Saturday, June 3, 2023
#154 / Every Citizen A Statesman
Who are all those people? Believe it or not, this picture, from the Library of Congress, shows ordinary citizens attending a hearing in the United States Senate. I am not sure exactly when the hearing was being held, but it was a good long while ago, I know that. I captured this picture from an article published in the Boston Review. The article, by Daniel Bessner, reviewed a recent book, authored by David Allen. The book is titled, "Every Citizen a Statesman: The Dream of a Democratic Foreign Policy in the American Century."
A foreign policy that is "democratic," meaning that the content of that foreign policy is, essentially, determined by ordinary citizens, does seem kind of like a "dream," doesn't it? However, unless we don't actually believe in democratic self-government (which is a distinct possibility, of course), our foreign policy should be - and in fact it must be - determined by what we think, and by what we decide, and when I say, "we," I mean, precisely, that very ordinary group of people that includes all of us!
I think the Boston Review article I have linked is worth reading. Think about it! How much do any of us know about the realities of the foreign policy being carried out by our own government, in our name? Not much, I submit.
I don't recall any major public debate (in Congress or otherwise) before the United States started supporting Ukraine in its efforts to respond to the invasion launched by Russia. Helping nations being invaded by other countries seems like a pretty simple decision (except when the United States government is doing the invading, of course, which seems all too often to be the case). Still, democratic self-government demands that ordinary citizens be part of the debate about what the government does with respect to its foreign policy. Getting involved in wars, as just as one example, ought to be accompanied by detailed public debate about all the possible pros and cons, and with the facts and arguments on both sides fully accessible to everyone. Is this how our foreign policy is working? There is a simple answer: NO!
The kind of democratic politics and government in which we claim to believe does require every citizen to be a "statesman," to have access to the facts that those in the government have, and to be able to debate and discuss what the nation should do with full access to the facts and the arguments.
As an instructor in the Politics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I get advertisements from book publishers all the time, hoping that I'll require students in the classes I teach to buy their books (which are invariably expensive). Click here for a recent advertisement I received:
I consider Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" to be the second most important statement of what our system of government is all about, coming right after the "Declaration of Independence." If we want to make sure, using Lincoln's hopeful words, that a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" does not perish from the earth, then it's that "by the people" part of the formula that is most important. A government "of" the people, and "for" the people, can mean a government that takes care of us, and does well by us. That's not really our idea of what self-government means.
Our revolutionary idea (reread the preamble to the "Declaration of Independence" if you have any question about this) is a kind of "self-government" that requires our government to be "by" the people. That is the most important thing! "Every Citizen A Statesman" is one way to put it!