Wednesday, July 4, 2012
(Reposted from Mischiefs of Faction)
Want a reason to celebrate this Independence Day? Try this: elections. Yes, elections can be annoying, and if you live in a swing state, you are undoubtedly already being hammered with mind-numbing attack ads, with Republicans claiming that everything that Democrats do is craven or evil and vice versa.
But what's the alternative? I've spent far too much of my leisure time in the last year listening to the History of Rome podcast and watching "Game of Thrones," and one thing those tales drive home is the challenge of succession. Many (perhaps most?) of the battles fought by soldiers of the Roman Empire were fought against other Roman soldiers, either putting town a rebellion or taking the throne from a usurper. Passing power along by bloodline can help -- at least it's some sort of system -- but it can create just as many problems when an heir proves incompetent or there are multiple legitimate claimants. One of the reasons for the successes of the Roman emperors of the 2nd century AD was that most of them did not have male children -- they were able to choose qualified successors and groom them for leadership. Marcus Aurelius, of course, did produce a male heir, and he turned out to be an insane Joaquin Phoenix, ending the empire's century of competence.
I find this important because the Roman Empire was pretty much the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen. It had sophisticated systems of currency and trade, an advanced legal system, a functional bureaucracy, not to mention its amazing military capabilities. But they were never able to resolve the problem of succession of power.
And yet this is something we take for granted today. Elections are fought fiercely, but they end. The results are rarely disputed, and basically never with violence. We do not fear for our lives if we pick the wrong presidential candidate, and we do not waste blood and treasure putting down rebellions and ousting usurpers.
No, we're not the only nation to figure this out, but it's nonetheless something to be proud of, especially since so many advanced societies before us failed on this point. So this Independence Day, let's celebrate by volunteering for a candidate, donating money to a campaign, or just watching an attack ad.