The Present American Polity Print
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By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The most dangerous political exercise is accurately to describe a deviant regime’s constitutional form, especially if it is one’s own. Aristotle outlined differing regimes in his Politics. Most existing regimes, however, consider themselves to be the “best” regime. If they do not, radical change is needed to establish it. A new model is proposed.

Most politicians, especially dangerous ones, claim to bring about a more perfect regime. Aristotle warned that they often ended with a worse regime than the one they abolished. “Righting all wrongs” becomes the political movement’s inspiration. Such, however, is a divine burden, not a political one. In pursuing it, we lose both the divine and the political.

One senses that radical, momentous changes occur daily among us. We try to describe them. Forces not easily observed seem to direct our regime to a new configuration. America is classically described as a republican government limited by a written constitution and a natural law. This understanding no longer holds.

In the new dispensation, we are not the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave.” We are the cause of domestic and foreign ills. We need to acknowledge our sins before the world. Our new leader gladly takes up this noble task.

“Democracy” has replaced “republic.” The republic was a mixed-regime, with separation of powers, checks and balances, designed to guarantee responsible rule by limiting the ignoble or tyrannical tendencies of any one branch of government or of the people themselves.

Federalism was designed to leave most important government activities as local as possible. Our states and often our cities themselves compare with many nation-states. Our “neighbor” is usually not “next-door.”

We are now a “democracy” in the classic sense; that is, a regime of “liberty” now redefined to remove any distinction between good or evil in how we live. Our laws reflecting life, family, and human integrity begin to enforce their new definitions established by positive law.

Our democratic rule is based on theoretic relativism. Truth or order is its principal antagonist. If we admit truth, we deny liberty. The resultant moral chaos is acknowledged. But we do not address the cause and the consequences remain. They require a new politics of “care” for the whole society.

But this “care” cannot be personal. It is non-preferential, egalitarian, same-for-all. Government is its best administrator. If people do whatever they want, they often must be “taken care of.” They are primarily victims of themselves and of old “structures.” They need someone to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Everyone needs equal access to what anyone else has. The “natural” distinctions caused by differing talents, wills to work, habits, and virtue are unjust. They cause the poor to be poor. Human nature needs some change.

We become more of a one-party, central command system. The state is “all-caring.” We are not the best judges of our own good. Our model is not ourselves and our wretched traditions. The president does not speak of American standards being good for the world, but of (selective) world standards being “good” for us. We should imitate the world and apologize to it. Our “uniqueness” has caused most of the wars and unbalances in the world.

Looking over his initiatives, Victor Davis Hanson remarked that, on balance, the president is “neither a pragmatist, as he insisted, nor even a liberal, as charged. Rather he is a statist. The president believes that a select group of affluent, highly educated technocrats…supported by a phalanx of whiz-kids fresh out of blue-chip universities with little or no experience in the market place, can direct our lives for better than we can ourselves.” The people have lost their grip. They need to be guided, taken care of for the common good.

Out of democracy’s chaos, Plato said, will arise a “leader.” Such a “leader,” Fouard Ajami writes, is familiar: “(The president’s) politics of charisma was reminiscent of the Third World.” He was familiar to Aristotle too.

So taxes are designed that wealth be redistributed. Everyone deserves about the same things in pay, health-care, education, and vacations. Anything else is unjust. We will make it happen. All will be cared for.

The fatal steps along this path were taken freely by a free people. They forgot that freedom not based in truth is license.

In Sermon 7 of Subjects of the Day, Newman wrote: “The world has many sins, but its peculiar offence is that of daring to reason contrary to God’s Word and will. It puts wrong aims before itself, and acts towards them. It goes wrong as if on principle, and prefers its own way of viewing things to God’s way.” A better description of the present direction of our polity is difficult to find. We go wrong “on principle.”
 

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is
The Mind That Is Catholic.

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