In his year

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?

13 thoughts on “In his year

    • And then there’s the famous Churchill quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947) See:

      Note that I’m not arguing against democracy, just against the way we currently implement it. I’m all for 100% participation in deciding that it’s time for the government to go, but want to reserve the decision about who comes next to those who have some qualification to make it, such qualification being the subject of the debate.

    • Thanks — I’m not even sure I’d call it “meritocracy” because how would we measure “merit” for high political office, other than having succeeded, or perhaps even more valuable failed occasionally, in lesser offices? It just seems obvious to me that there should be some process for training people to lead the country, and from that pool, people with some qualifications for the task make a selection. I’m certainly open to what the training process should be and what would constitute qualification to be an elector.

  1. The more I think about “what the training process should be and what would constitute qualification to be an elector”, the more I’m convinced that reading (and making intuitive) Boyd, whole, is the best basis for such a person to have.

  2. I like the “cursus honorum” idea, but let’s use a lottery to decide. Pull their names at random from a hat if they’ve served the prior offices, as required, and are interested in a higher role. That truly takes most rent seeking out of it. At very least, this idea would make a splendid science fiction piece!

    • Interesting. Switzerland has a collective presidency, the seven-member Federal Council. There is a position President of the Swiss Confederation selected annually from among the seven generally by seniority, however that person has no special powers other than breaking the occasional tie vote.

  3. You can still have an elected government, with a monarchical figure head, as the Brits
    share also with Canada, the Aussies and NZ among others.

    One advantage, no matter how unpopular(even despised) the current government and leadership maybe, (as is a trend these days, in western so-called democracies, where we elect those, only to discover after sometime, that we hate their guts) the monarch sits above them all, and carries the true essence, and dignity of the people.
    Well, uhm, at least that’s the theory.


  4. Agreed Chet, it’s entirely symbolic. One can argue though that there is some kind
    of real need of this in contemporary societies, for example in the way
    the American public seems to embrace celebrities, be they movie and TV
    stars, or in sports. In as much as a President, or entire cabinet maybe despised
    by a large percentage of the population, the likes of this or that movie star, or golfer,
    and such, remain for some reason, an inspiration and revered by millions.
    Go figure.

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