Peter Hentges (jbru) wrote,
Peter Hentges
jbru

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Thoughts on revolution

So we've seen, recently, the passage of Canada Day, Independence Day and, now, Bastille Day. There was something about the time, the end of the 18th century, that made things ripe for revolution. I'm thinking more and more lately that it might be time for that sort of thing again.

The sheer amount of legislation that now forms the legal code of the United States bears, I think, review. Is the Constitution all the relevant any more? Are there things that should be part of it that aren't? Are there things that are part of it, that should not be.

I had an interesting discussion with my friend Ray (http://www.kaligari.net for his far-too-infrequently updated blog) while on vacation at the end of June. He brought up an article or study he'd read (and a pointer would be appreciated if it's online, Ray) about the theory and reality of the Senate and House of the U.S. Legislative branch.

In theory, the House is a populist body. It's members are elected to two-year terms by direct vote of the population. It should represent the ability of the people to swiftly make changes to the government to redress perceived inequities. The Senate, on the other hand, was initially an appointed body. It was to be the more sober, steady hand of the legislative branch. It's members serve for six year terms and make decisions that effect the other branches of the government, accepting or rejecting the appointees of the executive branch and likewise approving appointments to the judicial branch.

The reality, the theory Ray laid out goes, is that the roles of the two bodies have almost completely switched. Members of the House are now elected for nearly life-time terms. It is rare, in this age of gerrymandering, that a Representative that seeks re-election will not get it. Senators, on the other hand, do not have the benefit of having the voting body they are elected from drawn from areas carefully chosen for their benefit. They are, now that they are no longer appointed, more beholden to the common man in their state and more likely to be ousted after a term or two. So the Senate is a more dynamically changing body and, yet, its responsibilities remain unchanged. The House, ironically, has become the more staid body.

I'm not sure if I buy this theory whole-heartedly. I don't know enough about the current aspects of the daily workings of the House and Senate to intelligently comment on whether or not these characterizations are accurate and I don't know enough of the history of the bodies to know if this change is recent or if this phenomenon has been around for a while. I can report, for what my observation is worth, that I can easily recall seeing campaign ads for people that run for the U.S. Senate over the last several elections that I've been able to vote. I can name several of Minnesota's past Senators. I can name my current House Representative but I can't recall who ran against him in his last election nor do I recall seeing ads for House contests for either my district or nearby ones.

So what stops us from revolution today? One thing is the centralization of the U.S. military. Even the state militias so carefully provided for in the Bill of Rights, are under the command of the federal government. Governors can call out the National Guard but those units train and are in the command structure of the national fighting forces. No, any revolution could not be undertaken by conventional military means. I would go so far as to say that any attempt at revolution that includes a military aspect would be doomed to failure. The impacts of the Revolutionary War included the federalization of the military and the overall distrust among the populace for armed rebellion.

So what peaceful means of revolution are available? My mind goes to Gandhi and the non-violent movement he started that ended with the overthrow(?, is that the term I want) of British rule in India. Are there aspects of civil disobedience that could be undertaken in the U.S. that could have similar results?

I somehow doubt that the revolution (whether televised, allowing dancing, or otherwise) will come soon, if it comes at all. I think that it's healthy to think about it, however, as a way of keeping an eye on the government we have. How far do things have to go (in one way or another) before "it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature ... entitle them,...."
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