A body of elites spent months arguing over the proper form of government for their fractured and fragmented society, protesting the rise of popular politics that threatened unity and supporting a conservative system of government that sought to reduce (or eliminate) partisan politics while allowing a group of old white men to rule over a larger group while scrapping some of the “democratic” elements of previous constitutions that had led that group of secret elites to feel so discontented and upset. Which group of elites am I talking about?
As a teenager I spent several years as an active player of a “political” text-based roleplaying game called Secfenia. During that time I had the chance to write more than my fair share of constitutions with other people, and it never ceased to amaze (and amuse) me how constitutions and bylaws of organizations reflected the political mindset of elites in charge of a given society. By and large they tended to overcompensate for problems of the past. Where tyranny had been an issue previously, authorities were made too powerless and government too anarchic. Where anarchy and disunity had been a problem constitutions were made too restrictive and giving too much power to centralizing elites. As I grew older I realized that I and my fellow young role players were not alone in this tendency to overcompensate and lack a clear picture of the delicate balance we must seek between centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in societies, both of which have an important place in ensuring the overall health of society, but that such a lack was the general state of the human condition.
It is, therefore, as an astute and somewhat cynical observer of politics on the small and grand scale, I will look at a constitution that has recently come into my possession and compare it, in impressionistic brush strokes, with another constitution born out of concerns with democracy and hostile to the strict will of the people. For I speak both of a proposal by a group of corrupt elites to organize a church called Cogwa, and also about a group of frustrated elites who wrote the Constitution of the United States from a very similar mindset. Let us therefore begin our examination of the relationship between constitutions and politics.
Anyone who condemns politics as ungodly while practicing politics themselves is the worst sort of hypocrite. Anytime one engages in activities that decide and determine who is to have power or influence or titles, one is engaging in political activity. Additionally, the more time and effort one spends in condemning politics, the more one is self-aware (and maybe a bit guilty) of one’s political behavior. Whether one looks at the con men of the Founding Generation like Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson (or James Madison) who loftily proclaimed aristocratic ideals while engaging in dirty backroom politics and scheming for offices, or whether one loftily proclaims to need to do the “right thing” to reduce politics while engaging deliberately to set up a system by which only a few corrupt old men are “qualified” to rule, and others are qualified to vote only by virtue of their being previously employed by other organizations they now consider corrupt and overly political, it is the same serpent.
Since Plato’s Republic, political philosophers have sought to design the best state that would allow the wise to rule. Constitutions everywhere demonstrate the political aims of their drafters in both who is qualified for positions of authority and how long offices are to be held for. The more democratic the office, the shorter the term of office (less time to make trouble) and the lower the requirements for wealth/status and age. The more aristocratic the office, the longer the term and the more strict its requirements for age and wealth/status. For example, the US House of Representatives only requires an age of 25 years among its representative, and holds elections every two years for all members. Senators, much more “aristocratic” (and until the 1900’s elected by state legislatures and not the people directly), have terms of six years and have to be thirty years old to qualify for the office. Presidents have to be thirty-five years old –hardly an onerous requirement, and this from an “aristocratic” constitution.
By these standards the Cogwa constitution is an exceptionally aristocratic one, hostile to the ordinary membership, who are stakeholders without even the right to petition for the punishment of members (instead, ministers have to do so on their behalf, and two of them have to “witness” the abuse, making it very unlikely that any member will be able to have a grievance addressed by that corrupt church–if you ask for corrupt hierarchies, that is what you shall receive). The limitation of its highest offices to people over the age of 60 who have been paid ministers by other churches for the last 20 years makes the number of qualified leaders vanishlngly small–smaller even than the dating pool for an intellectual member of the church of God.
And a cynical person would say that is precisely the point, that the goal of designing standards so that almost no one reaches them is to reduce competition (“politics”) for positions, and hope that people will be foolish or ignorant enough to avoid realizing that the design of the system is itself politically motivated. Not all politics are done through voting and balloting (though these are political ways of deciding), but politics is done through the design of any system to judge who is worthy or qualified for office. Politics is inseparable from judgment, and judgment is the task of all Christians, not merely those of high office (see John 7, 1 Corinthians 6).
In the end, we cannot help but be political. There are always going to be choices about who is qualified to speak, who is qualified to lead, who is qualified to rule. The only question is whether we practice godly politics or ungodly politics. Whatever human systems we devise to allow the wisest and best, in our mind, to rule will show our biases about what is wise or good or noble. We may prefer defining on educational standards, or social class, or wealth, or age. Whatever assumptions we make will be reflected in our political practices, for better or for worse–and whatever assumptions and standards we impose will themselves be political in nature, whether we want to admit it or not. Such is life in a fallen world.