This post is named after Scipio Aemilianus, adopted grandson of Scipio Africanus (who, in turn, was Cornelia Africana’s father) and husband to Sempronia (Cornelia’s daughter and sister to the Gracchi.) The “Scipionic Circle” was a coterie of sorts which comprised of Aemilianus as well as his philosopher friends. (If you haven’t already noticed, my major political work, the Sempronian Manifesto, and its component parts, are named after the various members of the Sempronian family.) The cover image for this post comprises of three different depictions of Scipio Aemilianus.
In the past, I’ve shared my honest position within America’s partisan divide and provided an outline for how I believe our Constitution should be adjusted to meet the problems of a 21st Century society. It may not be wise to do so, but I think it’s only fair to my readers that, if I’m going to discuss political issues, be it directly through speech/debate reactions or indirectly via weighing in on social problems, you know exactly what my biases and preferences are. I’ve laid out an extensive glossary of political science terms, organized into various “Spectrums” to illustrate the way they relate to each other, but I never really pointed out where I stand on them. In the interests of transparency, I’d like to briefly do so now. I don’t claim to have anything particularly unique to say in defense of my positions but this is where I fall and why…
My Place on the Constitutional & Republican Spectrums
Obviously, I support as much individual liberty for everyone as possible; I believe the only limit on one’s liberty should be other people’s safety and freedom. The difficult balancing act comes in maintaining a sovereign state which is both strong enough to guarantee the rights of its citizens against the nefarious members among them, while not becoming a repressive force in and of itself. Unlike some of my more idealistic peers, I consider the idea of anarchism a non-starter because it is inherently unstable. The idea of a stateless society, while attractive in concept, would in practice devolve into an unchecked form of mob rule. In the best case scenario, that means tyranny of the majority, where certain groups with fringe ideas or vulnerable status, are disenfranchised. In the worst case scenario, a truly anarchist society would paradoxically turn to despotism as the person or group with the most followers/guns/money fill the power vacuum and become the de facto tyrant(s).
So, if we accept then that there has to be some kind of lawful state to protect its people, the question remains how do you balance freedom and security? Well, I think the American founders had the right idea with separation of powers between different branches of government. Where I would disagree with them is in their mistrust of the masses (as evidenced by the electoral college preventing the direct election of the President and not extending voting rights beyond white men of property.) This is why, in my proposed Constitution, the basic structure of government is largely the same but there are additional checks both between as well as within the three traditional branches plus more room for direct action from the people themselves. Sure, there are a lot of ignorant people out there, but I’d rather the government be at least somewhat beholden to the citizenry as opposed to disregarding their concerns entirely. (Plus, a big part of our collective ignorance is due to the dismal education system and budget cuts in America–both of which could be easily fixed given time. To become an educated, intellectually curious person is a duty for every citizen in a democratic society for this reason.)
So, as far as my thoughts go with regard to the “Constitutional Spectrum,” I believe America is as good as it gets–a federal democracy with freedom of religion and separation of church and state. All the same, it’s my sincere opinion that America has descended into a form of authoritarianism some time ago even despite its sound ideological foundation. Besides the issue of there not being enough checks both within and between the branches, I believe this fall from grace can be attributed to several factors. (Most of which I’ve proposed remedies for in my Constitution.)
- The founders were unaware of any voting system besides First Past the Post, which is the absolute worst way to elect candidates in a Democratic society. If we switch to literally anything else (and Range voting has been mathematically proven to be the best model) the two party duopoly can be superseded by new ideas from new parties. More parties can encourage cooperation between those that agree on at least some issues and less of a toxic “us vs them” hyper-partisan attitude towards governance. Term limits would also go a long way towards assuring that “new ideas” are allowed in while out of touch career politicians are denied their monopoly on decision making.
- Adding a third house to the legislature in the style of Madison’s proposed “Council of Revision” would allow for some objective experts in their respective fields to perhaps be an officially licensed voice of reason in lawmaking. That way, instead of partisan grandstanding determining the course of our country’s future, there’s at least a chance for technocratic reason to factor into the process. This was also my motivation for including some provisions to allow for deliberative democracy, so we would actually have in-depth discussions about legislation going forward as opposed to voting for or against bills you haven’t even read because someone of X-party proposed it. (Or filibustering your own bill to stick it to the other side.)
- Making the election for the lowest house a national contest (with membership divided by the proportion of the vote each party receives) would be the most elegant, simple and fair solution to gerrymandering and it has precedent in countries like Germany.
- Increasing the size of the legislature makes it significantly more expensive (though admittedly not impossible) for them to be bought off. Splitting the executive in two (as most modern democracies do) and splitting the Supreme Court into several pieces accomplishes the same, dividing power into more hands. This would negate the trend of the Presidency’s increasing power and the court’s use as a political pawn of the parties.
- Enforcing a Roman-inspired Cursus Honorum (basically prerequisites for higher office by serving at the lower and/or local levels first) would ensure that magistrates have a better handle on the issues which plague their constituents. Furthermore, it would prevent more rich, inexperienced vanity candidates like Trump, Oprah, Kanye West and Bob Iger from jumping immediately into the top spot without any political acumen or genuine time spent getting to understand the people they’re governing.
- Explicitly writing down as many conceivable rights as possible in the Constitution is far more preferable to me than single, vague sentences which we just have to hope a judge interprets correctly (as in, maximizing individual autonomy as much as possible.) This is why I went through as many highly regarded constitutions as possible, as well as other documents like the UN Rights of the Child and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to spell it out as much as possible. When the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that prisoners have no Constitutional rights or that the third amendment doesn’t apply to police officers, I don’t trust them to err on the side of liberty in an increasingly digitized, corporate-dominated world. I’d like a more extensive, specific and iron-clad set of guarantees so that I don’t have to hold my breath and pray the court rules 5-4 in my favor every time my civil rights are put on trial. Allowing the constitution to be more readily amendable (but still requiring a significant groundswell of support) would also allow our nation to be more adaptable to a world where change happens faster than ever before.
- In addition, I believe the most overlooked factor in our slide towards authoritarianism came from an erosion of federalism. Where Americans started out thinking of themselves as citizens of their state before a united nation, now the power of the federal government has largely superseded traditional powers of the local government. As I laid out in my constitution, I feel this problem could be averted, while still maintaining internal cohesion, by allowing for asymmetrical federalism and, in extreme irreconcilable circumstances, legally recognized secession.
For example, if the “blue states” want socialized healthcare or legal weed, why should they be held back just because Kansas and South Carolina say “no”? Why can’t they pool their own resources, independently, towards a shared program while the states which are against such an endeavor are free to stay out of it if they so choose? In this scenario, the dissenters don’t give in any money but then their citizens aren’t allowed to reap the benefits. That way, everyone gets what they want, and if one system is undeniably better it will prove itself over time. Why does everything have to be an all or nothing solution these days? And if things really are so far gone, if another Obama is really so unacceptable to certain “red states” (or another Trump to “blue states”) why force a union anymore if it’s no longer mutually agreeable due to changing circumstances? Sometimes a “relationship” just isn’t going to work and both sides need to figure their own shit out independently.
The one and only axis of the “Republican Spectrum” which I don’t have a strong opinion on either way is that of the Judicial structure. The two options, a Civil Law code combined with an Inquisitorial Court System or a Common Law tradition combined with an Adversarial Court System both have significant pros and cons. Unlike many of the other binaries found within political science, I truly cannot make up my mind which,if any, is inherently better.
A Civil Law code allows for predictability and safeguards from a “bad” judge having too much sway in sentencing. The law is what’s written and nothing more, while punishments are clearly defined and strictly enforced. A Common Law tradition places an emphasis on past precedent of decisions in similar cases, which in practice could mean that “common sense” and extenuating circumstances factor into the process. The inquisitorial court system would, in theory, shut out ridiculous defense arguments like “affluenza” from getting criminals off with a lighter sentence and reduce the need for expensive lawyers in the court process. But, sometimes a lawyer’s persuasive arguments and ability to frame the evidence in a new, plausible way can be a good thing for a case with a seemingly foregone conclusion. It can, in theory, serve as a last defense for an innocent man in an unlucky circumstance. On a grander scale, it can also allow for a check against the legislature by having judges interpret as well as contextualize the laws and their respective penalties. At the end of the day, I want to adjust so much of our current constitutional framework already to where I didn’t feel it was prudent to stretch my political capital even further by tackling yet another entrenched institution. The alternative model doesn’t have quite enough marks in its favor to convince me that a complete overhaul of our judicial philosophy is worth the effort it would take to change it.
In some ways, and I know this may sound silly, but it was The People vs OJ Simpson miniseries which gave me a renewed sense of respect regarding our current justice system, warts and all. The trial as a whole may be the embodiment of the flaws within our courts and media, as well as the go-to example of how sometimes, the wrong verdict is rendered. But after watching the program, I kind of started to appreciate the silver lining to the procedure. Our adversarial system of justice allows for lawyers to have a bigger role, with the idea being that an attorney who has a career reputation and monetary compensation at stake will be better motivated to give it their all on behalf of their client’s interests. The downside is that the ordeal is expensive, so the rich have an advantage in the process. But for me, there’s something dazzling about the way a good attorney can use thoughtful rhetoric and charismatic oration to re-contextualize a seemingly open and shut case. It’s a powerful demonstration of the written and spoken word’s ability to inspire as well as persuade. The system may not be bulletproof, but neither are the democratic elections which rely on the same skills of its participants in order to get elected and sway the votes of their peers. I say, unless an unambiguously superior method is found, if it’s good enough for our legislatures then it’s good enough for our judiciaries as well. Innocent men get sentenced and guilty men go free under the inquisitorial model as well, but at least in our system there’s more room to argue on your own behalf and that is a powerful thing.
As a classicist, I appreciate the name of this piece.