As you might have guessed by now, I like arguments that cast issues in relief. And I can only wish that progressives could do the same. Notwithstanding his party affiliation, Representative Ryan is as much an outspoken opponent of all “things public” (res publica) as he is a friend of all “things private” (res oikonomia). In fact, so vigorous is his defense of private enterprise that he would like to transfer all of those things Americans have previously thought of as public—things like education, libraries, transportation, public welfare (yes, that’s in the preamble to the US Constitution)—to the private sphere (oikonomia) in order, as Karl Rove once put it, they could die a slow, natural death.
In face of which Democrats wring their hands and beg for compromise.
But since this is the heart and soul of what it means to be a republic, Democrats cannot back down. We, and not these scoundrels, are the true defenders of republican institutions and values. So, if not Republicans, what should we call these imposters?
The classical Greeks had the perfect word: despotes. And lest you think that term is too strong, consider what it means. A despot, in classical Greece, is any person who has dependents working in his private household, his oikonomia; that is, his economy. For, so long as a person works in another person’s household (oikos) and not in his own, he is subject to a despot.
It was by contrast to such despotism that the classical Greeks—to whom we trace our political system—proposed republicanism, government based on and dedicated to things public.
In the face of Republican despotism, Democrats should be taking to the House and Senate floors and, instead of wringing their hands, should be ringing out cries in defense of true public institutions and public values; which is to say true republicanism.
But don’t expect such choruses to rise any time in the near future. For to expect such would entail that the Democrats figure out that they are the party of public life and public values. Instead, they retreat timidly back into their half-way house, half way between the public and private spheres, half way between public and private education, public and private health, public and private partnerships.
In the mean time, the so-called “Republicans” ironically march forward in an all out assault on all things public. Alas.