Restoration of the Republic

Monday 20 January 2003 at 16:37

I've been reading a book by Gary Hart entitled Restoration of the Republic . I got it as a Christmas present from his daughter, who is also my step-sister's life partner (my step-sister-in-law?). This book has caught me off guard and is forcing me to re-think some of my beliefs. That probably qualifies as the strongest recommendation I could give for a book.

Bringing to light a long-neglected aspect of Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy--the "ward republic"--Gary Hart here offers a wholly original blueprint for republican restoration in which every citizen can participate democratically in the governing of his or her own life. Of crucial relevance for contemporary society, including its startlingly prescient plan for homeland security, Restoration of the Republic provides original insights into issues of national urgency as well as the timeless questions that bedevil the American democratic experiment.
This book and the article by my mother-in-law I mentioned earlier have given me a new appreciation for Jefferson's political philosophy and its continuing relevance.

It seems that some of Jefferson's worst fears have come true. We (in the US) live in a representative democracy where the leaders are very distant from the citizens and policy is largely determined by "interests". We citizens have lost a sense of civic responsibility. We may complain to friends about foreign policy, the economy, corporate scandals, or campaign finance abuses, but vanishingly few of us bring our concerns to the direct attention of our representatives. Instead, we surrender our influence to pollsters and lobbyists. Many even refuse to vote as an act of protest. How can silence be an effective form of protest?

A few points resonate.

A fundamental disagreement between the Founders centered on the nature of human kind. Where Jefferson feared tyranny under a centralized authority, Hamilton feared tyranny of mob rule. That fundamental disagreement seems to be imbedded in the American psyche. We distrust our government in equal measure to our distrust of the masses.

Civil rights are guaranteed by civic duty . It is not enough to know your rights. You must take action to ensure their protection. This is a fundamental failure of my public education. Not until now have I appreciated how important it is to communicate with federal, state, and local government representatives. Nor until now have I appreciated how important it is to the common good that I form opinions and defend them openly.

Silence is not a form of participation.

The question of scale was critical to the structure of the American government. Even at its founding the nation was too large for individual citizens to be involved in every decision. Elected representation was a brilliant solution to the problem of participating in a large scale republic. But perhaps because Jefferson was in Paris at the time, the question of direct participation by citizens in their local government was not addressed by the Constitution.

In the back of my mind as I've read this book, I've given some thought to the governance of Apache projects. It is those who commit their code, those who vote, those who submit patches who determine the direction of the community and its tools. Those who take action are in charge. There is a manifest sense of responsibility to the community. It isn't exactly Jefferson's ideal. But there are strong similarities in the connection between responsibilities and rights. Online communities are faced with the same questions about scale, representation, participation, duty, and education.

One last note. Looks like Gary Hart now has a web site. In this post I've neglected to mention much about national security. I suspect that topic will find its own coverage. Also, I haven't finished chewing on my thoughts about a renewed emphasis on a local militia.