The Perfect Commonwealth

Pennsylvania Countryside. By: Jacob Eichholtz.

The success or failure of countries, and politicians for that matter, are an often studied subject. Studies have been ongoing for centuries.

James Burgh, an English Whig, wrote: “Almost all political establishments have been the creates of chance rather than of wisdom. Therefore it is impossible to say what would be the effect of a perfect commonwealth” as there was no precedent in history. James Burgh, Political Disquisitions, Vol. 1, 23.

Americans, like John Adams, were well aware of the fact that there was no precedent in history for the creation of government like what was happening in the Revolutionary years. Americans told themselves they were “the first people whom heaven has favoured with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 127 quoting John Jay, Charge to the Grand Jury, Kingston, N.Y., Sept. 9, 1777, Niles, ed., Principles, 181.

These beliefs raise one fundamental question: How much does the form of government actually cause success or failure, given the various other factors that may affect a country?

Burgh’s beliefs capture this fundamental question best. No amount of wisdom can devise a system that prevents the unpredictable from happening. Governments and individuals can attempt to mitigate those harms, through institutional structures or perhaps other means. Mostly, governments are forced to be reactive to various societal problems, grave or not.

Nonetheless, the remarkable characteristic of the American government has been its stability. While other countries have gone through multiple rethinkings of their government and tumultuous years under leaders of different ideologies, America has been consistently thriving.

Setting economics aside, the strength and stability of the American government has been consistent. That can leave little doubt that even though Burgh may be right that chance plays a significant role in the success of countries, the Americans seized the opportunity to create a new, resilient system of government that gives America the highest probability known to survive century after century.

Even if America is not the perfect commonwealth, perhaps it is the closest any country in the world will ever come.

One Comment

  1. collectivistduck

    But to be fair here, America didn’t exactly coast through its now 200+ year history like it was sailing the Mediterranean. After revolution we had the whiskey rebellion, we were invaded by Great Britan and had our capital desecrated in 1812, the slave issue spurred the nation into a devastating civil war that thankfully Europeans didn’t partake in (although if that had happened now-a-days, I doubt people would sit on the side lines). There was even an election where a candidate won the majority of the popular vote, the majority of the electoral college, and still lost. Far from a perfect.

    For the most part I think we survived in-tact because our supposedly immutable constitution is amendable, albeit with great difficulty. Otherwise I would say that the racial issues in the US would have spurn another rebellion.

    But is this because our system is so great? Or because America is so culturally homogeneous (relatively)? People can choose to believe what they want but I think it helps quite a bit that America has been incredibly prosperous for almost all of its history, there is no better way to satiate the common folk than to throw money at them.

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