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No, not the Brutus who earned “Et tu, Brute” from Julius Caesar but the Anti-Federalist Brutus – who probably was Judge Robert Yates of New York. This Brutus authored the October 18, 1787 “Letter to the Citizens of New York” that questioned the very scalability of the Republic then taking shape in the hands of our Founding Fathers. His predictions gave us long advance warning of the symptoms of a republic that would become overburdened by overpopulation and by the too widely diverse points of view or “sentiments” of the seemingly innumerable residents of our republic-to-be.
The notion that a republic would serve best a population of modest scale and political diffusion, of course, has ancient roots, notably back to Aristotle and Plato, who suggested all members of a republic must be able to be familiar with one another and even to see the republic’s popular totality in one location.
Brutus gave some specific dimensions to his worry that the republic emerging from the Constitutional Congress in 1787 would fail. He noted the presence of “near three millions of souls” at the time of his letter and wondered in print if it is reasonable to expect that a single republic could serve effectively “more than ten times that number.” His conclusion: “It certainly is not.”
The brutish and short life of this republic, in the estimation of Brutus (with apologies to Hobbes), would succumb to any or all of several maladies. First, a republic of upwards of 30,000,000 (gasp!) simply could not assure the similarity of “manners, sentiments, and interests” needed to make a republic workable. The result of such diversity, he forecasted, would be to “retard the operations of government.”
Furthermore, the laws and customs of the constituent states in 1787 were already far too distinct to offer any chance that the representative bodies of Congress could reconcile their competing views, and accordingly they “would be constantly contending with each other.” In the face of such ongoing contention, Brutus inferred, the laws of the federated United States simply “cannot be executed… with promptitude.”
Brutus gave his most direct appeal to the limits of a republic by reference to Montesquieu, whose Spirit of Laws warned that if a republic does not cover a sufficiently small area then the republic would grow to encompass “men of larger fortunes, and consequently of less moderation.” This line of attack reads like the guiding principle of the Showtime series “Billions.” It also forebodes perhaps the wealth of our incoming President.
Now that our voting population numbers about 120 million, or four times the red-flag level of Brutus, the voting map can be seen as expansively red in the recent New York Times geographic recap of the 2016 presidential election, with a modest few, dense blue urban areas that in total number slightly more than those in red but do not cover enough of the rest of the nation to carry the electoral college.
Would direct election be more effective and unifying? Yes, for the Democrats. For the populist Republican party, not so much. Maybe Brutus was right.
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