Edmonds: 'None of us' is as dumb as 'all of us'

Edmonds: 'None of us' is as dumb as 'all of us'

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Harlan Edmonds

Just in case you need to know, the deadline for filing to run for elective office in Wyoming is May 29th. And if you are thinking about becoming a candidate, you might ask yourself if you understand (and can explain) how the American political system is designed and has historically functioned.

Political novices can, and often do, make better public servants than experienced incumbents, provided they know what they are getting into. That’s the important thing. It doesn’t matter how clever, richly financed, charismatic, or well-connected you are if you think our country needs more democracy. It doesn’t.

We already have democracy. It’s just not as pure, direct or manipulable as the most ambitious among us want. So there’s a lot of fool talk floating around among certain candidates about what ails us and how they mean to fix it if only they can get into power. Our democracy is being destroyed by conservative politicians and policies! Our democratic institutions are dying! We need candidates who “look like” America because nobody else will listen to America! And we need to find new voters and make them go to the polls to vote for free everything for everybody!

Many of our present and future politicians seem to have forgotten that we live in a representative democracy where the worst aspects of mob-rule have been as traditionally detested as the yoke of monarchy. There is good reason for this, as any acquaintance with the wisdom of our nation’s founders reveals. Compared to most elected officials today, they were better versed as a whole in history, theology, law and philosophy, and thereby understood enough about the limits of human nature and governments to identify what routinely failed.

And two recurring mistakes stood out to them above everything else: rule by too few and rule by too many. Tyranny and injustice proved to be the natural results of monarchy and other autocratic forms government, just as tyranny and injustice ensued from rule by the moods of the mob. Lopsided concentrations of power like these are inherently corrupting. They bring out the worst in everyone, and governments of either extreme manifest the same problems: they are fickle, unaccountable to any higher power and insatiable.

Thus, we are presently confronted with a very serious battle between liberal and conservative visions of democracy. Of course, what this essentially boils down to is a battle between two irreconcilable theories of human nature and of government.

Those who want more direct and immediate democracy believe in the basic goodness of human nature and government alike, and thereby in their unlimited potential. To liberals, the chief aim of politics is the pursuit and consolidation of power. This is why liberal politicians argue for giving ever increasing reach and authority to government entities (managed by themselves, of course), while at the same time disingenuously claiming that this will give more power to the people in general. By simultaneously magnifying the corruptibility of both managerial elites and increasingly beholden masses, liberal politics not only becomes more extremist, but less tolerant of virtue and self-reliance.

By contrast, those who defend representative democracy believe in the basic depravity of human nature and the limitations of government as an extension of such. Conservatives understand the chief aim of politics to be, modestly enough, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty. This is why conservative politicians vigilantly seek the diffusion, separation and counterbalancing of powers as outlined in our Constitution. As all of the things mentioned above in its preamble (save perhaps for common defense) are most effectively addressed locally, no true representative of the people would demand to do for them what they can and should do for themselves.

And yet, this is precisely what liberal government promises to do. It sets out to do for the people what they can and should do for themselves in return for their votes. It thereby persuades them to outsource their liberty for the illusion of security. It pretends to insulate individuals from the consequences of their choices and actions by distributing them to society at large. But that is merely the best way to set each man at the throat of every other.

The answer to this, which our founders enshrined through our representative form of democracy, was to best protect people from one another by leaving each individual maximally subject to the consequences of their own choices and actions. Thus, the best possible form of government we have discovered so far is to empower and reward self-mastery, and thereby self-government, through representative democracy — the natural enemy of tyrants, mobs and the demagogues who cultivate them.

This is more than theory. It explains why the United States is the world’s oldest surviving republic and it’s the keystone of American exceptionalism.

Harlan Edmonds is a former Wyoming legislator and writes from Cheyenne. He can be reached at wyedmonds@reagan.com

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