Tuesday, September 25, 2007

By George, I Think He's Got it

I've been reading Something That Will Surprise the World: The Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers.

It amazes me how many of the pitfalls and foibles of our system of government were anticipated by these learned gentlemen.

Take this bit from George Washington's farewell address when he left the office of President (given Sep 19, 1796).
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseperable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controuled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able to more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of this own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

Sound like any political party system you know? How about this one from Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 1.
And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives....History will teach us...that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.
I particularly like this next one (again from Hamilton, Federalist No. 70). Not only is it applicable to politics, I've seen it time and time again in other setting that it must be a fundamental failing of human nature...
Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, and indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon contrary to their sentiments. Men of upright, benevolent tempers have too many opportunities of remarking, with horror, to what desperate lengths this disposition is sometimes carried, and how often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, and to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind.
Don't you wish we could vote for someone with the education and insight that these men demonstrated? Someone who uses history and human nature as their guide (as opposed to truthiness :-).

I know that if I'm to learn anything from history myself, it's to apply these lessons to my day to day life. Next time I oppose a plan, I'll look a bit deeper within for the reasons why. And next time I propose a plan, I'll try to figure out how to get buy in for the particulars before launching the generality in an attempt to keep from poking this temperamental button.

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At Sunday, September 30, 2007, Blogger Rick Fisk said...

Google Ron Paul and tell me if he sounds a bit like this.


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