01/26/2005: Hope After Blunt Force Trauma
My February issue of Smithsonian Magazine has two touching stories: one of Horror and one of Hope. I'll skip the Horror story about Uganda, because I want to focus on the story of Hope, since it has to do with elections. It was written by Pamela Constable about (in part) her experiences during the Afghanistan election.
On this particular day, it was the look on a young farmer's face as he waited to vote in a chilly village schoolroom. He was a sunburned man of perhaps 25....He was not old enough to remember a time when his country was at peace, not worldly enough to know what an election was, not literate enough to read the names on the ballot. But like everyone else in the room, he knew that this was an important moment for his country and that he, a man without an education or power or wealth, had the right to participate in it.
The farmer took the ballot gingerly in his hands, gazing down on the document as if it were a precious flower, or perhaps a mysterious amulet. I raised my camera and clicked a picture I knew I woudl cherish for years to come. The young man glanced up at me, smiling shyly, and stepped behind the gingham curtain to cast the first vote of his life.
Real Clear Politics had this as part of a commentary:
James Madison, for example, writes in The Federalist of “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” In the largest sense, those experiments aim to prove whether the latent capacity of mankind for self-government can, at last, after centuries of slumber, be activated, realized, and confirmed by the conduct of the American people—in particular, by their ratification of the newly proposed Constitution. Alexander Hamilton underlines the point in that work’s famous opening paragraph: “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
The human right to be free, in other words, does not guarantee the human capacity to be free. That capacity must be elicited and demonstrated, and its noblest and most persuasive proof is by the establishment of “good government,” along with the habits necessary to perpetuate it; the habits of heart and mind that, among other things, allow a people’s “choice” to be guided by “reflection.”
Notice, too, that the founders are not content with (merely) democratic regimes, i.e., with governments that hold elections and empower majorities to rule. The test of mankind’s political capacity is that its self-government should culminate in good government, in regimes that not only have elections but actually achieve the common good and secure the rights of individuals, whether or not they belong to the ruling majority. This blend of constitutionalism and republicanism is extremely difficult to attain. Well acquainted with the history of failed republican regimes, the founders by and large thought it the most difficult of all forms of government to establish and preserve. Hence good, republican government is an achievement, not an entitlement.
Karen on 01.26.05 @ 06:31 PM CST