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Every Citizen a Politician, Part I

09.27.2005 08:07 | DISPATCHES

"In a republican government [a democracy, that is] it is the duty incumbent on every citizen to afford his assistance, either by taking part in its immediate administration, or by his advice and watchfulness, [editor's italics] that its principles may remain uncorrupt. . ."

Sounds quaint today, but imagine living in a time when vast numbers of people believed this. The founding principle of the German Republican Society of Philadelphia in 1793, it's quoted in Harvey Kaye's bracing new book, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (Hill and Wang, 2005), an account of a dynamic man in a world ripe with potential.

Imagine too a time when a treatise like Common Sense could sell the equivalent of fifteen million copies today. But, in an age of specialization, most Americans operate on the unconscious assumption that the complexity of not only the issues but the makeup of the government requires specialists. Electing an official becomes the equivalent of hiring a tax preparer to decipher the codes and tell us what we've got coming to us from the government.

At least we still assert our right--reinforced by incessant polling--to our individual views. Unfortunately we just don't think making our opinions informed is our responsibility.


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