Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Republic Vs Empire

                                                          Republic vs Empire

      The primary difference between a republic and an empire is this: A Republic has Citizens; an Empire has subjects.
     A republic is founded when a number of free and autonomous citizens come together in an effort to regulate relations among themselves and to protect their rights to their persons and property.  In a republic, a crime is defined as “injury to the person or property of another”.  All citizens are expected to participate in the political life of a republic.  To accomplish this, future citizens are broadly educated and exposed to a wide variety of subject matter.  It is to be expected that they will pursue those subjects that interest them, so they can contribute to the general debate on a wide range of issues.  Each citizen is to be considered a valuable member of the community whose concerns and interests must be addressed by the “Body Politik” as a whole.
     Empires are founded on the premise that the state comes first and that “people are the property of the state”.  Consequently,  the definition of crime is expanded to include injury to oneself.  The state has a right to protect its property. Subjects are narrowly educated people who are expected to fill a single niche in society and are actively discouraged from participating in any debate outside their area of expertise. Political participation on the part of subjects is neither wanted nor desired.  The mythos is that, “just as you are an expert in your field, so the politicians and economists are experts in their fields.  So there is no need for you to concern yourself with these kind of issues.” In short, “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, and just do what we tell you”.
     So, let us take a look at the United States and see which one of these concepts we more closely resemble. And let us begin with the educational system.
     From the post World War II era to the mid 1960’s, the overall effectiveness of the American educational system was probably at its peak effectiveness. (It is true that from  the late 19th century through the earlier part of the 20th century, the elementary curriculum was much more rigorous.  The average high school graduate of today would be very hard pressed to pass what was considered eighth grade English in 1910.  However, most people didn’t complete the 8th grade in those days and high school graduates were unusual.  So overall, the level of education in the 40’s,50’s, and 60’s was higher than in the early part of the century.)  At that time, the teachers believed in educating people to participate in a democratic society and constantly stressed “republican values”. They also placed great emphasis on the erosion of these values and stressed the example of the disintegration of the Roman Republic until it was transformed into the Roman Empire. The message being that unless something was done, the same process would take place here.
     Unfortunately, this generation came of age just as the United States was making the final transition from a republic to an empire.  A whole generation of idealists felt disillusioned and alienated when they found out that not only didn’t their opinions matter, but that their participation in the political process was neither appreciated nor desired. This led to profound changes in our educational system.
     One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the profound confluence of interests between the so-called “left-wing radicals” and the right-wing plutocrats who actually run this country.  In the 60’s and 70’s the cry of “relevance” was heard throughout the land. Somehow it became fashionable to take the position that if a school subject had no immediate bearing on some kind of future employment, it wasn’t worth studying. (It is now possible to turn on the TV and watch parents picketing their local schools wanting to know why anyone should have to pass algebra in order to graduate from high school.  Better yet, a gentleman taking a test for teacher certification asked, “How should I know what an interrogative sentence is?”.   As Dave Barry says, “I really wish I had made that one up, but I didn’t”.)
     Another battle cry revolved around the word, “elitism”.  Anyone who dared to suggest that future students were entitled to an education worthy of the meaning of the word, were immediately denounced as “elitists”.  (After all, who is to say that Botswanian  folklore isn’t just as worthy of study as 20th century American History) 
     On the left, the motivation for this was disillusionment.  Many well educated people were under the illusion that the purpose of education was to make them happier people.  When being relatively well educated didn’t make them happier, they decided that being educated wasn’t worth the effort.  In fact, the purpose of  education is to make you a better person, not a happier one.
     On the right, the motivation was rather forthright and simple.  What education produced was civil disorder, social unrest, protest movements and large numbers of people demanding to participate in the political process.  By eliminating the educational system, they have created large numbers of people who can intuitively sense that something has gone terribly wrong with this country, but they lack the mental tools and conceptual frameworks needed to comprehend and express their feelings in a rational matter. (One thing to keep in mind is that the upper-classes of the U.S. were profoundly influenced by the French Revolution.  They saw just how tenuous their position really is.  So the truly profound problem facing our elite is, “how does a very small number of extremely wealthy people keep control of the other 99.5% of the population”?  The modern answer is by taking complete control over the mass media. Not too long ago some congressman had the audacity to suggest that the rich should have to pay taxes just like the rest of us.  He was immediately denounced in such bastions of liberalism as The New York Times as “fomenting class warfare”.  There has been class-warfare in this country for over 150 years and the rich have been “kickin’ butt and takin’ names” for all of that time.  It’s odd that no-one in the media ever protests against using the tax system to redistribute wealth from the middle-class to the rich.  The rich have also used the media to make this the most “revolution proof” country that has ever existed. There is a complete media blackout on who is really setting the agenda for this country.  The media may tell us who the “front men” are, but not who is behind them. As a result the entire country could rise up, march on Washington D.C., and hang the entire government from lampposts.  We could then hold all new elections.  And within six months or so it would be back to “business as usual”, because the same people would be running things.)
     Sometime in the 1970’s and 1980’s the conceptual framework of public education began to change.  We went from an “education” based theory of schooling to one based on “vocational training”.  Vocational training is the opposite of education.  Education is a broad based process designed to expose a student to a wide range of interests and possibilities in life.  Vocational training is designed to give one expertise in the relatively narrow area  where he is expected to spend his or her life. (I once attended a high school graduation where the message of the guest speaker was that the best you can hope for in life is to become a UPS driver.) 
     Our current system of schooling has some very major problems.
1)      Due to the incredible sense of disenchantment brought about by the social disruption of the 60’s, we now have entire generations of teacher’s who no longer believe in anything. 
2)      As Friedman has pointed out in his latest book, “The Earth is Flat”, we no longer produce enough educated people to maintain a technological society.  Thus we either have to import them, or outsource.
3)      As discrimination against boys increases more and more of them are simply dropping out of the system.  Thus we are losing the most intelligent and creative people we have. (If you don’t believe me, check the neurological evidence.  Boys have far more dopamine receptors than girls.  Girls do not out achieve boys because they are smarter, it is because the boys are no longer competing.)
4)      Thanks to the “American’s with Disabilities Act”, we now spend the bulk of our educational dollars on those students who are least capable of ever contributing to society.  We have managed to achieve the “greatest good for the smallest number”. The mandatory spending on the handicapped has depleted school budgets to the point where there is barely enough money for the normal children, much less specialized courses for the brighter children.
5)      By encouraging children to narrow their focus by using the “vocational training” model, we are almost guaranteeing high rates of future unemployment.  Our future adults will not have the intellectual flexibility necessary to easily change jobs and careers.  Knowing only a narrow specialty, they will need extensive retraining if their jobs become obsolete.
6)      By not making an effort to instill at least a basic education in the poor and 
      underprivileged   we are laying the groundwork for a much more violent future                         society.  One of the few things we have learned from social science research is that there is a strong correlation between reading ability, self-control and violent behavior.  People who cannot read well tend to have less self-control and to be more violent than people who do read well.
         Another problem is that our system of mass higher education has been an abject failure.  More people than ever before have college degrees, yet if any of them have anything resembling intellectual pursuits they manage to keep them well hidden. Not only is our society permeated with trash, but most best-selling books read like they were written for slow reading 6th graders.  It is interesting that the market for quality film has just about disappeared.  People who spent their student days watching DeSica, and Fellini are now watching Tom Cruise movies.
     A college or university education is supposed to be a starting point.  The acquisition of a diploma was never meant to be an end in itself.  If someone were to undertake a survey of people who have graduated in the last 30 years, I wonder what the results would show?  How many of these people continue to read on a regular basis?  Fiction, non-fiction, books connected to their field of study, etc. How many have seen a play, gone to a concert, or participated in some cultural event?  How many have pursued a hobby or intellectual interest?  (My personal guess is, not very many.)
     I once saw an interview with Keegan, who had written a book about Eisenhower. He said that Dulles and the generals tried to pressure Eisenhower into launching a preemptive attack against the Soviet Union.  Eisenhower said no because  in order for the Soviet’s to maintain a modern society they were going to have to educate their people and when they did the system would fall apart by itself.  I think the same is true of the United States today.  The powers that be have  gutted the educational system to the point where our society cannot be maintained by ourselves. If  immigration and outsourcing fail to suffice, we will once again have to start educating people, which might cause drastic changes in our current social arrangements. 
     Since republics tend to be founded on the ideals of liberty and justice, they are capable of producing people of great probity, honor and integrity.  The theory being that there will be enough honest people in government and the media so that the corrupt and dishonest will eventually come under their scrutiny.  In a republic people who suffer from injustice will protest and continue their cases until they find someone honest enough to rectify the situation. 
     In an Empire, the willingness to go along with the status quo and fit in with one’s superiors is a necessity for advancement.  Consequently, the system and everyone in it is corrupt almost by definition.  Therefore, protesting against injustice may lead to personal sacrifice and martyrdom, but in the end it accomplishes nothing.  (An ancient Greek commenting on the success of the Roman Republic noted that when a Roman was sent out to the provinces with 5,000 talents with which to build a road, one could be sure that every last talent would go into the building of that road.  If a Greek were given the same amount of money for the same purpose, he would immediately take 1,500 – 2,000 talents for himself, his relatives and his cronies,  and maybe 2-3,000 talents would go into building the road.)
     In the United States today, we have reached a point where members of the government are the criminal element.  And if not actively engaged in criminal activity themselves, they are more than willing to protect those who are.  The system has become thoroughly and unalterably corrupt.  To illustrate my point, I have chosen the following examples:
1)      Occasionally one can pick up a newspaper and see a reference to something called the “S&L Scandal”.  What is never mentioned is that what they are referring to is the largest theft of public funds in the known history of the human race.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 billion dollars was stolen from the American taxpayers. What happened is that the S&Ls were looted (possibly by government agents)  and billions of dollars were stolen.  The FDIC, by law, should only have reimbursed depositors for a maximum of $100,000 each.  However, the decision was made to reimburse depositors for the full amount of their deposits.  The only possible reason for this was to protect the criminals who stole the money in the first place.  Obviously, if the large depositors had been told that they were out of luck, they would have been putting extreme pressure on local prosecutors and demanding audits.  They would have demanded to know who stole their money and if they couldn’t recover it by civil suits they would have demanded criminal prosecutions.  By paying them off with the tax payer’s money, the government managed to prevent what would have been a massive outcry on the part of many affluent depositors.
2)      BCCI.  One day I was listening to an interview with a former high level BCCI official.  When discussing how they were able to operate so freely he mentioned that it was rather simple to bribe government officials around the world.  He went on to mention that in different places they wanted different things.  Some people wanted drugs, other jewels, others women, and in the United States it was suitcases full of cash.  What impressed me was the deafening silence that followed this interview.  Not one mainstream media outlet, not one justice department official, not one congressman was the least bit curious about who was on the receiving end of these suitcases full of cash.
3)      Arms for Iraq.  Before the first gulf war we were the major arms supplier to Iraq. The way it was financed was that Iraq was issued agricultural credits which were converted to loans by an Atlanta branch of an Italian bank (that had Henry Kissinger as a board member).  The total amount involved was in the billions of dollars.  When someone discovered that this was “illegal”, the branch manager was deemed to be making these loans on his own say so.  (Oddly enough, no-one in the Department of Agriculture new that these credits were being misused, no-one at the Pentagon knew we were exporting billions of dollars in weaponry to Iraq, and no one at the bank headquarters in Italy knew about this out-of control branch manager who was financing the whole operation.)  60 Minutes actually interviewed the branch manager who pointed out that he made all of about $600 a week and that he did not have the authority to do this on his own.  Mike Wallace asked him if he mentioned this to the prosecutors.  He told Wallace that when he raised the subject he was told he could keep his mouth shut and get a four or five year sentence, or he could keep trying to involve the higher-ups in which case he could look forward to a 30 year sentence.
4)      Citibank.  In an event that received very little media coverage Citibank was involved in selling improperly cancelled stocks and bonds to a mafia owned waste disposal company.  Somehow, these stocks and bonds found their way into the hands of swindlers who took them to Europe and cashed them in at unsuspecting banks.  As a punishment, the SEC sent them a letter telling them not to do it again. (All those who would sell phony stocks and bonds if guaranteed the same punishment please raise your hands.  I can almost guarantee that if a regular person tried it all he’d be able to say is, “ these cuffs are too tight”.)
5)      How to be president.  Jimmy Carter was picked by Brzezinski and David Rockefeller in order to protect Rockefeller’s investments in some banks in London.  Chase Manhattan had substantial equity positions in some London banks that had lent large sums of money to Panama. Panama did not have the money to pay.  If Panama defaulted, the London Banks might go under and Chase would lose its investment.  Carter was put into the White House to sign the Panama Canal treaty which gave the canal revenues to Panama.  As a result the banks got their money and everybody was happy. And since most American taxpayers had no idea of what was going on, they were happy too.
6)      Willie Clinton.  Remember the Iran-Contra “scandal”. It seems that part of what was going on is that plane loads of guns were being flown down to the contras. The same planes were then loaded with cocaine and flown back to the U.S. It seems that one of the major landing strips for this operation happened to be in the State of Arkansas.  Willie Clinton provided security for this operation by using Arkansas State Troopers to keep nosy civilians and reporters away from the operation.  His reward was a seat in the White House.
     Why are drugs illegal?  It would seem that the most basic principle of any so-called free society would be that you own your own body. The answer begins with FDR.
     Historically, in times of stress people have always been willing to trade freedom for security. FDR took advantage of this to convince people that the purpose of government is to function as the “insurance company of last resort”. If you have a misfortune in life and you can’t collect from anyone else, the government is always there to lend a helping hand.  As long as people want and expect the government to function in this manner (remember the social safety net) than the government has the right to minimize its losses.  This means they have every right to prevent you from doing things that are bad for you.
     So if you want to be legally able to take drugs, you must be willing to take responsibility for their effects.  This means no government funded rehab programs, no welfare benefits or unemployment insurance for people who can’t work due to drug use etc.  If drugs were ever legalized, people who took them would have to be made to understand that if they incapacitated themselves to the point where they could no longer support themselves, they would have to find family or friends to do so; or die.
     I have always found it interesting that the government has never used our drug laws to reduce the welfare rolls. Welfare is called Aid to Dependent Children. If someone on welfare is found to possess illegal drugs (or Alcohol or tobacco products for that matter) they could easily be suspended from receiving welfare payments. For there are only a few possibilities, they are appropriating money meant for their children which makes them guilty of embezzlement; they are purchasing these items for their children which would make them guilty of child abuse, or they have outside income not reported to the welfare office, which makes them guilty of welfare fraud.
     By looking at what kinds of crimes are being most vigorously prosecuted, we can see that the system is totally corrupt and that republican values have disappeared. Drug users are sentenced to long terms in prison, while thieves remain unmolested by our system of “criminal justice”. (If you don’t believe me just look at what’s left of your local newspaper. Where I live kids break into stores, homes etc. and steal anything not bolted to the floor and are always put on parole.  On the other hand a man convicted of “the forcible rape of a child” served less than 5 years.)
     Look at the traffic statutes.  In a “free” society a crime does not occur until the person or property of another citizen has been damaged. Laws against speeding, drunken driving etc. represent the imposition of the arbitrary will of the state and if anything should be civil and not criminal offenses.  Of course, if one damages another person or his property that becomes a criminal matter and if one is found to be violating driving guidelines, the penalties should be increased in severity.
     I think I can safely conclude by pointing out that both our system of schooling and our approach to crime is much closer to what would be found in an Empire, than that which would be found in a Republic.

     The Roman Republic lasted approximately 400 years and afterwards the Roman Empire lasted roughly another 400 years.  The American Republic lasted 170-180 years (depending on what you take for a starting point) and so far the American Empire has lasted 42 years.  Given the increased rates of change in the modern world, it would seem that the American Empire probably won’t last much longer than another 100 years or so.
     In both cases the transition to empire meant switching from a citizen to a mercenary army.  In the case of the American Empire, economic weaknesses prevent the use of an army containing large numbers of troops, so the army is forced to rely on technological advances and increasingly more powerful weaponry that becomes less and less practical for realistic military application. (As Stalin once remarked, “Atomic bombs are only useful against people who have weak nerves”.)  Given the social, political, and economic weaknesses of the American Empire, I think it will be doing well if it lasts another 100 years.
     After  this discussion of the differences between a republic and an empire I would like to give the last word to Alan Arkin.  He appears in a movie called “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash” and in the movie he thinks he has found some important government documents and is trying to return them to someone in a position of authority.  At one point he goes into a phone booth and after gesticulating wildly for a minute or so, he comes out and exclaims, “What kind of a government is this that won’t accept a collect call from a citizen?”

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