Keeping it

It is said that, as Benjamin Franklin left the last meeting of the Constitutional Convention — which had kept its deliberations secret, so that the citizens didn’t even know what form was proposed for the new government — a woman came up to him on the street and asked, “Well, Dr. Franklin, what is it to be? A monarchy, or a republic?” Franklin is said to have replied, “A republic, madam — if you can keep it.”

If a republic is to maintain itself as a republic, rather than degenerating into an oligarchy or party dictatorship, it must be the case that the party in power can’t reliably maintain itself in power. Imagine, just as a hypothetical, a republic whose campaign finance system gave a big natural advantage to whichever party was most favorable to big personal wealth and corporate interests. Imagine further that the party favorable to those interests managed to get control of both the executive and the legislative branches. Now imagine further that the leadership of that party had no scruples about exploiting to the fullest its powers to help friends and punish enemies, in the interest of making its dominance permanent.

Now read this. And this. And this.

Are you afraid yet? Are you very afraid?

What have you done today toward keeping the republic?

[Thanks to Jeanne d’Arc for the links.]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: