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  • A Rebirth of "We the People"
  • Jim Rough (bio)

A good system of governance needs to work for both individuals and society as a whole. In the eighteenth century, the old forms of governance headed by a king and hereditary aristocracy were not working to the benefit of most people, and a new system was needed. Through processes like the U.S. Constitutional Convention, state ratifying conventions, and the enactment of the Bill of Rights, "We the People" of the former colonies transformed their system. This transformation renewed politics, economics, and the social paradigm, creating a new version of the "Good Society."

The limitations of this eighteenth century system are now becoming apparent in this very different world of the twenty-first century. This article suggests how we might simply and safely revamp that old system to help us solve many of today's most pressing problems by creating a modern version of We the People.

The Underlying Problem

Our constitutional, rule of law, adversarial, majority-voting, competitive free market system faces grave challenges. It is based on the premise that when each of us pursues our own selfish interests, the "invisible hand" will make things better for everyone, that if we each seek our own private goals, the "general interest" will take care of itself. Growing economic inequality, inattention to macro problems, and eroding citizen involvement make it clear that the general interest is languishing.

For our competitive game-like system to work properly, the players must be largely independent, like small farmers or shopkeepers, on a level playing field. All must be small enough that none can manipulate the market, or have enough political power to unduly influence the rules. As we confront the limits of planetary resources and as corporations seize control of our global systems, our fates become linked together, dependent on decisions made in corporate boardrooms. By design, these ultimate decision-makers are not concerned with what's best for human beings but with the score of the game.

In order to make our system work, we buy bigger cars, take more pills, fly more miles, eat more food, and sell more weapons than we want, or is healthy for us — or than we can afford. In this context we tell ourselves that we "can't afford" to educate our children, or to sustain our environment, or maintain community infrastructures. We have allowed ownership of our media to be concentrated in so few hands that collectively we don't even know what's going on.

We have made these decisions because of the way our system is designed, not because of the failings of individuals. Our system forces each of us to direct our attention, energy and talents to serving competing special interests, letting it take care of the big picture.

Our political system doesn't even recognize the possibility of a "general-interest" viewpoint. It presumes that each voice is a "special interest," pursuing personal gain. So, if you are an environmentalist or a social activist, you must adopt a competitive stance and do battle against well-organized, well-funded competitors who really are special interests. If you persist in trying to serve the whole, you must live in poverty or make a small fraction of what you could earn.

Because we live within a competitive structure, our ability to think and converse is compromised. We have learned to think in sound bites, and to accept simple answers instead of seeking the underlying causes and finding real solutions. We are more comfortable blaming individuals like "greedy" CEO's, "lazy" welfare recipients, "bureaucratic" civil servants, "corrupt" politicians, or "apathetic" citizens than looking for the systemic conditions that encourage them to act the way they do. For real change to happen We the People, all of us together, must reawaken, determine what kind of world we want, and take charge of our system.

We the People

"We the People" is a phrase that describes much more than "lots of people eager for positive change" or even "all of us." There are six characteristics of a legitimate We the People:

  1. 1. Inclusiveness . . . Everyone participates.

  2. 2. Unanimity . . . We express one viewpoint.

  3. 3. Autonomy . . . We choose the issues to...


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pp. 44-48
Launched on MUSE
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