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Friday, September 1, 2017

Whence the Principle

In a preceding article, I stated that the principle of the democratic Republic arises from our human nature and being. In other words, it is ordained by natural and existential law[1]

A democratic Republic is not a hierarchy ruled by God and divine intermediaries. Even if you believe that human nature and existence comes from a divine force, the criterion for citizenship is accessible through our expanding knowledge of nature and existence. We exercise our ability to know human nature and existence primarily through philosophy and science or, better, through thoughtful philosophy informed by science. Not by religion or theology.

It is true that many of the founders of great religions expressed deep insight into the human condition, nature, and being. Many religious teachings are in conformity to natural law and human existence. But still the principle is us as a human community. It is in our understanding of ourselves as human beings—our continuity with and our distinctiveness in nature, our essence as defined by science and our existence as lived, our actuality as developed to the present and our potential for the future in that actuality--our individuality and our relatedness to the universe.

The study of culture through anthropology, the study of development through history, the study of the body through biology, the study of mind through evolutionary psychology and neuroscience—indeed all the sciences give us data for understanding human nature and so natural law. Good philosophy gathers these findings and, more, reflects on the nonobjective or lived experiences of existence in consciousness to offer an understanding of who we are and of the alternatives for who we want to be personally and collectively.

However, it is in the public realm or politics that we consider our alternatives and choose.  Politics is founded on our evolved (or God-given, if you wish) ability to fashion images (imagination) or symbols (language, art, science) to communicate and so collaborate with one another. The ability to act in concert is the definition of power. Politics is both the expression, exercise, and extension of power. Therefore, another name for the principle of a democratic Republic is “power.”

This principle can be discovered in actual occurrences of history in which people discarded oppression and seized power.  The stories of rebellions and revolutions bring that principle of human nature and existence to light.

The history of slavery in America is filled with rebellions and flights to freedom. The stories of Soujourner Truth, Paul Robeson, Jane Addams, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Toussant Louverture, Ghandi, Mandela in our time and all the rebels to oppression by Church, State, Culture, Corporation, and Convention in the past are instances not only of personal liberation, but of communal freedom. i.e. assemblies of persons constituting free associations or publics. It is in these stories that the principle of power, liberty, and citizenship emerges and is renewed.

Unfortunately, these stories also illustrate how the principle of democratic republics is often suppressed. For example, the French Revolution was supplanted by the Terror. The power of the soviets in Russia was usurped by the hierarchical force of the Communist Party. The Athenian Polis and the Roman Republic were consumed by the Empire. Populism in many countries is superseded by dictators. And today in America, the principle is once more in jeopardy. Fear of loss, hate of others, and desire for wealth revive tribal instincts, economic nationalism, cultural absolutism.
The principle of democratic republicanism, which is the principle of citizenship, power, and multiculturalism, is found less in broad movements and big organizations than in ordinary people assuming power in their neighborhoods, their housing complexes, their work sites, and their villages and cities. I have personally experienced the spark of rebellion often, not just in marches, demonstrations, and campaign rallies but in local communities organizing themselves to feed, house, school, and provide living wages to themselves and their neighbors.

Again, the principle of the democratic public or the Republic is aspirational and intentional, belonging more to what we call the spirit rather than the matter or body of the organizing people. It may be expressed through a constitution of an organization or in a set of formulated principles. But mostly it is expressed in action and in the narrative that describes the action.

And because, once expressed, it becomes part of the culture and, if successful, part of the status quo, it must be renewed continually. Especially when the expression becomes exclusive, absolute, dogmatic, reactionary, resigned, negative, and lethargic. For when this happens, the people, their organization, their community, and their nation have lost their soul. This is the present condition of America where people have elected a leader without character, without empathy, without a soul.

Now is when citizen leaders must agitate, encourage, challenge, and demonstrate so that people rediscover their soul. It starts with resistance; it moves to rebellion, action, and reorganization. And then renewal is never far behind. All politics is local. It starts here and now.

[1] Natural law is distinguished from positive law which is the law that is promulgated by the state which may or may not be consistent with natural law or the way reality is. Existence is distinguished from essence. Essence is being in nature as defined by objective science. Existence is the human act, including cognition, of being human as subjectively perceived.