Thomas Jefferson, ever the democratic republican, believed that the safest repository of power was in the masses. The right to political power is always with the people, not with the representatives, and only when the masses exert that right will the power be effectively and appropriately checked. However, the masses are very easily swayed, mainly by three influences: 1) education, 2) forms, and 3) economics. When these influences are mal-aligned with liberty, the people allow their political power to be assumed by the aristocracy. And an unchecked aristocracy is the greatest threat to liberty, according to both John Adams and Jefferson.
According to Aristotle, education is the foundation of a society’s constitution. If the constitution of a society is to be changed, the education is the place to affect that change. Jefferson laments the changes in the quality and content of Virginia education from the 1750’s to the 1810’s. His answer was to implement an educational system, funded by the public, that would “bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country, for want of development…” I have seen in the deepest poverty, the inherent genius in children. These young ones are quick, observant, sharp, and longing for knowledge. However, because of the lack of resources, they are likely to become another back on which the aristocracy can place the burden of labor without ownership.
What needs to be taught in this educational foundation of liberty? Thinking, creativity, whole-ness, reason, morality, virtue. The skills will take care of themselves when the means are correct. Children will learn to read, write, and calculate as the natural end to the processes.
This is almost the 180° opposite of today’s public education system. How can the change be brought about? Because without a quick and thorough change, our freedoms will more and more rapidly be carried away on the ever blowing breeze of aristocratic dependency. It must start with recognition of the problem and realization that the situation can be changed, fundamentally at home. Once enough families are making these changes at home, their influence on the system will be such that curricula and methods will have to change. This will then impact those children whose parents aren’t aware of the problem or are unable to make the transition on their own. This is a start; however, the effects will not be seen for a generation. The result will be an educated mass that understands where rights come from and that those rights are inseparable from duties. This will preserve the power to the mass.
The second influence that must be recognized is the forms of government that we live under. J. Adams’ main contention about the aristocracy (which he feared and recognized as the greatest threat to liberty) was that in order to control it, it must have a place at the table. It must be above board. If the aristocracy has no prescribed, defined power, it will find a way to have unlimited power. Jefferson disagreed, feeling that giving them power only allowed for the abuse of that power. Adams argued that everyone tends to abuse the power they have and it is the job of the other entities in government to exert checks on the power given the aristocracy.
The problem with Adams argument is that in a representative democracy, all the representatives quickly begin to “represent” the aristocratic interest. Adams argued that you could put all the aristocrats into the Senate and they would waste their time arguing with each other. That’s true if you only have 100 aristocrats. The other 10,000 are going to be influencing the system in anyway possible. Believing that by having a Senate a country is “checking” the aristocracy is naïve and ignores history. Both Jefferson and Adams recognized that Rome’s governmental structure, even during the Republic era, was antithetical to freedom and open to abuse by the “aristoi”.
Giving power to the Senate provides a great check on the president and the rapidly changing (at times) make up of the House. However, let’s not think that it really checks the aristocracy. What it does is gave the people (at least those who understand the reasoning that Adams uses) a false sense of security by assuming that this form works for checking the “aristoi”.
The only check on the aristocracy is for the mass to jealously guard its freedoms. Term limits and firm lobby reform (not by the lobbyists) must be enacted. This requires an education and economic forms that will keep the aristoi from over-running the prosperity of the people.
The most powerful mechanisms the aristocracy can use to keep political control are war, banking, inflation and debt. Jefferson spends many long and complicated letters explaining these evils. He uses England as an example of what not to do. England’s economy (because it is an island-nation) was based on trade and finance, what Jefferson collectively refers to as commerce. Because England had to ship and finance shipping, they developed a powerful banking system that was easily and readily manipulated by the commercial and political interests of England. They also indebted the nation in order to build up a powerful navy to protect their shipping interests. Jefferson foresaw the day in which England and the United States would work side-by-side for freedom in the world because England would return to its roots by observing the example of the U.S. as the beacon of freedom and liberty and sovereignty throughout the world.
What Jefferson saw (these two Anglo-Saxon countries working together) came true. However, it wasn’t because England became like the U.S. It’s because the U.S. became like England, embracing the banking system, relying on commerce, and then with the Mexican-American War and later the Spanish-American War, exerting the same imperialistic oppression the Founders hated so much in English foreign policy.
The aristocracy in the U.S. saw that there was an incredible amount of money to be made in a capitalistic system that keeps certain countries as providers of raw materials and as markets for finished goods, keeping their manufacturing and agricultural sectors at a minimum.
Only by changing our fundamental economic premises in this country can the mass starve the beast that is the aristocracy. The economies must become local and sustainable. The laws must be revised to either eliminate tax breaks for retirement funds or eliminate the limits on where those retirement funds must be invested. Any legislator who voted for TARP bailouts of the financial industry should be out of a job (For those in Utah, that means Senator Bob Bennett in 2010 and Sen Hatch in 2012).
These fundamental changes can turn the tide to return the political power from the “aristoi” back to the mass, where it must reside in order to preserve the freedom and prosperity of any representative democracy.