A Republic, If You Can Keep It

republic-if-you-can-keep-it-smAll forms of society rely on the continuing moral obligation of the people within that society, which is why I believe Benjamin Franklin, when asked what type of government they created, he responded, “a Republic, if you can keep it.”    With socialism, you eventually run out of someone else’s money and the system collapses.  With stateless society, you eventually run out of someone else’s morality and the system devolves into utter chaos.  With a republic you eventually run out of people’s attentiveness and immorality reigns in government.

Thomas Paine said, “Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is, but a necessary evil; in its worse state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

Paine is describing the very paradox of societies.  What happens without government will also occur with government; the same consequence, just with different actors.   The point that Paine was trying to make is that we hold fellowship with our fellow man as a blessing, so we desire to live in communities.  Small communities do well without much intervention of law, as people are bound by their closeness to respect each other’s liberty, act morally, and do not tread on their neighbor’s natural rights of Life, Liberty, Property and Right to defend these rights (Samuel Adams, Rights of man 1772) and are able to police themselves.  However, the larger communities become and/or the more detached man becomes from his neighbor, the less driven he will become by a personal obligation to morality.  When that occurs, the society will cry out for laws and as the society will begin to distrust his neighbor’s fair application of the laws, will elect government to enforce those laws.  Paine expounds:

“the reciprocal blessing of which, would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax their duty and attachment to each other; and this remissness, will point out the necessity, of establishing government to supply the defect of moral virtue.”

Perfect society is governed by morality; that circumstance exists when people “remain perfectly just to each other.”  The socialist societies believe that we will all operate in a just manner because we are “inherently good” people.  The stateless societies believe we will operate in a just manner because we can police ourselves as a “society” of “inherently moral” people.  With either of those systems there is no mechanism to compensate for the actual “inherently depraved” nature of man.  Which is why Paine points out that the people will then look to the enforcement of laws by a body of people, trusted to embody the morality of society.  Bottom line is this; government is the compensation for the immorality of man.  The more immoral man becomes in society, the more government is called for.  The more government we establish the less Liberty the people enjoy.  The less Liberty people enjoy the less government they want. Immorality is at the heart of these turbulent oscillations.

Our founders believed a Republic to be the most stable form of government as it is a blend of this “policing of the people” and a government to enforce the laws established by a moral society.  The Republic has lost its value when the PEOPLE no longer police the government.  The negligence of the people will allow them to then assume we have a “government problem” to avoid the personal responsibility of their actions.  Can there be a “government problem” that is not the result of a moral problem?  Not likely.  Therein lays the crux of the problem.  With the breakdown of the morality of the people, all society fails.  However, our founders believed the solution to our problem did not lie in the elimination of government, as Paine points out, societies naturally tend toward the establishment of government is some form eventually.  The solution lies with the restoration of morality in society.  Sam Adams warns:

“because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Difficulty is, as Paine points out, “nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice” and it appears have to suffer the “necessary evil” of government as long as we are a fallen world.  The question remains, how long will we suffer an intolerable one?