The October issue of Harper’s Magazine has an excerpt from Roger D. Hodge’s upcoming book, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. [Copy of the excerpt is here.]
Hodge seems to have read John P. McCormick’s paper “Contain the Wealthy and Patrol the Magistrates: Restoring Elite Accountability to Popular Government“. He writes:
In an ideal system of public campaign financing, in which all political speech has been equalized by law, in which political advertising is banned and persuasion stripped of its commercial aspect—the corporate businessman and the millionaire (not to mention the billionaire) would still stand taller than the common citizen. In fact, as the political theorist John P. McCormick has argued, the wealthy are likely to dominate any political regime that chooses its magistrates and lawmakers solely by means of election.
Republican theorists have traditionally recognized the centrality of economic class in politics and in the design of stable republican institutions. Past republics, in antiquity and in the Renaissance, were particularly concerned to contain the power of the rich and prevent them from dominating the institutions of government. Historically, it has been the insolence and dominating ambition of the wealthy that has led to the decline of great republics, not the revolutionary or leveling fervor of the lower classes, who mostly wish to be left to their own devices. The Roman tribunes vigorously defended the rights and privileges of the plebs against the depredations of the rich, and the tribunate had the power to veto actions proposed by the Senate and to accuse patricians of political crimes. Florentine constitutional thinkers such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini gave much thought to such questions, and a variety of devices—including lotteries and class quotas, often in combination with election—were considered and employed. No doubt these classical republicans would consider our Constitution’s silence on the matter of class a debilitating and perhaps fatal defect.
It is perfectly legitimate for the rich to pursue their own interests; what is not legitimate is the current exclusion of all other interests from the reason of state. A constitutional amendment establishing public financing of elections would be an obvious and reasonable first step toward correcting this imbalance, as would an amendment stripping corporations of their rights as persons. Even better would be a convention, in which we might attempt to introduce new constitutional devices designed to more equitably distribute access to political deliberation.