March 17th, 2011 // 1:15 am @ Oliver DeMille
My oldest daughter asked me recently, “What is the most important thing Americans need to know right now about freedom?”
I didn’t even have to think about the answer, it is so clear to me.
My purpose here is to share the single most important thing the people need to know about freedom.
I have shared this idea before, but since it is the most important thing, in my opinion, it bears repeating.
On many occasions I have asked advanced graduate students or executives to diagram the American government model which established unprecedented levels of freedom and prosperity to people from all backgrounds, classes and views.
They always do it in the wrong order, and they get the most important part wrong.
Specifically, they start by diagramming three branches of government, a judicial and an executive and a bicameral legislature, and then they sit down.
They think they’ve done the assignment.
When I ask, “What about the rest?” they are stumped for a few seconds.
Then some of them have an epiphany and quickly return to the white board to diagram the same thing at the state level.
This time they are sure they are done.
“What level of government came first in the American colonies?” I ask. After some debate, they agree that many towns, cities, counties and local governments were established, most with written constitutions, for over two centuries before the U.S. Constitution and many decades before the state governments and constitutions.
“So, diagram the founding model of local government,” I say.
They then set out to diagram a copy of the three-branch U.S. Constitutional model.
This sad deficit of knowledge indicates at least one thing: Americans who have learned about our constitutional model have tended to learn it largely by rote, without truly understanding the foundational principles of freedom.
We know about the three branches, the checks and balances, and we consider this the American political legacy.
But few Americans today understand the principles and deeper concepts behind the three branches, checks and balances.
The first constitutions and governments in America were local, and there were hundreds of them.
These documents were the basis of later state constitutions, and they were also the models in which early Americans learned to actively govern themselves.
Without them, the state constitutions could never have been written. Without these local and state constitutions, the U.S. Constitution would have been very, very different.
In short, these local constitutions and governments were, and are, the basis of American freedoms and the whole system.
The surprising thing, at least to many moderns, is that these local constitutions were very different than the state and federal constitutional model. There were some similarities, but the structure was drastically different.
The principles of freedom are applied differently to be effective at local and tribal levels.
A society that doesn’t understand this is unlikely to stay free. Indeed, history is exact on this point.
Another surprise is that nearly all the early townships and cities in the Americas adopted a very similar constitutional structure.
They were amazingly alike. This is because they are designed to apply the best principles of freedom to the local and tribal levels.
And there is more.
This similar model was followed by the Iroquois League as well, and by several other First Nation tribal governments.
Many people have heard this, but few can explain the details of how local free governments were established.
This same model of free local/tribal government shows up in tribes throughout Central and South America, Oceana, Africa, Asia and the historic Germanic tribes including the Anglo Saxons.
Indeed, it is found in the Bible as followed by the Tribes of Israel. This is where the American founders said they found it
The most accurate way, then, to diagram the American governmental system is to diagram the local system correctly, then the state and federal levels with their three branches each, separations of power and checks and balances.
But how exactly does one diagram the local level?
The basics are as follows: The true freedom system includes establishing as the most basic unit of society—above the family—small government councils that are small enough to include all adults in the decision-making meetings for major choices.
It is also portrayed in the classic television series Little House on the Prairie and in many books like Moody’s Little Britches, Stratton-Porter’s Laddie and James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.
In fact, if you know to look for it, it shows up throughout much of human history.
These adult town, city or tribal councils truly establish and maintain freedom by including in the most local and foundational decisions the voices and votes of all the adult citizenry.
These councils make decisions by majority vote after open discussion. They also appoint mayors/chiefs, law enforcement leaders, judges and other personnel.
All of these officials report directly to the full council of all adults and can be removed by the council.
Where representative houses and offices are much more effective at the larger state and national levels, the whole system breaks down if the regular citizens aren’t actively involved in governance at the most local levels.
In this model, every adult citizen is officially a government official, with the result that all citizens study the government system, their role in it, the issues and laws and cases, and think like leaders.
They learn leadership by leading.
Without this participatory government system at the local levels, as history has shown, freedom is eventually lost in all societies.
Once again, the most successful tribes, communities and even nations throughout history have adopted this model of local governance which includes all citizens in the basic local decision making.
The result, in every society on record,[ii] has always been increased freedom and prosperity.
No free society in recorded history has maintained its great freedom once this system eroded.
Tocqueville called this system of local citizen governance “the” most important piece of America’s freedom model.[iii]
Indeed, the U.S. Constitution is what it is because of the understanding the American people gained from long participation in local government councils.
These were the basis of state constitutions and the federal Constitution. If we don’t understand the local councils, we don’t understand the Constitution or freedom.
Today we need a citizenship that truly understands freedom, not just patriotic, loyal or highly professional people. This is the most important thing modern Americans can know if we want to maintain our freedom and widespread prosperity.
[iii] Op cit., Tocqueville.