Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Nation Building

 

This is a question to our members with a grounding in political science and history. I have no idea what the answer is, which is why I’m posting the question.

People in the United States, especially those of the centre-right persuasion, often cite the genius of the founders of their nation in creating a constitutional system in which the powers of government were separated into legislative, executive, and judicial branches, which were independent and, at some level, adversaries of one another. This was intended to prevent a concentration of power in one branch. The system of elections was “first past the post” which, while not intended at the time, ended up reinforcing a two party system in which the parties had an incentive to move toward the centre in order to assemble an electoral majority. A bill of rights was quickly added to the constitution to enumerate pre-existing rights which the government was prohibited from infringing.

All in all, it seems to have worked pretty well, at least until 1912 when the so-called “progressives” began to tear down the safeguards against tyranny and centralisation built into the original system.

So here’s the question: if this system has worked so well for the U.S., why is the U.S. so reluctant to implement it in countries it has conquered militarily and has the power to impose any system of government it wishes? It’s striking: after World War II, Germany, Italy, and Japan completely capitulated to the Allies and, realistically, the U.S. could have dictated their new constitutions, and yet each ended up with a parliamentary system with proportional representation, not anything like the U.S. system. The same thing happened in Iraq after the 2003 war.

If the U.S. system of government is so great, why not use it as the model for countries the U.S. conquers?

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina all have presidential systems. There are a bunch of other countries that do as well. Iran is one, for what that’s worth.

    • #1
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:11 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Judge Mental Member

    I have no credentials, but I’ll take a shot anyway.

    Our system is designed to make it hard to get things done*. People in government, in other words the ones making decisions about things like what type of government will be implemented, prefer a system of government where it is easy for the government to get things done.

    *In part this was because the states were expected to be handling most issues. If the conquered country doesn’t have an existing strong system of regional governments, our system might be considered impractical. But I lean strongly towards a preference for easy control as the explanation.

    • #2
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:12 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  3. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    I, too, have wondered! Maybe deep down they know there is no way on earth you can squeeze a nation’s populace into just two political parties ;)

    • #3
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:29 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Partly what Judge said, but also look at when these examples happened. Truman Administration, which did have some hold-overs from Roosevelt, certainly. FDR was himself a veteran of the Wilson Administration, as were some of his people. By that time they did not have the original American system and had not really had it for thirty years.

    The people involved also tended to be generals, who in the American system are separated from politics (in theory). We had the Marshall Plan. Who was that named for? General of the Army George C. Marshall? Or what about Japan? Who was in charge there at first? GofA Douglass MacArthur? To a certain extent, they revitalized and changed what had been in the countries before, rather than imposing a new system.

    Iraq? Again, the people doing that were generals and even further removed from the true American system of checks and balances.

    • #4
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:35 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  5. Randy Webster Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    We had the Marshall Plan. Who was that named for? General of the Army George C. Marshall?

    Technically, I think the Marshall Plan was named for Marshall after he became Secretary of State.

    • #5
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:49 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):
    We had the Marshall Plan. Who was that named for? General of the Army George C. Marshall?

    Technically, I think the Marshall Plan was named for Marshall after he became Secretary of State.

    True, and he later was also SecDef. Still, the plan was highly Keynesian and was criticized as such at the time.

    • #6
    • May 12, 2017, at 5:56 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Jason Rudert Member

    This question has come up publically in the last few years a few times. IIRC, Justice O’Connor was on a board helping other countries to write constitutions or something, and she was heavily pro-parliament and anti-presidential.

    And that’s kind of the answer, and it’s kind of contained in your question. And also, what @judgemental said. Progressives don’t really like our government, so they want to give other countries something else. Actual love for our old system is mostly an affectation of a few right-wingers at this point.

    It would be nice to have @jamesofengland weigh in on this. He may have some insight–he helped write some of Iraq’s laws and probably had some contact with the people who imposed their constitution.

    • #7
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:03 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Jason Rudert Member

    Also, armies are deeply bureaucratic, collectivist, and socialistic. “We planned during war” was the rallying cry of the Progressives after WWI. So of course they revert to that when they have the chance to impose a government.

    • #8
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The post 9/11 Iraq experience started in that general direction following the invasion, but after promising a secular constitution with all those Bill of Rightsy protections, President Bush couldn’t get any movement on the topic among his Iraqi partners. Reluctant to go full colonialism, the president accepted a very Sharia constitution. Then looked the other way as Iraqis oppressed their Christian minority under the noses of American forces.

    In colonial North America, the majority of colonists came from political systems with democratic features. On arrival, those with contact to the Iroquois nation found a native democracy as another model. The British colonies organized legislative assemblies at the colony and city levels, usually with a crown designated governor operating a de facto executive branch. Unknown to anyone at the time, but recently argued from historical evidence, the British colonies in North America were the wealthiest people on average that had ever existed to that time. (Ironically, colonists were also the beneficiaries of foreign merchants extending over-generous credit to colonials in order to capture lucrative colonial market share despite the difficulties of enforcing debts across the ocean on a population that can fade westward if things got too dicey.)

    The seeds of the American miracle were already baked in before the Constitution was drafted. If we want to assure that conquered nations adopt a more American system, all we need to do is spend a couple of centuries seeding the target areas with American-like colonists. Then, when they finally revolt, the resulting independent polities will be very American.

    It worked for the British.

    • #9
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:07 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  10. PHCheese Member

    The US system was not fostered on Germany and Japan to lessen the chance of a dictatorship and military rule. This model has survived to other nation building situations as well probably from momentum.

    • #10
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian ClendinenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Its because most bureaucrats don’t like the system and it just to hard to change. Although the Japanese Constitution that was written by two or three JAG lawyers that we basically forced the Japaneses to use really is not to bad.

    • #11
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:33 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Sabrdance Member

    There’s a long and complicated answer -and some of your presuppositions about the early republic are wrong, which turns out to be important. We didn’t use single-member first-past-the-post systems universally… actually they still aren’t used universally, but we didn’t use them universally at the state level until well into the 19th century. The purpose of the representation system was to guarantee discrete communities had representation, but the idea that you might have overlapping districts or indirect election of representatives was played with in the 1800s. The two party system didn’t develop until, at earliest, 1832, and 1868 is a reasonable date to argue.

    The other thing you are missing is that the US was deliberately built without a “state.” That is, we have no central bureaucracy (even our bureaucracy today answers to minimum 3 masters) that can make a decision and enforce it. The founders did this because the did not think you could have nested states (the federal government could not be master to the states, only servant -though a servant that could enforce the agreements of the states).

    By 1900 it was pretty common to believe this was a bad system -and even conservative stalwarts like James Q. Wilson will tell you that our system is not notably good at governing. Parliamentary systems work much better in terms of responsiveness and control of their bureaucracies, and this belief was pretty well ingrained when we were setting up other governments in the rest of the world. We’d also noted that the American Governmental Form hadn’t really translated well to Latin American countries (most notably Mexico) which tried to use it.

    Now, Wilson will also tell you that parliamentary systems do not work in multi-ethnic federal systems of 300 million citizens. Population diversity causes government to swing too wildly and encourages strong-man tactics to lock in policies, which makes government sclerotic and unresponsive. Many of our problems today stem from the Congress passing power to the executive like a parliamentary system, rather than a federal one. The more homogeneous state governments in the US, however, are often functionally little different than parliamentary systems (Americans really like weak governors, and even states with strong governors tend to make them one of 4 to 8 executive officials, like the cabinet of a parliamentary system). And that works much better for a state of 6 or 12 or maybe even 20 million. It tends not to work for larger states (California, 40 million), and that also accounts for why we kept using Germany’s federal system (population 80 million today, 70 million in 1950).

    And it is also the reason the EU has such a hard time functioning -it has the worst characteristics of a super-state, tied to a parliamentary government on a political system that doesn’t take parliamentary forms well.

    • #12
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 20 likes
  13. Snirtler Inactive

    Thanks for starting what should be an interesting thread!

    Formal constitutional structures won’t necessarily travel well across societies with their own particular cultures, social cleavages, and histories. We always hear about the genius of the American founders. I won’t deny their political wisdom, but some perhaps fail to appreciate they truly were heirs to a longer English tradition of self-government, rights and limited government, bicameralism, and separation of powers. Constitutional rules are not like code, which can be expected to run the same way across different systems (I’m afraid I betray my computer science ignorance here).

    In a way, the United States did see an implementation of constitutional structures similar to its own through its “tutelage in democracy” of the Philippines. The US did not impose the constitution. Rather, while under American colonial administration, Filipinos voted for delegates to a constitutional convention. The 1935 Constitution provided for a president (and vice-pres) elected to a 4-year term with the possibility of a second, a bicameral legislature with a Senate whose members were elected to 6-year terms and a House whose members were elected to 4-year terms, and an independent and co-equal judiciary. The details concerning the particular powers of the three branches also resemble those of their US counterparts.

    And how did that constitutional system fare? It lasted from Philippine independence in 1946 till Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

    • #13
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:44 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  14. Jason Rudert Member

    Sabrdance (View Comment):
    There’s a long and complicated answer -and some of your presuppositions about the early republic are wrong, which turns out to be important. We didn’t use single-member first-past-the-post systems universally… actually they still aren’t used universally, but we didn’t use them universally at the state level until well into the 19th century. The purpose of the representation system was to guarantee discrete communities had representation, but the idea that you might have overlapping districts or indirect election of representatives was played with in the 1800s. The two party system didn’t develop until, at earliest, 1832, and 1868 is a reasonable date to argue.

    The other thing you are missing is that the US was deliberately built without a “state.” That is, we have no central bureaucracy (even our bureaucracy today answers to minimum 3 masters) that can make a decision and enforce it. The founders did this because the did not think you could have nested states (the federal government could not be master to the states, only servant -though a servant that could enforce the agreements of the states).

    By 1900 it was pretty common to believe this was a bad system -and even conservative stalwarts like James Q. Wilson will tell you that our system is not notably good at governing. Parliamentary systems work much better in terms of responsiveness and control of their bureaucracies, and this belief was pretty well ingrained when we were setting up other governments in the rest of the world. We’d also noted that the American Governmental Form hadn’t really translated well to Latin American countries (most notably Mexico) which tried to use it.

    Now, Wilson will also tell you that parliamentary systems do not work in multi-ethnic federal systems of 300 million citizens. Population diversity causes government to swing too wildly and encourages strong-man tactics to lock in policies, which makes government sclerotic and unresponsive. Many of our problems today stem from the Congress passing power to the executive like a parliamentary system, rather than a federal one. The more homogeneous state governments in the US, however, are often functionally little different than parliamentary systems (Americans really like weak governors, and even states with strong governors tend to make them one of 4 to 8 executive officials, like the cabinet of a parliamentary system). A[snip]Germany’s federal system (population 80 million today, 70 million in 1950).

    And it is also the reason the EU has such a hard time functioning -it has the worst characteristics of a super-state, tied to a parliamentary government on a political system that doesn’t take parliamentary forms well.

    It’s no wonder you tore her away from me. No way I could have matched this.

    • #14
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:47 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. DocJay Inactive

    I’ll blame the first 3 systems on Harry Truman and the dems. Iraq I’ll blame on Bush/Cheney with the caveat that Islam and Muslims are incapable of democracy. Yes, yes, I know Attaturk but Islam had a muzzle there.

    • #15
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:49 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Snirtler Inactive

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    The seeds of the American miracle were already baked in before the Constitution was drafted. If we want to assure that conquered nations adopt a more American system, all we need to do is spend a couple of centuries seeding the target areas with American-like colonists. Then, when they finally revolt, the resulting independent polities will be very American.

    It worked for the British.

    Indeed. It took centuries of practice for the US Constitution to function effectively. The Philippines couldn’t make similar rules last beyond three decades.

    • #16
    • May 12, 2017, at 6:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Snirtler Inactive

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I’ll blame the first 3 systems on Harry Truman and the dems. Iraq I’ll blame on Bush/Cheney with the caveat that Islam and Muslims are incapable of democracy. Yes, yes, I know Attaturk but Islam had a muzzle there.

    Doc, you’re too hard on Truman. Chalk them up as successes of American occupation that Germany, Japan, and Italy are economically advanced, solid democracies today.

    As for Muslims and democracy, it’s in the rest of the world’s interest that democracy thrives in the largest Muslim-majority country Indonesia. Islam in Southeast Asia is in certain respects more moderate and congenial to individual rights than Arab Islam. We should wish for Indonesian democracy to succeed and for them to continue to prosper as a model for other Muslim societies to emulate.

    • #17
    • May 12, 2017, at 7:42 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  18. The Reticulator Member

    John Walker:So here’s the question: if this system has worked so well for the U.S., why is the U.S. so reluctant to implement it in countries it has conquered militarily and has the power to impose any system of government it wishes? It’s striking: after World War II, Germany, Italy, and Japan completely capitulated to the Allies and, realistically, the U.S. could have dictated their new constitutions, and yet each ended up with a parliamentary system with proportional representation, not anything like the U.S. system. The same thing happened in Iraq after the 2003 war.

    If the U.S. system of government is so great, why not use it as the model for countries the U.S. conquers?

    It’s a question I’ve wondered about, too. Woodrow Wilson thought the parliamentary system was better than our Constitutional system, but he was Woodrow Wilson. Why those who came after him also followed his example is a good question.

    • #18
    • May 12, 2017, at 8:04 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. The Reticulator Member

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    On arrival, those with contact to the Iroquois nation found a native democracy as another model.

    As far as I have been able to tell, those with contact with the Iroquois adopted nothing from that system. The Iroquois system was a model showing how a confederation could be formed, but other than the fact of confederation (which has occurred many times in history, in many cultures) we adopted nothing from the way the Iroquois did it. The Iroquois system is worth knowing about, because it could have informed our nation builders. But it didn’t.

    • #19
    • May 12, 2017, at 8:14 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. The Reticulator Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    The US system was not fostered on Germany and Japan to lessen the chance of a dictatorship and military rule. This model has survived to other nation building situations as well probably from momentum.

    To some extent, we backed off and let Germany and Japan incorporate some of their pre-war elites and their ways into their government, because we needed these countries to be strong to help fight off the communist menace and didn’t have time to waste. Thus, we didn’t look too hard at the roles some of their leaders had played before and during the war.

    • #20
    • May 12, 2017, at 8:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    The US system was not fostered on Germany and Japan to lessen the chance of a dictatorship and military rule. This model has survived to other nation building situations as well probably from momentum.

    To some extent, we backed off and let Germany and Japan incorporate some of their pre-war elites and their ways into their government, because we needed these countries to be strong to help fight off the communist menace and didn’t have time to waste. Thus, we didn’t look too hard at the roles some of their leaders had played before and during the war.

    I should add that progressives have pouted about this ever since. Roosevelt’s progressives hoped to impose socialism on these countries, in the initial form of control by labor unions and such, and were thwarted by the need to let former industrialists get back to running things, and the need to suppress labor strikes. (I’ve read about this in more detail for Japan than for Germany. In Japan they thought they had a blank slate on which to impose their will, and were dismayed when they didn’t get it.)

    • #21
    • May 12, 2017, at 8:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Snirtler Inactive

    I have a theory for why the US chose a British-style parliamentary government, instead of a presidential form of government for Japan. The latter form combines the roles of head of state and head of government in the person of the president. In the British form, the monarch is the head of state performing a ceremonial function and the prime minister is the head of government fusing legislative and executive functions.

    By reducing the emperor to a ceremonial role in a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government, the US succeeded in defanging Japanese militarism and unquestioning loyalty to the emperor.

    • #22
    • May 12, 2017, at 9:02 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  23. Titus Techera Contributor

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    You can read the Federalist on ambition. The federal gov’t was supposed to attract the kind of people who thought about war & peace & the biggest issues. Every administrative matter was supposed to remain local. This is one of the big mistakes the Founders made. Americans turned out to prefer a race of politicians who are bungling meddlers to one of grand paladins. Or to put it more charitably–penny ante types who want improvements for their constituents out of government, not statesmen who want to protect the nation.

    The utter mediocrity of so many presidents in-between enormous crisis suggests just how much Americans don’t like politicians. & the writing of the likes of Mark Twain on Congress does, too.

    But of course, without men of grand ambition, America would not be a going concern now. There are real problems with political ambition in America, which might turn out to be terminal. It’s also true that grand ambition is part of why America was torn apart in a Civil War. But on the whole, the greatest ambitions have done more good than harm, made & saved the nation, & provided lessons & authority for lesser ambitions. I suppose they’ll all be needed again soon. I hope the mistake of the Founders was not too serious to make the federal government impossible to wield.

    • #23
    • May 12, 2017, at 10:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Titus Techera Contributor

    Political science works independent of the people. The proof is in the great men who have ruled at the highest level in different regimes, in different countries, in different people. Their knowledge did not depend on the circumstances of their birth or education. A similar proof is then to be found in founders: Men who straddle two different forms of rule & thrive in both.

    But the political regime cannot work independent of the people. Not all regimes are good for all peoples at all times. I will remind you of the Socratic joke: Why don’t we all live out our daily lives like the greatest athletes? Well, it might kill most of us. What’s best for the best is not the best for everyone. What’s best for me may not be the best simply.

    Finally, the most urgent reason why regime change is difficult: The criterion of consent to being governed. That is in most ways up to the people. It is not the case that people will consent to anything or to any serious changes to their way of life.

    • #24
    • May 12, 2017, at 11:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Jason Rudert Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I will remind you of the Socratic joke: Why don’t we all live out our daily lives like the greatest athletes?

    I don’t wanna be a tranny, is why.

    • #25
    • May 13, 2017, at 1:24 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  26. Arahant Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    penny ante types

    Dick Nixon was no penny-ante type, Mr. Techera. A man cannot fund his first Congressional campaign playing penny-ante poker. The stakes were much higher.

    • #26
    • May 13, 2017, at 4:18 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. I Walton Member

    Here’s my amateur take. Only Anglo saxon countries have common law which just emerged by accident because the UK was so riddled with estuaries, natural ports, rivers going every direction that controlling the economy from above was impossible. Small business, agriculture, eventually manufacturing emerged and needed to resolve conflicts over contracts and property and from that, what Fernando De Soto called the miracle of capital, evolved. It wasn’t designed, it just emerged. For the same reason the guilds that so dominated economies across Europe and Asia never had the same power to repress competition nor enlist the nobility on their side. Europe was either small ball principalities as Germany and Italy, or top down monarchies. In the UK this organic growth from below gradually eroded the power of the monarchy and the mercantilism that dominated and still does, the rest of the continent. That’s the first piece and what it means is that our system cant be transferred to systems that remain top down. Secondly there were no neo classicals left in the post depression post war world. Everyone among our or any other western countries’ elite were either out right socialists or believed in mixed systems and top down economic controls. Keynesians dominated the non socialist economists. Free market economics were seen as “on the wrong side of history” The Austrian school who actually understood how economies work and why Keynesian economics were nonsense, were dismissed for the next 40 or 50 years. Our military which is it’s own administrative state was comfortable with the civilian leadership’s attitudes. Our constitution was emulated in most of Latin America at one time or another, and in one way or another, but without common law, it cant work, nor did they really understand how it worked enough to avoid ingesting the administrative state into their constitutional orders. The actual constitutional structure was brilliant, but the secret to its success is common law and the free market. This is why progressives are so dangerous. They are moving us on purpose and systematically away from common law and toward the black law of administrative states. That can actually be fairly functional in a small homogenous entity, like a city or city state which can float on the global market, but in a giant and impossibly diverse country like the US it has to end in totalitarianism.

    • #27
    • May 13, 2017, at 4:55 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  28. DocJay Inactive

    Snirtler (View Comment):

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I’ll blame the first 3 systems on Harry Truman and the dems. Iraq I’ll blame on Bush/Cheney with the caveat that Islam and Muslims are incapable of democracy. Yes, yes, I know Attaturk but Islam had a muzzle there.

    Doc, you’re too hard on Truman. Chalk them up as successes of American occupation that Germany, Japan, and Italy are economically advanced, solid democracies today.

    As for Muslims and democracy, it’s in the rest of the world’s interest that democracy thrives in the largest Muslim-majority country Indonesia. Islam in Southeast Asia is in certain respects more moderate and congenial to individual rights than Arab Islam. We should wish for Indonesian democracy to succeed and for them to continue to prosper as a model for other Muslim societies to emulate.

    A lot of money was thrown at Japan/Germany/Italy.

    Indonesians? I do wish them well. The country seems mellow but likely that’s because it’s full of Indonesians.

    • #28
    • May 13, 2017, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  29. Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng…Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Madison was thinking about the different needs of a continent sized nation. Remember how big we are compared to most other nations in square miles and population. I am not sure our system works well on a smaller scale.

    Lots of South American nations used our model. that has not worked well.

    • #29
    • May 13, 2017, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. DocJay Inactive

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Madison was thinking about the different needs of a continent sized nation. Remember how big we are compared to most other nations in square miles and population. I am not sure our system works well on a smaller scale.

    Lots of South American nations used our model. that has not worked well.

    Maybe our model works well because it’s run by Americans and for Americans. Let the progs ( or Bushes or Clintons) have it for a few decades and we are done.

    The Mexicans and Guatemalans I see many days a week are more American to me than a 25 year old unemployed dope smoking man bun having Obama sycophant changing the world with his’ideas’. The guys I deal with bust their ass for a better future for them and theirs, if that’s not the American spirit writ large I’m misinterpreting it.

    • #30
    • May 13, 2017, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • 9 likes

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