Updated: May 3
“Freedom isn’t free.” “There are consequences to living in a free society.” These are just some of the refrains thrown about to justify our current form of government and political ideals. As a society we’ve become so immune to the side effects of democracy that the news that 15 people were shot to death in Chicago over the weekend or a woman is raped and killed by a man who’s been in and out of prison over 20 times elicits little more than a shrug of the shoulders and even worse, in an attempt to rationalize a failing system the victim is condemned as being morally responsible for the crime committed against him/her. Democracy, a political ideal that was meant to not only represent the will of the populace but also give a sense of ownership to citizens regarding the political system, has proven over its long life span to be able to achieve neither of these goals. On the other hand, it has done just the opposite and produced a people with a sense of hopeless resignation, a feeling that the government is run by special interests and there’s nothing that can be done to change that.
Yet, somehow, the presentation of alternatives is more often than not met with hostility and accusations of treason, or the idea that if people somehow educated themselves or awakened, then they would be able to hold the political class accountable, to put people into office more in tune with the will of the citizens. These two opposing ideals are often held by one and the same individual; a reflection of the unhealthy nature of the society in which we live. Cognitive dissonance in individuals, if held on to for too long can be toxic and prove harmful to the person that suffers from it; it’s no different in collective organisms. The ability we have collectively to dismiss the moral perversions and crimes, which plague our society, is a reflection of this collective cognitive dissonance. The loyalty of the American people to a system which, while not comparable to the chattel slavery pre-Civil War, is just as insidious, because it enslaves the mind instead of the body and instills loyalty, not to the master in the form of a plantation owner, but to the master in the form of ideals. In essence, these ideals have become a rigid ideology not subject to question.
The fear-mongering and ignorance which surrounds political alternatives often sounds something like this. “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” This was said by Winston Churchill and illustrates the religious like awe that its adherents ascribe to it. There is no logic, no reason, simply glib condescending accusations directed towards opponents. Connected to this simplistic behavior is the devotion Americans show towards their founding ideals, especially that of sovereignty. The idea is that the people are sovereign and the powers of governmental institutions are only those powers that are delegated for a limited time and held in perpetuity by the people. The cognitive dissonance described earlier is the product of this type of thinking. In the face of clear evidence to the contrary, people subscribe to this ideal that sovereignty is theirs.
The justification for such idea exists only as pure theory; that the people in a theoretical state of nature come together to form their society, and give it power which already belongs to them. Yet, these ideologues of liberal democracy ignore the obvious examples existing before our very eyes. When we’re born into this world we arrive completely helpless and dependent upon an immediate social framework called the family; it’s through the family that discipline is instilled into the individual; it’s through the family that the individual develops a sense that he’s part of something greater than his material existence; the family doesn’t take a concrete, material form but is more real than actual material beings. From family life, individuals begin to interact with their communities, adapting their behavior and ideals to fit into the institutional structures which surround themselves and without which he/she cannot survive. Aristotle 2400 years ago wrote about the family being fundamental in his Politics. Throughout our lifetimes, we develop by interacting with society, our thoughts and actions are never completely our own. Even when we rebel against this society, the impetus derives from an inner revulsion to that society. An American who revolts against America is still revolting as an American. All of us derive from a status of weakness and ignorance. This condition is overcome through interaction with the surrounding social structure. Sovereignty is not something which can be delegated when it doesn’t exist. A better way of viewing sovereignty that is more consistent with reality is as something which is delegated from the State to society, to the individual.
So, what is the big deal, anyway? If sovereignty always resides with the State in a top-down structure, regardless of where that State is, then what does it matter the perception people have of the issue? How does a collective belief in the social contract or its variants color the political structure? The answer lies in society itself and how its structure resembles a feedback loop. Institutions such as the State influence and mold sub-institutions and individuals. In turn, the State is affected by these same individuals through how they live their lives and interact with each other. Without the implicit consent of the parties involved, the structure cannot stand and begins to crumble to eventually be replaced by something new. This is the scenario we see playing itself out on a daily basis in America. Our perception of the true nature of power and sovereignty doesn’t even begin to approach reality. The structure is broken; right and wrong lose their meaning and coherence, as reality becomes incomprehensible. Most important of all, because of the dogmatic nature of contemporary ideals, reform becomes next to impossible, and without this reform, the crumbling American social structure will eventually lead to the destruction of our country.
If sovereignty is inherent within individuals then it is also hopelessly divided. Each individual would be a power, a center in her/himself with all the rights belonging to someone in that position. This is where dogma gets tied in with bad structure. For example, regardless of how offended one might become over the entertainment industry, all too often the belief that individuals have the inherent right to do as they please as long as the physical self of others is not harmed or fraud isn’t involved comes into play. This often manifests itself in phrases such as “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it”, ignoring the obvious, that in most cases your neighbor lives no more than a few feet from you. The idea that we exist as autonomous social units is more of a pathology than anything derived from reason. Psychologists refer to n”narcissism”, obsessive love of the self. The things we watch, taste and encounter can move the social structure in different directions, a social structure more intimately intertwined today than previously.
When the State lacks sovereignty and the rationale for State action is absent then what’s left? The only alternative is the whims of the marketplace, supply, and demand. No morality, ethics, or sense of unity is involved. The distribution of sovereignty to individuals implies as a consequence sovereignty to the offshoots of the individual; in other words, when everyone is sovereign nobody is sovereign. Society resembles a Wild West movie, where the sheriff more often than not gets shot and the townspeople have to catch the criminal themselves. This is the situation faced by many residents of inner cities today, in places such as Chicago and Detroit, where even the simple act of walking outside your house or going to the supermarket can be the last thing you ever do. This isn’t a new phenomenon; the destruction of the inner cities has been a long time in progress. Attempts to fix the problem inevitably run head first into the sovereignty issue. There are the local, State, and Federal Government, State and Federal Courts, labor interests, business interests, etc. etc. All the units have their own special place within the hierarchy of sovereignty and the rights which that entails. To accomplish anything at all, these sovereign units have to first be dealt with. If that’s accomplished then the product that remains is a shell of its original idea, as these special interests need to claim their share of the pie and the finished product is basically useless. This is a process repeated daily in localities across the United States, and more often than not is taken as a given with little to no opposition offered.
There is no easy answer to this problem; sovereignty is a word most people cannot even define. Yet, it’s embedded into their subconsciouses, and it won’t be painless to alter. The importance of change happening first at the philosophical level, then leading to specifics cannot be emphasized enough. The average citizen will never become a philosopher but being exposed to ideas with even a slight comprehension can go a long way towards creating a foundation for sovereignty that will be more consistent with the realities of how societies and the State actually are meant to function.