Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The Death of a Republic
"Congratulations on the abolition of the Parliamentary Republic and on the establishment of Direct Democracy!" Thus I ended my class today.
My Classes are Democracies and hold elections every week. I run my classrooms on a variant of the Iraqi model, with a proportionally-elected Assembly, a President chosen with 2/3rds of the Assembly, and a Prime Minister named by the President approved by half of the Assembly. I've played around with modifications of the design, but I enjoy starting off classes with the Assembly / President / Premier model of government.
The constitution can be modified by the Prime Minister presenting a proposal to the assembly, whereupon it must be approved by a 2/3rds vote. If so legislated, it must pass with a 2/3rds plurality in a plebiscite. The Constitution has been radically restructured before, and every time the variation has left the old infrastructure intact while some portion of it was changed. Once, a Supreme Court was established that could overrule the elected government at will, creating a Judicial Supremacist state. Another time, a Lebanese system of "confessions" was eneacted to parcel out different posts to different cliques. Thirdly, the Assembly was replaced with an "Assembly-of-the-Whole," with every student having one vote. And just last semester, an openly corrupt Prime Minister oversaw a series of fraudulent elections which created a very Medici feel to teaching.
But today, for the first time, the Republic itself passed into the world of memories and dreams.
The elections had produced an odd outcome, the Assembly divided between three students. They had unanimously named a President, though her initial course of Prime Minister was rejected unanimously. A second choice of Prime Minister barely passed. The Prime Minister then decreed a discussion question and organized the room, and I left (as I do) to allow conversation to be unimpeded by my presence.
When I returned the Prime Minister announced that he believed that weekly elections were time consuming, and that a Rule of 5 (a body to be composed of two of the three Assemblymen, the President, the failed Prmie Minister, and the serving Prime Minister) be established to run the class by majority vote. The Offices of President and Prime Minister would be filled by a majority vote of the Rule of 5.
After a "teachable minute" on the Venetian Republic and Oligarchy, a student proposed that a Direct Democracy be established through direct, majority votes on all issues.
An assemblyman counter-proposed that the Rule could be expanded to 6, with a non-present student added to give the governing council the input of normal students.
This created a black-lash against Republicanism generally, with a student suggesting an Assembly-of-the-Whole without the unfair implications of proportional representation (this was suggesetd without suggestion from me).
Yet another student suggested a Consular Republic, with two consuls named who would jointly decide all matters. The Consuls would not have to face reelection, and so could concentrate on running the class efficiently.
Another student suggested the establish of a Benign Monarchy, with the teacher declared "King" and ruling as he sees fit.
The Prime Minister, perhaps trying to salvage the declining fortunes of the oligarchy, offered to accept the burden of Dictator-for-Life, which would allow the Assembly, Presidency, and Premiership to keep functioniong, without the wasted time of elections.
On the board, the following options were written
Rule of 5
Rule of 6
Direct Assembly (Assembly-of-the-Whole)
The failed Prime Ministerial candidate proposed delaying action until next week (perhaps hoping that the anti-Republic backlash would subside by then). The hoi polloi were outraged, and demanded immediate action.
At this point, the oligarchical faction saw the tide of history vote against them. The Prime Minister stated that the abolition of the Republic was a bad idea, but as the majority of the students appeared to be against representation, he would subnmit the establishment of Direct Democracy to popular vote. The assembly followed him in confirming the selection, though each emphasized that they thought the decision was bad.
As the Japanese House of Lords had before it, the Assembly voted itself out of existence.
Now its action had to be confirmed by plebiscite. The majority of the oligarchy here voted against the constitution change. They hoped to show the common studentry that they respected the democratic voice (by allowing it to pass the Assembly) while still defeating it in the election. However, outside the oligarchical faction, all students voted to support the establishment of Direct Democracy. The oligarchs composed less than one-third of the class, and so the change passed with its required 2/3rds popular majority.
"This didn't go the way I planned" said one of the oligarchs.
"I am sorry for destroying the Republic" said the (now former) Prime Minister.
Shows-of-hands decided all subsequent questions in the class. A republic died. A democracy was born.
Congrats on finishing this round. For the next level you should add the element of "global guerrillas."
Posted by: Catholicgauze | Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I was actually just thinking of Curtis' quote of Plato , "especially his assertion that tyranny follows the much more chaotic democracy: the tyrant arises at first as a benevolent solver of problems, and the people support his efforts to combat the chaos and conflict; then, he assumes total control. It's not a pretty thought, although I suppose a global hegemony would not have the same flavor as historical tyrannies."
My guess is that the democracy will find a strong-man, or at least quickly adopt a form of government more authoritarian than what they started out with.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The democracy will form factions, with de facto leaders who are interested in being faction leaders. Hence, party government will form. Or so I speculate.
Posted by: Lexington Green | Wednesday, January 31, 2007
It will be interesting... I would guess the lack of offices and the shaky nature of the Constitution (a plurality vote to change anything, including the Constitution) will lead to some constitutional despotism, but it will be interesting to see if parties can emerge...
Do you perceive anything happening after the parties?
Stuff like this is why I love teaching. :-)
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, February 01, 2007
"At this point, the oligarchical faction saw the tide of history vote against them....This didn't go the way I planned" said one of the oligarchs...."I am sorry for destroying the Republic" said the (now former) Prime Minister."
Rather like the Thirty Tyrants must have felt after their overthrow, but without the imminent executions.
Posted by: mark safranski | Thursday, February 01, 2007
Meanwhile, my other class elects an extremely (stereotypically so) diverse government which proceeds (through its own decision) to the highest-level discussion of the year:
"The United States of America v. El Estado de Nuevo Mexico"
In which an imaginary New Mexican government establishes Spanish as the official language, and federal attorneys plea to the Supreme Court to allow it to overturn. (Quite the way to discuss federalism!)
... Though executions would make the contrast even more exciting. ;-)
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, February 04, 2007