Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Recipe for a Successful Representative Government

Since the apparent success of the American Revolution in the 18th Century, Americans have been trying to spread their ideals of Republicanism and Democracy across the globe. And in almost every instance, those ideals have failed. South America continues to struggle between democracy and totalitarian dictatorial governments. France needed to try for a Republic 4 times before the current system managed to succeed. And Iraq is currently going through the same growing pains that these other countries had gone through.

My question was, why? Why is it that the American Revolution seemed to succeed when others struggled? What makes a country ready for revolution, and what makes the revolution succeed? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with America, but rather the society that existed at the time of the revolution. Other countries, such as England, Canada, and India, have all managed to reach a democratically lead government as well. It all has to do with the conditions of the society that is seeking independence, and how they go about preparing for the coming storm.

The Tradition
In order for any type of Democracy or Republic to work, you need to have a tradition of self government. the American Colonies were pretty much autonomous in their day to day management, which made moving to a new representative government of the same type possible. It was built around the corporate structure with leadership, with the ability to elect those that were best suited for the job. All this started at the town level, and slowly progressed upward.

The brilliance of this model is that is can be scaled rather easily. A small number of people representing the larger percentage of the group. Generally the person elected would represent the majority consensus on most of the issues, and therefore would be well qualified to handle all government matters and leave the rest of the people to live their lives as usual.

As this model spread up through the towns to regions (counties, parishes, etc.), and eventually to the entire colony, the people became familiar and comfortable with their model of government. So when it came time to cast off from Great Britain, Parliament, and Monarchy, they already had a system of government set up, just waiting for the next tier.

Popular Support
Yes, in order to perform such a dramatic change to the Political system, there needs to be a social and economic support system in place. This is perhaps the most overlooked portion of the search for Democracy. In 1775, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington were all concerned about the possible success of the revolution, because independence was not a concept that was very popular. At least until Common Sense was written.

Once that pamphlet was in circulation, the popular support of independence grew at such a pace it took the Tory support in Congress by surprise. In the 5 months from the publication of Common Sense the nation was impatiently waiting for the Declaration of Independence to be made.

The lesson here is that the populace needs to know what representative government means, and how it will benefit them. They also need to have a general understanding of how it will be a benefit over the previous government. Too many "revolutions" have been quickly stamped out or overtaken by dictators because this all to crucial fact has been neglected.

It also means that those getting their independence would need to apply the concepts to everyone, including those that were previously in power. Yes, even the oppressed can become the oppressors if they are not careful. It's important to realize the dangers of dehumanizing another group to get your political agenda advanced. Everyone needs to be part of the political process, not just a few groups.

Universality of Beliefs
Religious conviction is probably one of the greatest gifts mankind can possess. It's a moral compass in a world where morality becomes marginalized too often. That being said, excluding people based on religious conviction from society leads to oppression, and undermines the basic premise of democracy: That people have inherent rights based on their existence, and not by the grace of the government. Too often are these concepts forgotten in all political circles, and too often are people willing to give up some of these rights in the name of safety.

These rights and liberties that are universal across all cultures should represent the basis of law, and therefore warrant government protection. Once law, or government intervention, begins to eliminate these liberties, the government has become corrupt and needs a reformation. At this point, those rights that were oppressed give the oppressed a rallying point for action toward change.

Once the action has been put into place, the oppressed have a choice to make: Either they become in turn the oppressors, and return the same injustices upon those who were previously the oppressors, or they can opt to include those who were the oppressors into the system, acknowledging their rights as fellow humans. Notice I don't say that agreements need to be made, just that the basic human rights need to be acknowledged.

The Revolution
I love the story of Gandhi. He was truly a brilliant man in his execution of the Indian Revolution against the British Empire. Instead of mobilizing a huge army and getting thousands of people killed, he gained public support by passively resisting the Empire. As such, India became independent, and now the largest Democracy in existence. And, I might add, one of the few true Democracies in the world. The idea of a radical revolution doesn't mean active disobedience, violence in the streets, and open conflict.

Radical revolutions begin at the core, looking at the one issue that ties one to the existing regime and then replacing it with a tie to a new regime. Gandhi did so by calling into question the intents of the British Empire with regard to India. The American Colonies had Common Sense to question the reason for continued ties to the British Crown. That is the real revolution. Once the revolution is over for the population in general, they are then defending their new core beliefs with a united cause.

Even when you look at labor disputes from the 1920's, they were generally diffused by the management conceding to one or two demands instead of all the labor unions demands. Why? Because they were the core issues that the workers really wanted. They got it, so why continue to strike? It took years for Labor Unions to understand this and adapt accordingly.

Liberty, and Justice for All
Yes, that is for all involved, not just one ethnic group, one religious group, one gender, one level of education. It's for everyone. Too often are the oppressed masses put into power, only to become the new oppressors. If we spend more time looking at the universality of liberty, then we can perhaps stop that vicious cycle from continuing.

With these pieces in place, with the work of some very brilliant and caring individuals, it is possible to build a revolution that will lead to a successful representative government. Unfortunately, too many people quest for just that and fail to see the work necessary to bring it about. Perhaps, if we all spent more time studying our History, we would understand how the process works, and how it can succeed.

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