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Self-government in a republic of 325 million

In the 2016 and 2018 elections, both sides claimed that they represented the “real” American people. Candidates from both parties called for the people to rise up and take the government back from those other people who have been making such a mess of things.

In a new policy paper, R Street senior governance fellow, Philip Wallach explains why such thinking is often unhelpful and distracts us from the reality of what self-government can really be in our time.

The paper goes on to contend that representative government as instantiated in a strong legislature is our best chance at some kind of meaningful self-government and it should be defended as such. As we have inherited it, the Constitution is a major resource for this defense—at least if Congress can be made to play its intended role. Realizing limits on the executive and judicial branches through an assertion of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives would therefore be the best way to serve the cause of self-government in America today.

The author adds: “Self-government should absolutely retain its place in our pantheon of civic values and faith in its worthiness should be cherished. When there are institutional design choices to be made, we should seek to promote self-government at the margin, notwithstanding the protests of well-qualified experts. But we should not pretend to monotheistic devotion, lest we look like awful hypocrites.”

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Topics: Reform Efforts
Philip Wallach
Philip A. Wallach is a senior fellow of governance at the R Street Institute, where he researches America’s separation of powers with a focus on the r...