Republic vs Democracy – Are Star Wars Closer Than We Think?

Words about Community

John-F-Kennedy-inauguration-631The President of America (1961- 63) John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963), spoke to the nation after a close, divisive election held at a time when the American people were growing increasingly fearful of a long, drawn-out cold war.

Instead of reassuring his audience by minimizing the dangers, Kennedy warned citizens of the long, difficult struggle ahead and about the dangers of complacency and isolationism in a modern world.

A gift of an acre of land at Runnymede in England handed to the American people by the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II and her government, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, has a monument inscribed with words from his inaugural speech on liberty.

Memorial-to-John-Kennedy-at-Runnymede

Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country”.

This is what John F Kennedy asked of America’s citizens, words that served not only as a symbol of purpose and hope, but also offered a belief that politics would still be able to speak to public morality while harnessing its highest aspirations.

So what has happend in America, where freedom, liberty and justice for all seems to be on hold to suit their new President’s agenda and the prejudices embraced by the man representing its people.

American-VotersIt seems apathy reigned with many of America’s citizens last year as they opted to live in ‘la la land’ rather than participate in government elections as is their right under they’re constitution and bill of rights, which are constantly held up to the rest of the world as not only integral to their ideals, but also as a beacon for everyone else.

Under their system of government Americans have elected to power a man who will do much to bring its people into total disrepute as he fuels distrust, destroys civil liberties, attacks ideas of equality already embraced and generally, steamrolls his way despotically along while enacting his own form of tyranny.

The March of Democracy, 2010, Altered books, 18 1/2" x 19 1/2" x 4" - Image Courtesy of the Artist and Saltworks

The March of Democracy, 2010, Altered books, 18 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ x 4″ – Image Courtesy of the Artist and Saltworks

Political systems can be defined as a set of formal legal institutions constituting a government or a state. They are not only about behaviour, but also about how a political state of being functions practically in the real world.

Democracy is meant to be all about the ‘power of all the people’ regardless of race or religion.

The statement made so often by Americans ‘we the people’… seems simple enough. There is however an enormous backstory about how the intellectual, spiritual and philosophical ideas that first gave us a political system deemed as democratic to consider at all, came about.

Barricade scene in the first touring production of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables, Raimund Theater, Vienna , 1988. Photograph Michael Le Poer Trench ©Cameron Mackintosh Ltd

Barricade scene in the first touring production of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables, Raimund Theater, Vienna , 1988. Photograph Michael Le Poer Trench ©Cameron Mackintosh Ltd

Blocking dissenting voices doesn’t mean citizens are silenced; reason and objectivity should be able to reign and all eligible citizens should gain an equal say in decisions made on everyone’s behalf.

This is what real democracy means; it is characterized by the principle of political or social equality for all whatever country they come from whatever their personal creed.

If we believe in real democracy, it only happens via the sovereignty of all the people. That also means we must all stand up together and be counted when things go wrong.

Luke SkywalkerThere seems to be an ever-expanding erosion of trust between ‘we the people’ of America and they’re elected officials and very real disenchantment with its new government.

Reading fearful speculation on the internet about the next episode in the space opera movie franchise to be released in December 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi recently, prompted me to reflect on the terms republic and democracy, which seem to be frequently bandied about without regard for their importance.

The reaction by fans to the news of the title presented as a form of alarm, seemingly brought on by fear of the unknown at a time when their newly elected leader is banning refugees entering a country that has always boasted it is a refuge for the free is being violently opposed. There is also a promise by him as well, to put in place a wall along the border with Mexico, both extraordinary decisions.

It’s not really that long ago Americans celebrated with the rest of the world as in Berlin citizens from both sides of its dividing wall (1961-1989) helped to bring it tumbling down.

Star Wars Kylo RenFor those of us on the outside looking in it seems America that your new President is moving your system of government closer in analogy at least, to aligning itself with the intimidating Fascist styled First Order, introduced in the popular film in a long running series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

There are certainly similarities in the temperament of your new American President and Supreme Leader Snoke. They are both controversial, threatening figures who will always do their best to distinguish the ‘light’ of mankind by acting to release the darker side of human nature. As we know this ultimately leads to evil reigning as history repeats itself because ‘we the people’ are unwilling to learn.

Jedi KnightsAt least the fictional Jedi Knights ruled as defenders of the greater good. They were willing to consider compromising in order to ensure peace and justice spread throughout the galaxy. They did not try to enforce order through a militant styled dictatorship as existed in the Roman Republic.

Sculpture-at-Rome-BESTTalking of a Republic, many Americans believe they live in a Democracy, but do they we might ask?

In reality American governmental reforms enacted by its founders were actually put in place based on ideas inherent to the ancient Roman republic, not ancient Greek democracy at all.

Gareth SANSOM Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1939  The great democracy 1968 oil, enamel, synthetic polymer paint, collage and pencil on composition board 180.0 h x 180.0 w cm  Gift of Emmanuel Hirsh in memory of Etta Hirsh, 2007 Accession No: NGA 2007.375 © Gareth Sansom courtesy National Gallery Australia

Gareth SANSOM Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1939 The great democracy 1968 oil, enamel, synthetic polymer paint, collage and pencil on composition board 180.0 h x 180.0 w cm Gift of Emmanuel Hirsh in memory of Etta Hirsh, 2007 Accession No: NGA 2007.375 © Gareth Sansom courtesy National Gallery Australia

The founders of America believed the democratic system that arose in Ancient Greece, was both ‘unstable and dangerous’. They wanted “to shield elected leaders from the sometimes volatile public will,” according to Professor Samons, a CAS associate classics professor and associate dean, in his book What’s Wrong with Democracy: From Athenian Practice to American Worship (University of California Press, 2004).

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, 1862, oil on board, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. The Paul Mellon Collection, Photo: Katherine Wetzel, © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, 1862, oil on board, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. The Paul Mellon Collection, Photo: Katherine Wetzel, © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Samons also noted ‘… over the course of the past 200 years, Americans have increasingly, and erroneously, applied the words democracy and democratic to describe the form of government they have in place’.

The reality is the founders of America didn’t trust its own citizens, or the masses as they sometimes derogatorily referred to them as, to do the right thing by each other, let alone act on behalf of the greater good.

Ancient-Rome-CollageInstead they opted for a representative Republic inspired by an ancient Roman example, which ended up in its fully evolved state, with an all-powerful ‘Emperor’ in charge!

The era of ancient Roman civilization began with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom. This traditionally dates to 509 BC, ending in 27 BC, with the establishment of the Roman Empire.

Augustus-of-Prima-Porta-BESTDuring the first century Gaius Octavius, a patrician known as Emperor Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

He evolved from a successful general of his legion into an elected official and then into what could only be described as an absolute monarch and that is when they made him its first Emperor.

Clever, creative and a brilliant strategist Augustus insisted he was nothing more than a “first among equals” offering Roman citizens an organized, stable and acceptable form of government as throughout his reign he brought about the difficult transition from republic to Empire.

His declared policy of national revival and restoration of traditional Roman values proved popular with the people.

This statue of him known as the Prima Porta is a great piece of propaganda as it dominated the space it stood in. The right foot supports him is a clever device that strengthens our perception of his coming to a halt to command what lies before him. We are left knowing that he will challenge all those who enter his arena.

The Emperor Augustus was a very clever man who used the talents of others, both in public life and in the arts, to advance his own cause.

Crowd-of-Happy-People-web1Politicians today also often align themselves publicly with what the people want, or think that they want, which inspires a generalized view that the majority is in fact in charge.

In reality however, there is often a vast distance between the will of the majority of the people and true and practical political action.

In their first week America the new administration has enacted changes that can only be interpreted by the rest of the world as both provocative and deadly dangerous.

Dying WarriorHistory reveals that in ancient Athens at first, democracy failed.

It was found to be through practice during the fifth and fourth centuries before the Christ event at Athens,  an imperfect system.

The ancient Greeks discovered it was not really representative of all the people at all unless it had systematic adjustments, otherwise majority rule would eventually devolve into mob rule.

Centuries before the Christ event Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle (384BCE – 322 BCE) observed ‘man is a political animal and human beings creatures of flesh and blood, rubbing shoulders with each other in cities and communities’. He recognised democracy as an institution was ‘the least vicious of all… political systems, ‘being the easiest to make’.

Aristotle also reminded us in his Ethics that a ‘despot looks to his own advantage, but the King who is apolitical, to that of his subjects’.

King-John-Magna-Carta-RunnymedeWhen the American founders broke away from Britain they were at the time busily refining their democratic and now much revered Westminster System of government, so that it would protect the rights of all the people.

British government originally started to evolve way back in 1066 with the establishment of Magna Carta, a document that set a precedent for taking absolute power away from a monarch.

Queen Victoria CrownedOver the centuries following the nobles surrounding the King gradually circumscribed the powers of the monarch until he or she had a very different role.

It was The Act of Settlement 1701, which ultimately signified it was Parliament and not the Monarch, who became the supreme law-making body in England.

Over the next century they also added extra checks and balances in order to make they’re democratic system, with an apolitical monarch at its head work.

This did this by also putting in place laws that limited the government’s purpose and protected an individual and their liberties for all time.

The decision of the people about Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European union, has emerged recently as having to be voted on by a full session of parliament before it can become law.

While it may delay matters, it does mean the political system they live under, as well as individual citizens rights, are actively being protected as a priority through its much acclaimed democratic format.

Queen in Australia, The

The young Queen Elizabeth II visiting Australia, 1953

With an apolitical monarch at its head it is Britain’s system, which when adjusted for local issues was eventually put in place by the governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The qualities that mark a democracy are a reverence for truth, a national patriotism founded in duty, a willingness to listen to opposing points of view and debate them intelligently and without malice, and to seek a path forward that reveals a true respect for the law and values open-mindedness.

A democratic society is meant to offer benefits to its citizens, the freedom to make choices individually, to develop their potential and live free from fear and discrimination. It guarantees freedom of speech, religion and assembly and an independent process of law giving everyone equality.

These are the fundamental principles that should be able to be practiced. If its working well, then everyone including non-citizens and refugees should be able to enjoy its benefits too.

American-FlagThe current American President clearly does not respect human rights.

He has no regard for truth, believes in badgering and bullying anyone who opposes his views so that he can get his own way, much like a spoiled child. Above all the new President seems to value his own approval rating above the greater good.

Amazingly he has avoided being a fully active citizen of his own country by not paying taxes and alarmingly is proud of it.

I cannot get over the fact that many people believe that this state of affairs is acceptable.

Appointing various family members to high positions of authority means nepotism is rife in his administration and amazingly, he has set himself up in business so that he can continue to profit from being in public office.

PresidentThe new American President clearly seems himself as an Emperor of the Republic and has to date demonstrated he intends to govern through issuing executive orders, instead of them being presented, debated and passed by the people’s representatives.

God help America, God Help us All!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

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