To Kill a Democracy: If
Not Psychologically, At Least Physically
By Katie Lula
Niccolò Machiavelli believed war for a government is inevitable
because either others wish to govern our government or others
fear our desire to govern theirs. Necessity requires a government
go to war, although at the beginning of the STAR WARS
prequels, heroine Padmé refused to condone any course
of action that would lead to war and argued that if the galaxy
went to war, "Many will lose their lives, all will lose
their freedom." Later, Anakin Skywalker and she discussed
the dangers of war, embodied by the civil war consuming the galaxy:
I think this war is destroying the principles
of the Republic. PADMÉ: Have you ever considered that
we may be on the wrong side?
What if the democracy we thought
we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become
the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?
represents a failure to listen . . .
Yet war is inevitable: when government organized with a view
to its internal stability eventually goes to war and manages
to maintain its independence in war for any length of time, the
burden of its resulting empire, which it cannot manage given
its original infrastructure, will result in its downfall. Even
if such a government could avoid war entirely, such peace would
engender faction, resulting ultimately in the same lamentable
outcome as war successfully prosecuted for the government ill-prepared
for empire. This was the problem in STAR WARS: the Galactic
Republic was too big and too stable. Its peace engendered faction,
which resulted in civil war. One character observed in disbelief,
"It's unthinkable. There hasn't been a full-scale war
since the formation of the Republic," though Palpatine
himself hinted that civil war was inevitable: "I will
not let this Republic which has stood for a thousand years be
split in two."
Machiavelli's "faction" naturally stems from corruption:
the common people's refusal to put the common good before their
individual private benefits. The threat of such corruption to
a government, however, lies not with the common people, but with
the ambitious few in a government, who-if the government is to
survive-should not be permitted to gather common people with
promises of private benefits. Machiavelli refused to blame people
if they look to someone who promises them relief and rewards,
for naturally people will respond to such promises.
The mortal threat to a government occurs when people come together
around one individual, raising that individual over his or her
rivals and creating dangerous political inequality and thus faction,
which, of course, leads to war. While people look to this ambitious
individual to easily satisfy their desires with private favors
such as helping them with money or defending them from others,
the ulterior motive of the individual who offers such favors,
of course, is to make partisans, who will make him leader over
the government; in other words, partisans give rise to tyranny.
In Robert Bolt's A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, the villain Cromwell
explained the concept of partisans-and bureaucracy:
"It's much more a matter of convenience, administrative
convenience. The normal aim of administration is to keep steady
this factor of convenience
Now normally when a man wants
to change his woman, you let him if it's convenient and prevent
him if it's not - normally indeed it's of so little importance
that you leave it to the priests. But the constant factor is
this element of convenience
However, in the present instance
the man who wants to change his woman is our Sovereign Lord,
Harry, by the Grace of God, the Eighth of that name. Which is
a quaint way of saying that if he wants to change his woman he
will. So that becomes the constant factor. And our job as administrators
is to make it as convenient as we can
This is the core horror of corruption: all it takes is one person
to enact a government's ruin; as Galadriel, Elven Queen of J.R.R.
Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS, acknowledged: "Even
the smallest person can change the course of the future."
In order to remain free of corruption, much less survive, a government
must concentrate on its leaders and ensure that political equality
is maintained among them. Corruption must be managed: easier
said than done, but an answer. As war breeds corruption, and
corruption breeds war, they are causes and not excuses for the
inevitable tyranny that follows them.
To save a corrupted government, Machiavelli demanded complete
renovation, a new law and order. This sounds like revolution,
a dangerous creature, as a speech in Bolt's play illustrated:
MORE: "What would you do? Cut a great road through the
law to get after the Devil?
[W]hen the last law was down,
and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper,
the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws
from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's-and if you cut them
down-and you're just the man to do it-d'you really think you
could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"
Regardless, Machiavelli believed salvation must originate from
a single "virtuous" individual: a hero, in modern-day
lingo. If a government that has fallen into decline through corruption
is to rise again, it can only rise through the virtue of one
individual, either a reformer of a very long life or two virtuous
ones continued in succession. The individual must become leader
through ordinary procedure, however corrupt that procedure may
be so long as it is legitimate, but then he or she must use extraordinary
means, even repugnant means, to correct the government and make
the sweeping changes necessary to restore it and purge it of
its corruption. When the deed accuses him, the effect excuses
In STAR WARS, this was where Palpatine went wrong. He
became Chancellor in a completely legitimate way, but his governmental
reform enacted afterwards rather had the effect of permeating
the Galactic Republic's ills, although the changes were prima
facie designed to renovate the Galactic Republic: "In
order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic
will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe
and secure society
An empire that will continue to be ruled
by [the Senate], and a sovereign ruler chosen for life
empire ruled by the majority
ruled by a new constitution."
Whatever the galaxy, an empire is never the same thing as a democracy.
However, two closely-related problems for the virtuous individual
arise, one come from the corrupted government and another coming
from the individual. First, in Bolt's A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS,
the Common Man observed, "It isn't difficult to keep
alive, friends - just don't make trouble - or if you must make
trouble, make the sort of trouble that's expected." The
virtuous individual might die if he tries to rescue his government
form itself, for a corrupted government, though needing desperately
to be saved, naturally doesn't want to be saved from itself.
Corruption likes corruption, and it will try to destroy anything
and anyone contrary to it.
Second, if an individual knows what a government needs to amend
its corruption, he or she may not be able to achieve it without
sacrificing the very principles that render him or her the virtuous
savior. Because the proper reordering of a government for a political
way of life presupposes a good individual, and becoming prince
or emperor of a government by violence presupposes a bad individual,
the good individual will never become prince or emperor by bad
ways, even though his end is to do good, for the bad individual,
having become prince or emperor by bad ways, will never think
to use for good the authority that he or she has acquired badly.
In STAR WARS, perverting that distinction was what made
Palpatine so evil: having come to power entirely through legitimate
means, he should have been presupposed a good man, but his entire
motivation was to put himself into a secure position where he
could abuse at will the authority he had acquired so goodly:
he wanted to become a tyrant all along.
For the truly virtuous individual to save a corrupted government,
he or she must be placed in power by others. A virtuous individual,
to save a corrupted government, cannot save it until he or she
is called to do so. He or she must feel forced that this path
is placed before them, and no other path exists, nor can anyone
else rightly walk it. As Galadriel noted of heroes, "If
[they] do not find a way, no one will."
However, once a corrupted government has fallen but is replaced
by a democracy, is it possible for that democracy to succumb
to similar events, forces, and people that fell the original
government? Democracy has sometimes been expected by some people
to be the golden solution, to succeed in every area where all
other forms of government failed. This is an impossible expection
of perfection, and for democracy to fall short is, however natural,
The fundamental cause of democratic decline in contemporary politics
is the major imbalance now developing between the role of corporate
interests and those of virtually all other groups. Taken alongside
the inevitable entropy of democracy, this is leading to politics
once again becoming an affair of closed elites, as it was in
non-democratic governments. Changes are so powerful and widespread
that it is impossible to see any major reversal of them. It leads
us to say the fall of democracy is inevitable because it is already
In STAR WARS, Anakin and Padmé shared a conversation
exemplifying how easily a democratic government can fall to become
a non-democratic government simply due to complacency with the
reality of democracy's failures and acceptance of the impossibility
of its ideal model:
ANAKIN: I don't think the system works
We need a system
where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree
what's in the best interest of all the people, and then do it.
PADMÉ: That's exactly what we do. The trouble is that
people don't always agree.
ANAKIN: Well, then, they should be made to.
PADMÉ: By whom? Who's going to make them?
ANAKIN: I don't know
PADMÉ: Sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me.
ANAKIN: Well, if it works
America is undergoing a process of fundamental change, though
exactly where it will lead is uncertain. The 2000 presidential
election foreshadows the coming of ambitious individuals to America
as a stronger embodiment of what has already begun. The growing
complexity of issues has made it increasingly difficult for people
to have informed positions, make intelligent comment, or even
know what "side" they are or should be on. Participation
in political organizations declines; voting is apathetic. Like
Palpatine, then just a Senator in STAR WARS, observed,
"There is no civility, only politics. The Republic is
not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling
delegates. There is no interest in the common good
are in charge now."
It may not be too long before America-and democracy-suffers an
accumulation of events, forces, and people similar to or at least
with the same strength of that which fell Rome. Taking a snapshot
of where and what we are now, in 2006, gives us no picture of
what lies in store, but if we put that snapshot in an album,
in context of history, we might see a pattern and a path. War
has already begun: the current war in Iraq may not be enough,
but it need not be. There was Bosnia, Somalia, the Gulf War,
the Vietnam War, the Korean War. There has been dissent-the feminist
movement, Civil Rights protests-and there has been corruption:
Watergate, Whitewater, Clinton's impeachment. The corruption
has been somewhat managed and controlled, but if efforts to manage
it fail, and extraordinarily, irreparable catastrophe and damage
result, soon someone might echo Padmé's cold words: "I
was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss
this invasion in a committee. If this body is not capable of
action, then I suggest new leadership is needed
It is clear
to me now that the Republic no longer functions. I pray [that
someone] will bring sanity and compassion back to [democracy]."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, seemed to be along
Padmé's line of thinking when he called for a special
election to be held in November 2005 to continue dramatic reformation
of the state's government and finances, saying, "I did
not come to Sacramento, and [the people] did not send me here,
to repeat the mistakes of the past."
NOTE: This is an edited version
of the article. For the full length version, click here.
Posted January 18, 2006
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