Somebody shared a picture on FB and I finally understood the strange relationship between the American People and their Government.
“One of the things taken out of the curriculum was civics,” Zappa went on to explain. “Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the Sixties, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government – nobody knows what’s in it…And so, if you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don’t know what’s in the document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?”
The quote belongs to, obviously, Frank Zappa. I found it in an article written by Kevin Courrier and published in CriticsAtLarge.com.
What grabbed my attention was not the fact that a musician is so passionate about politics but the huge confusion that sits at the bottom of his political weltanschauung.
The American Constitution, any constitution for that matter, is not at all a contract between the government and the people but a contract that binds together the citizens that inhabit a country. The government, any government, is ulterior to the signing of that contract so it cannot be a part of that contract.
OK, I can understand how that confusion came to be only I cannot understand how it could survive for so long.
For more than two centuries, that is.
As we all know the US were, at first, British colonies. For the last nine centuries or so Britain was run more or less according to Magna Charta – which is indeed a sort of contract between the Monarchy and the British people. But that is valid for Britain. It is the Great Britain that traces its ‘essence’ back to the idea of a divinely sanctioned Monarch who owned, entirelly, the whole country and who autocratically ruled over all the aspects of its life. And that at a certain point in history the Monarch agreed to sign a contract with his subjects, promising to treat them fairly.
But at an ulterior point in the history of the British Empire the American people had decided that they didn’t want anymore to be subjected to any worldly authority so they had sent the British Governor packing. From there on the essence of the American state was no longer the persona of the Monarch but ‘We, the People’.
That’s why the American Government is, by right, nothing more than an employee of the American People while the British one is a servant – or an employee – of the Monarch.
Let me put it a little differently. America is like a huge corporation while the citizens are its shareholders. The people own the country and the Government who runs it is the Board of Trustees. The people are the employers and the members of the government are the employees.
In Britain the Monarch is the ‘owner’, the people are ‘tenants’ and the government is the administrator of the whole business. The government is employed by the owner and payed by the tenants – who have a say because they are paying the rent, otherwise known as ‘taxes’.
Then how come, two hundred years after the Constitution that settles the conditions of ‘incorporation’ was adopted so many Americans still see the Government as being different from the ‘people’? Could it be that Zappa is right? That too few people have understood that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”?
I know, I know… These words are not from the American Constitution – they are widely attributed to Lincoln. But they describe perfectly its spirit, even if some people accuse Lincoln for being a dictator – because he didn’t allow the South to seccede, as if this decision was his to make… You see, the confusion is deep indeed. When people are passionate about something they tend to pick up from the entire picture only the pixels that fit their view of the world…
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Then why so many of the ‘we the people’ still believe that the constitution is a contract between them and their Government?
Or maybe Zappa was (half) right after-all? Civics should indeed be brought back …