Saintly Thoughts

Modern Techniques of Governance

I will take it as a given that one of the primary attributes of a modern political system is to set in place institutional means by which humankind may be protected from itself.  By this I mean, not so much the concept of law itself (which I take to be somewhat different in kind or at least prior in development to modern technocratic means of governance) but those aspects of law and governance which have specifically arisen within what may be considered the "modern" era of governance (I take this era to have begun with the political writings of Machiavelli and to have continued into our present day).  Examples of these aspects are ideas of the different branches of government necessitating some sort of separation of powers, the concept of the written constitution, the theory of a "mixed" governmental system (combining aspects of democracy, republicanism, aristocracy, and monarchy), the ideal of equality (and its corollary concerns with underlying power dynamics), the concept and increasing understanding of the importance of political economy, and the ascendancy of human rights.  I do not say this to disparage any of these ideas.  These ideas have arisen out of our collective experience of human governance and by means of much study and contemplation of the trials and foibles of various human societies.  I do not wish to set myself up against those wise men and women who (either) discovered or created these concepts by which modern society has managed to attain a level of stability and prosperity undreamed of in the entire history of humankind; we would be fools to ignore these technocratic means by which we have placed ourselves within these "golden shackles".  But these is something that troubles me concerning these methods, and it is precisely the effectiveness of these methodologies which lies at the source of my discomfort.  For, what do we do to ourselves when we apply such principles to our governance?  If there is such a thing as fundamental human nature, a fundamental justice which underlies existence, and if certain behaviors of themselves necessitate certain outcomes (all concepts which cannot stand upon themselves and must be proven by other means, but ideas which are built as inextricably into our understanding of the world as the concept of free will), then it can be argued that the application of such technologies to the process of human governance hides from our eyes and disseminates the moral peril of actions which occur in the course of the process of politics and governance.  Put another way, these techniques do not alleviate or destroy the vices of ambition, vanity, power, and violence that experience shows play themselves out in the political sphere, but merely reorganizes them, moving them around in various combinations ("vice may counteract vice" to paraphrase The Federalist) such that we may not immediately feel the results of their interaction.  Thus, the power struggles that would have resulted in civil war within another society, merely countenance an election and/or court case in ours.  Now, if this process of vice counteraction actually destroys the effects of vice once and for all, this is all well and good.  But I fear that, in subtle ways perhaps impossible for the human mind to adequately map, these vices overflow their bounds and, over time, fill up the reservoirs of whatever virtues might underlie the society, corrupting all of its works.  And this process is so subtle that not even the wise may perceive its movements, and so pervasive that not one person within that society may be immune from the corruption.  I fear that it is this slow rot that will one day--perhaps one day soon--cause the tree of western liberalism to fall.  Now perhaps (and I happen to think this is the case) no society, of whatever structure is immune from this slow rot.  The ends are the same and it is only the means that are different.  And even if other societies allow these vices their free reign, surely there are other pernicious sins which worm their ways into the souls of that society's citizens.  Are our sins greater than the sins of some other societal form, or simply different?  I cannot say (though I suspect that the answer is that our sins are merely different).  I pray that I may not live to see the day of my society's reckoning, but I also pray that God may grant me the foresight to perceive the alternative, if any alternative there may be.