Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Demise of Representative Government

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 16, 2010

Diogenes’ comments on a healthcare reform strategy which involves bypassing a vote altogether (see the no-vote vote) highlights the gradual erosion of representative government in the United States over the past forty years. This is a point that has often been raised in relationship to the near-takeover of American social policy by the courts, including the imposition of abortion.

There is a myth concerning Roe v. Wade that the Supreme Court, while very aggressive in promoting a license to abort, was simply slightly anticipating the general desires of the electorate—simply ensuring that what would have soon been voted in was implemented slightly earlier. Russell Hittinger, among others, exploded this myth in a fine article that appeared in First Things back in 1994 (it was reprinted in the 20th anniversary issue and is available online in Abortion Before Roe). Hittinger demonstrates that in every jurisdiction in which referenda were used to determine popular opinion concerning abortion, that opinion was substantially opposed to liberal abortion not only before Roe but afterwards. In fact, it remains at worst slightly opposed to this day.

Popular opposition was also true of contraception for a long time after it was made legal, and it has generally been true of assisted suicide and same-sex marriage as well. It now appears to be true of the current health care reform bill. Some of these things have been mandated by the courts, while others have been put through by various executive or State legislative decisions which have been upheld by the courts. Now a large group of members of the United States Congress want to get into the act by utilizing procedural rules which are designed to move things forward with as few votes as possible, either with no vote at all or through the minimalist reconciliation process. Thus even Congressmen get to be autocrats, preventing the full body from interfering with the plans of those who regard themselves as the wave of the future.

Even if the current healthcare bill passes, there may be a sufficient backlash at the polls for it to be significantly modified or even undone after the next election cycle. But it generally requires a larger mobilization of opposition to roll back something that has already been done than to prevent it in the first place, so there are no guarantees. It is ironic that it has been President Obama—the pre-eminent outsider, the minority candidate who ran his campaign under the mantra of transparency and change—who has purposefully presided over this new erosion of representative government. At least his Administration has been transparent about that!

It is past time for Americans to be getting concerned about the disappearance of government as derived from the Constitution and as we learned it in Civics classes growing up. Increasingly the checks and balances built into our framework of government no longer work to prevent the usurpation by government of rights that are reserved either to the several states or to the people themselves. If one likes the direction in which things are heading, of course, this doesn’t appear to matter much. But the very procedures that can be used against one disenfranchised group are likely to be soon turned against another. Given the historic tendencies of those who govern to impose their own vision on everybody else, it is not a bad thing for government to have difficulty getting things done because of checks and balances—and votes.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Mar. 16, 2010 9:29 PM ET USA

    The American people will not be fooled by this charade. Too much access to the truth via the internet. The American people will speak loudly and forcefully in November to the members of Congress who go along with this subterfuge.

  • Posted by: amber3287 - Mar. 16, 2010 7:51 PM ET USA

    We had some friends over last night and we were talking about the health care bill and remarking how difficult it would be to get it rolled back once passed. Who wants to campaign on a platform of taking something away? I think the desire and expectation of bread and circuses is too high in this country at this point for a majority of people to choose to take away a (very expensive!) handout. But perhaps I'm overly cynical.