Concerning the king, he needs to have real authority, an authority that extends to the executive, legislative, and judicial functions. Of course, he should not be the only authority in these areas, nor even necessarily the ordinary authority; but he should, in some sense, be the ultimate authority. The king’s government also needs to have its own revenue stream, one fixed in the constitution and independent of any legislative body. A king who has to beg his bread from the legislature is no king, and whoever holds the power of the purse will soon hold all other powers. The legislature may by its own will supplement the constitutional revenues, perhaps to pay for a war or some other extraordinary expense, and they may control the funds they levy. But for the budgeting of the constitutional revenue, the king should be primary, or even the sole, authority. Other authorities may comment, they may even censure a king, such as when a king neglects the defense of the realm to build himself palaces. But in the practical world, control of the budget is control of everything else. The king should also hold an absolute veto over both the legislature and the judicial functions. And finally, there needs to be a difficult but peaceful means of removing a king; without this, kings themselves become the cause of revolutions.The more difficult question actually concerns the aristocracy. Both Aristotle and Aquinas thought of aristocracy in terms of virtue and accomplishment rather than in terms of birth and wealth. The latter they considered to be a mere oligarchy. However, men often confuse wealth with worth, and this is especially true of the men with an excess of wealth and an absence of worth. In my opinion, even in cases where there is a requirement of wealth or birth, there should still be a selection process to choose the best of the wealthy or well-born. But whatever the process, the function of the aristocracy is virtue. I interpret this to mean that they should be a source of impartial commentary and judgment on political affairs. In the next installment, I will deal in greater detail with some solutions to the aristocratic problem.Finally, there is the democratic problem. Democracy works best at the local level, and a national democracy is almost a contradiction in itself, since the staggering costs of national campaigns enforce an oligarchic control. Nor can this problem be solved by some sort of campaign finance reform or even public funding of elections, unless we are willing to forbid all political speech, save that funded by the public purse. But that would be a form of tyranny in itself. The best way to reduce the cost of elections is to make the districts small, which will keep the cost of campaigning cheap, and hence less susceptible to oligarchic control. Small districts imply large legislatures, and this has the advantage of making them slow and unwieldy, able to agree on laws only when they are most necessary. But if one wants a small and more agile legislature, then perhaps it would be wise to chose it by indirect elections, with electors chosen at the neighborhood level, who then meet in an assembly to choose the actual legislators. In any case, deliberative forms of democracy, such as the caucus or the town meeting, should be favored over electoral forms, such as secret ballot. But whatever the size and composition of the legislature, it should have clearly defined and limited powers.
Lisboa, secreta e misteriosa. -
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