Monday, March 26, 2012

When is a Government not a Government? (Part 1 of 2)

     Maybe you’ve heard when a ship is not a ship: when it’s afloat (a float). Maybe you’ve heard when a door is not a door: when it’s ajar (a jar). So when is a government not a government? A government is not a government when it no longer has legitimacy.
     No, that’s not funny; it’s a fact of life. Unlike a ship or a door, government is not an objective reality.  It's a social reality;  government exists only when people agree that it exists.
     I've often pondered this issue and issues related to it, and I’ve found no clear answers to my questions. As far as I know, no one has.
     I am now revisiting the question because of three things that occurred within 48 hours of each other: 1.) I read an article that gave examples of regimes with superior weapons collapsing when confronted by peaceful resistance; (link) 2.) The television movie of the week was about a tyrannical regime that fell to a mob of unarmed protesters; the gist of the movie was that people can be killed, but ideas can not be killed (video) (There's plenty of violence for moviegoers who look for cheap thrills, but non-violent resistance carried the day.); 3.) and, I read in this morning’s paper about tens of thousands of Israelis and Iranians forging a bond of trans-national friendship over the Internet.  (link)
     Before going any further into this, let’s explore the paradox of government and how people try to resolve that paradox.  We need government although there is no philosophical justification for it. Let’s look at two forms of government—democracies and republics—and explore this classic paradox.
      (Little needs to be said of authoritarian rule and monarchies. Authoritarianism is based on the notion that authority comes from brute force. Monarchism is based on the notion that authority and wisdom result from genetic inbreeding unless the inbreeding is done by poor people.  A casual glance at the British "royal" family is enough to disprove that assumption.)

     Democracy is based on two easily disproven assumptions: that the majority is always wiser than the minority, and that individuals have no rights. We know from experience that every reform was once a minority opinion, and that most reforms were once unpopular opinions. As for the latter assumption, if individuals have no rights, by what right do various individuals come together to form a government?
     Even if we somehow answer these objections, we’re still left with one more. Let’s suppose everyone in society unanimously agreed to form a certain government in a certain way. Why should the next generation be bound by decisions they had no part in making?
     Most Western governments, including the United States government, try to resolve that dilemma by forming republics. Republics are based on the notion that some rights are so basic that neither governments nor majorities have any right to violate them. Minorities consent to being ruled by the majority on the condition that each person’s rights are safeguarded.
     The establishment of a republic is not a philosophical justification for government. It is simply a conditional accommodation for government, based on need.
     Machiavelli points out that everyone who has power was conditionally granted that power by someone. Either he received the power from the people, or from his peers, or from higher up.   Whence he received his power determines where his base of power is, and that base must be kept secure if he is to keep his power.
     On the other hand, regardless of who granted that power to the ruler, that ruler will be in a more secure position if he gains and holds the approval of the people. Approval from the people will give the ruler a stronger hand with his peers and higher ups; but approval from the peers or higher ups will not give him as much advantage in dealing with the people.
     There are three ways a ruler can gain power. From the most secure to the least secure, they are as follows: through merit, through strength (especially violence), and through the unmerited favor of higher ups. The first is most likely to gain the favor of the people; the last “must fear everyone at all times,” including those who appointed him. George Washington and Sun Yat-sen were examples of the first. Pontius Pilate, George W. Bush, and Leung Chun-ying (Beijing's puppet ruler of Hong Kong) are examples of the last. The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were no sign of public approval for Bush, since both elections were stolen through illegal counting of the ballots. (link)
     I should stress here that there’s no such thing as one-man rule. What we call an autocrat is actually the public face for an oligarchy.
     Without the approval of the people, not even the most violent regime is secure. In fact, the opposite is true. The more violence is used against the people, the less legitimacy the government receives from the people. Violence, then, weakens the hand of government and strengthens the hand of peaceful resisters.
     Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King knew that, and they used that principle with powerful effect. The Solidarity movement in Poland knew it, and so does Aung San Suu Kyi. Regardless of what you may think of them, they really knew how to use the power of truth and ideas against lies and violence.
     When someone wrote to Thomas Jefferson accusing him of not having enough confidence in the nation’s leaders, Jefferson wrote back, “Confidence is, everywhere, the parents of despotism. Let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.” Sadly, our leaders are no longer bound from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.
     According to one tally, America has gone to war over 50 times since World War II, and not one of these wars was legally declared. Most were wars of conquest.  Roughly 30 times, the American government has  attacked other countries either to prop up an unpopular regime or to overthrow a popularly elected government. Closer to home, Wall Street banksters have defrauded the American people out of more than 100,000 homes and $14 trillion, and they ridicule their own investors. Obama made matters worse by appointing dozens of Wall Street executives and foreign agents to run his administration.
     In 2008, voters hoped for change from the criminality of the George W. Bush (actually Dick Cheney) administration. What they got was almost exactly the same policies we’d had under Cheney/Bush. Even those policies were expanded to make them worse.
     America is not alone in suffering from criminal usurpation. It has happened in many other countries, and the people are resisting—peacefully. In the second part of this two-part series, I’ll describe their means of resistance.

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