The Constitution and the Problem with Representational GovernmentJune 22, 2021
There is a lot of hypocrisy in American political history. The Civil War had as much to do with business interests as a desire to end slavery, for example. Or take the Federal Reserve. An entity created to stabilize the consumer economy has created a nation built on debt that only serves the interests of the financial sector.
But perhaps the largest hypocrisy of all is the Constitution. Written in the guise of democracy and emancipation from the tyranny of European monarchs, it only served to underscore deep lines of inequality already well-formed in American society. Like it or not, the constitution was written by wealthy property owners at a time when slavery still existed. The result was a partial representational democracy designed to shed light on property owners only — and leave the rest of the population in darkness.
The Purpose of the Constitution
The founding fathers were rich white men with considerable economic and social power. Although they may have tried to move beyond individual biases, the Constitution they drafted set strict limits on voting rights. Only those with property could vote — which at the time meant rich white men ONLY.
Why was a property such a defining feature?
A few assumptions lay beneath the decision to limit voting rights to property owners. Including:
- Slaves should not be able to vote. There was no question about slaves remaining below the standard of acceptable American citizenship. Of course, the only way to keep them from joining civil society was to make property ownership a prerequisite for voting.
- Only the wealthiest landowners could vote. There were “landed qualifications” for voters to determine whether or not they were sufficiently wealthy to have a say.
- Property owners have more of a vested interest in politics than the landless. James Madison wrote that property rights are as importantas personal rights. He also wrote that these areas of life are the “two greatest subjects on which governments are to act.” The founding fathers assumed the first and foremost task of government was to control the interaction of conflicting economic interests.
- They believed puredemocracy was weak. The goal of the Constitution was never to create a genuinely democratic state. The assumption was that genuine democracy was a vulnerable system, one that would inevitably lead to the dissolution of private property. As Madison wrote elsewhere in The Federalist, the landless proletariat fighting for their collective rights would usurp the primacy of individual property rights. Privileged white men with property and power could not stand for such upheaval.
Based on these assumptions, the founding fathers created a representational democracy designed to defend and support the primacy of individual property rights. But was it done out of selfish interest or the good of the country?
If you ask Charles Beard, the founding fathers used property rights to protect personal economic interest rather than defend the principle of land ownership for all. In his progressive take on the economic rationale behind the Constitution, Beard argues that a “cohesive” elite were involved in drafting the Constitution to suit their ends and keep the landless laborers out of politics.
Wealth Should Not Equal Importance
Frankly, who can argue with Beard’s take on the matter? We can see the impact of the Constitution still today. Rich people control the opinions of elected representatives because they fund vast portions of the election campaign. All this comes at the expense of the majority – which is ironically how the founding fathers wanted it.
Progressive leaders through the years have done exceptional work to get voting rights for women and African Americans. However, until we ban unlimited political donations, the inequality enshrined in the Constitution will continue to leave average citizens in the dark.
The Wealthy Control Both Political Parties
The influence of wealth on elected officials goes beyond voting. The laws that are passed by our elected officials are often written by lobbyists. Lobbyism is a burgeoning industry that is tantamount to legal bribery. Politicians leave office a lot wealthier then when they enter, the system is virtuous for those politicians that support the interests of their wealthy donors. However, always putting money interest first is often unproductive just look at America’s health care costs, it’s military industrial complex and of course the federal reserve.
Finally, lets recognize that both Democrats and Republicans are funded by lobbyists. This realization should make you realize that the political lines are drawn to keep the population divided on issues the lobbyists do not care about. So, while the average citizen thinks the other party is crazy the lobbyists are writing legislation and getting it passed into law. The media plays the role of catering to the left or the right, never delving deep enough into any issue to expose their own hypocrisy. Because, lets face it, half the country can’t disagree with the other half unless both sides were being hypocritical. So, if you understand why democrats are the same as republicans and vise versa, then you are close to the solution.