Harvey Mansfield on Elections and Democracy

Cross-posted from zenpundit.com

Professor Harvey C. Mansfield of Harvard University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution is famous for his scholarship on classical political philosophy (I often recommend his edition on Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy) as well as his provocative commentary on social and political issues.  While I liked his take on Machiavelli, I warmed to him further when, after his book on manliness came out and some reporter asked Mansfield if it was “manly” to carry a gun? He answered to the effect, “Yes, but not as manly as carrying a sword”.

Mansfield has a new article out in Defining Ideas  on the nature of elections and democracy worth reading:

Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? 

….Machiavelli believes that human beings are divided into the few who want to rule and the many who do not care to rule themselves but do not want to be ruled by others either. Then those who want to rule must conceal their rule from the many they rule if they wish to succeed. How can they do this? Machiavelli went about conceiving a “new mode of ruling,” a hidden government that puts the people “under a dominion they do not see.” Government is hidden when it appears not to be imposed on you from above but when it comes from you, when it is self-imposed.

Read more

Shopping Report

The key to an enjoyable Costco experience is the food samples. If the day’s sample selection is good, your life will be a joy and you will breeze through your shopping and not even notice the long checkout line or the lack of enough decent cardboard boxes to carry your stuff. However, a poor array of samples will transform your shopping mission into a miserable grim slog past the TVs, the electric toothbrushes and motor oil, the bread, the frozen soy burgers and dried fruit — even the roast chickens.

The food samples were very good today. There was salmon salad, the queen of Costco seafood salads. There was also a very nice seaweed salad with just the right amount of soybeans and a leitmotif of toasted sesame oil. Finally, the chicken sausages with cheddar and spinach were to die for. I managed to score three servings of each of these delicacies, quite respectable performance for a weekend afternoon. It was almost as good as the time they had pierogies and cheddar.

Regarding The Obamacare Decision

I didn’t mean to post on that particular issue today, but as I was running through the Daily Brief archives looking for something else entirely, I found this entry from nearly a year ago – which is rendered timeless by today’s events. That’s the trouble with having a huge blog-archive, by the way – one is always finding quite splendid entries that one has forgotten entirely.

(A comment by Xennedy at this thread on Belmont Club which struck me as being particularly perceptive — and histoically apt.)

I’m not thinking of military history for this one. I’m thinking of the various schemes by which the southern states retained political dominance of the United States over the increasingly more numerous and anti-slavery northerners prior to the Civil War. Eventually these schemes became so odious and unpopular that they destroyed the political structure of the Union as it had existed. The response of the South wasn’t to accept demotion or immediate war – it was to engineer a supreme court decision to end the house divided, as Abraham Lincoln put it, and make the whole union slavery friendly. I’m thinking of the Dredd Scott decision, and in my evaluation of that ruling in theory southerners could bring their slaves into (say) New York and compete with free labor unhampered by the free state status of that state. In practice the Civil War intervened before anything like that actually happened, but my point is that the political establishment of the day attempted to rule game over and cement their hold on power in perpetuity regardless of the will of the people.
Seem familiar? In my view similar events are happening today. Cram Obamacare through, hold 40 Senate seats, and it’s extremely difficult to repeal. Issue EPA regulations from the executive branch, and ignore Congress. Re-elect Obama, pick another two or three supreme court justices, and the Constitution means whatever the left wants it to mean.
The problem with this – or perhaps I should say the solution – is that eventually people tire of the rigged game, and lose their willingness to play.
So was Obamacare a new Kansas-Nebraska Act – which preceded the formation of the modern Republican party – or a new Dredd Scott decision – which preceded secession and civil war? Or neither?
I don’t claim to know. But I do think we are in the opening acts of a much larger story, and the drama over the debt limit is much less important than it appears in the immediacy of the here and now. The welfare state paradigm of American governance is collapsing, and that collapse will continue even if a debt ceiling increase gives it a slightly longer run. To quote that famous Chinese curse we live in interesting times. Alas.

I’ve long been a fan of Wretchard, at Belmont Club – and of Steven den Beste, too, when he was regularly posting, back in the High Middle Ages of blogging. (Which was in the early Oughties, more or less). In a just world, they would have mighty thrones among those who comment upon current events. Wierd that I am the scatter-brained, intuitive humanities major who appreciates the heck out of severely logical IT-engineer types, but there you go. I guess it’s because of the underlying logic about it all.

This and That – Jubilee Edition

We were distracted Sunday morning by the Jubilee procession of the boats on the Thames, as covered by BBC America. Blondie noticed that none of her various friends in Britain were on-line Sunday morning; presumably they were all off at various street parties, celebrating Her Majesty’s sixtieth year on the throne. She turned on the television and we were glued to it for an hour and a half: yep, the Brits really do know how to pull off a spectacle, although the dogs were increasingly distraught because it was time for walkies, dammit, and we never watch TV during the day, so there was their tiny domestic universe being rocked. The various long shots did look like Canaletto’s views of the Thames; the parties, the people, the banners, the displays along the riverbank buildings … and above all, the boats. What a feat of organization that must have been – to get them there at the start, to keep them together for the convoy up the river … and then, of course, to disperse them all afterwards.

Read more