Many years ago, I asked a Saudi friend of mine if he didn’t long for the day democracy would come to the Kingdom (Scotch is not that hard to find over there if you know the right people, and he was the right people). He smiled and answered to the effect “Look, I have a business to run. It’s not my job to pick the government. That’s what we have a royal family for, and honestly, I think they do a better job than your system of letting anybody vote, whether they graduated sixth grade or not.”
The only reply I could think of was to ask for another shot of the 18-year old single malt. Did he have a point? My friend and colleague, Bill Lind, is an unabashed monarchist (a true conservative, one might say), but I wasn’t prepared to go all the way on that one. Could there be alternatives?
One of the problems with a monarchy or any system other than electoral democracy is getting rid of an incompetent government without violence. Oddly, perhaps, the Saudis have done this, when they forced out King Saud in March 1964. But we could continue to eliminate the need for revolution by conducting regular statistical sampling of the population, and if the numbers get too low for too long, selecting a new government.
How? Well, people have thought long and hard about that problem, obviously, and many solutions have been tried, from the several forms of hereditary monarchy to parliamentary democracy (e.g., head of the ruling parliamentary party or coalition is designated to form the government), to our system, to various trials by combat (i.e., if you want to rule, prove your qualifications by deposing the current one).
One that we might adopt goes back to Roman times, the cursus honorum, which comprised a sequence of military and administrative offices that an aspiring politician had to hold, in order. There were also age requirements — for the highest, consul, one had to be 42, for example. A man elected at the earliest age was said to obtain the office “in his year,” a great honor. Although candidates had to be of senatorial rank to run, winners were elected by the entire franchised population voting by tribe.
So we could say, for example, that to run for president, you first had to have held office as a member of the House, then of the Senate, then governor of a state. As for military office, it could be included, but also (given that war isn’t as determining a factor in a nation’s survival as it once was), we might substitute experience as an entrepreneur, CEO or head of a major NGO. Basically, evidence that you can build and run things.
What about voter qualifications? I would open the franchise to anybody, but establish standards equivalent to passing a college-level government course. The British author, Nevil Shute, described a system (in In The Wet) where everybody got one vote, but additional votes would be awarded for levels of achievement (advanced degree, military service, etc.). I assume most readers of this blog are familiar with Heinlein’s scheme in Starship Troopers.
Whether we retain the regional system, tribal not being a realistic option at this time, or select by nation-wide popular vote, I would substitute statistical sampling for our system of individual polling.
So, what do you think? Time to call a constitutional convention and tweak our system or better to live with what we have?