Jun 14 2015

A Congressional Aristocracy

The American Congress is composed of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Patterned loosely after the British House of Lords and House of Commons, they are designed to offer representation to two different levels of social strata. They also offer several forms of checks and balances designed to prevent pockets of power from forming into tyranny.

The Senate was designed to be elected by the State Legislatures and the House elected by local democratic vote. The purpose of this was to prevent domination by either simple democratic majorities or by the States. [this balance was undone by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution which changed the election of Senators to democratic vote] The Senate is elected for six years, providing more tenure and stability from the aristocratic class and the House is elected for two years, allowing for churn from the will of the common people and more current representation as times change. The House votes to impeach an executive (bringing charges like an indictment), but the Senate must try and convict the charge for it to become effective. The Senate has two members from each state, ensuring equal representation for each state regardless of size. The House has a variable number of members from each state, according to population level, ensuring proportionate representation by size. The Senate confirms executive appointments (cabinet officers, judges, ambassadors…) and ratifies treaties, but the House has no function in these areas.

Even though many of the differences between the houses remain today, they seem to act as though they are both forms of an aristocratic ruling body. The re-election rate of sitting members is over 90%. This creates the same issues of staleness and susceptibility to self-interest that comes from having governing positions based on inheritance. In 2014, the top 20 spenders in lobbying efforts used over $475 million dollars for that year to influence Congress, with the annual total of over $800 million spent by lobbying groups in each of the last seven years.


With each passing year, we see longer bills with more obscure language and parts to be filled in later allowing blank approval for decisions to be made later. We see less transparency, more secrecy, and more members who either do not understand the bills they vote on or in some cases, have not even studied them. Some even seem to not understand the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land and supposed to establish a framework for everything they do.

The elected Congressional representatives in both houses seem to act more like an aristocratic governing council, instead of a democratic representative body engaged in upholding the republican rule of law as mandated in the Constitution. They adopt attitudes that suggest a sense of entitlement to their position and most worrisome, that the people must answer to them, instead of the other way around. They seem to have forgotten that they serve the people and the people have the native sovereign power which is then granted to government in limited form.

It is clear that the the designers of the Constitution wanted some form of representation from the aristocratic influence of society, considering that to be among the best available influences and a wise one when it listens to the people. But it’s also clear that their intent was to prevent the new form of government from degrading into an aristocratic council that keeps to itself, ignoring the voice of the people.