Would anyone still claim today that our representative democracy owes its success to the tradition of sending only our best and our brightest to Congress? Everyone must know a neighbor, a colleague or a family member who exercises sufficient reason and wisdom to understand and perhaps even make inroads against the more divisive issues of the day. Might you in fact be such a person?
Most voters — particularly those who stand to learn the most — gain no wisdom from simply witnessing the mistakes of their elected representatives — should they learn of these mistakes at all. Yet these same misinformed voters, with every new election cycle, threaten all our freedoms precisely because they were never afforded the chance, within their own political “backyards,” to legislatively experiment with an implementation of their misguided beliefs and so discover their failings for themselves.
Even the best among us learn the most through the natural process of trial and error — through our own hands-on personal efforts. This method represents an accelerated means of fostering progress for a society as a whole, forging a path that initially might fork into ten thousand tangents but would lead over time back to a more enlightened, growing and stable consensus. Yet such experimental forays into self-governance need not be inflicted upon the nation as a whole, nor even necessarily statewide — and need not be left unguided by the same nor even stronger constitutional barriers to majority excesses.
Direct democracy is an ideal polity precisely because — unlike our federal republic, let alone third-world dictatorships — it is so easily subjected to continual corrections, to constitutional delimitation and to jurisdictional localization. It provides those who need political lessons the freedom to learn for themselves — all while sparing the greatest number of us from suffering unnecessarily these same political growing pains.
Our national political issues defy consensus and resolution by virtue of the very strength and diversity of individual opinions and beliefs. To impose blindly uniform laws, therefore, either at the federal level or even at the state and the county levels, only agitates rather than answers our concerns. Compulsory consensus represents only an expedient, a delay of political fragmentation, a simmering of national disorder.
Meanwhile, we perpetually bob in successive electoral tides from one partisan swell to the next, forever watching our freedoms imperiled by waves of electoral overreach. Where in this lies any middle ground?
Ours is no longer the nation of the Founding Fathers: Even the populations of our larger cities today dwarf that of the entire Republic at ratification. The prerogatives then assigned to state electorates ought today be enjoyed by much smaller, more diverse sectors of the populace.
The limitations upon swift travel and communication, which once necessitated a government-by-proxy approach to lawmaking, no longer impede high-tech society. The flow of information at our fingertips elevates our capacity for individual and collective decision-making far beyond the levels contemplated — nay, even imagined, by those distinguished wise men to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
So here stands the crux of the matter as ever: Was that legendary wisdom of theirs so exceptional, so very rare, that even today to the People could not be entrusted the power to represent themselves, even under the many protections of a strong federal constitution?
Take another look, if necessary, at your neighbors, your colleagues, your family members — and at yourself.
But don’t answer just yet.
Your answer ought depend not only upon judgments of your fellow citizens and of yourself but equally upon the general character and the specific provisions of this alternative constitution.
So, is this one ideal? Well, truly none could be: Only a “perfect” citizenry could administer a perfect government — and an ideal populace would never in fact require a governing authority. Ask yourself instead if this founding document at least retains the better elements of our existing constitution, those which have heretofore slowed enemies of peace and order, both foreign and domestic.
But more importantly, does this alternative constitution introduce substantive improvements upon aspects of an original work that has since proven insufficient to a modern society? And could these new provisions check the course of America’s decline? Could they guide us all closer, either collectively or individually, to a more evolved society?
What would direct democracy be good for, anyway, if not to provide a resilient system in which our national tolerance of diversity allowed for rich local diversification within a broad myriad of communities? The truest test of our respect for ourselves and for one another would be this temporary autonomy of law-abiding peoples, separated by whatever their personal beliefs or their traditional cultural differences required.
In order to progress as a society, the People must first enjoy the freedom to be vastly different, to make even dreadful mistakes — to live and to learn. It’s a matter of trusting life, really.
Then only what denied life itself, or what stunted further learning, would be proscribed by constitutional law. Otherwise, so long as members of one community were free to emigrate to any other, this natural diversity would be left to flourish. In such a tolerant society, every citizen could advance in a single lifetime through phases of experimentation, living in a half-dozen or more divergent political communities, developing within each an accelerated understanding of what was for them, and for anyone, at that age, or at any age, a better way of life.
So much the better. Such a widely diverse society would serve ultimately as a single intellectual and moral training ground for all. Yet constitutional defenders within our communities and among all communities would remain equally as dedicated to the preservation of the rights of all, protectors of a modern constitutional framework better suited to secure lasting peace and order.
It’s time to reconsider the course we’ve been bobbing on. Must we try in vain to control what other people do or don’t do in the courses of their very different lives, in districts apart from us and our own, in order to be wholly moral ourselves? Or within a constitutional framework safeguarding individual liberties, under a scheme of regulation designed to ensure the safety of all, might we give fuller expression to this natural diversity of ours and thus establish, ironically, a more circumspect, a stronger and a deeper union?
Why then direct democracy? It’s human progress.