Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Report upon the Italian city state republics, and a lesson in self governance for today

As I mentioned in the previous post, at the close of our previous MO HB1490 History 6-12 Curriculum work group, we had a disagreement over whether or not the Italian city state republics should be included in the list of governments to be studied at the close of the medieval period, apprx 600-1450 a.d. I was very much for including them, adamant even, while those with class time experience, thought it best to leave republics out, concentrating on monarchies, oligarchies, dynasties and theocracies.

I hasten to point out that this was not a 'democracy' vs 'republic' issue, but about what would be the best use of class time, for the closing of a semester. I do not, in any way, think that those opposed to my view had any hidden agenda in their selections, and I'm confident that were only thinking about what would enable teachers to cover the most material best, in the little time available to them.

At any rate, at the close of the previous session I was asked to prepare a report on why republics should be considered in that time period, so that the work group could consider the matter better and decide at the next meeting.

The following is what I reported to our work group (and it is, BTW, very relevant to what is happening in our nation today), and I'll note how the vote turned out, at the close below:


Some of the reasons mentioned for not including 'Republic' while comparing and contrasting governing styles at the end of the middle ages, were that the Italian city states were in fact operating as oligarchies, without the vote, and that they were... Republics In Name Only (ahem). It was also mentioned that since it is common today to drop the term, we should too, as it would also simplify the course aims and ends.

I'll try to make three points about why both Republic and Oligarchy should be included:
  1. The Italian city states have always been referred to as Republics, while well aware that they were at one and the same time Oligarchies and Republics, terms which are not mutually exclusive
  2. Republic does not require public enfranchisement of voting, or even that votes be cast by individuals
  3. Choosing Oligarchy to the exclusion of Republic, means staying silent upon what might be the most important lesson students can learn about government from, and from this period almost more than any other in history
The Italian City States have been, from their own time, up through ours, have been knowingly referred to as republics by everyone from Machiavelli (who we'll hear from below) to Sismondi, taking pride at their having overthrown external princely rule, and had become self governing. From "History of the Italian republics in the middle ages" by Sismondi, J.-C.-L. Simonde de (Jean-Charles-Léonard Simonde), 1773-1842:
"The spirit of freedom had penetrated to the Papal See, and schism enabled the Romans to revolt and complete the municipal enfranchisement of Italy. From the Alps to the confines of the Northern Kingdom every little city rejoiced in its own republican government, and exhibited a narrow, and too often a selfish, local patriotism. "
Having taken their government into their own hands, they experienced an explosion of wealth, prosperity and power, and yet soon succumbed and ceased being, in even their own eyes, self ruling. Why, is a question very much worth asking.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Old Fashioned News: The fashionability of suicidal political fashions

Old Fashioned News: The fashionability of suicidal political fashions

I made the mistake this morning of turning on the radio - local talk radio & NPR, and I couldn't help noticing - and really, I couldn't help it, I tried not to, but I couldn't help noticing, how much today's 'news', reminded me of what I was just reading last week when researching a report for our History 6-12 HB1490 curriculum workgroup. For that report (I'll post it later, maybe [Here it is]), I was re-reading John Adams' "Defense of the Constitutions" vol II, where he's commenting, mostly, upon Machiavelli's "The Florentine History"

If your first thought is "How could NPR possibly remind you of something so old and outdated?", well, my ahistorical virtual friend, even with names and cities you don't recognize, you'd be surprised (though sadly, I won't, as I'll have to endure your repeating the lessons you never learned from history) you needn't let those trifles worry you, after all, who it is that the names are actually naming are of little or no importance, you could even substitute at random names you are somewhat familiar with, like Clinton, Bush, Kerry, Nixon, Buckley, Democrats, Republicans, 99%, 1%, Blacks and Gays, Bakeries, Ferguson and Baltimore, and still be that much more the wiser, as I assure you, it will retain the utmost relevance to your daily news.

For those of you who can't be bothered to steel yourselves to sit still long enough to read more than a paragraph, run along and be damned. For those of you who can... it certainly won't cheer you up, so... maybe you ought to run along as well.

After all, this is the cheery portion. Pick it back up at the last link, and you'll find the more fashionable death & destruction waiting for us in tomorrow's 'news'.

And with that, I'll turn it over to the voice of two centuries ago, reporting live from the grave, on today and tomorrow's Headline News, from
CHAPTER FIRST.: ITALIAN REPUBLICS OF THE MIDDLE AGE. FLORENCE. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 5

[Adams in standard font, the works he's quoting from in italic]
************************************************************************ "...The factions between the nobility and the commons, which ended in the utter ruin of the former, have been already related; but peace was not obtained. All authority was in one centre, the commons; and there were other orders of citizens who were not satisfied; the same contest therefore continued under a new form and new names. They now happened between the commons and plebeians, which were only new names in reality for a new nobility and commons; the commons now took the place of the nobility, and the plebeians that of the commons. Machiavel is as clear and full for a mixed government as any writer; but the noble invention of the negative of an executive upon a legislature in two branches, which is the only remedy in contests between nobles and commons, seems never to have entered his thoughts; and nothing is more entertaining than that mist which is perpetually before eyes so piercing, so capable of looking far through the hearts and deeds of men as his, for want of that thought.

“There seemed to be no seeds of future dissensions left in Florence.”
No seeds! Not one seed had been eradicated; all the seeds that ever existed remained in full vigor. The seeds were in the human heart, and were as ready to shoot in commons and plebeians as they had been in nobles.
“But the evil destiny of our city and want of good conduct occasioned a new emulation between the families of the Albizzi and the Ricci,* which produced as fatal divisions as those between the Edition: current; Page: [45] Buondelmonti and Uberti, and the other between the Cerchi and Donati had done before.”

It was no evil destiny peculiar to Florence; it is common to every city, nation, village, and club. The evil destiny is in human nature. And if the plebeians had prevailed over the commons as these had done over the nobility, some two plebeian families would have appeared upon the stage with all the emulation of the Albizzi and Ricci, to occasion divisions and dissensions, seditions and rebellions, confiscations and banishments, assassinations, conflagrations, and massacres, and all other such good things as appear forever to recommend a simple government in every form.1 When it is found in experience, and appears probable in theory, that so simple an invention as a separate executive, with power to defend itself, is a full remedy against the fatal effects of dissensions between nobles and commons, why should we still finally hope that simple governments, or mixtures of two ingredients only, will produce effects which they never did and we know never can? Why should the people be still deceived with insinuations that those evils arose from the destiny of a particular city, when we know that destiny is common to all mankind?
Let me interrupt Mr. Adams here with an even more relevant quote from Mr. Adams about us today, rather than us then,
"...But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays [229] in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
And with that I'll return you to our regularly scheduled breaking old news, still in progress:

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

DESE: Are correct answers discarded if they are perceived to be Right?

I meant to address this issue last week (MO Education Watchdog has more details) but I let it slip my mind and now it's the last day for you and me to do so. If you agree with this post, please send an email with the subject:
"Principles expressed in the documents shaping the Republican Form of government of the United States.", to DESE's Sharon Helwig, to:

This is what I sent today:
A year or two ago, I was asked to provide some research assistance in addressing an error in the MO Social Studies documents, regarding some anachronistic references to our form of government being a "constitutional democracy", when it is properly referred to, as per our government's defining document, as a Republic. See Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution for reference :

"Section 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government..."
It would be legitimate to expand upon that, such as referring to 'Constitutional Republics', or 'Constitutional Representative Republics', but it is not legitimate to formally refer to our form of government, especially in Educational materials, as a 'Democracy'.

It is true that in our founding era, the terms 'Democracy' and 'Republic' were often used almost interchangeably when referring informally to the general spirit of self governance, but when making more formal references, especially when proposing actual measures for government, the term 'Republic' was the term usually used. Obviously, as this was long before the creation of either of our current two political parties, there was no party politics behind the choice (nor should there be today), they made that choice because the actual meanings and failures of each form of government were well understood. It's a simple fact of record.

Even DESE seemed to acknowledge the fact, though perhaps a bit petulantly, as I've found that a number of our social studies curricular documents were in fact updated, though apparently none too carefully, by means of a mass 'Find & Replace', from 'Constitutional Democracy', to 'Republic'. The result of that change was that in our standards, educational standards mind you, our form of government is often currently referred to, ungrammatically, as 'Principles of Republic', or still as 'Constitutional Democracy'.

State Sen. Emery recently took the concern over the misuse of these terms a step further than we had, in a letter to DESE, insisting, properly, that,

"The term "constitutional democracy" is a flagrant misrepresentation of the principles of the constitutional republic in which we live."

He went on to note that:

"The differences between the structures of government are clear. In a constitutional democracy, the majority has complete control through democratic elections without any protection for the minority. Conversely, a constitutional republic consists of the people electing representatives to serve on their behalf ruled by law with checks and balances established to protect the rights of the minority.
In order to provide clarity for educators that teach Missouri children and to ensure Missouri students are taught the proper governmental structure of the United States - a governmental structure that has made our nation exceptional - we urge you to correct this error in the Show-Me Standards."

DESE's response has been to propose making the change like this (the text within the brackets to be replaced by the bold text hat follows them):
"1. Principles expressed in the documents shaping [constitutional democracy in] the
government of the United States
So... while they acknowledge that they had made an error, they want to correct that error in reference to a very specific form of govt, by changing it, from 'constitutional democracy', to -'government'.

From Democracy, to government.

This feels a bit like it might if after pointing out to a printer that they'd made an error in listing your address as, say, "#1 Riverbend Drive", when you actually live on "#1 Riverview Drive", and after pointing that out, they offered to make the following correction:
"Oh, we see our mistake, tell you what, we'll correct your address to show that: "you live in a house".
What would you say to that? 

What sort of correction is this? It is difficult to see this correction as anything other than a rather blatant evasion. Republic is the correct word, please use it.

I had no problem accepting that an error had been made in using 'Democracy', though a careless (and probably ideological) error - it's still a mistake, understandable and forgivable. The fact that some efforts to correct it have been made shows that it has been recognized as an error. But to refuse to correct that error by naming it as it correctly, demonstrably, legally, is, a Republic (if you can keep it), is appalling.

To refer to the government of the United States as 'the government of the United States', as if that adds some educational clarity, is ridiculous. Democracy is the wrong term, Republic is the correct term, please, in the name of Education, use the correct term.