Paul L. Caron
Dean




Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The IRS Scandal, Day 881

IRS Logo 2Newsweek op-ed:  America Is in Danger of Being Ruled by the Mob, by Victor Davis Hanson:

The constitution of the Roman Republic was designed as a corrective to democracy. Specifically, it was hoping to protect against the excesses of Athenian-style direct democracy. ...

Americans originally were terrified of what 51 percent of the people in an unchecked democracy might do on any given day—and knew that ancient democracies had always become more, not less, radical and thus more unstable. For all the squabbles between Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison, they agreed that a republic, not a direct democracy, was a far safer and stable choice of governance.

The result was a potpourri of ways to curb the predictable excesses and fits of the people. An Electoral College reserved commensurate power to rural states rather than passing off the presidential vote into the hands of the huge urban majorities. ...

All consensual governments are prone to scary wild swings of mob-like emotion—and to demagogues who can almost rein in or goad the dêmos. But the Founders sought to make American government immune to Athenian-style craziness through a system of checks and balances that vented popular frenzies without a great deal of damage. ...

In the 21st century, novel developments have increasingly turned us from sober Roman republicans into mercurial Athenian democrats, as we can see especially in this election year. ...

[T]he law is seen as an impediment to such sweeping notions of social justice. It is certainly deemed counter-revolutionary and an impediment to the Obama administration’s idea of an equality of result. As a result, the president at one time or another has ignored enforcement of federal laws, from not prosecuting the rogue behavior of federal bureaucrats at the IRS or EPA to suspending elements of his own Affordable Care Act. ...

What now constitutes actionable criminal behavior in the scandals at the IRS, EPA, ICE and a host of other alphabet agencies are not treated as per se violations of the law. Rather, they are judged according to whether the offender and his crime were deemed progressive and well-intended—or reactionary and thus prosecutable.

CEOs who cannot cap a leaky oil well or who sell noxious peanut products go to jail; EPA functionaries who turn white-water rivers into toxic yellow mush melt back into the coils of the bureaucracy.

Ancient Athens was a wild place—as frenetic, brilliant and dangerous as it proved ultimately unsustainable. Yet we are becoming more like the Athenian mob than the Roman Senate. American law has become negotiable and subject to revolutionary justice, while technology has developed the power to inflame 300 million individuals in a nanosecond.

Without strict adherence to republican government and the protections of the Constitution, the mob will rule—and any American will become subject to its sudden wrath.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2015/10/the-irs-scandal-day-881.html

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Comments

I don't quite grasp the relevance of this piece to the IRS scandal

Posted by: Peter Reilly | Oct 7, 2015 2:42:57 PM

" There is no logical connection between Hanson’s revisionist constitutional history and the criminalization or non-prosecution of government action."

Sure there is. It emphasizes how our government is in many ways unaccountable and doesn't live under the same rules foisted on the populace.

Our founders wanted checks and balances and rule by regulation rather than passing laws goes against that ideal.

"At this time, we are hardly worthy of calling ourselves a republican democracy at the federal level, much less one in danger of being ruled by the mob. In the 2000 presidential election, the “mob” voted for Gore by a 500,000-popular vote margin, but Bush 43 was elected."

It seems you say that with regret that we don't have mob rule. Don't worry, Obama and Hillary are doing their best to insure that Presidents can do what they want with no checks or balances, regardless of how the mob feels about it.

Posted by: wodun | Oct 7, 2015 11:22:09 AM

1. The Framers did not contemplate Athenian-style direct democracy on a national scale at any time prior to, during, or after the Constitutional Convention. Or in connection with the Articles of Confederation. Therefore, Mr. Hanson’s supposition that the Constitution was designed to restrain direct democracy is best described as result-oriented revisionism.

2. The Framers did fear mob rule, but the electoral college was invented to prevent states from over-expanding the suffrage, thereby artificially creating out-sized influence in presidential elections. As such, the electoral college complements the 3/5s rule for counting state residents for purposes of the House allocations. Without the electoral college and the 3/5s rule for the House, Northern and Middle states feared that Southern states would have been able to count their slaves as whole citizens, thus increasing Southern influence over presidential and House elections. In addition, the electoral college also prevented any state from manipulating presidential elections by granting suffrage to 12-year-olds.

3. There is no logical connection between Hanson’s revisionist constitutional history and the criminalization or non-prosecution of government action.

4. No oil executives were put in jail because of uncapped oil wells. BP got off with a fine.

5. At this time, we are hardly worthy of calling ourselves a republican democracy at the federal level, much less one in danger of being ruled by the mob. In the 2000 presidential election, the “mob” voted for Gore by a 500,000-popular vote margin, but Bush 43 was elected. This has happened four times in our history. Rather than being controlled by the mob, presidential elections actually are subject more to chance than mob rule.

6. As for the Senate, citizens of Wyoming have 66 times the electoral potency of citizens of California. And yes, I know the Framers intended this to an extent (Connecticut was 1/10 the population of Virginia), but that intention does not make the result democratic or republican (small d, small r), intended or otherwise. Not to mention the fact that current filibuster rules grant to the minority of senators effective control of the Senate. Regardless of whether the Framers or we thing it is a good idea, allocating senators on the basis of states is not rule by the people–it is rule by the states. And rule on the basis of political entity is statism, not democracy.

7. As for the House, gerrymandering has changed it from a majority-rule people’s house to one dominated by whichever party can grab the reins of re-districting and shove as many citizens of the opposite party into as few districts as possible. The will of the people be damned.

8. And of course, money rules over all, since our SCOTUS believes that corporations are people and money is speech.

9. In short, we are not in danger of mob rule. To the contrary, our democratic republic has been so warped by the winner-takes-all protocol of the electoral college, the 2-senators per state provision of the Senate, the Senate’s filibuster rule, gerrymandering of the House, and unrestricted corporate and moneyed interests that our system of government is more accurately described as an oligarchy, soon to become a plutocracy. Unless the theocrats take over first.

Posted by: Poli Sci Guy | Oct 7, 2015 8:32:35 AM