Thursday, May 22, 2014

Elective Government Versus Monarchy

NOTE: I started this some time ago, so the opening statements are no longer entirely accurate. On the other hand, my recent re-reading of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire reminded me of this essay and some of the arguments I intended to make, thus references to recent readings are oddly still accurate, just referring to a different book.

It has been a while since I posted anything, and as such, I should probably write something new, to show that my long vacation has brought me some novel insight. However, my most recent reading, a rather interesting history of Egypt, emphasizing the totalitarian aspect of the pharaohs, has brought to mind a rather old topic, one I addressed in "Misunderstanding Democracy", the purpose behind elective government1. In this case, specifically why we adopted elective government as opposed to monarchy, though it could be extended to any other authoritarian system with just a little modification. (And shall be, at least briefly, at the end of this essay.) Though it is not a new topic, I would like to think that I at least bring some new insight, and that this is not a complete waste of time and effort.

First, let us disabuse ourselves of the lesson taught to every ninth grade civics class since time immemorial, the semi-positivist notion that elective government is instituted because, through the competition of ideas, we will inevitably see incremental improvements until the government eventually achieve utopia. Were we ruled through nothing but direct plebiscites, and were political action to provide clear, easily understood feedback, perhaps this might be plausible, but common sense, as well as experience, show the absurdity of this notion2. Countless nations, for example, have voted themselves into slavery, or elected officials whose actions have brought ruin. Obviously continual improvement is not guaranteed by elected government. And so long as we elect men, and base our decisions on incomplete information and poorly understood theories, we risk doing the same. Thus, elective government is not intended in any way as a safeguard of our liberty or a means of improvement3.

Elective government was instituted for two very simple purposes, both intended, not to improve the state, but rather to ensure stability and protect the state from certain harms that are endemic to monarchy (as well as certain other forms of government). Admittedly, this made elective government an indirect protection of liberty, as the collapse of the state, or foreign conquest, would have likely ended our freedoms as well, but my point here is that the purpose of elections was primarily to maintain stability4.

On the other hand, monarchy itself has historically undergone a number of modifications, changes which, though not made intentionally to increase stability, in the end brought about some of the benefits of elective government, mostly in the form of constitution and parliamentary monarchies, or the other historical oddity, the elective monarchy. All of them do introduce some benefits, but, in the end, none produce the same benefits as a fully elective state. However, we shall look at those -- as well as the impact of some variations upon elective government -- later, after completing the first analysis of monarchy -- and by extension most forms of single ruler despotism5 -- and elective government. (After which we will briefly look at oligarchy, multi-ruler despotism and other variations, to see how they compare to both systems.)

But, as we mentioned the advantages of elective government6, and by extension the shortcomings of monarchy, let us look at them now, and see why they grant such an advantage to elective government.

The first advantage is one I mentioned most prominently in my earlier essay on the topic, that being the mechanisms existing to allow for government change. Obviously, in the case of a true monarchy, this is quite an issue, as monarchs reign from the death of their predecessor until their own death. In some rare cases, abdication allowed a particularly hated monarch to depart peacefully, but, for the most part, when monarchs sufficiently upset their subjects, most often noble subjects, but rarely even the commoners, the only way in which the government could be forced to change was through violent overthrow.

On the other hand, elective government allows for the orderly, regular change of government. Even without the parliamentary mechanism for dissolving governments and allowing immediate election, the fact that a given government will be up for reelection, and removal, in a set amount of time, makes it far less likely violent overthrow will be attempted. Admittedly, circumstances can make revolt more likely. A limited franchise, the domination of a single party, strong regional factions, and a few other oddities can result in individuals seeing revolt as the only solution, even in an elective state, but it is far less likely, and much less common, in elective governments than monarchies7.

To provide a simple example, let us imagine that the second Bush presidency were for life, rather than for 4 years, with another 4 years possible with reelections. Think of how much more rancorous would have been the struggle over the Florida election in 200, or the Kerry claims of voting irregularities in Ohio. Not to mention what might have grown out of the Obama supporters in 2008, or the Ron Paul movement of the same year. With enthusiastic supporters of a rival, and no chance for peaceful change of regime, most likely the Obama supporters would have grown into some sort of dissident movement, peaceful or violent, as would the Paul boosters. Whether they would have attempted violent overthrow, and if it would have succeeded, is questionable, but the fact remains that what would have been a cause of social unrest and disorder in a monarchy, was a peaceful change of government, at worst a cause of some minor protests, in an elective government. The ability to change rulers peacefully allowed quite radically different political viewpoints to coexist fairly peacefully.

The other difference is a little more difficult for us to distinguish, as our elective government has grown so much in scope and power that it now contains a fair amount of arbitrary power exercised by isolated bureaucrats and politicians. However, even in our present state, there are still enough checks on arbitrary power, that we can still discern some of the advantage enjoyed by much less powerful, less intrusive elective states. (And,a s we shall discus later, the present course of our elective government suggests an endpoint including the exercise of power by a single individual. But more of that later.)

Let us look at the simple question of arrest, imprisonment, confiscation and execution. In an elective government, these powers are invariably separated, or, if not, then subject to review by an elective body. In whatever manner it is instituted, in the end, there is more than one set of eyes arranging arrest, determining guilt, assigning punishment and then carrying it out, as well as, in most systems, providing a venue for appeal of those decisions and their review. It is very rare for any form of elective government to have a situation8 where the imprisonment, dispossession or execution of a man is in the hands of a single individual.

On the other hand, monarchy, even in its more limited forms, tends to allow the ruler quite extensive executive powers, even when his authority is otherwise constrained. And in absolute monarchies, monarchs are granted an even more free hand in penal matters. In fact, this is what brought this essay to mind. While reading Gibbon's history, I came across reference to two of the more respected early emperors, Hadrian and Vespasian, and saw mention made of how, despite their otherwise upright characters, they used the powers of execution to eliminate personal rivals or those who might claim the throne9. Seeing this reminded me that, no matter how noble the man who sits on the throne, he is still human, subject to moods, personal rivalries, and simple mistakes. The same is true of all men, but a monarch, unlike other men, has the power to instantly turn an impulse into a reality, and thus his biases, whims and mistakes can have tremendous consequences for his subjects.

Nor is this a problem limited to penal matters. Absolute authority vested in a single individual allows not only his own prejudices and mistakes to create bad situations, but also those of his favorites or advisers. Many were the woes created for the Kingdom of Jerusalem because of the court faction headed by Conrad of Montferrat had the ear of the monarch. Likewise, China ended almost all foreign exploration because the eunuch faction controlled the emperor. In short, the existence of a single source of all decisions, capable of enforcing them with absolute power, and allowed to make decisions without any checks or controls10, creates a very dangerous "single point of failure"11, which allows the imposition of any decision upon all without any appeal or exception.

Of course, elective governments are not free of error12. Individuals can make mistakes or be moved by bias. Even groups can be so deluded. In fact, large groups have been moved by mistaken passions, and the entire electorate has acted on mistaken information. However, such errors, with most men, as well as for larger groups, tend to be the exception, not the rule. Which is why elective bodies are superior to monarchs. If a monarch makes an error, it becomes law, and until his mind is changed, so it remains. On the other hand, in an elective government, with decisions resting in many hands, with others providing review, even if a single man is in error, the odds are good someone else in the process is not, and can impede the incorrect decisions long enough for the first man to be persuaded, or, failing that, for enough support to be raised against him to make his opinion irrelevant. In other words, elective government is not free of errors, but an error has to be very widespread before it can do harm, which is much less likely than a single monarch acting on a mistaken belief or personal bias13.

Though I said originally there were two advantages elective states held over monarchies, there is actually a third aspect which one could argue is simply an expansion upon the last topic, but which we may choose to see as another advantage for elective states. And that is the tendency of monarchs to grant power to various favorites, creating a shadow government of courtiers, both expanding the government's power into all areas of life, and also forming an unstable web of competing power brokers, of varying degrees of competence and knowledge, all jealously guarding their power and striving to undermine that of rivals. In short, one of the most unstable environments imaginable, both due to the internecine struggles it makes unavoidable, and the degree of popular unrest it is likely to inspire, both among nobles and commoners. Not to mention the tendency to create a few, well defined (if shifting) power blocks, providing ready made support systems for pretenders to the throne, disaffected heirs and external enemies.

Basically, the problem is somewhat akin to an issue I discussed in terms of authoritarian states in my essay "Chaotic Government" (and its sequel "Follow Up on 'Chaotic Government'"). In that essay, I explained the dictator himself can have personal interest in only so many issues, and can micromanage only so much. yet, the state has the power to interfere with and minutely control every aspect of life. As those areas not controlled by the dictator will be of interest, or potential profit, to someone, there will be a tendency for underlings to try to take control of them, but, with individuals having competing interests, and none having the absolute authority of the dictator, it will create competing power blocks, all struggling to assert themselves over various overlapping realms of interest.

The same is true of monarchy. Monarchs tend to limit their interests to certain areas. However, crafty underlings (say Lord Burghley, or Cardinal Richelieu) will find areas in which the monarch has never shown interest, and then take advantage of a privileged position with the monarch to exert their own authority over those areas. In the cases of a strong individual, such as the two mentioned, this will simply expand the crown's interests and increase the size and scope of government, as it is unlikely this sort of individual will tolerate rivals, and having the monarch's ear, they will be able to exclude challengers. On the other hand, lesser lights, seeing the game played by the king or queen's favorites, will try to do the same, and often will ask for rights which will give them control over certain matters, but not sufficient control to exclude rivals, other claimants, perhaps even a formal expansion of royal, or perhaps simply noble, power. And thus these individuals will often find themselves competing with other favorites, or with the nobility, or even with agents of the monarchy (obviously a risky endeavor). In the long run, this has a tendency to create certain cliques, power blocks which will vie with one another for increased royal favor, or perhaps the backing of the nobility, and will often provide fertile sources of support for pretenders to the throne, rebels, foreign powers, spies and others.

Now, having said this, some will no doubt point to a similar mechanism in governments other than monarchies, even states which lack a single source of authority. Is it not true, they will contend, that our own government is often plagued by such struggles among bureaucratic agencies, by quasi-governmental powers, such as NGOs, non-profits, lobbyists and the like, and even among some blocks of elected officials? And in a way, they are correct, though there are definite differences between the patronage of a monarchy and the equivalent system of favors in an elective state. However, there is also something to such a statement, and we will examine the reason that the two do come to resemble one another a little later in this essay14.

Before we discuss the most obvious problem with this argument, the fact that older, excessively centralized and intrusive elective government eventually come to have many of the same problems as a monarchy, let us first wrap up our look at monarchy itself. We have described the three principle advantages to elective government, and looked at how they come about, now let us turn to the modifications made to monarchy, and what changes results from them, as well as taking a look at alternatives to both systems, choices such as oligarchy, joint rule by multiple monarchs, and the like. After that, we can conclude by asking why elective government so often begins to exhibit the same flaws as monarchy, especially after it has been long established.

Let us first look at the most uncommon and peculiar institution, that of elective monarchy, that being a system where the monarch is, for all intents and purposes a normal absolute monarch, but where the selection of the monarch is made through election by a fixed group of electors. In some cases, the electors are a very small body, such as the handful of noble, episcopal and regal electors of the Holy Roman Empire. In others, they are made up of the whole body of free men, such as appears to have been the case, at least at time, in various norse kingdoms. And then there are the aberrant variations, such as the "election by revolt" during several periods of the Roman empire, where the Praetorians or the legions would elect a substitute for the current emperor and then fight to place him on the throne.

In some ways, I suppose elective monarchy is superior to standard inherited monarchy, in that it would normally prevent the most incompetent, insane or otherwise disagreeable offspring to inherit. In addition, in those cases where the electors were relatively numerous, it would, for a time, provide a degree of stability, as the king would clearly enjoy some public support15. On the other hand, it does not have anywhere close to the advantages of true democracy, as there is still no way to remove an unpopular ruler prior to his death. Not to mention that, with a relatively small body of electors, or even a large body if evenly divided, since the victor will rule for quite some time, there is every incentive to factional strife and warfare after the decision is made.

Far more stable are those constitutional monarchies, parliamentary monarchies and others which graft some form of elective government onto a monarchy.  By removing some power from the monarch, and granting it to an elective body, they allow for the sort of government change that is enjoyed by other elective governments. Of course, the more power the monarch retains, the less this will mean to the public. For example, a monarch able to dismiss governments at will and call for new elections, or to veto any vote he dislikes, will still be seen as the true power in the state, and the change of elective government will mean little. Or, to put it as succinctly as possible, the benefits of a constitutional/parliamentary monarchy is felt only to the degree that the authority of the state is transferred from the monarch to the elective body. Thus, in a system where the king is mere figurehead, and the parliament the true government, the system should enjoy essentially the full advantages of elective government16. On the other hand, the more power the monarch retains, the less significant the elective body will seem, and the more upset the public will become with mismanagement by the monarch.

Finally, having looked at variations within monarchy, let us look at a few non-monarchical governments which are also not elective. For the most part, we can call these oligarchies, as they all seem to be possible to describe as rule by a group. Even something as peculiar as Sparta's joint rule by two kings was nothing more than an oligarchy with the smallest possible ruling council. (Any fewer rulers would have been a monarchy.) So, whatever the organization of the ruling body, whatever the size, nonelective government by more than one ruler can be described using oligarchy as a model, just as any autocratic state with a single ruler will inevitably resemble a monarchy in most significant ways.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of oligarchies is that they are simply impossible to maintain, or almost so. Venice, of all the oligarchies I can recall, was the sole state I can name that managed to keep a working oligarchy for its entire life, and even that system was ruled by a singular Doge, and often saw a given family or faction wielding enough power to make a family member the Doge and allow him to rule as king in all but name. Still, Venice never fell into such a situation permanently, and their quite paranoid electoral system and dread of centralized power made them a unique example17.

In most other cases, oligarchy simply did not last. And the reason is obvious. Within a group sharing power, with all either equal or even with some enjoying more power, but others able to cancel them out, either alone or in combination, there is a need to form coalitions, and those tend to over time turn into factions. factions which, over time, become permanent features of the system. In some rare cases, factions may number three or more for a prolonged time, but, for the most part, factional systems have a tendency to collapse into two contending parties. And the reason is obvious. One faction will tend to become predominant, the strongest of the lot, and there will be a tendency for other factions to align as those who support it, and those who oppose it, producing two power blocks. We can see this time and again in both formal oligarchies, and even in parliaments and congresses of elective government. The Orsini and Colonna in Roman politics, the Whites and Red of post-Revolution Russia, the Stalinists and Trotskyites of the post Lenin era, the Populares and Optimates of the last days of the Roman Republic18, the blue and green chariot factions that played such havoc with later Byzantine politics, the two party system in the US, the similar split in Britain's parliament. Even in systems which tend to retain a formal multiplicity of parties, such as many modern parliaments, they still tend to break down into two easily identified factions (sometimes with a number of small neutrals shifting between the two). it is almost a truism that any system of competing interests will, over time, degenerate into two blocks.

However, that is not, in itself, going to cause oligarchy to fail. In the US and Britain we have governments which have long been run by a two party system, yet our elective governments are going strong. So the tendency for factions to form into two parties is not itself enough to destroy oligarchy.

What makes oligarchies unstable is that, like monarchies, the power enjoyed by rulers is, more or less, unlimited. Thus, once the system has reached the point where it is divided between two contending factions, once one faction or the other gains enough advantage to seize even momentary control of the state, they will use that power to completely eliminate their rivals. It is not only inevitable, it makes perfect sense. With the state granting near absolute power, if the victorious faction does not use that advantage to wipe out their rivals, as soon as the tide turns, the rivals may very well do them in using the same power. So, peaceful coexistence is the norm only while neither side has enough control to remove the other. As soon that power is gained, with security enough to ensure they can carry out the elimination of their rivals, the only viable option for either faction is to completely crush the opposition, damaging them enough that they can never strike back.

All of which is a round about way of saying that oligarchy almost inevitably collapses into one man rule over time19. So, in the long run, monarchy, despotism, call it what you will, is the end of all authoritarian systems. We can see this, for example, in many modern communist states, which, while nominally ruled by committee, are almost always in the power of a single man, be it Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim Jung Il, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Mihn, Deng Xiaoping, Castro or others. Even when power is restored to the ruling body for a time, as happened after the death of Stalin, for example, soon enough internecine struggles result in the return to a singular despot. It is simply the only stable end point for a government with absolute power.

And that provides a perfect introduction to our final topic, the question why, of the many advantages I mention for elective governments, many of them seem to disappear as governments become more centralized, larger and more powerful. And, as should be obvious from the last discussion, the answer is that, as states, even elective states, gain more and more power, the state itself becomes less and less representative. Politicians enact policies to prevent incumbents from losing office, power is transferred to unelected bureaucrats who basically rule for life, politicians themselves drift between formally held offices and positions in lobbying firms and NGOs20, serving in a kind of shadow government when not holding office, allowing them to retain authority even when not officially serving, and so on.

This helps to explain why larger, centralized and intrusive elective states come to resemble monarchies more and more while enjoying fewer and fewer of the benefits of elections. As I stated earlier, one problem of monarchy is the ability to impose a single bad decision on the state as a whole. Well, as I also mentioned above, as elective states become more authoritarian, more expansive, this becomes a problem there as well. Granted, even in the most socialist of elective states it is unusual for a single individual to set policy, so there are still a few more checks on the process than in a monarchy, the state still has the ability, and very often the desire, to impose a given set of values upon everyone, regardless of their desires. And so, many of the problems of monarchy begin to bleed over into the elective governments.

Over time, even the single most consistent advantage of elective government is lost. Of all the advantages of elective government, the one most clear and understandable is the benefits inherent to frequent and peaceful changes of government.It appears to be the one advantage almost impossible to eliminate, as anything short of establishing a dictatorship or appointing "congressmen for life" would not cause it to disappear.

However, that is, in effect, precisely what increasingly powerful elective governments do. Not explicitly, of course, but over time, they have a tendency to enact laws making incumbency more and more advantageous, making voters skeptical about the ability to unseat popular candidates.

Nor is that all. The exercise of ever increasing authority has a tendency to produce in politicians a set of common beliefs, which tend to make the opposing factions appear more and more similar to one another. Granted, they still dispute over the specifics of how to exercise that power, but for the voters, these disputes often become irrelevant, and the politicians come to seem more and more alike. As a result, voters become disillusioned and indifferent, and they care less and less about which specific individual wields that power. In the end, the ability to change who sits in a given seat in congress, or occupies the Oval Office ceases to matter, and the government enjoys no enhanced stability due to the frequent changes of government21.

Thus, I must qualify my original thesis that monarchy is inherently less stable than elective government, and that elective government enjoys a number of advantages. There are advantages, it is true, but they diminish rapidly if the elective government arrogates to itself increasing ability to interfere with individual affairs. The more power vested in the elective government, the more likely it will come to share the disadvantages of monarchy. And, of course, in time, if enough power is vested in an elective government, that power will either immediately tempt some adventurer to become a despot, or will result in a strongly divided factionalism in the government which, eventually, will have the same result. And thus we come full circle, from a single, absolute monarch, through elective government, to an elective government exercising ever more power, and, at long last, back to a single autocrat, ruling alone22.


1. I would say "democratic government", but as I discussed in "No more!" -- as well as "Misunderstanding Democracy" -- some people get so worked up about pointing out we live in a republic, or constitutional republic, or some other particular type of republic, they forget that "democracy" is not just used to describe direct participatory democracies, but is also a catch all used to describe all manner of representative governments, and thus we live in a republic that is also democratic. But, as making such points wastes so much time, and usually leaves the most partisan voices unconvinced, so I would rather mention it in footnotes only, and  fill the essay proper with carefully chosen words, intended to avoid such pointless pseudo-pedantry.

2. My federalist arguments may seem to contradict my position here, but there are some significant differences. Most national elections compare present to past to evaluate theories, they rarely have the opportunity for side by side comparison of approaches which would be possible in true federalism. In fact, the smaller the unit of government, the more such comparisons could be made. This would still fall prey to poor understanding of principles, and charismatic rogues could still come to rule, but federalism, by limiting the scope of the harm, almost makes it easier to escape such threats. For a little more detail see "Minimal Reforms", "The Benefits of Federalism", "The Case for Small Government" and "Of Ants and Men" among others.

3. The intended safeguard of liberty was the combination of constitutional limits upon powers and the nature of federalism, limiting most actions to a single state. These have obviously been undermined to one degree or another by various historical developments.

4. Obviously, every individual involved had his own understanding, and many statements do emphasize the theory which I discount at the beginning of this essay. So, let me say, perhaps some did believe elective government would lead to improved rule, or would directly preserve liberty. Perhaps even a majority did so believe at one time or another. I could be wrong in the intent behind establishing the policy. So, perhaps it would be best were I to say instead that we should continue to elect officials, rather than adopting monarchy or dictatorship, for the reasons I give. Maybe it would be best if I were to say that, whatever the reasoning behind the establishment of elections, their true benefit was in the realm of stability.

5. I limit the comparison of monarchy and despotism to those despotic systems with a single ruler as some of the specific shortcomings of monarchy relate to the ultimate power being vested in a single ruler. Absolutism with multiple rulers, be it the dual monarchy of Sparta or various ancient Greek oligarchies, while sharing some of the shortcomings of monarchy also enjoy some benefits. On the other hand, when we look at these alternate forms of autocracy, we will also discus the innate tendency toward single individual rule, as seen, for example, in the two well know Roman triumvirates, or the various autocrats who seized control of the USSR and People's Republic of China.

6. Initially I mentioned two advantages elective government has over monarchy, but as we shall see, there is a third advantage which is not always present, a problem which does not always appear in monarchy, and sometimes appears in elective states, but which is much more common in monarchy, and appears in elective states as they become more centralized and powerful, which typically leads to an elective government degenerating into some for of autocracy. (This will be discussed at greater length later in the essay.)

7. As discussed concerning the free market in "Third Best Economy", elective government is not perfect, it is simply the best choice among all the imperfect systems. Those who seek perfection are bound to be disappointed, and produce outcomes far inferior to those provided by imperfect, but workable, systems. See "The Threat of Perfection", "Utopianism and Disaster", "Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse" and "Government Quackery".

8. Under some governments, wartime measures may allow for an exception to this general principle, but generally states which give military leaders expansive powers (eg. republican Rome or Athens during the Persian and Peloponesian wars) also implemented quite thorough citizen reviews, often resulting in harsh punishment for any sort of misbehavior. (Athenian generals seemed to suffer exile at an alarming rate, and Roman generals and proconsuls seemed to do about as poorly as soon as their term expired.)

9. This brought to mind another relatively respected monarch, England's Elizabeth I, who, though remembered for her strength and patronage of brilliant men, was also remembered for the relatively large number of executions, not all of them justified by the unsettled time, nor all of them supported by the justifications provided. It seems there is a rule that monarchs, otherwise respected as virtuous, have a bad habit of using their absolute authority to resolve personal problems.

10. Of course, with the growth of ever more centralized and stronger elective governments, these single points of failure have appeared in elective governments as well, though they tend to be most often located within the unelected bureaucracy, rather than within the elected branches. Still, elective government can produce similar situations, but they are much less common, and normally subject to some external review, unlike a monarch's decisions.

11. See "Why Freedom is Essential", "Single Point of Failure and the FairTax", "An On Demand World", "A Quick Question", "The Era of the Cocky Know It All",  "Redundancy as a Protective Measure", "The Importance of Error", "Adaptability and Government", "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy", "Skewed Perspective , or, How Big Government Becomes Inevitable" and "The Case for Small Government". As these essays discuss the problem in the context of our present government, it should be clear the same problem can arise in elective states, though, as I stared earlier, in those states it is an unusual situation, usually developing as those states grow in power and become more autocratic, while it is an inherent part of monarchy, present from the beginning.

12. As stated at the start of this essay, as well as in earlier writing, there is no inherent reason to assume elective government will either be free of error or more prone to eliminate mistakes. By allowing for frequent changes, it does have more opportunity to correct errors, but there is nothing about elections or debate between politicians that make them any more likely to discover the truth than arguments among any group of individuals. (As I discussed elsewhere, the advantage of a federation of elected states is that the multitude of variations allows an examination of many solutions, making it easier to eliminate obviously bad answers and emphasize those that seem obviously good. It is not the elections or the debate that make that happen, they only allow for multiple solutions and rapid changes to those who make bad decisions, as well as providing public pressure on politicians to eliminate unpopular answers. See "The Benefits of Federalism", "Reforms, Ideal and Real" and "Why I Am Not a Libertarian".)

13. I have written before ("Why Freedom is Essential") that there are many more ways to err than to get the right answer, and that would seem to suggest error is more common than truth. And, perhaps it is. I would like to think accumulated knowledge, reason and the general human inclination to want to be right would mean we have a tendency to seek out truth, and thus error would gradually decline, but even if that is not the case, and error far outnumbers truth in our beliefs, that does not change my analysis. You see, most errors are somewhat or entirely exclusive. That is, belief in one error precludes belief in another. So, even if error is more common than truth, that does not make it easy to push action on an erroneous belief through an elective government, as one must not only be mistaken, but have a group mistaken in the same way, for action to be taken. It does not matter if everyone else is also mistaken, if they do not share your specific mistake -- or some complimentary error -- their error will bring opposition as surely as truth would, and thus, even with a surfeit of erroneous beliefs, elective government can still act as a check on specific errors.

14. Thought I did entitle an essay "Patronage" and have used the term loosely to describe an elective government's system of advantages and privileges granted to favorites, in truth real royal patronage is somewhat different in many respects. So, despite my informal use of the same term for both, they should not be confused. See also "My Censorship Is Your Discretion", "A Question for Artists of the Left", "Patronage Versus Choice", "Symmetry and Greed" and "Moral for Me, But Not for Thee".

15. This would obviously depend on the number of electors and how well they represent the public at large. The norse elections by acclaim tended to produce relatively popular rulers, at least for a time after their election. On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire tended to be conferred often by victory in war, with electors coerced into their support for the winning candidate, with public support being relatively irrelevant. The Roman legions, as mentioned earlier, tended to feel strong support for those they selected, and often some regions would support candidates who had been governors or generals in those areas. However, most emperors installed by legions from one region of the empire tended to enjoy support only in their "home base", and were not popular with other parts of the empire, or in Rome itself. Likely, it was this tendency to enjoy only regional support that led, in the later empire, to the establishment of the "particularist" empires, such as the Empire of Gaul, as ruling only over the regions where one enjoyed support was much safer and more stable than trying to seize an entire empire, in which one was either unpopular or, at best, unknown.

16. There are still some small disadvantages to the remnants of monarchy. For example, many will question the costs of maintaining an idle monarch and royal family. In addition, as such systems normally retain titles of nobility and the like, there is likely to be dissatisfaction with that situation, more or less equal to the degree of advantages such titles confer. However, these are likely to be relatively insignificant issue for most of the public, and so it is safe to say a government under a figurehead monarch is probably equal in stability to a fully elective state.

17. I discussed the extremes to which Venice went in my essay "Simplicity". However, as I mentioned, even with a system which went to great lengths to prevent rule by a single individual, or even single family, the Venetians did see a number of Doges whose family or faction possessed the authority to allow them to rule almost unchallenged, so even Venice was not perfect in warding off the ills of oligarchy. (The only other example that comes close would be the Orsini and Colonna in Rome, who managed to maintain a relatively even balance of power for quite some time, though, in truth, most of that was due to the roles each family played in power struggles between other parties, such as Guelphs and Ghibbelines, various papal factions, the Byzantine court, the Holy Roman Emperors, the Sicilian and Neapolitan kingdoms, the houses of Hohenstauffen and Anjou, and even in struggles between various states trying to gain influence over the papacy, so they may not have remained so evenly matched, and either family may not have enjoyed so many rescues from dire straits, had they not been so important to the schemes of others.)

18. What is interesting is how Roman, though officially controlled by the Triumvirs in two different triumvirates, still ended up forming into two factions. In the case of the first triumvirate, some will claim it was only due to the death of Crassus, but even before that event, the triumvirate was still dominated by Caesar and Pompey, with Crassus shifting between them and trying to maintain the peace. Likewise, the second triumvirate was clearly that of Octavian and Antony, with Lepidus playing even less of a role than Crassus did before his death. It is obvious, even with an oligarchy of only three individuals, the system will still end up in a conflict between two factions.

19. This is not always a formally recognized situation. Sparta,. for example, had many periods where one of the two kings clearly dominated the other, a situation that seemed to become more common as Sparta grew older and more powerful. On the other hand, in many situations, such as Rome's replacement of two consuls with a single emperor, the transition is explicit and obvious. Still, the transition to one man rule may often be invisible to outsiders not in the know, who see a nominal body of legislators, including supposed opposition party members, without realizing one party holds all power in that legislator and a single individual, be he head of the party or not, directs party policy. A dictatorship can easily exist without the ruler himself formally being recognized as such.

20. See "Our Aristocracy", "Some Thoughts on Term Limits", "Why Term Limits Will Fail (And Should)", "Critique of a Congressional Reform" and "The Problem of Professional Politicians, or, The Impossibility of a True "Ousider" Candidate".

21. The increase in corruption which often accompanies increased power ("Anti-Business Businesses", "Transparency, Corruption and Reform", "Katrina and BP", "Clarifying an Earlier Post", "The Inevitable Corruption of Protectionism" and "Funding and the Corruption of Science") as well as the cynicism and deception common among politicians in large, centralized states ("Self-Serving Cynicism and Our Cultural Immaturity", "The Presumption of Dishonesty", "The Single Greatest Weakness", "Consumer Protection, Cartels and the Failure of Regulation", "The Consequences of Bad Laws" and "Caution, Not Fear".)  produces a great deal of voter apathy. But it hardly requires corruption, the simple segregation of individuals into thsoe who have the ear of politicians and those who don't, or those who enjoy favors and those who don't, is enough to produce instability sufficient to tear down most states. (See "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government", "Negative and Positive Rights" and "Power and Disorder".)

22. See "Modern Marius and Sulla", "A New Look at Intervention", "The Inevitability of Bureaucratic Management in Government Enterprises" and "Tyranny Without Tyrants".

ADDENDUM (2014/05/25): I updated footnote #21, as I finally found the article I had wanted to cite, but whose name I could not recall.

No comments:

Post a Comment