for the republic?
That’s a question libertarians often ask.
Consider it this way: Lincoln talked about government of, by and for the people. I’d remove two prepositions.
Government of the people is a horrible idea. The Demos doesn’t have the knowledge to manage society any more than a central planner does.
Government for the people is also a bad idea. Which people? Not everyone sees things the same way. It’s government of some and some for now against the rest. But isn’t that necessary and just how politics is? Not if you don’t create public good categories where entire categories of economic life are mandated to be managed by a central monolithic authority. Then again, if you take the categories that have the broadest public impact and then nationalize them, you’ve created a nice football. And passing the football around, everyone’s too worried about winning control of it rather than asking why it’s there in the first place.
We need government by the people, by their consent that is. A society of voluntary interaction. Systems of rules that people discretely agree to in exchange for discrete benefits. They try and tell us that’s what government is. But out of the other side of their mouth they then insist that the nature of public goods are such that we have no choice and must accept the presence of government in our lives. And what if a good emerges whose status as public or private is debatable? The government gets to decide its final status thank you. Do we need to call in the national guard to shut down your mail service?