Over and over again as a child, I can remember having been impressed upon me—what I now know to be quite delusional at worst and well intentioned at best—that we were founded as and continued to be a representative democracy. That we were a nation which ruled itself by its collectively expressed will, those whom we elected had embarked upon a commission that was sealed by a covenant between the commonwealth and those chosen to serve it. Our leaders were those entrusted, for a term, to set their own ambitions aside for the good of all. But as I grew up, both as a consequence of education and circumstance, I came to see that the world was a much different place and that we were all, to our forbears shame, sold a bill of goods. Democracy is something we imagine we practice to keep ourselves from stepping over the sheer cliff of recognition, a realization that would demand anger and action while at the same time tempting with the narcotic of apathy. And apathy is the true opiate of the masses, stronger than any belief or fear, it’s the acceptance of hopelessness as the true and natural state of affairs. And that I could not abide. Nor should anyone who cherishes not simply their own freedom but who loves their neighbor as themselves. The true lover of freedom and liberty should be unpretentiously devoted to the needs of those around them. For only in loving others may we ever love ourselves, this is communitas, this is patriotism, this is democracy.
In a participatory democracy, if the government truly not only embodies the will of the people, but is in fact consisting of the people themselves on a very macro scale that is assembled from the micro components of community, then the social contract is first and primarily with our neighbor. This is the wellspring of civic responsibility and vocational citizenship. Citizenship as an extrinsic act, the focal point always other than self. And so fundamentally, citizenship precedes whatever form of government that springs forth from the will of the people. This is because citizenship and patriotism are the indissoluble foundation of civic thought and action. Thus, to vote or otherwise participate is to make self government possible, instead of tyranny. Now this may seem quite obvious, yet how many americans have really put together the pieces of the puzzle and seen that when the voting stops and the participation ends, all that becomes possible is the meek and indifferent submission to tyranny. The insouciance of the modern American (see consumer) is simply a proto-nihilism that results in self-disenfranchisement. And the withdrawal of the American citizen from his or her principle vocation of civic participation is to apostate from the command to love your neighbor as yourself by upholding these truths that we have declared to be self-evident,
…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
And the apathy that results, together with the tolling bell that triggers us to leverage our solvency for things that we, in the end, have to true need for, is self-hatred; the subversion of need by want. Government, politics and the civic responsibility that they represent become something to be avoided and endured rather than embraced and celebrated. And this is the sort of stoic and fatalistic resignation that I myself was raised around, that the actual power of the polis had moved beyond the domain of the citizen, to be solely vested in the hands of the patricians. It was, though I didn’t as a child have the categories to recognize it, a tacit affirmation of the inability of the commons, or as some of the founders called them, the great beast, to self-govern. The very civic indolence of the silent majority of America, which contrary to the pundits is very apolitical and issue oriented rather than Republican by default, provided the content and truth of this contention. That the game is fixed, that our votes merely serve to amuse those who fill the halls of power and that political parties exist to appease our appetite for self-aggrandizement rather than provide us with choices of leadership and ideology, rather than provide us with actual power. And while their is a large amount of truth to that when one realizes that politics in America functions as the ideological wing of capitalism, it is also largely true that it has come to this with our own signatures upon the contract. But it needn’t be so, and it can be changed. It can be changed if we remember democracy, remember the democracy that we were spoon fed as children by those idealists that we call teachers.
And the catalyst of any free, participatory form of government is a free press. It is essential that the people have unfettered access to the information flooded over and distorted by the rhetoric of political campaigning, demagoguery and corporate self-interest. And we are killing that free press through incorporation, conglomeration and consumerism, not to mention both the overt and covert actions of a government determined to control the flow of information under the guise of national security. And paramount in this lecherous affair of the public trust with the will of capitalism is the lie of necessity, that the ethical sacrifices and compromises of integrity is a necessary evil to serve a greater good. A free press is an essential ingredient when people set about to establish and maintain a democratic solution for the problem of self-determination and social order. Yet, the press is also the greatest potential enemy of freedom ever conceived.
Taxation without participation is the sin of the citizen. And this is the allure of representative government, it affords citizens to forego their duty of involvement and transfer their authority to a single individual, who can now wield the concentrated power of what we might call the consent of his or her constituency. A crude analogy would be a slow cooker. You simply throw in the necessary ingredients, set the temperature and timer and just walk away, returning to find the finished results. Representative government essentially operates in the same manner, with the citizen returning at regular intervals to the ballot box, yet in actuality being impotent to assert any sort of oversight during the interim term. Combine that with the reality that most, if not all politicians are populists of one sort or the other and we are left with a populace that is bound by its own rhetoric and self-interest. This is because the civic action of voting based upon self-interest is the very method of control that is used by the ruling class to maintain its consent to govern; we elect to office the tyrannies of our own egoism and lust masquerading as need or civil right. We empower the most skilled panderers and then grit our collective teeth at their ineffectual skill at actual governance.