Why Democrats are Republicans*

*and why Republicans are neither

By Joseph W.H. Lough

Yes. You read correctly. Democrats are republicans, and Republicans are neither. But, no. I am not trying to be cute. I am dead serious.

And, no. I am not pulling a Jim Bobb. Jim Bobb (real name) was the Republican National Committee member from Indiana who gave RNC chair Michael Steele such a headache in 2009 when Bobb circulated a motion to officially rename the Democratic Party the “Democratic Socialist Party.” Once it was made public, Bobb’s motion created such a media sensation that Steele had to strong-arm its supporters into tabling their own motion. The whole affair was consummate political theater, earning one-liners from all the late-night talk show hosts and embarrassing the pants off the few moderate Republicans who hadn’t abandoned the party at that point. Never mind that the Democratic Party platform in 2009 was more conservative than either the 1968 or the 1972 Republican Party platforms, both of which supported single-payer national healthcare insurance and Keynesian-style fiscal stimulus measures. Now that’s political theater!

No political theater here. Democrats are republicans. And Republicans, quite literally, are neither.

Of course, almost no one is actually going to hold either of the two main political parties responsible for their names. To be sure, Democrats do go out of their way to register voters, just as they consistently pack their conventions with delegates who, demographically, faithfully reflect a reasonably accurate cross-section of the United States voting public. Yet, if we consider that in 2010 the average price-tag for running for a seat in the House, win or lose, was $1.1M, and that the average cost for running a Senate campaign was just over $8M, we might begin to understand why the U.S. Congress has come to be known as the most exclusive “Millionaires Club” anywhere on the planet. Call it oligarchy, or call it plutocracy, call it free enterprise, or even call it freedom of speech, which is what the constitutionally challenged Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court call it. Just don’t call it democracy.

However, let us say, for the sake of argument, that we actually wanted to hold our political parties responsible for their names, not in the “kindergartenish” manner, which is what Time Magazine called it, proposed by Jim Bobb, but in all seriousness. What do these two names actually mean?

As with so many of our political institutions and ideals, the names of our two main political parties were born in ancient Greece. “Democracy” comes from the Greek word demos, meaning “people.” “Republican” has a somewhat more complicated origin. “Republic” comes from the Latin words res publica, which means “common wealth.” Res publica, however, is a Latin translation of the Greek word politeia, which refers to that part of the ancient Greek city or polis that was held to be “public” or “shared.”

To be a Republican means that you promote and defend our common or shared wealth. In fact, four of our fifty states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), two of our island protectorates (the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands), and one former island protectorate (the Philippines) even incorporate the term “commonwealth” into their official names. That is to say, they were officially incorporated as political entities that promoted and defended their citizens’ common or shared wealth. Like the United States of America, they too are republics, at least in name.

But are all republics democratic? We learn in school and often hear school boys and girls proudly recite that the form of government practiced in the United States is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” And, yet, these words, actually drawn from Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” are found nowhere in any of our nation’s founding documents. Indeed, in all likelihood, the framers of the U.S. Constitution would have found President Lincoln’s way of describing their political system deeply disturbing.

Here it is worth noting that neither the word “democracy” nor the word “democrat” are to be found in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, or in its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. That is because in 1787 how each state would decide to select its representatives was still a fiercely debated subject. And, while the 1776 Declaration of Independence does give some place to “the People,” it too falls silent over the mechanism of selection. What is certain is that, in 1787 neither the Federal officers, nor the states’ representatives were selected democratically. In 1787, the United States was not yet democratic. It was republican.

This did not prevent those who called themselves “democrats” from raising their voices (and their fists) against the men meeting in closed session at Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall. No doubt on account of their anti-federalist views, individuals such as Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and Samuel Adams (not to mention Thomas Jefferson), had been explicitly locked out of the Convention. In their view, the Constitution taking shape behind its closed doors was an anti-democratic and anti-republican document. Upon its passage, they therefore quickly joined forces, forming the (to our ears) oxymoronic Democratic-Republican Party.

Those gathered inside Constitution Hall felt otherwise. In their view, the Articles of Federation adopted following victory over the British granted way too much power and independence to the individual states. The federal government was rendered impotent. Private individuals held too much power, and the Public held too little. As Edmund Randolph noted when presenting James Madison’s Virginia Plan to the delegates, the Articles had been written

When the inefficiency of requisitions was unknown—no commercial discord had arisen among any states—no rebellion had appeared as in Massachusetts— foreign debts had not become urgent—the havoc of paper money had not been foreseen—treaties had not been violated—and perhaps nothing better could be obtained from the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty.

Randolph, however, did not stop there. The weakness of federal institutions “produced no security against foreign invasion; Congress not being permitted to prevent a war nor to support it by their own authority.” The Articles permitted states to conduct their own foreign policy, conclude their own treaties, and thus “might by their conduct provoke war without control.” Having provoked war against the states, however, the states federal had no means to defend them either singularly or collectively since it enjoyed “neither militia nor draughts . . . fit for defense on such occasions, enlistments only could be successful, and these could not be executed without money.” However, without the authority to tax the states, the federal authorities were powerless.

The Virginia Plan also ominously foresaw a day when, in the absence of sufficient federal authority, states would make war against states. Under such circumstances, however, “the federal government could not check the quarrels between states, nor a rebellion in any, not having constitutional power nor means to interpose according to the exigency.” Finally, the Virginia Plan also warned that, under the right circumstances, a group of states might even make war against the Constitution and against the Federal Government itself. Under such circumstances, given the weakness of the federal authority under the Articles of Federation, the “federal government could not defend itself against the encroachments from the states.”

Decentralized authority, states rights, and democracy placed political power in the hands of individuals who, according to the Constitution’s framers, had no appreciation for or interest in preserving res publica, the common wealth. And, so, in 1787, the Convention meeting at Philadelphia drafted a document that in all respects was federalist and republican, not democratic. In Article after Article, Section after Section, the U.S. Constitution ceded powers previously enjoyed by the states severally to the federal government alone: the power to tax the states, the power to regulate interstate commerce, the power to overturn the legislation of state legislatures and override the decisions of state courts, the power to mint money, and the power to conclude and enforce treaties.

The democrats and anti-federalists had lost. The republicans had won. And this fact has remained a sticking point from that day down to our own. Of course the actual Constitution—as it is written and not as it is imagined—makes pure nonsense out of those high-sounding declarations trotted out every election season by today’s anti-federalists who praise the Constitution for its separation of powers and decentralization of political power. Only in the Confederate south did “separation of powers” ever mean the separation of states from the federal government. (It actually refers to the independence of the three branches of government.) And, only in the Articles of Federation, the document thrown out in 1787, did the United States pursue the course of decentralization. (It didn’t work.)  The better educated among the Republicans know good and well that if America was ever set on the “road to serfdom” it was not Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that set us on this course. Rather was it the U.S. Constitution itself, which anti-federalists ever since have treated as though it were only an updated version of the 1783 Articles of Federation rather than the antidote to the same.

Not that all republicans and federalists were uniformly anti-democratic. They were not. At least in theory, ideally, they too supported democratic rule. And, yet, no republican was then so naïve as to believe that individuals who lacked education, wealth, or leisure time would not use their political power to obtain these goods at the expense of res publica. In their view, Democrats were fooling themselves by suggesting that politically empowered individuals unschooled in republican ideals would “naturally” vote to preserve the “common wealth.” Here is how Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 35, where he (no doubt naively) credits mechanics and manufacturers with the view that, since they themselves lacked the gifts and abilities they would need in order to govern themselves, they would “naturally” lend their support to their patrons, the wealthy and educated merchants whom Alexander felt would represent their interests in assembly.

They are sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which, in a deliberative assembly, the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless; and that the influence and weight, and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal to a contest with any spirit which might happen to infuse itself into the public councils, unfriendly to the manufacturing and trading interests.

Here Hamilton takes away with one hand want he gives with the other. “Let them vote,” he appears to say. “They will naturally lend their support to their intellectual and economic betters.” And, yet, as was true for every delegate at the Convention, none excepted, Hamilton here clearly expresses the conviction that the “habits of life” common to mechanics and manufacturers—i.e., those who work with their hands and not their heads—“have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which, in a deliberative assembly, the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless.”

Hamilton’s guide, no doubt, was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics clearly set forth the qualifications for those who would responsibly participate in political life. First, they and their families must enjoy good health, for otherwise they would lack familiarity with the good life. Next, so as not to use their office to obtain wealth, such individuals would have to already be wealthy before entering upon public service. Moreover, because public service required long and irregular hours, such individuals would also have to be members of the leisured class. Lastly, since affairs of state require intimate familiarity with the several branches of knowledge, Aristotle felt that active participants in political life should enjoy a thorough education. Since mechanics and manufacturers enjoyed none of these qualifications, or enjoyed them only imperfectly, it was almost universally felt at the time that they should not be allowed even to vote, much less hold public office.

And it is here that we can most fully appreciate the true character of classical North Atlantic republicanism, a political philosophy that viewed “democracy” as, at best, a mere formal procedure to be exercised among equals and not a method for achieving equality. Democrats, by contrast, believed instinctively in the virtue and natural goodness of the demos, the people, however naturally or unnaturally they might be endowed.

Or at least that is what democrats said they believed. For there was always a suspicion that democrats and democracy, however much lip service they might pay to “the people,” were in fact simply practitioners of what Plato had called Gorgias’ “fine art.” Every conventioneer in Philadelphia was of course intimately familiar with Plato’s Gorgias. Gorgias’ “fine art” was public speaking, rhetoric. In his Gorgias, Plato has his mentor Socrates interrogate the expert speech writer.

SOCRATES: You said just now that even on
matters of health the orator will be more
convincing than the doctor.
GORGIAS: Before a mass audience—yes, I
SOCRATES: A mass audience means an
ignorant audience, doesn’t it? He won’t be
more convincing than the doctor before
experts, I presume.

SOCRATES: And the non-doctor,
presumably, is ignorant of what the
doctor knows?
GORGIAS: Obviously.
SOCRATES: So when the orator is more
convincing than the doctor, what
happens is that an ignorant person is
more convincing than the expert before
an equally ignorant audience. Is this what
GORGIAS: This is what happens in that
case, no doubt.

Of course, no one reading Plato’s dialogue from the Fifth Century B.C.E. down to the present, could miss his intention. Clearly, Plato wished to take aim at Athens’ politicians who, in his view, were nothing more than clever orators who used Athens’ democratic political system to advance their own private self-interest. But, Plato’s aim was not simply philosophical. Athenian democracy had, quite literally, been the death of Plato’s mentor, Socrates.

Socrates we will remember had been a supporter of Athens’ old non-democratic, yet for the most part republican, oligarchs. Following Pericles’ rise to power and his irrational campaign to lead Athens into war (the famous Peloponnesian War, in which Socrates served two tours of duty), Socrates had taken to the streets openly criticizing Athens’ all-powerful, though democratically elected, demagogue. Not surprisingly, Pericles’ hand-picked jurists, drawn from Athens’ lower, uneducated, classes, dutifully fulfilled their responsibilities. They tried Socrates and found him guilty of treason.

Was the guilty verdict unfounded? No, not entirely. Socrates had been walking the streets espousing views that could easily be taken as treasonous. Plato’s point was that prior to Pericles’ “democratic” rule, views such as those espoused by Socrates were commonplace, particularly among Athens’ oligarchs. These oligarchs had not had to seek approval from those least capable of judging the merits between one argument and another. Pericles had changed all of this. He had had the oligarchs put to death or forced them to flee. In their place he had seated the demos, the people; not because he believed them capable of self-governance, but because he believed that he could convince them to do whatever he wished. For, as Plato put it, “an ignorant person is more convincing than the expert before an equally ignorant audience.”

Could it be that it was this story that the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind when they locked the anti-federalists and democrats out of the convention? Not only could it have been this story. It was almost surely this story. Read Federalist No. 6, written by Alexander Hamilton:

The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentment of a prostitute, at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished, and destroyed the city of the Samnians. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the Megarensians, another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an accomplice of a supposed theft of the statuary Phidias, or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be brought against him for dissipating the funds of the state in the purchase of popularity, or from a combination of all these causes, was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war, distinguished in the Grecian annals by the name of the Peloponnesian war; which, after various vicissitudes, intermissions, and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.

“Commonwealth.” There it is—that word again—the English translation of res publica. Whatever the actual course of events in ancient Athens, there is no doubt that the framers of the U.S. Constitution held Pericles responsible for “the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.” Nor is there any doubt that it was in order to guard against the repetition of this tragedy that they protected their republican institutions and values from the rule of the demos, which, in their view, could so easily be purchased by a demagogue like Pericles.

This is not the last we will hear from Pericles or of the destructive course he set for Athens. Suffice it to say that every single one of the classically trained delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were intimately familiar with Plato’s dialogues and with the tragic events to which they referred. And none was inclined to take sides with Pericles, the so-called “Father of Democracy.”

Things stood otherwise outside of Convention Hall. Outside in the streets of Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Williamsburg, democrats and anti-federalists quickly set to work recasting the U.S. Constitution as the product of an elite clique of educated and wealthy aristocrats. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson teamed up to form a counterweight to the ruling Federalists. Calling their party the Democratic-Republican Party, Madison and Jefferson made their appeal not to men of their own class and station, but to yeoman farmers, mechanics, and manufacturers. That is to say, they made their appeal to men who wanted the cheap money denied them by Alexander Hamilton’s strict monetary policy, and cheap land, denied them by large landowners, north and south, and by a federal government reluctant to anger the foreign governments and native Americans who claimed lands south and west of the original thirteen states.

Whatever they called themselves, the Democratic-Republicans pursued the politics of textbook small “d” democrats. They directed their calls over the heads of the educated, wealthy, leisured, and landed elites to the landless and under-educated masses. Surely it is this fact above all others that explains why Thomas Jefferson, the same man that warned that republican ideals could not survive territorial expansion, following his election, eagerly concluded the Louisiana Purchase, fulfilling a campaign promise to provide farming land to any one willing to plant and till it.

Yet, here again, the party names were coming to hold less significance than the policies that these parties pursued and the voters to which they catered. When, for example, the Democratic-Republicans split in 1828, Andrew Jackson would call his wing simply “the Democrats.” Like its predecessor, the Democratic-Republicans, Jackson’s Democrats decried tight money and tight banking, arguing that such policies kept land and wealth out of the hands of the “common man.” But, just like Pericles of old, in order to provide such land, Jackson was forced to pursue policies of merciless imperialism, forcing native Americans off their lands in the south and the southeast and setting the stage for the expansion of cotton (and of slavery) into southwest. Not surprisingly, it was under Jackson that voting rights were granted to all white males, a sure ticket to electoral victory in the pre-Civil War south.

In response to Jackson’s reckless expansionist and monetarist policies, the Whig Party focused less and less of its attention on preserving republican institutions and values and ever more of its energy promoting responsible monetary policies for the business, investment and banking class, north and south. Ironically, it was slavery that ultimately saved the Whig Party, transforming it from a dour club for bankers and businessmen into Abraham Lincoln’s newly minted Republican Party. It was not that Lincoln rejected the business focus of the Whigs. Rather, as a responsible businessman, did Lincoln see how slavery could reenergize a party that, until then, had lost its sense of purpose. Lincoln saw that slavery, in addition to dividing the union, was also bad for business. The new industries being born in the wombs of iron, coal, and steam required new kinds of workers, industrial workers. And, while slaves proved themselves more than competent industrial workers, mostly in the south, the southern culture of slavery was at odds both with the nation’s new industries and with the new industriousness these industries required.

For over a century, from 1854 forward until 1960, the Democratic Party would remain the party of southern white men who favored imperial expansion, while the Republican Party was left towing the line of fiscal and monetary restraint, industrial growth, and military restraint. Even the New Deal failed to bring most African Americans around to voting Democratic, the party of southern white segregationists. And, yet, beginning in 1932, as northern Democrats slowly shed their traditional racism, voting rolls show a gradual migration of African Americans to the Democratic side of the ballot.

Often lost in the debate over civil rights, however, is an equally momentous shift in the political philosophies of the two main parties. There is no other way to describe this shift other than the gradual republicanization of the Democratic Party leadership, a transformation that nearly killed and, most certainly, would have killed the Republican Party had it not, in turn, pursued a course built around Gorgias’ fine art.

The republicanization of the Democratic Party leadership can be broken down into three overlapping and interconnected phases. In the first phase, the Great Depression forced the Democratic Party leadership to finally acknowledge the relationship between macroeconomic policy and political institutions; in the second phase, the Democratic Party leadership was forced to come to grips with the underlying social and economic foundations of republican institutions and values; in the third and final phase, the Democratic Party leadership would be brought by the sheer cost of imperial expansion to question the wisdom of Periclean democracy itself. Thus, whereas the Democratic Party had traditionally been the party of imperial expansion, and the Republican Party the party of isolationism, beginning in the 1960s, the two parties began to switch roles. From that time forward, Republican policy was increasingly driven by its financial commitments to what President Dwight D. Eisenhower had called the “military-industrial complex,” while Democratic policy was increasingly driven by its commitment to republican values and ideals.

Still, there is no analogue for the Republican Party to the three-fold transformation of the Democratic Party leadership. Instead, what we find is a series of unanticipated reactions to changes taking place in the electorate as a whole. Think of these changes as a series of concentric circles. At the center is the most fundamental circle, a circle composed of disenfranchised white male segregationists. Initially, of course, this circle of white male segregationists was, for obvious reasons, reluctant to embrace the “Party of Lincoln.” And, so, Republican strategists had to set to work showing why and how the Democratic Party had lost touch with the (white) common man, why and how Democrats were out-of-sync with his (Christian) values, and how and why the (federal government administered) policies promoted by the Democratic Party leadership posed a threat to the state’s rights enjoyed by free (southern white) men.

At this stage, of course, the Republican Party had already begun to shed many of classical republicanism’s most enduring principles. For example, it has begun to openly pander, in good Jacksonian fashion, to the common man. More importantly, however, the Republican Party leadership has begun to embrace the anti-federalism that had once been the very symbol of anti-republican politics. But, finally, in what is perhaps the mother of all reversals, Republicans began to challenge the very heart and soul of modern republicanism, appealing directly to white southern segregationists against African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Arab and Asian Americans whose ethnic identities could not, by definition, be local and who therefore the Republican leadership identified as a creation of federal intervention (i.e., loose immigration policy and affirmative action) in state’s rights.

Surrounding this inner circle is a second circle which follows from the first. Whereas the Republican Party had initially been the party of fiscal and monetary responsibility and anti-expansionism, once it adopted the Jacksonian practice of appealing directly to the “common man,” the Republican leadership discovered that it had stumbled upon the mother lode of wealth creation, not to be confused with economic growth. They discovered, in other words, the neoliberal financial benefits of anti-federalism.

These benefits had long been enjoyed by Democrats, whose machine politics, populist policies, and anti-boss rhetoric they had used to build themselves large personal fortunes. Armed with a new Jacksonian anti-federalism, Republicans could now fan across the nation attacking the very common wealth they were bound in theory to defend. Republicans were quickly learning the old Democratic art, Gorgias’ fine art, railing against big government and government programs, while simultaneously milking the public for all of the wealth they could accumulate: through no-bid contracts, next-to-nothing tax policies (for the wealthy), privatization of public assets, and the removal of government regulation designed to protect the public and the public’s interests.

All that remained was for the Republican Party to explicitly renounce res publica, common or shared wealth, and the transformation would be complete. And this it did in November 2000 with the election of George W. Bush. Today, no one expects Republican candidates to defend public institutions or public values. Nor is anyone surprised when Democratic candidates campaign for public healthcare, public education, public utilities, or public stimulus.

And, yet, the parties have not simply switched places. The Republican Party is still the party of wealth and privilege. Their candidates are no more democratic than was Pericles, whose family and friends amassed huge fortunes at the precise moment Athens was suffering from the worst fiscal crisis in its history, a crisis that, like 2008, was brought on by the self-destructive misadventures of war and economic mismanagement. Democrats, by contrast, have been fundamentally reshaped by their embrace of republican institutions and values. If responsible political participation depends on good health, wealth, education, and sufficient leisure, then, it stands to reason, no party can call itself republican that does not work for universal health care, affordable high-quality education, good wages, and good benefits.

And, yet, even here Democratic candidates are far from uniformly lined up behind these republican values and institutions. Compelled to pursue their own form of pandering—pandering “light”—many Democratic candidates try to occupy a middle ground, somewhere half way between res publica and private self-interest, a losing formula if ever there was.

Surely, however, there is more here than a quibble over the names of political parties. There is much, much more. Republican institutions and values—the very notion that a community might share its wealth in common—formed the very foundation of political, as distinguished from economic, freedom. By reducing the former to the latter, by making private economic freedom the be all and end all of political life, we are in danger of depriving ourselves of our very reason for being.

The ancient Greek historian Thucydides knew what was at stake. In his haunting account of Pericles’ Peloponnesian War, he describes the consequences that followed when the Athenians abandoned its republican institutions and values:

Revolutions broke out in city after city, and in places where the revolutions occurred late the knowledge of what had happened previously in other places caused still new extravagances of revolutionary zeal, expressed by an elaboration in the methods of seizing power and by unheard-of atrocities in revenge. To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defense.

When Philip of Macedon’s troops rolled into Athens, the Athenians barely put up a fight. Nothing remained for them to fight for. Athens would get one more chance.

Following Philip’s death, Alexander the Great would take charge of Athens. And, rather than abandoning the city to its own devices, he would instead hand it over to Plato’s student Aristotle, who was himself a Macedonian and, it so happens, was also Alexander’s former tutor.

Looking over the human and political carnage left in the wake of Pericles’ misrule, Aristotle began to imagine what it would take to rebuild Athens, this time on solid republican footing. With this in mind, Aristotle began his famous lectures on Politics with the following advice:

It is an error to suppose, as some do, that the roles of a statesman, of a king, of a household-manager and of a master of slaves are the same, on the ground that they differ not in kind but only in point of numbers of persons—that a master of slaves, for example, has to do with a few people, a household-manager with more, and a statesman or king with more still, as if there were no differences between a large household and a small state. They also reckon that when one person is in personal control over the rest he has the role of a king, whereas when he takes his tum at ruling and at being ruled according to the principles of the science concerned, he is a statesman. But these assertions are false.

Aristotle would then proceed to carefully distinguish between republican forms of government, where all who rule are endowed with the same qualifications of wealth, education, health and leisure, and private household management, economy, where each person is differently endowed, differently qualified, and, therefore, differently empowered and authorized to rule. The mistake Pericles had made, and that many rulers have made ever since, was to confuse republican forms of government with private, economic, forms of household management. By the time Pericles had finished not only were there no individuals equally qualified, empowered, and authorized to share his rule. To the contrary, all that remained was private economic self-interest carried out by differently endowed, differently qualified, individuals, what Thomas Hobbes was to call a “War of All Against All.” Such, thought Aristotle, could not help but lead to the sure destruction of any republic.

Next Aristotle proceeded to describe how and why this was so. Economic self-interest undermined republican institutions and values, thought Aristotle, because unlike republican institutions and values, which have a specific aim, economic self-interest has no aim except unending growth and expansion. Left to its own devices, however, such a system must necessarily both destroy itself and, in the process, destroy all other systems that suffer from the tragic limitation of being limited in their aims. As Aristotle put it:

Where enjoyment consists in excess, men look for that skill which produces the excess that is enjoyed. And if they cannot procure it through money-making, they try to get it by some other means, using all their faculties for this purpose, which is contrary to nature: courage, for example, is to produce confidence, not goods; nor yet is it the job of military leadership and medice to produce goods, but victory and health. But these people turn all skills into skills of acquiring goods, as though that were the end and everything had to serve that end.

No philosopher would have a greater impact on modern republican values and institutions than would Aristotle. His fingerprints are all over the U.S. Constitution. And, yet, he would not live to see his dream realized. Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s patron, died suddenly in 323 B.C.E. His patron and protector dead, Aristotle, an ethnic Macedonian, was forced to flee Athens to Euboea, where a year later, in 322 B.C.E. he himself would be laid to rest.

With all these stories and lessons the framers of the U.S. Constitution, republicans all, were intimately familiar. With them clearly in mind they sought to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” There was a time, not long ago, when it would have been virtually impossible to make it through high school without some knowlege of these ancient foundations. Without them, however, it is difficult to see how or even why anyone would even want to uphold values or institutions enshrined in the Constitution.

And, yet, recalling these stories and the foundations they laid, we can now appreciate why today Democrats are Republicans, but Republicans are neither.

How reliable are the social sciences?


Gary should stick to what he knows. The question is not whether the social sciences will (or should even try to) match the natural sciences, but whether communities can reflect critically and intelligently about the social, political, and economic forces that shape even their capacity to reflect critically. It is, as the Professor admits, a matter of the order of magnitude. Exact measurement is not needed to bake bread. If a person asks for bread, you wouldn’t give her a stone. Professor Gutting appears to suggest that if I can’t accurately measure the weight and volume of the bread, my estimation of the need is flawed, and I should therefore place no trust in it. We could even turn the tables on the Professor. Yes. It is true. Social scientific results–even sound results–suffer from being subject, once made public, to public opinion, journalistic sensationalism, and (always) politics. Yet–eg climate change–natural scientific results are subject to the same weakness. Moreover, whereas the (good) social sciences understand and embrace the fraught character of all public (and therefore political) knowledge, natural scientists often behave as though the public (and hence politics) is a nuisance. They seem to want it to simply go away. But this is not only wishful thinking. It is misanthropic. The human, the social, the political; that is what we are. And when reduced to mere data points, we cease to be what we are. Yes. The public is woefully ignorant over the limitations and promise of scientific research. Helping them become more knowledgeable is a matter of politics, economics, education, and communication. Welcome to my science.

NPR’s Reporting on Political Extremism

This morning (Wednesday, May 9, 2012) I could hardly believe what I heard on, of all places, NPR’s Morning Edition. The manuscript is not yet available, but I am absolutely certain that the NPR reporter characterized both the Democratic and the Republican parties as pursuing “extreme” politics.

Well, sure, if by “extreme” one includes policies once embraced by such radicals as General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) recognized too late that one cannot out-“Fair and Balance” FOX. The lie, once embraced, penetrates every cell, every membrane, every organ, until it works its way through the entire body.

Republicanism—not in name, but in fact—is indispensible to the health of the nation. Res publica—public or shared wealth—is but poorly equipped to withstand the assaults of political and religious extremism if for no other reason than simply because, in a pluralistic society, we cannot hold in common those things, like religious faith, that are by definition personal and private. To compel the whole to embrace the part undermines the very essence of res publica and so destroys the very heart of republicanism as such.

NPR cannot conceal its own culpability for this madness by hiding behind the mantle of “fair and balanced” reporting; as though fasci (a military term that makes success in war dependent on singleness of mind and mission) and res publica were indistinguishable. Fasci and its advocates gave us Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco, not Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson.

Only one party, the Republican Party, has embraced the logic of political extremism. And the sooner NPR recognizes this truth, the sooner it may avoid the budgetary chopping block with which one (not both) of the two major parties continues to threaten it.