Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Now?

It is often told that, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin story was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government they had created. His Answer;

"A republic, if you can keep it."

The Work is Yours

Note the “You” in this sentence.

This is a key word; once a system of government is set, its continued survival depends on the will of the people to maintain it.

The Romans once had a republic, but then decided to trade their votes for the “panem e circences” provided by powerful Tribunus. They had actually made a pretty good deal; rather than ceding some power to the Plebeians, Rome’s elites were effectively monopolizing the republic’s power. So giving up an ineffectual vote for circus games was a pretty good deal.

Res Publica Libaniensis

Today, the world has no democracies; only representative republics. Rather than giving people a direct say in the affairs of the state, representatives are elected that do that.

The upside is a more balanced system, shielded from the perceived excesses of the Athenian democracy.

The downside is that, once in power, those guys will do their darnest to remain there, even at the risk of toppling the entire system. At the end of the Roman republic, the absence of a voting mechanism meant that a civil war would come to sort out the two potential dictators vying for Ceasar’s “chair”, Octavius and Marcus Antonius.

This “Trailer Trash” soap opera has implication for the region, but most immediately for Lebanon, where the elites are always conspiring to render our vote useless.

Some arrangements work, others less so…

With politicians shifting allegiances, piling up betrayals and aligning mistakes, the Lebanese can be forgiven for turning to the “panem e circences”; after all, Venus’ myrtle is far more alluring…

But all the languorous moves of our national “Sacerdos Vestalis” will not hide the rising tensions


3 comments:

Hassan said...

Jeha, you might wanna check out Al Gore's "The Assault On Reason".

ghassan karam said...

Hassan,
I have read all of the books written by Al Gore and I don't think that there is an original idea in any of tem. The latest book by Mr. Gore is no different than any of his previous ones. Actually it is a well documented critique of the utter incompetence of George W. Bush but then are there many people who doubt that? The implication that either Mr. Gore or the Democrats would have done better is not credible. As someone has suggested in one of the reviews this book is essentially an argument about how how America would have been different under a Gore administration.I am a Naderite on this issue. The two major political parties in the US have evolved to become mirror images of each other, they are the perfect two headed hydra or even the two faced Janus if you will.
The following quote from the review by the NYT helps prove my point: his discussion about"the decline of reason...became fuzzier and less convincing. His argument that radio was essential to the rise and reign of Hitler... is highly reductive" and that about the role of TV is "overly simplistic".

ghassan karam said...

J,
I have been thinking about the line that is attributed to Ben Franklin: "We gave you a Republic if you can keep it". It would be interesting to find out what Kamal Salibi would have to say about the following spin of mine: The Franklin declaration has universal application. It says in essence that unless a movement is from the bottom up then it will not succeed. The people must demand change if change is to take place and the resulting change will not last unless the masses show an interest in its preservation. Unfortunately the modern Lebanese experiment lacks all of the above. A Republic was given to residents that did not even demand it. The few who "fought" for independence both when Lebanon was under the Ottoman Empire and later on under the mandate were a few intellectuals who did not have much of a popular following. The Lebanese grass roots have not asked for a Lebanese Republic and so have not felt committed to its preservation. Ironically the "Cedar Revolution" might be the first grass roots movement to demand that the Lebanese project be sustained and even then the movement was not broad based enough to include all the Lebanese residential groups. A state will not be able to survive and prosper if its own residents do not show an interest in its survival.And so we go back to the popular common prescription for what ails this wrteched land; its paople have failed to develop a national identity. That in itself is not bad since I am a believer in the idea that cosmopolitanism is ultimately the only idea that makes sense. What is tragic about the Lebanese experiment is that a country was created and offered to its residents many of whom have rejected the associated responsibility not because they believe in cosmopolitanism and the universal equality of humans but because they would rather import and promote bankrupt ideologies and political beliefs. Is it possible to avoid the use of force when the residents of the land are split into a group that has become accustomed to and enamored of the new entity while the other group has not interest in preserving the new creation? I am certain of one thing, any attempt to just apply band aid solutions by papering over the differences will be disasterous.