On Reform

Inspired by Book II of The Social Contract

by S. F. Augustine (guest writer) — 2021-12-01

Reform. It is perhaps the most used buzzword of government and politics. It is circulated in circles of liberals and conservatives alike. It is a word tailored into politicians’ speeches to appease the masses, a bread to the circuses of the political processes. It is shouted in the steps of government buildings and murmured in the basements of revolutionaries.

Of all governmental goals, reform is the hardest. It is both most natural for a government to change and most foreign. The concept of government as a whole, or more accurately the concept of a republic, is one of the fruition and execution of the will of the people. It would be most reasonable then for agencies of government to be ever-changing, just as the will of the people is. However, beyond the legislative and elected officials of a republic, the will of the government is governed by individuals. Those individuals, today known as bureaucrats and yesterday as magistrates, are led and appointed by emissaries of the people, but not elected directly by them. As such, their allegiance to the people ends with the oversight of the legislative. Put simply, the moment a decision of the government ends being one of the legislative it ends being one of the people. This makes it so that the further agencies are from the legislative, the harder it is for them to evolve with the people. And if they cannot evolve with the people, then reform is significantly harder.

However, so long as it is the people by proxy of the legislative that form these agencies, they are receptive to reform, even if it is difficult. If those agencies of the republic are not formed by the legislative then that reform becomes impossible. At that point, to paraphrase Rousseau, the core—the root—of the organization is rotten, and will always bear rotted fruit. Similarly, if reform is forgone long enough in an agency of the people, then it stops being an agent of the people as it disassociates itself with its creator. The byproduct of this being the agency made master of the people and not the people master of the agency. This is seen clearly and frequently in the royal guards of old. Take the Cohors Praetoria, more commonly known as the Praetorian Gaurd, which began as an agent of the emperor. However, by the crisis of the third century, having been corrupted by the patrician families of Rome, the guard regularly assassinated emperors and heavily influenced the choosing of them. When the point of a “rotten core” is achieved, then the institution that is corrupted must be torn down. It is no longer an agent of the people and is no longer capable of becoming one again.

Of course, reform being hard is not an assurance. In fact, the sign of a good government is the ability to have and practice regular reform. How can a republic achieve that state? The answer lies in three parts. First, the representation of the people. As with all things in a republic, if the people of a society are properly represented and their views vocalized in the government, the legislative and its appendages will more easily execute it. Second, the limitation of the emissaries of the legislative. As previously stated, the further an agency of the people strays from the legislative, the less it is for the people and the more it is for the private citizen. To combat this, strict and clear boundaries must be set for these agencies, as while they have a necessary part in the republic, they still may spell its downfall. Additionally, by offering limitations to agents of the people, they stay closer to their creator, allowing reform to be easy. Third, the legislative must be pure. While this is a given, it still needs to be stated; the legislative only remains the legislative when it acts for the people and of the people. If it does not, then its actions become that of an agency and the emissaries it creates in its name become that of private citizens.