The Public’s Revocation of Legitimacy

There is a famous phrase in American politics: “the consent of the governed.” It is an important phrase. It is the essence of political legitimacy.
Throughout most of history, the consent of the governed has been grudging. People put up with the political system they live in. They think it is not worth their time to fool around with politics. The overwhelming number of people throughout history have ignored politics except its special election times. This has been a wise attitude. Salvation is not by politics.
The only society in history that has enjoyed nearly full-time interest in politics by the masses was classical Athens. It was a society that rested economically on slavery. Athens committed suicide through its empire and war. Alexander “the Great” had no trouble defeating Athens and Sparta. He was not a democrat. He had studied democracy under Aristotle, and he had contempt for it.
Classical Athens believed in salvation by politics. That religion did not last a century.
What most people want most of the time is to be left alone by civil government. They do not want to be bothered by the technical details of civil government. This always benefits political insiders and the small fraction of the population that is actively involved in politics.
We forget what should be obvious: grudging consent is nevertheless consent. People grouse about the government, but they rarely get involved in politics except to vote in major elections.
People groused about the government in the Soviet Union. The government even had a humor magazine that allowed a certain amount of criticism of local bureaucrats. It was titled Krokodil. People went into slave labor camps for open criticism of the Communist Party, but the Party allowed a certain latitude of criticism of the bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are always a problem for politicians. They can successfully resist political change. Politicians never trust bureaucrats, any more than the general public does. This is one of those rare examples of the shared wisdom of the general public and politicians.

This post was published at Gary North on June 16, 2017.