How much influence should large metro areas have in Statewide elections? That is a question nearly all the States face today. Kentucky’s recent election for governor puts the question starkly before us: In a State with 120 counties, only 23 have decided the winner. The results of Louisiana’s choice for governor are similar, though less lopsided.
The backcountry is not being well-served by this system. The more traditional voices of the sparsely populated ‘red counties’ are being drowned out by the overwhelming numbers of the enemies of tradition in the ‘blue counties’. The strife this creates is obvious for all to see, but it is the necessary outcome of adhering to the doctrine of the numerical majority.
There is no reason, however, to bind ourselves forever to the rotting carcass of this pestilential political ideal. It is time for what Englishmen and Romans (the spirits of both of whom have been very much present in the South) have excelled at so often in their histories: a little prudent reform. No building castles in the clouds; rather, only realistic, concrete proposals for human beings living in this part of the world.
As we have said above, two main divisions exist in the States at the present moment: the untraditional large cities and the traditional hinterland of the counties. A way for the two to protect their interests at the State level is needed. John C. Calhoun nearly two hundred years ago, provided us with an answer: the plural executive, each with the power of veto.
His examination of Roman and English history showed him the benefits of this type of system. What he says about Ancient Rome, which had developed a system by which the two main classes in the Roman lands, the patricians and plebeians, could veto one another’s proposed laws as well as stop the execution of them, is worth examining. In the passage below, Mr Calhoun details the benefits such a system bestowed upon Old Rome, exactly the kinds of benefits the States are missing out on with their current winner-take-all, single executive system:
No measure or movement could be adopted without the concurring assent of both the patricians and plebeians, and each thus became dependent on the other; and, of consequence, the desire and objects of neither could be effected without the concurrence of the other. To obtain this concurrence, each was compelled to consult the goodwill of the other, and to elevate to office, not those only who might have the confidence of the order to which they belonged, but also that of the other. The result was, that men possessing those qualities which would naturally command confidence—moderation, wisdom, justice, and patriotism—were elevated to office; and these, by the weight of their authority and the prudence of their counsel, combined with that spirit of unanimity necessarily resulting from the concurring assent of the two orders, furnish the real explanation of the power of the Roman State, and of that extraordinary wisdom, moderation, and firmness which in so remarkable a degree characterized her public men.
Now, the best system of government the States have lived under seems to have been the one they were born into – not one stitched together from new theories and speculations but one of inherited, time-honored lore and customs. In it, each colony/State/ethnos was able to live life according to its own folkways without interference from the others. The harmony of all of them was maintained by occasional regulations from the King of England and his Parliament, which were enforced by the royal governors and other officials appointed by the Crown. But local political bodies (town councils, county courts, State Houses of Representatives, jury trials, etc.) kept careful watch and objected if any of them overstepped proper bounds. But if the peoples of the States will not have it (and various strains of ‘American exceptionalism’ make many people recoil from it as though it were a venomous snake), then what Mr Calhoun proposed with his plural executive is a good alternative.
One of the worst political mistakes the States have made has been to jumble all ages, classes, occupations, etc. into one undifferentiated mass of voters and then ask this polyglot creation to speak with a unified, harmonious voice. What we have gotten instead is unending friction and dissatisfaction. Instead of trying to enforce a false, chimerical unity, we need to winnow and separate. Let the two dominant interests in each State, the rural and the urban, elect its own executive (the current governor chosen by a Statewide vote would no longer be necessary). Population density above or below a certain threshold would qualify a county as either urban or rural. Only when the two executives are in agreement should a proposed law or executive order be enacted, or an executive action undertaken. But if either one of them object, the proposal will not be enacted or undertaken.
If this makes political action at the State level more difficult (and it probably would), then it is a great opportunity for local institutions to take the reins and govern. This is where most decisions ought to be made, in counties and towns, neighborhoods and churches.
Because of this, everyone would have a little breathing space, a little elbow room, a chance to tend and nurture his own culture and appreciate the good in the culture of his red or blue neighbors in the other counties. And through this arrangement, perhaps more cooperation and less partisanship could be found at the State level. But if not, then at least each culture will be able to live peaceably enough under the diligent guardianship of the co-executive it has sent to the capital to protect its way of life.
But none of this will happen so long as the erroneous doctrine of the Supreme Court in Washington City of ‘one man, one vote’ is in force. Mr Justice Frankfurter well described the futility of trying to enforce a rigid numerical equality of representation within the States in his dissent in Baker v Carr, one of the lynchpins undergirding ‘one man, one vote’:
A hypothetical claim resting on abstract assumptions is now for the first time made the basis for affording illusory relief for a particular evil even though it foreshadows deeper and more pervasive difficulties in consequence. The claim is hypothetical, and the assumptions are abstract, because the Court does not vouchsafe the lower courts -- state and federal -- guidelines for formulating specific, definite, wholly unprecedented remedies for the inevitable litigations that today's umbrageous disposition is bound to stimulate in connection with politically motivated reapportionments in so many States. In[p268] such a setting, to promulgate jurisdiction in the abstract is meaningless. It is as devoid of reality as "a brooding omnipresence in the sky," for it conveys no intimation what relief, if any, a District Court is capable of affording that would not invite legislatures to play ducks and drakes with the judiciary. For this Court to direct the District Court to enforce a claim to which the Court has over the years consistently found itself required to deny legal enforcement and, at the same time, to find it necessary to withhold any guidance to the lower court how to enforce this turnabout, new legal claim, manifests an odd -- indeed an esoteric -- conception of judicial propriety. One of the Court's supporting opinions, as elucidated by commentary, unwittingly affords a disheartening preview of the mathematical quagmire (apart from divers judicially inappropriate and elusive determinants) into which this Court today catapults the lower courts of the country without so much as adumbrating the basis for a legal calculus as a means of extrication. Even assuming the indispensable intellectual disinterestedness on the part of judges in such matters, they do not have accepted legal standards or criteria or even reliable analogies to draw upon for making judicial judgments. To charge courts with the task of accommodating the incommensurable factors of policy that underlie these mathematical puzzles is to attribute, however flatteringly, omnicompetence to judges. The Framers of the Constitution persistently rejected a proposal that embodied this assumption, and Thomas Jefferson never entertained it.
As the Justice shows elsewhere in his dissent, this kind of egalitarianism has never been part of the English or American (of whatever section of the unnecessary union) political traditions; or, we might add, since we have mentioned her above, the Roman political tradition. There has always been a disproportionate distribution of political power given to the various classes, orders, etc. of those societies in order to keep a healthy balance of power amongst them. This disproportion has shifted over the years, but the principle has never been repudiated. Even today under the current federal constitutional plan, the Electoral College and the Senate give a greatly disproportionate weight to the small States like Delaware and Rhode Island that is quite at odds with the doctrine of ‘one man, one vote’.
Good neighbors build tall fences, Prof M. E. Bradford once said. But in order to build those fences within the States between the urban and rural counties, Baker v Carr and its wretched offspring must be challenged anew (or, dare we say it, simply ignored, since they are very far from the norm found in the common law).
Our old traditions must be reclaimed and vindicated. And at this present hour, one way of doing that is to establish the plural executive.
Walt Garlington is a chemical engineer turned writer (and, when able, a planter). He makes his home in Louisiana and is editor of the 'Confiteri: A Southern Perspective' web site.