Solon Challenge - Leading Questions, Part Two

Q. Why is it so difficult to establish or renew a plan of government?
A. Take the example of Benjamin Franklin, who drew up a plan of Union for the American colonies in 1754. At a temporary Congress held for purposes of national defense, he offered a simple plan for a permanent Congress. It had a President General appointed by the crown and a Grand Council chosen by the state assemblies. His plan passed unanimously.
When it was reviewed in England the idea was considered too democratic. The states took the opposite view: This national Congress would diminish their power. Neither authority liked it - often a sign that one is on to something.
In his biography Franklin said "History is full of the Errors of States and Princes." He offered,
Look round the habitable World, how few
Know their own Good, or knowing it pursue.

Franklin added,
Those who govern, have much Business on their hands, do not generally like to take the Trouble of considering and carrying into Execution such new Projects. The best public Measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous Wisdom, but forc'd by the Occasion.
Q. What do you say to an "originalist" who says a constitution is perfect?
A. This postion contains several peculiar notions - that something so human and subject to strife is perfect, that you know what someone long dead thought, and that these divines were consistent and considered such matters settled once and for all. It may be politically correct to believe that, but I doubt many intellectuals actually view their constitutions as they view their religions.
Q. How does the Solon Challenge improve the chances of a useful reappraisal on a nation's constitution?

A. Several ways.
  1. Each participating nation has the resource of an international oversight body that helps it select participants and organize its operation.
  2. The "Reflective" method gives each "2010 Convention" a way of selecting delegates by merit. Nobody is in the Convention because he or she is famous or is an elected officer or a party bigwig. Merit alone, as measured by a test on constitutional history and principles, is the first ticket into the Convention.
  3. The use of a lottery for the final delegate selection confuses bias. All modern conventions have resembled legislatures: Local interests, party affiliation and celebrated leaders have dominated. The Reflective avoids this.
  4. Ten nations will concurrently undertake extralegal conventions. There will be a kind of friendly competition to see how their final plans differ.
  5. The international community will be drawn to the results of these informal conventions. The press cannot ignore something of this stature. The possibility of one or more nations instituting real change may be more probable than if an actual convention had taken place.
Q. Do you really think that a nation like China or Iran would allow its citizens to partake?
A. China has little to lose and much to gain. It will inevitably move away from a closely held authority to a government that will utilize the great number of well-educated citizens. Will it copy the system of the U.S. or France? Very doubtful. It will come up with something that borrows from modern history but is molded to China's unique people and situation. Why not use the Solon Challenge as a non-threatening experiement?
Iran? The Iyatollahs are not know as big fans of free speech. They do claim that the people of Iran have wide freedoms. The Solon Challenge is considered "The Ultimate Test of Freedom," because the freedom to discuss alternatives to present government is a fundamental freedom. And it's not like there aren't many Iranians who are citical of their government. In one telephone poll 61 percent said that they rejected a “political system where the ‘Supreme Leader’ rules according to religious principles, and cannot be chosen or replaced by a direct vote of the people.”
Let me add that my homeland, the U.S., may be even more resistant than Iran when it comes to renewing fundamental questions. It's also a test of freedom in a nation that is puffed with pride about its openness. The more dysfunctional the system, the more difficult it is to change; more than 70 percent of U.S. citizens show respect for its Executive and Congress in 2008. An all-time low of nine percent think the nation is headed in the right direction.
Q. Who would oppose a Solon Challenge?
A. If you're a U.S. plastic surgeon making several million a year, odds are you will oppose any move to universal health coverage. It's also likely that you'll say that it's because you feel that health standards will fall.
Politicians and party mechanics will say the same about any attempt to transform a prevailing system. They will imply that what we have is either the best of all worlds or the best compromise with reality.
Is the surgeon or the politician honest? I suggest that we don't need to judge. We simply have to open ourselves to experimentation. In the first case we have numerous nations where healthcare is more affordable. We can honestly look at general public health measures; we can evaluate medical practitioner and patient respect for the system.
When it comes to a political system, we can't make such judgments as easily. You can't compare Norway with Brazil. One has a homogeneous population of under five million with a substantial and aging middle class. The other has more persons without sewage connection in its largest city, Sao Paulo, than the entire population of Norway. Only a fool would say that Brazil should import Norway's constitutional monarchy whole cloth. Design of a system is much more complicated than that. You can incorporate elements that seem to work, to be sure, but the holistic design is complex and subject to local vagaries.
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