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If a government is to be at the "minimum", as Ayn Rand and the Minarchists say, I don't see the point of elections. If truth is not a matter of consensus, why do we need elections? Why do we need to elect a government?

Why not have no elections and an unelected permanent "minimum government" that does not interfere in peoples' lives but only has monopoly over use of force and other proper functions of a minimum government?

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If a government is to be at the "minimum", as Ayn Rand and the Minarchists say, I don't see the point of elections. If truth is not a matter of consensus, why do we need elections? Why do we need to elect a government?
We don't need to, but we could. There needs to be some objective and rational procedure for determining, for instance, who gets to write the actual law defining theft and the penalty for theft. I would be happy to write such laws, and if you don't like it, then you can just... hmmm, no, because there are no elections for the position of Lawgiver. You could assign the position at random, but that would be a disaster. Oh, also, you need to have judges, so again, how are judges selected? It isn't important whether they be directly elected, but it does matter that there actually be a procedure. Again, we could randomly assign people to be judges, but that would be a disaster.
Why not have no elections and an unelected permanent "minimum government" that does not interfere in peoples' lives but only has monopoly over use of force and other proper functions of a minimum government?
That's okay, except for three missing parts. First, you have to get the government started somehow, by selecting an initial Board of Rulers. Random selection, or elections? Second, they haven't perfected immortality, so at some point one or more of these Rulers will die, and then eventually we will descend into anarchy because the government died. So we need a method for getting replacements. Random selection, or elections? Finally, there needs to be a means of removing officials who go bad (indeed, "permanent" suggests to me "a life's sentence", the job from hell, from which you cannot resign). Permanent should at least be "permanent, subject to conditions". Then there needs to be a method for getting replacements. Random selection, or elections?
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I agree with the reasons cited for having elections. I would go a little further and say they are necessary for reasons of selection and removal. Government officials work for all citizens. Therefore, the citizens must appoint them. I cannot think of a method other than elections to accomplish this whereby it would reflect the citizens' wishes in the best possible way.

The problem with appointing government officials is how do you decide who gets to do the appointing? Then who appoints the appointer? Etc. There is an infinite regress. Unfortunately, in that type of situation, the appointer typically ends up becoming a family member or close associate of the person. That is how monarchies are born.

An election has a drawback in the sense that the losing side's wishes are not respected. However, that is why the correct system of government must be a constitutional republic and not a democracy. Constitutionally defined and delimited rights, and clearly enumerated and delimited governmental powers make sure that whatever government does, it is highly unlikely to violate an individual's rights. In a constitutional republic, it is likely that most people wouldn't vote. They wouldn't have to, since the range of actions of government officials would be so delimited. Fortunately, in a free society, politics would become a very minor concern among the populace, since government's influence on our lives would be so minimal.

The even more important reason for elections is removal. They are a superb check on government power. Let's say a government official does somehow become bad. Vote him out of office or impeach him. That is also the benefit of term limits, which prevent against a populist-type politician from staying in power (e.g.: Franklin Roosevelt).

Finally, appointments of many government officials, including judges, is entirely consistent with elections. As long as the key governmental "first movers" are elected, other officials could be appointed. I suspect a legislature, as the enactor of laws, would be elected. After that, conceivably even the executive and most or all of the judges could be appointed. In our system, the President is elected. I do not think that is a necessary feature of a constitutional republic, although it has its advantages.

The American system of checks and balances was carefully devised by the Founding Fathers after studying the failures of other representative systems, particularly those of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. I am impressed by much of the logic of the system, including such features as lifetime appointments of Supreme Court judges so that they are removed from the day-to-day political fray. The three-part system we have -- an executive, a legislature and a court system -- sums up all of the governmental institutions there should be in a free society.

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The even more important reason for elections is removal. They are a superb check on government power. Let's say a government official does somehow become bad. Vote him out of office or impeach him. That is also the benefit of term limits, which prevent against a populist-type politician from staying in power (e.g.: Franklin Roosevelt).

I agree with the rest of your reasoning for why we need elections, but I'm not sure that we need term limits. If an official is doing a good job and wants to keep doing that job, shouldn't citizens be able to keep him there? I would think that having strictly defined limitations on what the government is and is not able to do would prevent a populist president from being able to do too much damage -- even if the majority of the country wants lots of government programs and overstepping of appropriate authority, a system of checks and balances that is working properly would be able to stop such a president from getting far because, for example, a suit could be brought against the existence of an unconstitutional program and it could be thrown out by the judiciary. (Then again, because the president picks the members of the judiciary, I do see how a long-term president could put too much power in the hands of the executive branch.)

Still, if what the people want is a populist president and there are term limits, aren't they just going to vote for the candidate who has the closest platform to the departing president anyway? In that case, how does a term limit help?

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I agree with the rest of your reasoning for why we need elections, but I'm not sure that we need term limits. If an official is doing a good job and wants to keep doing that job, shouldn't citizens be able to keep him there? I would think that having strictly defined limitations on what the government is and is not able to do would prevent a populist president from being able to do too much damage -- even if the majority of the country wants lots of government programs and overstepping of appropriate authority, a system of checks and balances that is working properly would be able to stop such a president from getting far because, for example, a suit could be brought against the existence of an unconstitutional program and it could be thrown out by the judiciary. (Then again, because the president picks the members of the judiciary, I do see how a long-term president could put too much power in the hands of the executive branch.)

Still, if what the people want is a populist president and there are term limits, aren't they just going to vote for the candidate who has the closest platform to the departing president anyway? In that case, how does a term limit help?

I don't particularly like term limits if a constitutional republic is functioning properly. Once the people elect someone who has a proven record of not messing things up (which should be sufficient), why risk electing new, power-hungry people? Keeping someone in office longer gives them time to build experience and maintain international and domestic contacts. I do think the possibility of recall at any time, initiated by a ballot signed by a certain % of the citizenry and carried out through majority vote, should be in place.

In a system like ours, where there is the possibility of a populist (or other) leader who will make too many radical changes, term limits are important.

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That's okay, except for three missing parts. First, you have to get the government started somehow, by selecting an initial Board of Rulers. Random selection, or elections? Second, they haven't perfected immortality, so at some point one or more of these Rulers will die, and then eventually we will descend into anarchy because the government died. So we need a method for getting replacements. Random selection, or elections? Finally, there needs to be a means of removing officials who go bad (indeed, "permanent" suggests to me "a life's sentence", the job from hell, from which you cannot resign). Permanent should at least be "permanent, subject to conditions". Then there needs to be a method for getting replacements. Random selection, or elections?

I agree that elections are a way to

  1. elect for the first time
  2. elect after term expires
  3. check the power of the state

However, the problem, as pointed out by the above posters, is that a "bad" ruler(s) can take control of the country and even change the very rules that allowed them to be elected (see Hitler, for example). This is a fundamental problem with the idea of a democracy. Indeed, the elected rulers are changing the laws and creating new "rights" etc in some democracies.

I don't particularly like term limits if a constitutional republic is functioning properly. Once the people elect someone who has a proven record of not messing things up (which should be sufficient), why risk electing new, power-hungry people? Keeping someone in office longer gives them time to build experience and maintain international and domestic contacts. I do think the possibility of recall at any time, initiated by a ballot signed by a certain % of the citizenry and carried out through majority vote, should be in place.

In a system like ours, where there is the possibility of a populist (or other) leader who will make too many radical changes, term limits are important.

Also, the problem with "term limits" is that an elected thug can easily change those limits if he has enough power.

Any ideas what Ayn Rand says about elections? I have not come across any reference in the Rand books that I have read. Nevertheless, democracy seems to me to be a basic form of collectivism suited for Socialist thinkers.

In a dictatorship, a minority (or a single person) has control over the entire country; in a democracy, the majority have control over the country. There is every chance of a dictatorship taking root in a "people's state" (which is what a democracy is).

For some examples of what I am saying, see: Liberal autocracy and Illiberal democracy

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However, the problem, as pointed out by the above posters, is that a "bad" ruler(s) can take control of the country and even change the very rules that allowed them to be elected (see Hitler, for example). This is a fundamental problem with the idea of a democracy. Indeed, the elected rulers are changing the laws and creating new "rights" etc in some democracies.
This is, in fact, a problem with government. Laws must be created by man; man has free will; man can create good laws or bad laws. Whether you have elections or no elections, the men who create laws can create bad laws. Notice, by way of comparison, that Stalin wasn't elected.
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There are two Revolutionary era quotes that capture my thoughts on the inherent risk of any government becoming dictatorial. I may have it wrong, in terms of who said what [i welcome corrections!], but what I remember is this:

Benjamin Franklin, after leaving the Constitutional Convention, was asked by a bystander, "So, what kind of government do we have, a monarchy?" He answered, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

Thomas Jefferson: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

There is no "iron-clad" governmental structure or constitutional document that can prevent with 100% certainty a future abuse of power by a government official. That is why all free or semi-free peoples everywhere, in whatever historical period, must heed Jefferson's advice as the only way to remain free. Furthermore, the only way to be truly vigilant is if we are armed with the correct philosophy. That way we can correctly identify when government is exceeding its limits.

In any case, it is incumbent to devise the best possible governmental structure, which will make it less likely for future abuses to occur. I do think that the American system got most, but not all, of the details right, with the particular form of its Constitutional Republic.

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In any case, it is incumbent to devise the best possible governmental structure, which will make it less likely for future abuses to occur.

I think we need a constitution that absolutely cannot be amended, which lists individual rights and the basic governmental structure (three branches). New laws can be made, but they should be challengeable as unconstitutional before a supreme court.

There would never be a need to make amendments to such a document. That our current constitution can be amended (and perhaps that it is a little too lax on individual rights, although I'm not prepared to back that up) is what has made the massive federal and state governments we have today possible.

Edited by BrassDragon
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There would never be a need to make amendments to such a document. That our current constitution can be amended (and perhaps that it is a little too lax on individual rights, although I'm not prepared to back that up) is what has made the massive federal and state governments we have today possible.

Well, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were the Bill of Rights. I can go along with that one.

Slavery was also outlawed through an amendment.

The problem isn't whether the Constitution can be amended, but it is in how it is interpreted. With the wrong philosophical base, our Constitution has been interpreted as if there are no individual rights and unlimited governmental powers. That interpretation is made despite clear language in our Constitution to the contrary.

If people accept the right philosophy, a Constitution will serve us well. But, no matter how well written a Constitution might be, if the dominant philosophy is irrational, it will offer no protection.

Edited by Galileo Blogs
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Well, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were the Bill of Rights. I can go along with that one.

I counted those as part of the Constitution, since they were part of the whole original package. I should have been more thoughtful about that, though.

Slavery was also outlawed through an amendment.

And it should have been outlawed by the "original package."

The problem isn't whether the Constitution can be amended, but it is in how it is interpreted. With the wrong philosophical base, our Constitution has been interpreted as if there are no individual rights and unlimited governmental powers. That interpretation is made despite clear language in our Constitution to the contrary.

If people accept the right philosophy, a Constitution will serve us well. But, no matter how well written a Constitution might be, if the dominant philosophy is irrational, it will offer no protection.

A constitution could be written clearly, without possibility of varying interpretation. You're right that if an irrational-enough philosophy is dominant enough, the constitution would be thrown out or ignored. But at least the looters and moochers couldn't pretend to have its sanction. And if they threw out a morally absolute constitution, they'd more like be faced with popular revolution than otherwise.

I don't think the U.S. Constitution makes anything "clear" enough; the original document upheld slavery, and the necessary and proper clause has been an avenue for expanding government power. It's not a good example of an ideal constitution, although certainly it was a great leap forward.

Edited by BrassDragon
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The problem isn't whether the Constitution can be amended, but it is in how it is interpreted. With the wrong philosophical base, our Constitution has been interpreted as if there are no individual rights and unlimited governmental powers. That interpretation is made despite clear language in our Constitution to the contrary.
Since I do not see the clarity in The Constitution, I'd like to see what you have in mind as cases of misinterpretation that is clearly contrary to the language of The Constitution. For example, confiscating property only requires a process and only requires compensation when done for a public purpose; it only prohibits setting up an official state religion; it only requires that searches and seizures be reasonable; "excessive bail" is disallowed. I know of no interpretations of The Constitution that contradict that. Taxation is certainly legal, so is the draft, controlling commerce, providing welfare, generally, etc. etc. Where do you think The Constitution has been literally misinterpreted?
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Since I do not see the clarity in The Constitution, I'd like to see what you have in mind as cases of misinterpretation that is clearly contrary to the language of The Constitution. For example, confiscating property only requires a process and only requires compensation when done for a public purpose; it only prohibits setting up an official state religion; it only requires that searches and seizures be reasonable; "excessive bail" is disallowed. I know of no interpretations of The Constitution that contradict that. Taxation is certainly legal, so is the draft, controlling commerce, providing welfare, generally, etc. etc. Where do you think The Constitution has been literally misinterpreted?

I was addressing more the structure of our government -- the system of three branches and the checks-and-balances between them. That structure seems like a good one to retain in a free society.

As for the language of the Constitution itself, it does allow those things you mentioned. There is no doubt the Constitution of a free society would contain no such latitude for government to violate our rights. However, despite its shortcomings, the Constitution historically was interpreted to provide far greater protection of property rights, before the Depression-era Supreme Court re-interpreted it to allow almost unlimited governmental power to regulate.

Also, the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion and speech would seem to preclude any government money being used to advance a religious agenda, and any restriction of the right of free speech. However, the Constitution has more recently been interpreted by the Supreme Court to allow government-funded religious charities and a growing array of restrictions on free speech via the campaign finance laws, among others.

Even the takings clause of the Constitution which permits takings of private property for a "public use" has been recently interpreted by the Supreme Court to allow a taking of someone's private property to be given to another private individual. That interpretation clearly violates the plain language of the Constitution.

My point is that the dominant philosophy of a culture will determine how a Constitution is interpreted, whether it is interpreted to allow more freedom or more power for government. We can see this process at work with our Constitution.

Certainly, our Constitution needs to be significantly improved, and it will be when our culture learns to understand and embrace freedom.

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Even the takings clause of the Constitution which permits takings of private property for a "public use" has been recently interpreted by the Supreme Court to allow a taking of someone's private property to be given to another private individual. That interpretation clearly violates the plain language of the Constitution.
That's an example of the type I'm referring to. I don't see where that plain language is. I do understand how the plain language has been interpreted one way (as not allowing taking for private use, at all) more recently it has been interpreted the other way, but the plain language of The Constitution does not prohibit takings for private use. It could have been drafted in such a way that it plainly was prohibited to take for private uses, or to take at all, but it wasn't. Instead, The Constitution says almost nothing of substance, and leaves it to the interpretive conventions of the prevailing philosophy to tell you whether a man has a right to his castle.

Although the prevailing philosophy is important, the objectively stated laws are even more important, because they have an objective clarity lacking in Zeitgeist.

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That's an example of the type I'm referring to. I don't see where that plain language is. I do understand how the plain language has been interpreted one way (as not allowing taking for private use, at all) more recently it has been interpreted the other way, but the plain language of The Constitution does not prohibit takings for private use. It could have been drafted in such a way that it plainly was prohibited to take for private uses, or to take at all, but it wasn't. Instead, The Constitution says almost nothing of substance, and leaves it to the interpretive conventions of the prevailing philosophy to tell you whether a man has a right to his castle.

Although the prevailing philosophy is important, the objectively stated laws are even more important, because they have an objective clarity lacking in Zeitgeist.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The portion that I have bolded is clear enough to me. Of course, a roomful of Clinton-type lawyers who can argue about the meaning of "is" can probably construe "public" to mean "private".

Having said that, I agree that a Constitution of a laissez faire society would have to contain no exceptions such as this one, which allows the government to violate rights. Also, "public" is a notoriously vague term. Since rights are only possessed by individuals, there really is no such thing as the "public interest". The "public interest" has been used to justify all sorts of extensions of government power. E.g.: It is in the public interest to control inflation, so wage-and-price controls are necessary. It is in the public interest to alleviate poverty, so welfare programs are necessary. It is in the public interest to have an educated citizenry, so public education is necessary. Etc.

I am not a student of the Constitution, but from my layman's knowledge of history and law, it still seems like a remarkable, albeit imperfect, achievement. As the charter of a semi-free Republic (but still the most free society ever established), it appears to stand head-and-shoulders above any prior governmental charter from any earlier period of history. When the new Constitution is written, I suspect much of it will stand on the "shoulders" of the current Constitution. If anyone on the blog who has further knowledge of the subject cares to elaborate (whether in agreement or disagreement), I welcome your comments.

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The portion that I have bolded is clear enough to me.
Okay, but the part that I underline italicise and embolden: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation" does not impose any restrictions on taking for private use. If the amendment had said "Nor shall private property be taken for private use under any circumstances, not shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation", then the meaning would be plain. A roomful of Dana Berliner type lawyers can, of course, attempt to argue the other way that implicitly there is some restriction against any and all private takings. Alas, they were unsuccessful, and the argument would be based on implicit presumption, and not explicit declaration.
I am not a student of the Constitution, but from my layman's knowledge of history and law, it still seems like a remarkable, albeit imperfect, achievement.
I agree entirely: it was quite revolutionary. It is now time to move forward, and repair the flaws. The fundamental flaw is that it is based on common law practice: a decent constitution would be founded on (and be the foundation of) the idea of an objective, statutory legal system. Not a system that depends on the good behavior of citizens and judges, but one that says explicitly what that means. We've learned a lot about objective legal drafting over the past 2025 years, and it's time to start thinking seriously about what such a constitution would look like.
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Well, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were the Bill of Rights. I can go along with that one.

Slavery was also outlawed through an amendment.

Ummm... you mean BLACK slavery was outlawed with, what was it, the 14th amendment? But with the 16th amendment came universal slavery of ALL races of people.

Seems like every time they amend that piece of toilet paper, the infringements of our natural rights only become applied to a larger group of people.

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