It’s Not Fair

…because it’s not supposed to be…

“It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”

~Alexander Hamilton, Speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution (21 June 1788)


There seems to be this really funny idea going around town. It’s the idea that American elections are supposed to be “fair”, be they in primaries or in general. That the way we do governance, it’s the will of the people or nothing else. And that should mean one vote, one voice, and that’s it. But here’s the real deal – the Founding Fathers in NO WAY intended that everything should be exactly “fair” in the sense that everything should be exactly the same for everyone. And they had a great reason for this. The democracies of antiquity – those of Greece and Rome, had abjectly FAILED because they descended into the chaos of mob rule. Popular demagogues seized control of the government, garnishing votes from an ill-informed and ill-advised populace, and turned the idea of a democracy being “free” on its head. Under the rule of these types of leaders, the ancient democracies fell into tyranny and dictatorships, decay, and finally utter ruin. Hail Caesar Augustus wasn’t just some words for some emperor guy. Brutus and Cassius and the rest of the Senate weren’t killing some noble dude, they were trying to save democratic rule. Because guess what? Caesar was trying to make himself a dictator, and they didn’t want to go in for that. Even better, by killing someone so popular with the mob, they still lost, and Rome became an Empire anyway.

The lesson buried inside this historical morsel? The lesson the Founding Fathers clearly perceived? Democracy is great. People should have a say in their governance. But you cannot trust people not ordinarily engaged in being good citizens to perfectly select what’s right for themselves and the rest of the nation all the time. And that’s the reason that they deliberately designed the system not perfectly “fair” as we would see it. Because they had a bigger job. A country like America has to protect the rights of the minorities from the whims of the majority. A country like America has to ensure there are checks and balances to everything if it wants to be able to keep its ideals intact. There’s a reason the House of Representatives and the Senate get their members in different ways.  The electoral college actually elects the President.  It’s a balance. A country like America that wants its rule to be for the people and by the people and of the people also has to be sure to check the will of people who might decide the best idea is to elect themselves a dictator and totally screw every generation thereafter. Basically, the Founding Fathers knew people. They expected the people to be imperfect – the citizens themselves, the leaders, the people in the bureaucracy. And one of the reasons we’ve done pretty well at this for pretty long is that they built in safeguards. To protect the future Americans when the present Americans aren’t thinking perfectly clearly for themselves. My vote counts, and so does yours. It counts just enough to make the elaborate clock piece that is our nation keep the time just right.

Res Publica

Documentation without Representation:

Alexander Hamilton, Speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution (21 June 1788)

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