This post is a sequel to CHRISTMAS AND THE GIFT OF A CIVIL SOCIETY and another post I wrote years ago, THE ADVANTAGE OF A REPUBLIC OVER A DEMOCRACY. Actually, James Madison wrote most of THE ADVANTAGE OF A REPUBLIC OVER A DEMOCRACY. That is, I quoted him. And the best material in CHRISTMAS AND THE GIFT OF A CIVIL SOCIETY came from the Bible. So you could say that to find my best material I troll the writings of others. However, that is not the kind of trolling we will talk about here.
The Problem With Trolls
“Don’t feed the trolls.” Don’t we all know what that means? Isn’t it a cute expression? It makes us think about feeding the wildlife, and until the wildlife starts biting and clawing, that’s fun.
Here is an example. I once had a friend with a cat who liked being petted. That sounds innocuous, and until I decided to withdraw my hand, the cat was quite friendly. Then the cat made it known that she was not yet done with being petted. My friend should have had that savage little beast declawed.
We are all like that cat. We are all trolls. We are all part of the wildlife, and we can all turn vicious. We don’t even have to be fed. We just have to be petted.
How does that relate to a republic? To maintain a republic, we must maintain a civil society. Can you imagine a civil troll? Therein lies the problem with a republic.
To have a civil society, we must obey the Golden Rule. On our own we cannot do that. Being what we are, we cannot even be honest about the meaning of the Golden Rule. We will bend it to suit the occasion. Somehow, someway we will make doing unto others all about what we want to do unto others, not treating others the way we want to be treated. We will hunt for nuances, craft exceptions, and most “useful” of all, use the ends to justify the means. We will lie to ourselves and to others and do what we want.
It is not that we do not know better. We create laws. We write them down. We try to fix their meaning, but laws are just words on paper. Because we lack integrity with a bit of sophistry we can make our laws say whatever we want them to say. We don’t even have to amend what is written on paper. That is why few nations have ever come close to achieving a civil society, and that is why few republics have lasted very long. Sigh.
So What Is The Point Of A Republic?
In a nation with millions of trolls, no troll by himself or herself can be a grave danger to the peace of the nation. As James Madison observed in The Federalist, Paper # 10, (see THE ADVANTAGE OF A REPUBLIC OVER A DEMOCRACY) the problem resides in our ability to form gangs of trolls, that is, factions. Hence, as Madison observed, we have a choice.
There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.
There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. (from here)
Since Madison could envision no method of curing the mischiefs of faction that were not worst than the disease, he argued for controlling its effects. Madison advocated a constitutional republic, a limited government designed with checks and balances to check the passions we associate with factional politics.
Even so, we remain trolls. Of what use is a constitution for trolls? Unless we each have the personal integrity to obey a law as those who wrote it meant it to be obeyed, how can the rule of law provide a solid foundation for our government? Is it not like building a house upon shifting sand?
Because most men cannot control their trollish character, most societies opt to control the passions of factions by using tyrannical force to stamp it out. To maintain their own power — their own faction — powerful, tyrannical leaders insist that every citizen voice the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.
Because we are what we are, we have no personal integrity of our own. So what else can we do? How can we avoid joining a faction and abusing the rights of our neighbors? How can we avoid the necessity of condemning our family, friends and neighbors to an ironfisted tyranny? Where can we each find a rock upon which to build a foundation for our character? A proper foundation for our government?
Long ago Jesus spoke to us, and the fathers and the mothers of this nation listened.
Matthew 7:24-27 English Standard Version (ESV)
Build Your House on the Rock
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Jesus is the rock upon which they built.